Post no. 4 from Guest Blogger Brandon Brown


1. Hey ya’ll! It was a real weekend for poetry in the Bay Area. Renee Gladman started off in Oakland on Friday and everybody, I mean everybody, said it was an outstanding evening. I had a conflict and couldn’t go, which saddens me, but also you can’t go to everything. But here’s what I did make it to—with the caveat that anything idiotic I say about these works might be amplified by little or no textual familiarity with the works mentioned.

On Saturday at Canessa, Dana Ward, Alli Warren, and Stephanie Young read. Dana read the opening of a long prose piece, “Typing Wild Speech,” which starts from the performative gesture of typing David Larsen’s handwritten poem, “Wild Speech.” The piece reads romantic love and death via Ian Curtis, Elizabeth Peyton, Kurt Cobain, The Office, Reese Witherspoon, and more, and is finally one of the more moving prose pieces I’ve read/heard in recent memory.  Alli Warren read new poems, amazing in their musical range and tonal scope. Alli’s new poems eschew cultural citation per se, but sound like an assemblage of spectral discourse. The voices are from the Internet, from the non-Internet, and all of the liminal spaces between them (you know, “us”)— finally they perform diverse unheimlichs of gender, sexuality, romantic love, middle class work and death. Stephanie Young did a new piece collaging pages from Julia Child’s My Life In France with critical perspectives on Julie and Julia, the cleft between ambitions driven by ressentiment (Powell) and ambitions to reshape the culture (Child). Much more. “Break Up” reference. Trip to Disneyland. People seemed to be in good moods and the afterparty was really fun, even though the bar continued to be unbelievably lame. Two things to say in its favor: the last two times the bartender has used Pandora and must have just typed in “Jay-Z” because we’ve gotten solid doses of Jay, Big, Ye, etc. Another thing is it’s located right at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid, which while we all know it’s a monument to the accumulation of capital that brazenly cites an architectonics of slave labor, it’s also neat. But it is not built on goddamn rollers, kids. Much confidential hilarity ensued.

Sunday Dana and I ate at my least favorite place to get breakfast. The Mission District where I live is not lacking for terrific restaurants, but the classical American breakfast built of iconic salts and fats is not the easiest thing to find. Only when truly suffering does this Irish pub on the corner suffice—and we were suffering. Gelatinous Bloody Mary. Bah. Then I got us all lost on the way to the East Bay to see C.J. Martin and Julia Drescher read in the afternoon at the home of Sara Larsen and David Brazil. I had never met or read these two, and it was a good introduction. Julia’s reading was full of hunting, guns, warped phonologies, wooded ecologies. The work C.J. read was built out of citationality, but also propositions blocked by imposed abysses, propelled perhaps by classic disjunctive technique but also, at times, totally weird semantemes. “Fuck texture.”

There was enough time in between for the poets to have Vietnamese food at Le Cheval, and then Sunday night Carol Mirakove and Bob Gluck read at 21 Grand. It was Carol’s debut in the Bay Area, and she read from the terrific Factory School book Mediated as well as a translation of a poem by Argentinean poet Florencia Walfisch. I mean, there’s a lot to say about the reading and the book. What I wanted to think about after was some of the coincidence with some of what Bob was talking about. In Mediated, not only traditional commodities but “nature” is expressed in terms of its transformations by global hegemonies and disasters of inequity. “Nature” includes, vividly, the plethora of dandelions Carol’s friend C Conrad attributes to the increased sugar consumed by Americans, but also feelings, distractions, entertainments, amusements, bodily process. And Juicy Fruit gum has a blog. Bob read two chapters from a novel in progress called About Ed. The image coincidence in the two readings appears in About Ed as this astounding fugal reverie on Ed’s death with Frank O’Hara’s iconic question in “A Step Away From Them,” referring to lost friends, “But is the / earth as full as life was full, of them?” Some kind of critique of “the organic” then, was implicit in both of the works. But a “critique” aware of how this troubles and frays the human body.

Bob got a major ovation when he was introduced. You might have overheard me describing waiting for his reading to start like waiting for Nirvana to play in 1992. Or whatever. There is an abiding love and gratitude for his writing that was so legible and touching. The after was supreme, and finally culminated in a small group reading of the Paul Zukofsky rant and entropic anecdotal bliss. But for a report of that you’ll have to move West.

Monday sucked.

2. So, yeah, that Paul Zukofsky thing is nuts!  I mean, we all get the irony of packaging the greatest poet of citation for sale by the word. But another thing about the rant is it reminds me that one way of reading big parts of “A”, to my view, is as a manual of how not to parent. I mean, okay, part of parsing my own attractions to and negotiations with Modernist literature, for myself in this moment, consists of basically loving “A”. But the portrait of the family that inheres in “A”-11 on, let’s say, is personally terrifying. So in this way one can read the PZ copyright rant as a morbid post hoc resistance to the documentation, anyway, of his own upbringing. Or the document (“A”) turns out to produce another document (the PZ rant) which comes to fruition as an act of violence against the father. And even that act is largely directed against the people who love his father’s poetry, the audience which any reader of LZ biography knows the poet felt lacking in his own lifetime.

I also admit that it did make me laugh. And who wants to do “A”-24?

3.  The release of The Blueprint 3 on September 8 means it’s officially Jay-Z season for people of the Hov. Jay’s work has always seemed to me hugely relevant to anybody interested in the lyric and temporality, which has got to include some of you all!, and I was interested to note what seems like a new direction on the recent album.

On one hand, Hov like the earliest lyric poets tries to manipulate an imagined futurity expressed in paradoxically atemporal terms. I mean literally atemporal, as in the beginning of “H to the Izzo” on the first Blueprint, “the flow of the century / Oh it’s timeless.” Which is to express a revision—“the flow of the century” once replaced by the epiphanic “Oh it’s timeless” becomes merely a standard sort of brag. (Although it is good to remember that “H to the Izzo” drops in 2001, thus the “flow of the century” emerging in that century’s first year makes a claim to foresight that intensifies the brag.) Timelessness is precisely the content of “prayers” made by Pindar concerning the extended fate of his poetry. And the fantasy of immortality, condition by the invention of the technology of writing, pervades the history of the lyric ever after.

But Jay’s greater contribution to the field of lyric time has been absolute conflation of time past and time present. His conceptual universe is moored in the year 1996, the year his first record is released. On that record, and constant ever since, there is the sense that 1996 is, like the birth of Christ or the revelation to Mohammed, a year from which time is arranged and departs. 1996 also figures as the time in which the two Jay-Z’s are superficially distinguished: the drug dealing hustler and the verse dealing MC.

Curiously, what emerges in the middle and later work is the concept that even when Jay-Z was the first Jay-Z, the drug dealing hustler, he was always already his future self, viz. “Public Service Announcement:”

Allow me to reintroduce myself

my name is HOV

H to the O-V

I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z

I guess even back then you could call me

CEO of the ROC

But not only can his past self be understood not through but AS his present self, his present self is totally expressive of the past—the only changes are environmental, and even those changes are met with profound skepticism, “I’m ten years removed / Still the vibe is in my veins”

On Blueprint 3, the point of exciting departure is that the lyric voice has appropriated futurity as the content of the brag. In “Off That,” Jigga begins by announcing, “Welcome…to the…future.” The conceit of the song is essentially that Jay is so essentially doper than everybody else that he lives in the future—only he is condemned to have to practice his artwork in the present. “You can’t bring the future back.” The song is a litany of contemporary material fixations, each serving to remind Jay—and you—that he’s “off that”.  The impossibility of bringing the future back paradoxically transcends the language of the present—Jay can’t even tell you WHAT HE HAS, but can only offer a negative index of what he’s beyond.