26 March 2012

Last Days

Throughout his career, Gus Van Sant has focused on nuanced and provocative protagonists that do not adhere to stock Hollywood characterizations. And although, aesthetically, the majority of his movies do not share his characters's flair for the non-normative, Van Sant wrote and directed four, cinematically daring films beginning with 2002's Gerry and ending with 2007's Paranoid Park.

In Last Days, his 2005 film loosely based on the final days of Kurt Colbain's life, Van Sant combines the minimalism he perfected in Gerry with his exploration of difference and repetition found in Elephant to great effect.

The auteur's minimalism manifests itself in spartan dialogue and long, single-take shots. For instance, outside of some indecipherable mumbling, there is no dialogue until almost six minutes into the movie when Blake (Michael Pitt), the begrudgingly famous rock star, sings some off-key lyrics from “Home on the Range.” Viewers must wait eleven more minutes before they hear another voice, this time a one-sided phone conversation between Blake and his manager. Scenes of Blake wandering around the forested Northwest near his secluded home comprise the remainder of Last Days opening twenty minutes.


In order to offset the lack of dialogue, Van Sant employs background noise to keep viewers interested. Take, for instance, the six minute and twenty-five second mark. Blake stumbles through a marshy clearing in what seems to be an isolated area, but the sound of a train rumbling down rails cuts into the audio track. Moments later, we see a train speed by in the background. We are surprised to discover that this wilderness is not wilderness at all.


To this extent, Van Sant instills a particular sonic expectation within the audience; but one minute later, he quickly undercuts that expectation. To explain: Blake walks up a winding dirt road; as he approaches a hairpin turn, a motorcycle engine grows increasingly louder. Because a train suddenly entered the camera's frame in the earlier scene, we expect a similar occurrence, but this time with disastrous results. Yet, as Blake rounds the turn and Van Sant presents us with a clear view of the road, we see nothing but trees and dirt. The motorcycle's engine fades out.


The auditory play continues when, once inside his house, Blake dons a hunter's cap, grabs a shotgun, and walks around the upstairs bedrooms with exaggerated, lumbering steps. After each step, Van Sant overdubs the sound of feet wading through shallow water. At first blush, one might think the house has flooded; but, of course, this is not the case. Throughout the rest of the movie, Van Sant engages in similar sonic trickery, incorporating church bells, choirs, random atonal noise, and barely audible chatter in order to produce a layered soundscape that supports (and draws attention away from) extended periods of silence.

Just as Elephant used an innovative narrative structure, jumping back and forth in time to show the same events from different characters's points of view, Last Days functions in a similar fashion. Shortly after the twenty-six minute mark, there is a long shot from behind Asia (a female hanger-on crashing at the house). She opens the door to a room from which Boyz II Men emanates and Blake, who was leaning against it in a heroin-induce daze, falls over. A six minute scene follows where Scott (Asia's boyfriend) speaks with a pair of Mormon missionaries who are going door-to-door spreading their faith. Up to this point, the entire movie follows a strict chronological order. But as soon as the scene ends, Van Sant cuts to Blake wobbling about the room we last saw him in. It is only as the scene progress and he leans up against the door that we realize this all has happened before. Once that moment of recognition occurs, the door opens behind him and we see Asia's legs in the background.


The same scene from two different characters and cameras. The next multi-perspective pairing does not occur until the forty-five minute and one hour and three minute marks, respectively. Donovan, an acquaintance of Blake, comes to the house with a private investigator (played by Ricky Jay) at the behest of Blake's wife. While both scenes contain the same beginning (Donovan walking up a set of stairs), one permutation follows Blake and the other follows Donovan and the detective.


Afterward, the final thirty minutes of the movie contain matching scenes from different perspectives at an increasingly frequent rate. This technique clutters the narrative making it more difficult to follow, as well as creating a claustrophobic atmosphere from which there is no escape. In such a manner, the repetitive, non-linear narrative structure highlights the confusion and hopelessness Blake experiences.

Minimalism, sonic playfulness, and unique narrative techniques are not the only innovative practices Van Sant undertakes in Last Days (for example, at the ten minute and thirty second mark, Van Sant shoots a scene in which there are three competing focal points), but they certainly are the most noticeable. To conclude, it would be appropriate to show two of the better single-take shots from the film, both of which are several minutes in length. In the first scene, Van Sant mounts a camera to the hood of a car and films Ricky Jay's detective regaling Donovan with the tale of magicians Billy Robinson and Ching Ling Foo: the movie's most extensive dialogue. All the while, the reflection of overhead trees in the front windshield obscures both men's faces offering an ever moving impressionistic tableaux (0:46 - 3:15):

Finally, the four and a half minute film-version of the Last Days original song “That Day”:

24 March 2012

I Remember

In 1971, Anne Waldman's Angel Hair Books published Joe Brainard's I Remember in an edition of 700 copies. After selling out, Angel Hair published an updated version titled More I Remember in 1972 and More I Remember More in 1973. In 1975, Full Court Press released a further revised and expanded edition that was later re-released by Granary Press and included a Ron Padgett penned afterword.

Brainard's book follows a simple but powerful constraint: write an extended series of sentences (and sometimes paragraphs), each one beginning with the anaphora “I remember...” The anaphoric refrain, coupled with the cataloging of memories suffused with mid-twentieth-century Americana necessarily draws comparison's to Walt Whitman. Indeed, I Remember certainly reads like “Song of Myself” updated for the mid-Twentieth Century.

For a better sense of Brainard's techniques, as well as the content he covers, a brief excerpt from the collection proves helpful:
I remember closely examining the opening in the head of my cock once, and how it reminded me of a goldfish's mouth.

I remember goldfish tanks in dime stores. And nylon nets to catch them with.

I remember ceramic castles. Mermaids. Japanese bridges. And round glass bowls of varying sizes.

I remember big black goldfish, and little white paper cartons to carry them home in.

I remember the rumor that Mae West keeps her youthful appearance by washing her face in male cum.

I remember wondering if female cum is call “cum” too.

I remember wondering about the shit (?) (ugh) fucking up the butt.

I remember Ping-pong ball dents. (125-126)
First, the different associative leaps between “I remember...” statements bears mentioning. The relationship between the first and second sentences is both linguistic and figurative. “The opening in the head of [Brainard's] cock” reminds him “of a goldfish's mouth,” which leads him to a memory of “goldfish tanks in dime stores.” Comparing the meatus of the urethra to the mouth of a goldfish creates a comparative link within the initial statment; but the vehicle of the metaphor, which is the fish's mouth, reminds him of a dime store fish tank containing hundreds of literal goldfish mouths and, thus, produces the second statement. This memory, then, results in two more memories and a new type of association: a list of materially-related items. Whether it's “ceramic castles...Japanese bridges” or a “big black goldfish,” the content of every memory cataloged in these sentences adheres to one another on the material level.

Conceptually, the relationship between the black goldfish memory and the Mae West memory is the most radical, at least to the extent that there appears to be little, if any, connection. One could make a threadbare argument that a relationship between the color “white” and “male cum” bridges the divide between sentences, but even so, the connection remains tenuous. The foundation of the next association works through juxtaposition, contrasting male and female cum; and the subsequent sentence about “fucking up the butt” relates to the previous two statements on the level of discourse (in this particular instance, sexuality). The final “I remember...” statement from the excerpt could be consider disjunctive, similar to the black goldfish-Mae West linkage. By altering the types of association throughout the collection (e.g. linguistic, figurative, material, disjunctive, contrasting, or discourse-related), then, Brainard keeps readers on their toes and always in a state of curiosity as to where his mind will next take them.

The content of the above excerpt, as well, is indicative of the collection as a whole. To begin with, Brainard explores his (primarily but not exclusively homo)sexuality in explicit detail, never shying away from graphic or embarrassing subject matter. Whether he's hiding his semen-stained pajamas in the laundry from his mother, or getting a hand job from a stranger at the MoMA, nothing is off limits for his reportage. Pop culture is another preoccupation for Brainard, particularly movie stars, as evidenced with the invocation of Mae West. Whether it's Rock Hudson, Rosemary Clooney, Lana Turner, or Judy Garland, the poet's fascination with twentieth-century celebrities constantly reoccurs. Finally, the majority of the “I remember...” statements focus on memories from Brainard's childhood. And although the author's preoccupations are not exclusively from his earliest years (e.g. games, pranks, and day dreams, etc.), he does seem to find pleasure in tracing the circuitous paths of his more distant remembrances.

23 March 2012


Squeak Carnwath's Essential Versions, an oil and alkyd painting that depicts lined-paper with the handwritten phrase “Art, Like Science and philosophy presents essential versions of Reality” scrawled upon it, adorns the front cover of John Yau's chapbook Exhibits (Letter Machine Editions, 2010). While the painting looks remarkably similar to an actual piece of lined-paper with childish handwriting, the artist composed the entire piece with paint alone.

In an online interview, Carnwath claims her art is not meant to be a representation of reality, but instead challenges us to question “a different reality, though, like the reality of how we navigate the world. Is that real, or is that all in our imagination?” The fact that Essential Versions appears to look so much like its real world counterpart forces us to question the realness of reality, as well as how art and imagination provide us with their own essential realities in need of navigation.

Indeed, art does present us with an essential version of reality that must not be neglected. But the reality of art and the reality of our daily lives, as demonstrated in Essential Versions, oftentimes overlap and thus become nearly indistinguishable from one another. During November 2006, John Yau interviewed Squeak Carnwath for The Brooklyn Rail. Therein, the poet and the artist address the intersection of reality and art:
Yau: I see the writing on [your] paintings as an interrogation: What is painting, where does it come from?

Carnwath: And what is reality?

Yau: Yes, you're interrogating this thing that you're making. What does it do? Where does it come from? How does it function in the world? What kind of communication is it capable of? I would say that you're trying to interrogate the limits of painting.

Carnwarth: And still keep it painting.
In addition to the fact that Carnwath explicitly questions reality, she and Yau raise a series of rhetorical questions, particularly “Where does [art] come from” and “How does it function in the world”? Later in the interview, they answer these questions, somewhat elliptically, when speaking about art's ability to expand itself by “absorbing” the world around it:
Yau: And there’s another, earlier painting, that I saw, where I felt like you were sitting in your studio and you copied down into the painting something that you heard on the radio that day.

Carnwath: Yes, there is a painting which says, “I heard on the radio about this guy who stabbed himself.”

Yau: That’s it. And it’s really interesting because what happens is the space the painting occupies becomes bigger.
Art, then, expands the space it occupies by absorbing elements of the real world; but in doing so, art also blurs the distinction between the two spheres, so much so that works like Essential Versions become visually synonymous with that reality. Again, this maneuver, to Carnwath's mind, is not about representation; instead, it questions the reality of the real and the illusion of realness reality produces.

How, then, does Carnwath's aesthetic and conceptual concerns relate to Yau's Exhibits? Just as the artist incorporates phrases from the radio into her paintings to interrogate reality, Yau creates his poems in a similar manner. Exhibits contains twenty-two sets of five, more often than not terse sentences that feel at once familiar and strange. Take, for instance, the following excerpts:
Internet access is free as long as you answer a few simple questions. (1)

Our fully licensed and legal union can reunite you with nearly all your lost opportunities. (2)

According to the Inventory Data we have on hand, you are not yet born. (7)

We regret to inform you that you is no longer in stock. (10)

Signing up for Free Membership works best in a failing economy. (14)

Employees must ash their hands before returning to the barracks. (19)

There will be no more Coming Attractions until further notice. (21)

Starting tomorrow, individuals will be canceled at an alarming rate. (22)
In these sentences, Yau mines the language of business and consumer culture, twisting them ever so slightly in order to launch an inquiry into the linguistic nature of capitalism. Through absorption of everyday life, the poems in Exhibits offer a humorous but bleak view of humanity. A “fully licensed and legal union” claims to be able to “reunite you with nearly all your lost opportunities,” but such a reunion seems unlikely due to the fact “Inventory Data” informs us that “you are not yet born.” Of course, even if you had been born, “you is no longer in stock.” If we're “counting on these episodes to fulfill” us in some way (7), then we are sorely mistaken because they don't “add up...in the way you think” (15). Taken as an aggregate, these sentences make known that consumer culture saps us of our individuality. Yes, we are being “canceled at an alarming rate” (22).

If the absorptive effect of Yau's poetry reveals that we have been “canceled,” or even worse that we were never even “in stock,” what purpose does it serve? Is it merely to inform us that we have officially become products ourselves? And outdated ones at that? If so, wouldn't blissful ignorance better serve us? While lingering in uncritical oblivion, no doubt, may be a less stressful option (perhaps even preserving one's sanity), Yau's chapbook asks us to confront our contemporary condition head-on through a poetry-based inquiry. True, the answers may not be the ones we wanted, but perhaps, as Adorno wrote in Minimal Moralia, although such an inquiry reveals that we are inextricably “entangled” in the capitalist machine, it also offers us the “infinitesimal freedom that lies in knowledge as such.”

21 March 2012


As someone who identifies alternately as either a vegetarian or pescetarian (depending on my location), I'm always on the lookout for restaurants that offer a wide-range of tasty options that fit my diet. While people living in Denver with similar dining habits can fall back on establishments such as Watercourse, City O City, and Root Down, it's good to know that another breakfast eatery provides an expansive list of meals from which to choose. Located at the southeast corner of Pearl Street and 13th Avenue in the heart of Capitol Hill, Jelly has served both vegetarians and meat-eaters alike for just over a year.

The first thing you'll notice about Jelly is the retro-aesthetic of the restaurant's outdoor signage and interior decor. Modeled after design elements common to the 50s or 60s (e.g. fluid edges and sans serif fonts) and coupled with a pink and white color scheme, Jelly provides customers with a fun, comfortable, and kitschy atmosphere in which to dine. Cereal boxes from the 80s, such as C3POs, Smurf Berry Crunch, and Strawberry Shortcake, adorn the walls, taking those who grew up during that time period on a pleasant nostalgia trip. The wait-staff, always attentive and refreshingly (for Capitol Hill) exuberant, only compliments the design.

As for the food, make sure to start breakfast off with an order of Jelly's signature doughnut bites filled with (yes, you guessed it) jelly, crème anglaise, chocolate anglaise, or the cinnamon-coated variety. Main course vegetarian options include a delicious Biscuits and Gravy; Breakfast Sliders made with veggie frittatas; a Harvest Hash containing rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, carrot, and butternut squash; or the Farm Scramble, cooked with oven dried tomato, basil, and goat cheese. If your diet allows for seafood, try the Salmon Benedict. Artisan sourdough bread layered with seared fillets and perfectly poached eggs, then smothered in hollandaise sauce, makes for an amazing breakfast. For those who choose sweet over savory, the size of the Stuffed French Toast w/ Banana & Cream Cheese alone will leave you in awe. The ever-changing specialty pancakes, which in the past have included Tres Leches and Red Velvet flavors, should not be missed.

Finally, no review of Jelly would be complete without mentioning their breakfast drinks. If you're craving an extra kick with your food, try the mimosas, which happen to be both strong and delicious. If you dine during the week, you can purchase the bottomless version for $8. Then there's the Bloody Marys, which some would consider a meal in themselves. The Bloody Mary Salad comes garnished with celery, pickled green beans, olives, and carrots, while hanging from the side of the Shrimp Cocktail Cocktail version is a generous portion of sea-dwellers.

Jelly is open from 7AM to 3PM every day. They do not take reservations, so if you're not one to wait for seating (especially on the weekend), make sure to arrive before 10PM. Catering options are also available by emailing cater@eatmorejelly.com.

18 March 2012

The Witch's Index: Spells, Incantations, Poems

In the Notes section of Megan Gannon's chapbook The Witch's Index: Spells, Incantations, Poems (Sweet Publications, 2012), the author extends a debt of gratitude to Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, and their book Madwoman in the Attic. The scholars, in their seminal feminist text, note how “afflictions...such as anorexia, agorophobia, claustrophobia...aphasia, and amnesia...strike a disproportionate number of women” (36).

Gannon's use of the witch-figure and her corresponding spells, then, makes perfect sense when placed within the context of Madwoman in the Attic. The witch, as Gilbert and Gubar mention, can conjure a “patriarchally defined association between creative women and monsters”; but from a female point of view, the witch functions as an archetype “who seeks the power of self-articulation,” and therefore presents herself more completely “from the inside out.” To the scholars' minds, self-articulation heals the speaker in that it “exorcises the sentences which bred her infection,” freeing her “of the despair she inhaled.” The Witch's Index, in many ways, can be read as an elixir for the maladies and “uncertain words” (4) that the speaker has inhaled, but an elixir that needs to be stored in safekeeping.

Not coincidentally, Gannon opens her chapbook with the trope of breath, returning to it regularly in order to exorcise afflictions and transmit identity. In the collection's first poem, “Casting Spell,” we find the following image:
      mother leaning over us at night to see
we're breathing, tells us, it keeps traveling,
the sound you send out (3)
During the poem “Wide Spaces Spell” we are told:
                         breath a thread
endlessly, casing so small
a spiral could crush one
lost on updrafts of every
further shrinking (10)
In the first instance, breath acts as a sign of life and a sonic projection of oneself; but in the latter of these two examples, the lines make us aware of breath's fragility and the possibility that it could be crushed or lost.

If there is a single poem in The Witch's Index that most fully realizes breath as both a mode of self-articulation and an inherently vulnerable concept, it would have to be “Echo Spell”:
If there is a voice who speaks
for air, for the widening four directions
unmappable within a longing for fits
of shattered, battering light, if her voice
holds inside it the brightened, less
cageable winds within a never
so ceaseless the body is a season shifting
against a spectrum of sun, then in
speaking the self is a shadow end of all
possible harbors, a shell turning
in the relentless glitter of a tide, awe full
in the shocked emptiness of unnaming
  Who speaks
  for directions
  her voice,
  within a ever-
  wind of all
  tide of all
  among. (11)
To begin with, the speaker's “voice / holds inside it the brightened, less / cageable wind” that is “never so ceaseless.” But in “speaking the self,” the speaker compares her being to “a shell turning / in the relentless glitter of a tide” that is filled with awe “in the shocked emptiness of unnaming.” This metaphor, of course, could be read in multiple ways. On the one hand, we could read the image the speaker uses in her comparison as a naturally occurring but ornamental object communing with the ocean and its glittering tide; on the other hand, we could read it as something small and unmoored that is lost within a vast ocean and beholden to more powerful tides.

We can read the poem's formal structure in a similar manner. On the one hand, the second echo stanza could be, as Gilbert and Gubar wrote: “a complex vibration...that undercuts and ridicules the genre being employed” through a “radical misreading of patriarchal poetics”; on the other hand, the echo stanza could be read as a forfeiture of the speaker's voice since it shifts the original poem's meaning and intent.

Neither of these reading, I think, are correct in-and-of themselves. Instead, to employ both readings allows us to understand the voice, the breath, and the articulation as a self-projection imbued with life, but also as a tenuous construct subject to the “unmappable, heartless dark” (3).

17 March 2012

Girls: 03/16/12, Englewood, CO

Last night Girls played the Gothic Theater as they tour for their most recent album Father, Son, Holy Ghost; Unknown Mortal Orchestra opened.


Girls are a San Francisco-based rock band fronted by singer-songwriter Christopher Owens, along with bassist and producer Chet White. In 2009 they released their first full-length album. Simply titled
Album, Girls blended Owens's Elvis Costello-like voice with the sounds of 70s garage-surf rock. While much attention was paid to Owens's upbringing in the Children of God cult, their music won praise from both mainstream and indie media outlets.

The band followed up their first proper album one year later with the Broken Dreams Club EP, which found Owens and White tweaking their sound slightly with the addition of slide guitars, organs, and backing female vocals that provided a distinctly country-tinge aura. With the release of Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls once again threw in another sonic wrinkle by dipping a bit more heavily into their psyche roots. Songs, particularly "Vomit," contain moments that could have been lifted straight off of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. But far from simply churning out classic rock imitations, the band has a knack for creating a sound that remains contemporary and fresh.

During Friday night's show, Girls played from all three of their releases. While their stage set-up was a lean, no-frills affair, the band (outside of one false start) put on a solid performance. Down- to mid-tempo numbers filled out the majority of the set list, but the audience seemed to revel in the songs's
melancholia. But the band knew when they needed to throw in an upbeat rock songs like "Lust for Life" and the aforementioned "Vomit" (with requite guitars solos) to keep the show from stagnating. Below is a video of Girls playing "My Ma" last night:

Openers Unknown Mortal Orchestra tore through a half an hour to forty-five minutes worth of standard but enjoyable rock 'n roll. Towards the conclusion of their set, lead singer Ruban Nielson began to lose his voice, but not before playing some of their more crowd-friendly songs. Below is a video that contains an instrumental interlude from one of their songs:

Both bands will play tonight in Salt Lake City, UT and close out their tour on Sunday in Reno, NV.

16 March 2012

Great Divide Brewing Company

Located at the corner of 22nd and Arapahoe in downtown Denver, the Great Divide Brewery has crafted high-quality beers in Colorado since Brian Dunn founded the company in 1994.

The brewery is known for their bold, award-winning beers. The Titan IPA, for example, is a brew with “piney hop aromas and citrus hop flavors, and finishes with a nice rich, malty sweetness that is balanced with crisp hop bitterness”; and the Yeti Imperial Stout, is a “roasty malt flavor that gives way to rich caramel and toffee notes.” Great Divide beers have a distinctive taste and body that does not disappoint; even their lightest beer, the unfiltered rice-based Samuri, provides drinkers an unparalleled experience. In addition to their nine year-round selections, Great Divide produces seasonal beers as well; currently, they're brewing Nomad, which is a Czech-style Pilsner that has “lively floral nose and crispness,” and this July they'll release an as-of-yet unnamed Dopplebock.


Interested parties can head down to the brewery's Tap Room and take advantage of sixteen taps that serve both seasonal and year-round beers. Three sample glasses cost three dollars, allowing for an economical way to experience a large cross-section of Great Divide's offerings. The Tap Room will even, occasionally, serve limited-run selections that cannot be purchased elsewhere.

Patrons can also tour the brewery, led by a bartender that doubles as a guide. With a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of both the company's history and the brewing process, coupled with a friendly demeanor, the guides make the tour fun and educational. Whether it's telling the back story of Brian Gunn (before founding Great Divide, he used to travel the world developing farms in impoverished countries), the building itself (it used to be a diary-processing plant that manufactured yogurt during the Prohibition Era), or giving details about the company's current endeavors (underway is an expansion effort in their bottling process that will drastically increase production levels), it's nearly impossible not to realize that the company and their employees are invested not just in creating exceptional beer, but also maintaining a strong relationship to the Denver community.

The Tap Room's hours of operation are 2:00PM to 8:00PM on Sunday through Tuesday, and 2:00PM to 10:00PM on Wednesday through Saturday. Tours of the brewery are also available from 3:00PM and 4:00PM Monday thru Friday, and between the hours of 2:30PM and 5:00PM on Saturday and Sunday.

14 March 2012

Radiohead: 03/14/12, Broomfield, CO


Last night, Radiohead played the First Bank Center in Broomfield, CO. It was the band's first appearance in the state since their August 2003 concert at Red Rocks in support of their Hail To The Thief album. While the setlist for the evening contained most of the songs off their most recent album, King of Limbs, the band also played material that spanned the majority of their career. The newer songs might not, on the whole, cater to arena-sized venues filled with fans expecting a traditional rock-n-roll concert, but the crowd seemed to enjoy songs such as "Feral," "Lotus Flower," and "Give Up the Ghost." Whatever lulls concert-goers experienced when Radiohead played their more recent ambient work were more than made up for with crowd-pleasers such as "The National Anthem," "Nude," "Karma Police," "Myxomatosis," and "Idioteque."

As far as the performance itself, Radiohead commanded the arena, playing each song flawlessly, as well as altering their arrangements so as to provide the audience with something other than a rehashing of the songs' studio versions. Likewise, the movable panels projecting grainy images of the band, coupled with the ever-changing light displays offered a visual spectacle that complimented the music perfectly.

Radiohead will play throughout the country, intermittently, until mid-June with stops in California (including two head-lining performances at this year's Coachella Festival), the Midwest, and the East Coast. Detailed tour information, as well as ticket purchases, can be found on the band's website.

BROOMFIELD, CO SETLIST: Bloom, Little By Little, The National Anthem, The Gloaming, Staircase, Morning Mr. Magpie, Codex, Separator, Nude, Karma Police, The Amazing Sounds of Orgy, Bodysnatchers, Feral, Lotus Flower, Reckoner, Street Spirit (Fade Out), ENCORE 1: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, There There, Lucky, True Love Waits/Everything In It's Right Place, ENCORE 2: Give Up The Ghost, Myxomatosis, Idioteque.

13 March 2012

Index of Book Reviews, Annotations, Etc.

The following post indexes reviews, bibliographic annotations, blurbs, interviews, etc. that I wrote between 2008 and 2012 (with one or two pieces previous to that time period) and posted on various blogs, such as Mannerisms of Foxes, Unvert Mertz (anonymously), ENGL 253: Introduction to Writing Poetry, and Shawn Kemp Carwash. Most of these entries focus on collections of poetry, but there are also entries that discuss works of philosophy and criticism. The annotations posted on Mannerisms are a bit "academic," as most of them were written for my comprehensive exams during my doctoral program; those on the Carwash are a bit less formal and a bit more diverse: some are blurbs, others are micro-reviews, full reviews, or slow reads.

If you happen to read an entry and find any typos, misspellings, or strange phrasings, please post in the comment stream below so I can fix them. Many of these entries were transcribed from documents I typed on a typewriter, so errors in that process sometimes occurred.

Abels, Scott. Rambo Goes To Idaho.
Alessandrelli, Jeff. Don't Forget To Feed The Sharks.
Alessandrelli, Jeff. Interview.
Andrews, Bruce and Charles Bernstein. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book.
Armantrout, Rae. Veil: New and Selected Poems.
Ashbery, John and Joe Brainard. The Vermont Notebook.
Beckman, Joshua and Matthew Rohrer. Nice Hat. Thanks.
Bernes, Jasper. Starsdown.
Bernstein, Charles. Republics of Reality: 1975-1995.
Berrigan, Ted. The Sonnets.
Boyer, Anne. Art is War.
Brown, Laynie. The Scented Fox.
Browning, Sommer. Either Way I'm Celebrating.
Bürger, Peter. Theory of the Avant-Garde.
Celona, Tina Brown. Interview.
Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung. Dictee.
Cohen, Julia. Triggermoon Triggermoon.
Coolidge, Clark and Bernadette Mayer. The Cave.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference.
Duncan, Robert. Selected Poems.
Eckes, Ryan. Old News.
Farivar, Rebecca. Correct Animal.
Gabbert, Elisa. The French Exit.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems.
Göransson, Johannes. A New Quaratine Will Take My Place.
Gordon, Noah Eli and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Figures for a Darkroom Voice.
Hejinian, Lyn. My Life.
Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments.
Howe, Susan. The Midnight.
Howe, Susan. Singularities.
Hyland, MC. Neveragainland.
Keene, John and Christopher Stackhouse. Seismosis.
Killebrew, Paul. Flowers.
Kim, Myung Mi. Dura.
Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. Deleuze and Language.
Leon, Jon. Hit Wave.
Leslie, Juliana. More Radiant Signal.
Limón, Ada. Interview.
Love, BJ and Friedrich Kerksieck. Fossil.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute.
Lyotard, Jean-François and Jean-Loup Thébaud. Just Gaming.
Mackey, Nathaniel. Splay Anthem.
McCann, Anthony. I Heart Your Fate.
McCreary, Chris. Interview.
Meetze, James. Dayglo.
Mitchell, W.J.T. The Language of Images.
Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory.
Moody, Trey. Climate Reply (Collage Review).
Moody, Trey. Interview.
Moody, Trey. Once Was A Weather.
Mueske, Steve. Interview.
Niedecker, Lorine. Collected Works.
Olson, Charles. Selected Poems.
Oppen, George. Collected Poems.
Orgera, Alexis. how like foreign objects.
Palmer, Michael. Sun.
Place, Vanessa and Robert Fritterman. Notes on Conceptualisms.
Robertson, Lisa. Debbie: An Epic.
Ruefle, Mary. Little White Shadow.
Schlegel, Rob. Bloom. (Collage Review).
Schomburg, Zachary. Scary, No Scary.
Seldess, Jesse. Left Having.
Sikelianos, Eleni. Body Clock.
Sikkema, Michael. Futuring.
Smith, Rod. Deed.
Solomon, Laura. Biovac.
Spahr, Juliana. The Transformation.
Stein, Gertrude. Tender Buttons.
Svalina. Mathias. The Viral Lease.
Taggart, John. There Are Birds.
Toscano, Rodrigo. Collapsible Poetics Theater.
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Tynes, Jen. The Black Mariah.
Tynes, Jen and Erika Howsare. The Ohio System.
Waggener, Miles. Sky Harbor.
Waldrop, Keith. Several Gravities.
Wilkinson, Joshua Marie. The Book of Truants & Projectorlight.
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Williams, William Carlos. Paterson.
Wittengenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Zukofsky, Louis. Complete Short Poetry.

12 March 2012

Don't Let Me Forget To Feed The Sharks

The first thing one notices when picking up Jeff Alessandrelli's new chapbook Don't Let Me Forget To Feed The Sharks (Poor Claudia, 2012), which the editors printed in a limited-run of 150 copies, is the care and attention paid to the object itself.

A removable and weighted cover made of cross-hatched card stock encases the handmade artifact and provides a personal but austere greeting. In addition to the understated, material elegance of the object, the cover art sets a complex tone. A man in a wet suit, drawn by the artist Ian Huebert, adorns both the front and the back covers and seems to tell us that we mustn't forget to feed the sharks with ourselves. This, of course, could be interpreted either as self-deprecating humor or self-annihilatingly ominous.

The book inside is stitch-bound and printed on fine-quality paper; the text is set in Didot font, while front matter and titles are set in ITC Blair. Such craftsmanship and typesetting offer the perfect setting for the writing of Alessendrelli.

Just as Huebert's drawings offer multiple registers of tone, so too do the poems therein. For instance, Alessandrelli occasionally writes in an aphoristic vein. Sometimes these aphorisms are absurd, as when he writes: "The first step / Is realizing that by its very existence / The strawberries and cream parfait / Is smarter than you" (7); while at other times, they contain a pragmatic gravitas: "lies solve / Actual problems" (23).

On other occasions, the speaker of these poems creates heart-wrenching verse that imbues the text with melancholia. Take the following excerpt from the prose poem "Spring in the New Year":
According to the fancy new guidebook I bought, you don't go crazy all by yourself. Out of some freshly sealed envelope of darkness, every morning we have to invent the sun in order to see it, have to invent the sky's cherry-blue backdrop in order to witness the sun's milky light. Eventually there comes a point, though, when our inventions fail us: patentless, faulty, we wake up in some vaguely familiar pitch black. Yesterday was different we think, without entirely understanding how or why. (21)
With echoes of Beckett's Endgame, Alessandrelli's speaker acknowledges both the necessity of human invention, but also its inevitable failure: reveling in its power to construct a beautiful world, but tempered by a swift and unexplained vanishing.

Finally, there are also moments of exceptional wit. Quoting a section of the serial poem "It Is Especially Dangerous To Be Conscious of Oneself," which appears intermittently throughout the collection, we find the lines from which the title of the chapbook is taken:
All morning long I've been walking
the plank and still haven't hit

water. Don't let me forget
to feed the sharks.

They have a half-defined tendency
to unfairly react to things like that. (3)
It is these oscillations in tone, Alessandrelli's ability to "piece [together] the required sentences / ...of a heretofore new language" (15), as well as the materiality of the object that make Don't Let Me Forget To Feed The Sharks a book to be purchased, admired, and read.

Clyfford Still Museum

Clyfford Still was affiliated with the first-generation of Abstract Expressionist artists. Still, along with painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell, initially gained cultural relevance in New York City following World War II. Expressive brush strokes upon large canvases characterized the general aesthetic of the paintings from this period. Eschewing figuration for the emotional intensity produced by spontaneous brushwork, the paintings of Still and his peers conveyed the grand human narratives of life, death, art, and love through their large scale and primal use of color.

When Still died in 1980, over 2,400 of his works (approximately 94% of his output as a professional artist) were kept from public viewing until, in accordance with his will, a permanent home for them was built to house them exclusively.


In 2007, Denver, Colorado won the construction bid. Still's estate commissioned Allied Works to build the two-story, 28,500 square foot museum, which officially opened on November of 2011 and is located in the Civic Center next to the Denver Museum of Art.

The building is “a solid, continuous form that is opened up by natural light. Walls of textured concrete form the primary building envelope, interior walls and structural system.” The austere, concrete structure highlights Still's paintings by affording their vibrant colors visual precedence; but the building's impressive yet minimalist stature mimics, in many respects, the streamlined elegance of those very same paintings. As such, the Brad Cloepfil-designed museum simultaneously intensifies and compliments Still's work.

After entering the first-floor educational gallery with video displays and Still-related literature, patrons can walk through the second-floor galleries and follow the trajectory of Still's 50-year career as a professional painter.

His output from the mid-20s through the mid-30s contained representational, but somewhat impressionistic, landscapes characteristic of Alberta, Canada and the Pacific Northwest. While his subject matter remained similar, during the mid- to late-30s Still's aesthetic altered. His once impressionistic style transformed into something grotesquely surreal; his images became darker and monstrous, often depicting human figures with abnormal facial features and disproportionate limbs.


It was not until the earlier-40s, nearly twenty years after began painting seriously, that Still began experimenting with radical abstraction, liberating himself from the confines of representation. His first forays into this new aesthetic venture focused on lines and shapes; but, upon moving to San Francisco in 1946, he infused more vibrant coloration and jagged forms into his work. During his last twenty years as a painter, Still experimented more thoroughly with surface texture, oftentimes leaving sections of his canvases unprimed and unpainted, while other sections contained clumps of paint that produced a heavily textured topography.

The Clyfford Still Museum is open Saturday through Thursday, from 10AM to 5PM; on Fridays from 10AM to 8PM; the museum is closed on Mondays. Tickets for adults are $10, students with valid identification can access the museum for $6, youth admission is $3, and those under the age 5 can enter for free. Access for members of the museum is free.