Note on text: 555 is a collection of sonnets whose construction is database-driven and relies on text analytic software. I crunched and analyzed Shakespeare’s sonnets to arrive at averages for word, syllable and character (inclusive of punctuation but not spaces). These averages (101 words, 129 syllables, 437 characters) became requirements for three groups of sonnets. I collected lines from anywhere and everywhere in the air or in print in a database. The lines are all found, their arrangement is mine. Values for word, syllable and character were recorded. Typos and grammatical oddities were preserved; only initial capitals and a closing period have been added as needed. The selection of lines isn’t rule-driven and inevitably reflects what I read, watch, and listen to, thus incorporating my slurs and my passions as well as what amuses and disturbs me. These sonnets were assembled using nonce patterns or number schemes; by ear, notion, or loose association; by tense, lexis, tone or alliteration. Every sonnet matches its targeted average exactly. Think of Pound’s “dance of the intellect among words” then sub sentences for words—it is amongst these I move. The dance in question traces out a knot (better yet, a gnot) that holds together what might otherwise fly apart. I espouse only the sonnets, not any one line.
Comment on Poetics: Of late I’ve wondered why the poetry produced under the LGBTQIQA-etc umbrella is so markedly averse to experimentalism, to the avant garde legacy, etc. Why it tends toward the middle waters of the mainstream, poetically speaking. Why shouldn’t Alt-sexualities encompassed by and exceeding those four letters find more common ground with Alt-poetries in common resistance to normativities whether theybe of the hetero- or discursive- sort? That which is ostranenie is also queer, or no?
Bio: You can find out about John Lowther’s work at his poetry blog where there are many links to online poubellications and details about a few of his ongoing projects. Or if you prefer the tangible, pick up one of these anthologies The Lattice Inside: An Atlanta Poets Group Anthology (UNO Press, 2012) or Another South: Experimental Writing in the South (U of Alabama, 2003) or wait for Held to the Letter (co-authored with Dana Lisa Young) due from Lavender Ink in 2015.
weird facts about yr neighborhood
so I’m reading this revolutionary war spy novel, The Spy, that takes place in Westchester county, which was a neutral ground during the war (“The county of Westchester, after the British had obtained possession of the island of New York, became common ground, in which both parties continued to act for the remainder of the war of the Revolution. A large proportion of its inhabitants, either restrained by their attachments, or influenced by their fears, affected a neutrality they did not feel.”)
but I don’t know much about the revolution, so I keep having to look stuff up
here’s the weird couple of facts: Marble Hill is politically part of Manhattan because the creek used to run north of it and there was a bridge that was important during the war, King’s Bridge (which would have been at West 230th Street) that was taken down in 1916, when the original Spuytin Duyvil Creek was filled in. The Spuytin Duyvil Creek that’s by your crib is actually a shipping channel connecting the Hudson River to the Harlem River Ship Canal which was built in 1895. What I’m not sure about is whether the placement of the mouth of the creek was moved…
In the neutral zone
Both sides’ irregular forces
Compete to steal
Whatever cattle are left, to plunder
was as light as feathers.
Neutral just means chaos
In the face of a father’s final blessing.
Donald Ringe describes this demilitarized zone as a “moral wasteland where conflicting principles are at war and the only law is might…”
There needs to be a buffer between our intentions and the intentions of our enemy
Where we all get lost.
Bio: Francis Raven is a Washington, D.C., based poet whose books include the volumes of poetry ARCHITECTONIC CONJECTURES: POEMS ABOUT THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT (Silenced Press, 2010), Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007) and Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox, 2005), as well as the novel INVERTED CURVATURES (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Her poems have been published in Bath House, CHAIN, Big Bridge, Bird Dog, Mudlark, Caffeine Destiny, and Spindrift, among others, and her critical work can be found in Jacket, Logos, Clamor, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, The Electronic Book Review, The Emergency Almanac, The Morning News, The Brooklyn Rail, 5 Trope, In These Times, The Fulcrum Annual, Rain Taxi, and Flak.
My Life in Art
When I first came to art, I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to feel absolutely strange. I wanted it to make me feel completely different. As I’ve gotten older, songs that make me feel more like me have become much more meaningful to me
I have this memory of buying my first CDs: I was in 7th grade at The College School, an experimental middle school in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. After school, I would walk down Big Bend Blvd. and walk to my friend, Elizabeth’s, house. I don’t think we smoked pot yet, but we were close. Actually, what I remember most was her house, a Victorian with a big wrap-around porch; I remember her porch and how we would walk down the hill to a park and read Sassy, the original Sassy, a distinction anyone of my age will recognize. On the way to her house, I would pass Streetside Records.
On one trip to her house, I stopped in the store. I didn’t know what I wanted except for a Jane’s Addiction album that I had heard Elizabeth’s sister, Rose, playing. I bought that, but I wanted something more. I wanted to experience the limits of human experience packaged in an easy-to-play format, which arrived, at the time, in a lengthy cardboard box. I decided on my purchase entirely by name alone: 10,000 Maniacs, which was prominently displayed in the College Radio section (a category of music that unfortunately does not exist anymore). Of course, I was disappointed. 10,000 Maniacs is a fine band, even really good, but they are just not about the limits of art or experience; that’s just not their shtick. But I didn’t know that until I got home. It was the album with Orange and Planned Obsolescence on it; both songs that I still listen to and which sound exactly like that era. At the time, however, I had no idea that there even was such a thing as an era; youth is blissfully pre-historic. But purchases, no matter their era, always have a way of leading to more purchases. I didn’t necessarily have taste, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted ecstasy in art. And art has a funny way of wanting to be raised to the level of taste.
Around that time, I started reading and writing poetry; I became part of a poetry scene focused around Mokabe’s Coffee house. I’m not sure if the poetry was any good for my age; it is still too much of its time. There was a resurgence of beat poetry, but I had no concept of such a renaissance; it was merely natural. I stayed up all night digging on Kerouac and Lamantia and Rimbaud and Burroughs and Kabir and had no idea how anything fit with anything else. Since I didn’t understand that I was standing in an historical moment I couldn’t see anything else as being a part of history. It’s true, then, that the young cannot be historical materialists. But they can feel the ecstasy of what they are experiencing.
I bought Patti Smith’s Horses after reading some of her poetry. Of course, I ended up loving Patti Smith. Just the idea that anyone could be that artistically impassioned, could be that crazy, mesmerized me. But I also wanted the experience Michael Stipe had when he first heard her. Stipe was an army brat who spent his high school years in Collinsville, Illinois. Ethan Kaplan, writes of an earlier interview with Stipe where I learned of his interest in Patti: “When Stipe was 15 and in high school in St. Louis, he happened upon an issue of Creem magazine under his chair in study hall. Patti Smith was on the cover, looking like ‘Morticia Adams.’ Stipe went and bought Horses, which he claims ‘tore my limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order. I was like ‘Shit, yeah, oh my god!’ then I threw up.’” In that instant I wanted to be Michael Stipe, not so I could be lead singer of an immensely popular band, but so that story about finding Patti Smith could be mine. This was the story that really made me realize the power of art to transport us.
After a while, I became a pretty good young poet so I was blessed with some really good mentors who guided me through the history of art. Since we only experience the present, we need others to teach us history. This history led me through art for the next few years.
I am 30 now, married, sober. I want art to be a little less strange now, a little more human. I have gone in for the human story, for masters of the modest poetic. I have started to welcome that human story.
The modest poetic is colored by disappointment, regret, by time passing. Yet, it is not about living every moment as if it were your last. It is about the choices that people make every day; that is why it is modest. Thus, while the strange art that I loved as an 18-year-old (and which I still love now, but in a changed way) was often about the present, about the moment, about the new, the art of the modest poetic recognizes that life is long and full of consequences that matter. Thus, I want to feel more than dramatic weirdness; I want to know why I should feel this strangeness and I want to both know that others feel it too and why they feel it.
On my honeymoon, on Kauai, I read Updike’s Rabbit books and was moved and understood why I was moved. That is, the story had prepared me to be moved in certain ways by character. Updike shows the history of a disposition towards the world, which made me realize that the history of my own disposition towards the world could be understood by way of a narrative.
While the earlier work that I loved focused on the incomprehensibility of the moment, the later work seemed to say that the world, our choices, our lives, were understandable under the lens of a narrative. Why has narrative become so much more important to me? I suppose because my own life has a narrative. I am, for better or worse, the self that made certain decisions, did certain things, read certain other things, etc. As a 30 year old, I am no longer the sine-qua-non of my life. I am somebody who has been some places.
Of course, nobody expresses the regret and hope of life better than Bruce Springsteen. Loving Springsteen was really a turning point for me. At first, when I was younger, he didn’t sound weird enough. He sounded too straight, too much like somebody else would listen to him. But then, his songs gave me stories that I could relate to; but that wasn’t really the strange part, which was that I wanted to relate to something, that relating had become important to me.
The increased importance of relating to others made me more empathetic in my aesthetic life. I wanted to relate to more different ways of life, belief, and culture and I found that art was a way of doing this. Of course, this is completely obvious, and is at least one of the main reasons that the arts are funded at all, but for me, it was a revelation that was deeply felt. For example, I don’t know anything about football. I’ve never played it and I don’t understand the rules. But a show about a small town in Texas whose entire culture is completely focused on football, Friday Night Lights, sucked me in. It is simply dramatic; nothing radical occurs, but they are human stories as they say, as I say now, as it is something I like to say now. That is, it produced the empathy within me to care aesthetically about lives and games that in my ordinary life I would not care about. Somehow, its emotional authenticity allowed me to recognize my own emotional life in that of the characters. That is, it made me feel similar to others and that is what I want from art now. I’m sure my tastes will change again, but I’m growing into these ones now.
Bio: Wayne Mason is a writer and sound artist from Central Florida. His words have appeared across the small press in magazines both print and online. He is the author of five chapbooks. and is the former poetry editor for Side Of Grits, and The Tampa Bay Muse. Wayne Mason has also been active in experimental music for nearly twenty years. He records ambient, experimental and noise sounds, formerly under the name of Zilbread, and is also a founding member of the experimental/noise project Stickfigure and electronic duo Blk/Mas. http://brokenzen.wordpress.com/
Poetic Statement:When I was much younger I aspired to change the world. Now years later, my work stems from a desire to change myself by exploring my own internalterrain. In the end the strangest, most profound journey is not the one outward, but the one inward through my own psychic landscapes.
Michael David Saunders Hall
Analog Soul: Ode To The Ark of History
“History is never silent, it reminds us again and again and again, that we live its presence in every part of our life every day.”
–Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky)
#1) In the Fountain of Now
in the beginning
of the end, in the fountain
of now, where youth
is the eternal exuberance
to the sound
I once telegraphed rhythms
cutting in, out—
in the cadence of heartbeats
with rhythmic instinctions
transcending the trek
of life. it’s all a mystic brew
of rhythms spun from
constant conjures cooking
in the cauldron
of old record
of the crossfader
…& crescendo, making
music from noise wandering
amidst the voices
in the margins, lingering
like echoes, refined
#2) In the Tongues of Talking Drums
Everyday is the big playback: listening
to ex libris
excerpts & excursions in aural alchemy enjambed
& juxtaposed within the soul vibrations
of lingua franca
conjured in incantations of rhythm, connecting
us to the continuum of lost & found moments
the metronome of memory into the digitized
diary of the mind where our analog souls
into the ark of history, rehearsing & conversing
In tongues of talking drums
hieroglyphics & a tapestry of folktales.
Words on Fire (or: Destiny…in search of the light)
inspired by Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale
Are we ever to be old
As the destinies or dreams
Of our own decree we seek?
Connected by light
We are stars ageless as God
More ancient than Earth
In a clockwork of spirits
Born out of our words on fire
& loves unbroken by time.
Two Views on Love
What’s this thing called love?
Kisses coming off the tongue
Hearts beating like drums.
In the scrupulous scribbles
Of life painted freehand, love
is the serenade
of whispered watercolors
& on, dancing in the flesh
never to be forsakened.
I. And the ice floe became endemic, because the water was cold
And it was thin
And it spread everywhere, all around.
Standing in the backroom of a noisy petshop, waiting to drown,
Imagining Cocteau, a film (a shimmer) on the storefront window
Orpheus: Le Sang d’un Poete
As the rain came down.
Leaving dirty streaks in the dust, dusty streaks in the dirt.
II. And composition suggests death.
The boundaries are set and they are smooth.
The periphery is set and it is smooth.
It is a casket-aperture to let in the light,
Because life needs random.
Because vitality is chaos.
And all we see are borders
Fill them in, fill them in, we fill them in, fill them in.
III. And then it all gets old, it gets old
And all you have left is bones and soul, bones and soul.
The cars idling in the streets,
The roar of engines
The clouds of smoke.
IV. “Greetings and welcome to Jaipur.”
The bathroom smelled like soap, old ratfaced brown towel hung over the railing.
All the way back to Earth, were lines, full spectrum bright lines, like sunglare, lines streaking back.
Trusting the burst behind them, the rushing crushing transfer of light, the blur between them,
Weaving around them, the dangerous-shaking shapechanging
building images in my mind, the images my mind will come to commit to memory, outrageous
namecalling, tracking mud through the room, confused feeble little mind,
The last second reflection of light (fluorescent) in a passing by mirror, sheen of the glass, corner of
V. And don’t ever be afraid, there is nothing to fear.
And don’t ever be ashamed
Of what it takes to get back home again.
Busted blind, or deaf and lame,
All the bended bent outside in, dim lit,
Rushing rivulets away,
To get back home again.
Amphibian reptilian paraphyly
Air-filled-lungs, expanding gills, words falling out of ash like scales off of eyes.
Plague, pulque, fire, flood, and gramophone.
VII. and we sat in schools, in little classrooms, bounded in by glass, bounded in by glass.
And we listened,
James Fenimore Cooper, Max Planck, the dreadful XYZ affair.
The devils on us that hide in every subject, behind every pause.
Deconstruct the clause, graph the sentence out.
IIX. Fire-pimps that hide behind the tinder.
Lightning-skies that hide behind the storm.
Reckless are the curtains torn, the rattle of the steel.
The storms behind the clouds
And this is what the tuhunder says as it begins to pour,
Rushing rivulets, rivulets away.
IX. Dans cet abime, abondance.
X. and the fire became endemic, it was far too hot,
The blood so warm and the skin so flushed,
And the rain come spilling out.
The noise so quiet and the light so bright,
The visions so blurry, the lines so static, the colors so fade.
Fill them in, fill them in.
after Hexagram 29; The Abysmal Water
(the ‘a’ carries)
between doubled bodies.
that name, water,
is locked, enclosed, repeated.
the danger of that.
doubling the repeated
(the line and inner rise carrying)
in only fills meaning.
streams protect against the forward.
the protecting world, which makes ‘without’ what remains,
depends on within.
it flows in sun.
properly the means make it the danger.
the image occurs in that.
the repeated. the image.
inner mountains form.
merely grow within the body.
material occurs, has natural light.
if flowing can be like it
with it, one and all.
ravine of light fills through/within “A”
brought and enclosed with the material
From It’ll Never Be Over For Me
YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR INTEREST LIES
after Dana Valery
A green veil on the bird,
serrated lightning on the perimeter;
into the milk afternoon flies
the big Wheel, it barfs rain
onto the flagstones. Like this,
this is another city—now
buds open with alien colours.
You should be in a pink
6-wheeled car, it would have been
so Technicolor, a death match
to the quick divan. Jewels
of bright Bugs in the grey
climate. Shiny skin up to here,
the walking hinge. What lies
within is terror. So far, Penelope,
a jumpsuit of shrinking veins.
Wait for the last switch.
You thought the light was on,
but now this hurts your eyes.
As far as I can tell, something like a modern hedge witch, all the chakras in a line, kicking up their boots. Couldn’t you have guessed that’s where this was headed? Milan to Johannesburg to London to New York. Ed Sullivan & disco & the most original softdrink in the whole wide world. Yes, you’re going to love Lenny’s Steak & Chops—lay your hands on me, Dana Valery. What’s left to do but set wounds, set to spinning the music of the spheres: vibrating Virgo, pulsing Pisces, spine arumble with hot water through the pipes? Radio, television, peeling back the strata of the spiritual onion. Big bright eyes, all that energy—the future right there in the past, what we forgot about as the dirty water rises to chins, wrong energy a cloud of black ballpoint ink above this shuddering firmament. Set us free, Dana Valery.
DON’T LEAVE POOR ME
after Big Maybelle Smith
Advancing blacktop, always
at the behest of
shrinking leaves, the last
of whatever came
before— what falls
chaos pink & white of flowering
wounds puckered on rock
turf. Don’t green to grey,
sail away the ripples
toward shore, banking waves
a klaxon. Always vectored
continuity, a pointing arrow a sword
like macaroni overhead
that points at sag & fall,
of tentacles. To lord
over just groans. Who once
struck the silver gong
for me now going
abyss mists Miss so-&-sos
who were the greyscale
In another time, you’d have been a Queen. Big Maybelle Smith, the Queen of May, The Queen of the Bells, ringing out across those post-industrial badlands. Orson Wells’ last gig was as a planet in “Transformers: The Movie,” & likewise you should have had your own atmosphere, but instead you did “96 Tears” & left with a question mark, a mystery when everything about you was plain to see, like a tree, thick with magnolias like the one that peeked out from your shimmering hair. Even a young Johnny Coltrane could not attain escape velocity; you both proved the body wants what the heart can’t have: some sweetness, a moment’s peace, beloved anodyne. Sunday’s still gloomy & you’re out there, way past Pluto, waiting to swallow the sun at exactly the right moment & to thunderous applause.
I’LL DO A LITTLE BIT MORE
after The Olympics
Transom, what was—
I’m no good.
Does the movie
when there’s nobody
in the audience?
Projectionist, long gone
like the lighthouse-
keeper. That was then,
etc. What is
a book? A slab
Shrinking & mundane,
what grows from
last light, the clock
the highest fascist.
Grey that supplants,
voice, still singing, stinging
A million records, good
only for breaking,
the hungry stylus done.
has no leverage in this the 5th
U.S. champions in “Good Lovin’.” Walter Ward got gold in losing your girl to fake cowboys & gunshots. Eddie Lewis got silver in the 500m Hucky Buck. An army of judges agree. Walter Hammond bronze in “The Bounce.” Charles Fizer failed to place in the 1000m run from National Guard guns in Watts, Los Angeles. Melvin King got gold in losing your only sister to an accidental bullet. Trigger slipped. On account of they can’t all fit on the Wheaties box, try a milk carton, the obituaries instead. Have you seen these men? Not since 2006. Angels arrived with chariots full of gumdrops & lemonade.
Poetics is a tricky subject. It seems to start as many fights as religion, albeit less violent ones with a few exceptions. Likewise, it is about as empirically provable as religion is. What is poetry? What is god? Do either really exist? God and poetry have been declared dead about as many times, yet books & magazines & churches & temples still exist. I prefer books & magazines to churches, so that is all I will say about god. People like to complain that there is something wrong with contemporary poetry. Most of them haven’t read much contemporary poetry. Our poetry needs to change, they say, in order to be of greater interest to society, when what really needs to happen is that society needs to change to be of greater interest to poetry. Society runs screaming from poetry & complains that poetry is getting too far away. Poetry that gives chase winds up out of breath & stranded in a strange town where Justin Bieber glows on flat screen televisions & everyone is famous. We need to let society run spastically into the CGI sunset & leave us alone with poetry. Wasn’t this what we wanted all along? That, I suppose, is my poetics.
Everything you need to know about poetry is written on air. This statement will make many people furious. Therefore, it is poetic.
* * *
To put it another way, poetry is a manner of speaking that differs from speech, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t say anything. Of course it says something, or it wouldn’t exist. Some will say that contemporary poetry means nothing. This is impossible since words do nothing but mean; they are meanings in & of themselves. To say poetry can mean nothing is like saying abstract painting is invisible. If it were possible for a poem to mean nothing, it would be the greatest poem of all time. In Shavasana in yoga the mind tries to empty itself of itself, but this is mostly impossible; the mind attempts to extinguish itself in a crackle of memories and images, disjointed from each other and not particularly attached to anything—a kind of static that is as close as we can come to emptiness—never necessarily empty, but as divorced from ordinary thinking as we can be & still be alive. Poetry functions like this as well; even poetic narrative leads to emptiness—a state where language is no longer necessary. Mere language can only ask for a hunk of cheese, but it is all we have. This doesn’t mean we should not try to get past language, to outgrow it. That is what poetry is for. “Shavasana” means “corpse pose;” everyone knows death and poetry are old friends, even the ones who want to run with celebrities. A yogi(ni) in Shavasana is like a corpse in the same way a poem made of words is like a poem.
* * *
I like to write next to things: paintings, songs, trees, people, which is not to say that I like to write about them, but they are there nevertheless; have you ever tried to ignore a tree? Or a Miró? The poems here were written next to a bunch of songs that were popular in some clubs in England in the sixties, seventies and eighties. It is difficult to say how the idea came to me, but nevertheless it came. I listened to the songs & then wrote the poems; this is about as explicitly as the process can be described. Post hoc ergo propter hoc would suggest that they aren’t actually related in any way, but fuck logic. The poems are accompanied by prose pieces talking about the people who wrote the songs because it seemed like the right thing to do. These pieces do something very different from the poems, so I really consider them to be prose, although they do not sound much like your garden-variety expository writing. Some might call them prose-poems, but I call them prose &, ultimately, they are my children so I can call them whatever I want. Like siblings who don’t necessarily get along with each other, they both happen to have the same parent & neither one can deny this. Most of my projects are very different from each other—the only thing they have in common is me; this is a failing of sorts insofar as the best poems will eventually abandon their authors. I try to let the poems do whatever they want. Some people might say I am a bad parent, but these peoples’ poems probably grow up to hate them. Their poems will grow up to become lawyers & accountants. My poems will probably wind up in jail. I am so proud of them.