Five Questions with Pierre Joris

Courage is whatever.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, essayist, anthologist, and translator Pierre Joris. Years ago, after the sudden death of a poet I admired I took a personal vow to translate his dense and difficult volume of poetry, spurring me on to find poets who had already wrestled with that beastly endeavor.  Pierre had arrived to discuss his legendary translations of Paul Celan. What really grabbed my attention, though, was a tattoo on his arm carved with the Arabic word hajara (??? to emigrate or relinquish, in the sense of exile). To this day I have not seen a more striking tattoo. Later, in the autumn of 2011, he came to the Woodberry Poetry Room for a reading. All the gates surrounding Harvard Yard were locked down per the administration's response to the Occupy Harvard tent… Read More...

Field Notes on Fashion and Occupy (Part One)

Fashion is endowed with the potential to inform a political reality because fashion comes from people. The way people self-organize is always impacted by the external expression of social and political relationships, between police/denizen, publication/reader, store owner/consumer, designer/industry.
  'The kids aren’t too bright,' he is telling me on this particular day. 'They’ll tell you then can always spot an undercover, they’ll tell you about "the kind of car he drives." They aren’t talking about undercovers, they’re talking about plainclothesmen who just happen to drive unmarked cars, like I do. They can’t tell an undercover. An undercover doesn’t drive some black Ford with a two-way radio.' —Joan Didion, 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem' The occurrence of appearance should come as no surprise. Fashion is endowed with the potential to inform a political reality—whether the point it makes is illustrative, illuminating, or impinging is a separate question—because fashion comes from people. The way people self-organize is always impacted by the external expression of social and political relationships, whether they be between police/denizen, publication/reader, store owner/consumer, designer/industry, and so on. The subject of… Read More...

In Defense of Spontaneous Contestation and/or Beauty

Much more surprising than getting pushed around by museum security was the realization that an institution devoted to procuring objects for people to look at was actively blocking their view of a live event, happening in front of our very living eyeballs.
'The Streets Are Dead Capital' Recently I went to a talk by Ricardo Dominguez, an artist and hacktivist I had the occasion to interview a year ago. To say that Ricardo gave a 'talk' is putting it mildly. What you get with him (a trained actor) is more a passionate and self-conscious oratory performance than a scripted dry-run; as if to underscore this point, tucked underneath his lecturer's day clothes was a Superman t-shirt, giving the unsettling illusion that at any moment the bespectacled stand-in for Clark Kent was going to transform into a caped crusader. His starting point: design is a marker and site for neoliberal markets. One might choose to read 'design' broadly as self-enclosed, highly produced spaces, ergo your basic mall, museum, amusement park, or sports arena. If design is a repository for obscured market power, Ricardo reasoned, then… Read More...

Five Questions with Eileen Myles

Genres for me are just a way in which we are controlled, protected I suppose but I'm not a writer to be protected at all.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet and essayist (and mighty fine blogger) Eileen Myles, who reminds you to imagine yourself loved when being judged. In everyday life how do you temper duty with desire, the menial with the resplendent? I don't temper much. I am overly dutiful, quite often but then I become deeply paralyzed, tired, overwhelmed and resentful. I don't want to live. I then go reverse things, take care of myself and wind up on a higher more bodily plane where most things seem quite laughable and I'm able to make better choices and included in this realm is pleasure but I often have a hard time getting there. I have to work hard to stop working. Do you agree with Walter Pater that 'all art constantly aspires towards the… Read More...

Avoid All Demonstrations as a Precaution

In lieu of alerts warning students from recently bombed or attacked sites in Baghdad and Kandahar or ongoing protests in Kuala Lumpur, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) just issued students a detailed alert about upcoming U.S.-based May Day general strike actions.
  Most major U.S. colleges and universities issue emergency guidelines to their traveling students. Often these are based on travel alerts from the U.S. State Department. In some cases, entire travel assistance programs for special 'SOS' medical or evacuation services are based around such precautions. The University of California (full disclosure: I am an alum) has an odd sense of timing, geography, or dark humor. In lieu of alerts warning students from recently bombed or attacked sites in Baghdad and Kandahar or ongoing protests in Kuala Lumpur, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) just issued students a detailed alert about upcoming U.S.-based May Day general strike actions via its preferred travel management program, Connexxus. Their list of sites to avoid includes a schedule of U.S.-wide actions in major cities, appearing to be copied directly from the New York-based May… Read More...

Five Questions with Jaswinder Bolina

Arabic always looks like rippled water to me, Hebrew like a city skyline turned sideways, Punjabi and Hindi like vines dangled from a lattice, Chinese and Japanese dialects like feathers and bones.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet and essayist Jaswinder Bolina. I encountered his work after an essay in Poetry called 'Writing Like a White Guy,' which begins, 'My father says I should use a pseudonym. "They won't publish you if they see your name."' As a devotee of words have you come upon any you can't bear to write? I think there are a lot of words I don't want to write, but I feel I make discoveries when my poems take on those words or phrases directly. A few years ago, I wrote a poem about somebody yelling 'sand nigger' at me from a passing car. Obviously, that's not a phrase I want to repeat, but then I did—about fifteen times in that poem. Forcing myself to confront the language offered… Read More...

Some Southern Maladies

'Let's drive south and never come back, never see the simulacra again...'
  By an observation, we found ourselves in the latitude of 30 degrees and 2 minutes south. Twelve of our crew were dead by immoderate labor and ill food; the rest were in a very weak condition. From Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, 1900.   I want you to savor that fear. The South evolved in fear. Fear of the Indian. Fear of the slave. Fear of the damn Union. The South has a fine tradition of savoring fear. From Cape Fear by Martin Scorcese, 1991.   She had gone off to join in the great battles that would end the worst of discrimination against black people in the South, and had become known for her bravery and her organisational skills. Threatened with the end of her visitor’s visa, she had married an American, ringing up Johnny to say it was only for form’s sake, he must understand it… Read More...

Drones are Paranoid Androids

There is an entire cottage industry of Bush-era movie-making. If a Michael Bay or a Spielberg were to concoct the spectacle of a drone movie, what would it even show?
BIRDS AND BEES Before they were raining down from a great height‡ as self-contained guillotines in aerial suspension, they had a noncombatant history. Archytus, the founder of mathematical mechanics, sent The Pigeon into the air in 350 B.C.E. The unmanned steam-powered object made a complete 200-meter flight, a self-propelled device channeling the programmer's ingenuity and intelligence and making them its own. Characteristically, neither device pleased Archytus' close friend Plato, who grumbled that God was the only true geometer. Aristotle did record a reaction to Archytas' inventions, fitting for someone whose famed dictum‡ concerned the promise of animata as a way to free Greece from the labor of human slaves. On The Pigeon, the philosopher of liberation robotics wrote: The bird was apparently suspended from the end of a pivoted bar, and the whole apparatus revolved by means of a jet of… Read More...

Five Questions with Anna Moschovakis

Coffee and chocolate or tea and toast?
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, translator, and editor (at Ugly Duckling Presse and elsewhere) Anna Moschovakis. My first entry into her work was this poem, situated as a conversation between Annabot and the Human Machine. Coffee and chocolate or tea and toast? I love all my stimulants equally. (And if you don't think toast a stimulant, you don't understand jam.) Which dream or cinematic imagery do you find more emotive, an apocalyptic desert landscape of ruin or the scene of a biblical flood? I was born in an apocalyptic desert landscape of ruin that I also deeply love. If you could download one skill into your brain without any effort, which would it be? Time-management, because then I could learn the others. Harold Norse's poem 'i heard evtushenko' protests against American writers: I think of… Read More...

Friendly Squirrels

A chain email forward from my father.
The source for these images (and dozens of others like it, not shown) is a chain email forward from my father titled 'Friendly Squirrels.' He has given me explicit permission to share them. I couldn't keep a thick batch of rodent file images like this all to myself, so here they are, for the world to view. Read More...

Jul, One Year Later

Juliano Mer-Khamis was killed one year ago today when a masked gunman shot him as he sat in his red Citroën.
Juliano Mer-Khamis (29 May 1958 – 4 April 2011)                             Juliano Mer-Khamis was killed one year ago today when a masked gunman shot him five times—some accounts say seven—as he sat in his red Citroën. He died in view of his one-year old son and babysitter (his wife, pregnant with twins, was out of range). At this writing his killer has not been apprehended, and likely never will be. Even if it were so, the mighty sting of losing Jul has not worn off. I interviewed Juliano about his directing, acting, and political organizing when he toured with his film Arna's Children. I had bought a cheap tape recorder from a nearby pharmacy with two triple A batteries and some fresh tapes. (After transcribing the interview the tape… Read More...

From Empty Signifiers to A Hoodie is Like a Sign

To paraphrase Achebe, Things (Just) Fall Apart.
People Out of Place is a widely practiced operating principle, though it is seldom spoken about that way. The antithesis to People Out of Place is The Watchmen. People Out of Place and The Watchmen form resolutely opposing social forces, the ultimate dialectical phenomenon in the so-called post-racial, post-empire age. ?          ?          ? There are the facts and then there are superimpositions on the facts, and the latter should concern us no less than the former. The facts are the collusion of events in which two men—George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida and Robert Bales in Kandahar, Afghanistan—are alleged to have hunted down and killed (respectively) Trayvon Martin and Mohamed Dawood, Khudaydad, Nazar Mohamed, Payendo, Robeena, Shatarina, Zahra, Nazia, Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Esmatullah, Faizullah (the last six all the children of Mohamed Wazir),… Read More...

Five Questions with Michael Kelleher

I once spent two weeks at a New York publisher’s office transcribing a ghost writer’s recorded interviews with comedienne Jenny McCarthy. He was writing her 'autobiography.'
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet and editor Michael Kelleher. He also writes at Pearlblossom Highway, one of the most stirring and consistent blogs about writing and poetry around (and where he literally unpacks his library letter by letter in the 'Aimless Reading' project, a single-stop destination to discovering new/old work). I was first introduced to his work through this piece, which I considered one of the 20 best things I read in 2011. In 'publish or perish,' which word would you choose to replace the word ‘publish’? This has almost no application outside university tenure decisions. That said, I think that reducing a qualifying process to a single activity, one that is sometimes in tension with what I see as the other main purpose of being a professor, that is, to teach, is… Read More...

The Headless Gentleman

The face, a limb, or a particular sense functions analogically to impede another’s cognition or premonition of interiority or humanity.
There is a story about an English colonial administrator, who, during the first world war and for some time after it, lived in a backward community. He regularly received newspapers and periodicals from home, thus knew of films, and had seen pictures of the stars and had read film reviews and film stories; but he had never seen a motion picture. As soon as he reached a place where there was a cinema, he went to see a film. A number of children around him seemed to enjoy it very much, but he was completely baffled by what he saw and was quite exhausted when at last the film came to an end. 'Well, how did you like it?' asked a friend. 'It was very interesting,' he said, 'but what was it all about?' He had not understood what was… Read More...

Five Questions with Ammiel Alcalay

I remain deeply involved in cartoons.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets begins with the multi-hyphenated poet, translator, scholar, editor, and essayist Ammiel Alcalay. His incredible translation of Semezdin Mehmedinovi?'s Nine Alexandrias first introduced me to his work. What kind of cartoons did you watch in childhood? Keep in mind, born in 1956—'childhood' (watching age?) maybe from around 1960 (not sure if we even had a TV then, remember early ballgames (think I saw Stan Musial & he retired in 1963 so i somehow remember TV coming in around then, previously my brother & i had snuck in to watch TV, at a place during the summer adjacent to where we were staying in Gloucester, & saw a very dramatic show with Rip Torn playing a guy in a phone booth who had been stabbed, seemed to be raining). So, cartoons: classics—Disney,… Read More...

Where the Fire’s Still Burning

Witness testimony and videotape evidence in Sivas showed that police ‘merely gazed at the scene with empty looks‘ as the building was set on fire.
Dostun bahçesine bir hoyrat girmi?  Korudur hey benli dilber korudur  Gülünü dererken dal?n? k?rm??  Kurudur hey benli dilber kurudur To the garden of my love there came an evil louder The shrubs now lie there, my beautiful one, shrubs lie While gathering the roses, he broke their stems to moulder They are all dry, my fair one, they are all dry. —Pir Sultan Abdal, 'To the Garden of My Love There Came an Evil Louder'   Since the worst prison fire in a century in which up to 375 Honduran inmates suffocated and burned alive in their cells, some have brought news of another fire-induced slaying to my attention. Its consequences are reverberating in Turkish civic life this week. On 13 March 2012, an Ankara court is expected to close the case of the 1993 Sivas mass burning, in which plaintiffs… Read More...