Introductions for Karl Gartung & George Albon – 11/9/09

Karl Gartung is the author of Now That Memory Has Become So Important (2008, MWPH, Fairwater, Wisconsin). He has also collaborated with Elizabeth Robinson on a privately printed chapbook, Speak (2009, Boulder). Gartung was born in Liberal, Kansas in 1947. He received a B.A. from Hastings College, in Nebraska, in 1969. He married artist Anne Kingsbury in 1970. In 1976 he was hired to run a small press bookstore (Boox, Inc.) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gartung says this was the beginning of his serious apprenticeship to contemporary literature. He is a co-founder, with Karl Young and Anne Kingsbury, of Woodland Pattern Book Center. At Woodland Pattern he has been involved in the planning and presentation of hundreds of poetry readings, music performances, art and book exhibits. He feels that these activities are as centrally artistic as writing or publishing could have been. This was (and is) really his education. He works as a truck driver at what has become UPS Cartage Services. After several layoffs, Gartung helped organize his workplace into the Teamsters Union in 1993, and has served as a union steward from the ratification of the first contract to the present.

When first entering Karl Gartung’s condensory, his poems make diversions along a subtle caesura, a space down the middle of the poem, sometimes pliable as breath, other times impenetrable as a reinforced median between two sides of the interstate. Then as you spend time with the poems, it begins to dawn that perhaps it’s the other way around, that’s not the median, but the path, that Gartung has plowed a road or a furrow down the middle of the open field. It’s not often, you read a book which include dictionary and encyclopedia sources in the acknowledgments (outside of Harryette Mullen perhaps), but in Gartung’s poems he takes the concept of linguistic mutability all the way back to the inability to attach stable definition, showing how, even the dictionary, in it’s attempt to reduce and crystallize a term, only serves to complicate it–with numbered meanings, and archaic etymological denotations–leaving you with less a sense of certainty than you arrived with, the way a poem does perhaps. It’s like staring at a single word until it’s form on the page, which you use and take as a given, looks funny, split from speech. In a similar (though perhaps inverse) way the uncertainty of the caesura in his poems, a meeting place at an absence, presents the reader with a challenge. Whereas most short poems exist concretely in static space, forming a single note, or at least single breath, Gartung’s poems buck, jump, and snag over the white space. As a reader you’re always forced into agency, deciding whether a poem moves best across or down, left column then right, or whether any path is every really correct, whether or not the disequilibrium along a sometimes smooth, sometimes overgrown path right down the middle of poem was the point all along. As he writes “the road remains/ the rest is field.” Please welcome Karl Gartung to the Poetry Project.

– Dustin Williamson

George Albon’s most recent book is Momentary Songs published by Krupskaya. Other books are Step (Post-Apollo), Brief Capital of Disturbances (Omnidawn), Thousands Count Out Loud (lyric&), and Empire Life (Littoral). (Text from Brief Capital of Disturbances has been used by American composer Mischa Salkind-Pearl in a piece called “American Temple,” which can be heard at the composer’s website). Pieces on Morton Feldman and Otis Redding have appeared in Shuffle Boil. His essay “The Paradise of Meaning” was the George Oppen Memorial Lecture for 2002. Presently, he’s working on a “big prose book” called Café Multiple: Life, Work, Love, and Poetry. He lives in San Francisco.

My first introduction to George Albon’s work was through his small Meow Press chapbook called King, which I discovered shortly after I started working at Woodland Pattern, the place that served as the site for my first introduction to the work of most of the poets now important to me. In King, Albon writes the phrase, “we have received word” which has since informed my understanding of Albon as a poet who is able to suss out and make use of the network of power lines in the body politic, or as Brian Teare wrote in a review of Momentary Songs in the Poetry Project Newsletter, he “stake[s] out a space within empire for intimacy and everyday acts… .” The “we” who receives word is ruled, but the logic of the poet converts this language reception into agency within a “subliminal polis” (Teare) of resistance. Last week Will Alexander quoted Bob Kaufman during his reading, which I’m remembering as – Poets work 24 hour a day shifts. – That’s what living in this subliminal polis takes – continuous absorption and seepage. George Albon leaves the community lush and informative signs on the reading post where receiving word is forwardness to giving. Please give him a warm welcome to the Poetry Project.