Heurtebise from Cocteau's OrpheeThe Lipstick of NoiseReel to reel deck


Emotion, Emission, Expressive Tint

Paul Dutton - "Untitled" (2'17"). In his landmark article on "Linguistics and Poetics," Roman Jakobson recounts the following anecdote: "A former actor of Stanislavskij's Moscow Theater told me how at his audition he was asked by the famous director to make forty different messages from the phrase Segodnja vecerom (This evening), by diversifying its expressive tint. He made a list of some forty emotional situations, then emitted the given phrase in accordance with each of these situations, which his audience had to recognize only from the changes in the sound shape of the same two words." Toronto-based sound poet Paul Dutton doesn't diversify his expressive tint to quite the extent this actor had to, but his voicing of a single phrase in sixteen or seventeen iterations does communicate, through his masterful manipulation of breath releases, vocal fold vibrations, and frequency shifts, a surprising range of mostly dysphoric moods: matter of fact, annoyed, lazy, anguished, brusque, shrugging, gasping, exasperated, stalling, at a loss, frustrated, whiny, quit-asking-me, drunk, hysterical, with a wink. The first person pronoun has to anchor all these utterances and Dutton makes sure that we hear the strain.

More about Dutton. Suriku Rineto reviews Dutton's cd Oralizations for Dusted Magazine. Unfortunately, the mp3 links on the Ubuweb Dutton page seem to be broken.

Thursday — 18 May 2006 — permalink

The Rigor of the Link Is an Artifact

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge - Part two of "Safety" (2'37"). • The poet's voice as a whisper in the ear, or from somewhere, impossibly remote, in one's own head, vaporous, environing, ever faint yet always distinct: "In this sense hospitality between us is a secret interior." As emphasis ebbs from the syllables, they become audible equivalents of one another and thus almost hypnotic: this is first heard clearly in the third major audia (beginning "the instinct to preserve yourself"), but like instances of slight promotion of normally unstressed syllables, and demotion of those normally stressed, recur throughout the poem and constitute one of the signature features of Berssenbrugge's very distinctive performance style. • "I have said that being born into the Chinese language in Beijing and moving to the United States and into English as a baby, when my linguistic structures were forming, perhaps instilled in me a sense of the relativity of meaning and expression, which is a central theme of my work" (see interview with Coffey, linked to below).

Full text of "Safety" at How2. More Berssenbrugge at PennSound. Her author page at EPC. Interviewed by Michael Coffey at Publishers Weekly upon publication of I Love Artists: New & Selected Poems (U of California, 2006).

Wednesday — 17 May 2006 — permalink

Sabbath Eyes

Kenneth Goldsmith - Sings Adorno (3'45"). A falsetto voice, a spare piano line furnished by Erik Satie, the occasional echo effect, a smattering of out-of-nowhere rolled Rs, some deep-throated recitative, a little Björk-like mangling of English phonemes, and, for lyrics, a passage out of Adorno's Minima Moralia (I think it is). I am totally traumatized by every single syllable Goldsmith sings and says, but the grin that keeps forming on my face is a spontaneous and unrefusable one.

More Goldsmith at PennSound, including sung versions of texts by Wittgenstein, Barthes, Jameson, Derrida, and others. Goldsmith author page at EPC. And, of course, le roi, Ubuweb.

Tuesday — 16 May 2006 — permalink


Kit Robinson - "Return on Word" (1'01"). I hear twenty-seven audias, including the title, in this swift, grimly hilarious, short poem. Some are complete in themselves ("The entire concept is entirely too conceptual"), others comment on preceding statements ("This is easier said than done") or bundle into paradoxical units ("All we need is a few good words / anybody can relate to / to declare an identity no one can take away"). The key sequence commences about thirty-four seconds into the recording as self-congratulatory corporate bullshit ("we are getting better") cycles toward a different kind of bottom line. The last four audias are artful in the extreme, with their substitution of "to" for "on," the displacement of that preposition to the ends of the final two lines, the complex pun on "contract," and the subtle adverb describing the getaway. Brands, this poem reminds us, are seared into the flesh. Happy identity!

Full reading at SUNY-Buffalo on 10 November 1999, courtesy of PennSound. Robinson's author page at EPC. More about Robinson from Roof Books.

Monday — 15 May 2006 — permalink

Fail Monotony, Seek

bpNichol - "Not What the Siren Sang but What the Frag Ment" (1'27"). The first three isolated nouns portend a dull exercise in autumnal description, but then a goofily-rising pronunciation of "flee" (or "flea": let the homophony begin) and a strange word that maybe refers to a fish, maybe to "human being" in an African language, set us onto another, more interesting, course. The kernel syllable is "ment" (with all the attendant puns intended) and the gentle, twenty-three-year-old voice of the poet runs variations on the m-n-t sequence ("moon out," "monotony," "man tongue") before shifting into a rhythm defined by dactylic trisyllables followed by two plosive-bounded stressed monosyllables: e.g., "Immolate brick kick" (STRESS-unstress-stress stress STRESS). There's a mounting urgency as the pattern locks into six iterations in the final twelve seconds of the poem, then the clever pause that leaves us waiting for the final, elided, beat. • Compare to Tracie Morris, below.

Full contents of Borders, the 7-inch floppy disk released in 1967 to accompany the volume Journeying & the Returns. bpNichol Project at Coach House. Wikipedia entry on Nichol. Lots more Nichol soundfiles on PennSound. Wikipedia disambiguation page for "frag."

Sunday — 14 May 2006 — permalink

Maybe This Is a Transmission Problem

Brenda Coultas - "Opening the Cabinet" (2'09"). A voice too animated by belief, or drenched in skepticism, would spoil this account of a brief stay in Lily Dale in upstate New York. Coultas gets it just right: her descriptions are fast-paced and matter-of-fact, and a tone of gentle, slightly implicated, bemusement, captured in the phrase "None of which I can disprove," pervades the whole account. • I notice the poet's interesting accent most in the words "drawn for a hundred dollars," the first word pronounced disyllabically ("draw-en") and the last "dah-lahs." • Clean, well-miked recordings of poetry are still so rare that the sound quality on this one catches my attention: no hiss, no throbbing room tone, no traffic noise, audience coughs, or show-off guffaws. The silence is almost as eerie as the occult goings-on in Lily Dale!

From Rattapallax Audio Cypher at PennSound. Coultas reading in the Segue at the Bowery Poetry Club series on 22 May 2004.

Saturday — 13 May 2006 — permalink

Monday — 1 May 2006 — permalink

Lots of listening, mostly live (Pierre Joris, Mary Caponegro, Juliette Valéry & Emmanuel Hocquard), mostly unannotated. During this quiet spell, might I suggest a look here?

Tuesday — 14 March 2006 — permalink

Anselm Berrigan - "We're Not Going to Turn Me In." Non-narrative disjunctive poetry can sometimes have a chilly synthetic feel to it, as though we'd accidentally intercepted one machine's message to another. Not so Berrigan's poems, which retain warmth the way clothes just cast off do. Someone has been here, a subject straining for and against its own coherence, morphing plural, flickering singular. Witness the title, or the key passage in this poem: "I'd like to be / ocean shaped and crashing / at my edges, vicious and open / become an outpost of irrational / compassion instead, on the interior / run at all times." • Without dwelling much on it today, I want to get the term "audia" on the table for future reference.

Full reading at Bridge Street Books, 12 December 2004, courtesy of the DC Poetry audio archive. Leonard Lopate featured the track on his WNYC radio program some April ago. Compare the text archived there to my transcription of the poem here.

Sunday — 12 March 2006 — permalink

Tom Raworth - "Catacoustics." In a mostly appreciative review of Tom Raworth's Collected Poems, published by Carcanet in 2003, William Wootten quotes the poet saying "I just can't read anything that bores me. I'd rather stare at a wall and think." In this 1993 basement tape, Raworth's voice is smooth, subdued, edgeless, his pacing a brisk allegro (his live readings are legendarily presto), his articulation wondrously precise (there's not an audible fault in five and three-quarter minutes), and his thinking, well, I can't speak for you, but nothing this nimble and engrossing had been in my head prior to hitting play. • This track gives us the first third or so of a sequence that runs to twenty-six pages in the Collected. The lines are for the most part short (excepting four paragraphs woven in at the three minute mark), and they bundle unpredictably: some remain isolate, others tumble into surprisingly sustained semantic patterns. There are jokes (including a limerick with a remarkable rhyme on the name "Barthes"), pictograms (mostly unvoiceable ones omitted in performance), snippets of dialogue, pataphysical axioms ("here gravity / is matter's nostalgia"), and insults ("local politics / you asshole"). Keeping up with it all is a boredom-abolishing challenge. "Something is thinking back to me."

Full contents of Big Slippers On, recorded in October of 1993, archived at PennSound. Raworth's webpage here. More Raworth audio at The Poetry Archive. "Catacoustics" is one of critic Marjorie Perloff's PennSound featured selections for the spring 2006. Photos of Raworth reading in Chicago, 3 March 2006.

Saturday — 11 March 2006 — permalink

Tracie Morris - "My Great Grand Aunt Meets a Bush Supporter." Morris takes a simple base phrase—"You better hope Jesus save you"—through eighteen permutations in 120 seconds. Quiet and husky even at the melodious start, the words slowly descend toward the larynx, the stretched short "e" in "better" at 53 seconds preparing the way for the incredible passage of percussive vocal fry at the close. The syllabic chemistry is most excited at the word boundary between "save" and "you": out of minute shifts in articulation, Morris is able to catalyze a string of lexical and phrasal combinations that includes saint, jew, ain't you, say you, Saint Jude (patron of lost causes), save your soul, sell your soul, hates souls, and so on. While not quite as intense as her masterful warping of Irving Berlin's Cheek to Cheek, captured on videotape in poet Jayne Cortez's documentary of the 1999 Yari Yari conference in New York City, this intimate studio booth recording does let us listen to the microtones of theo-political utterance in an unprecedented way.

Full program featuring Tracie Morris (22 May 2005) on Close Listening. Morris interview on Here Comes Everybody.

Thursday — 9 March 2006 — permalink

Brian Kim Stefans / Roger Pellett - "I Know a Man." Roger Pellett is a "fake Cambridge poet" of Stefans's Pessoa-inspired devising. "Born" in 1964, and active in the latter half of the 1990s, Pellett, like so many others, went through a Creeley phase. Though this recording is middling to muddy, the audiofile is worth a listen, first for Stefans's charmingly wandering voicing of Creeley's best known short poem, then for the brilliant translation, from Pellett's pen, that follows. If my ears don't deceive me, "slut" is used as a verb in the final stanza.

Want to hear the translation without the set-up? The file is here. More about Pellett here. Full reading (6 February 2002) on PennSound. Stefans's Arras site here.

Wednesday — 8 March 2006 — permalink

Ron Padgett - "Bob Creeley Breakthrough." There's nothing so lame as a description of a joke, so listen first. Alright then. I laughed when I read this poem in a magazine (what magazine? when? oh vanishing mediators!). And I laughed again upon listening this morning. The present scene of writing dissolves by analogy into a remembered scene of heavy petting, which memory is vivid enough to induce a pounding heart and staccato voicing, which, since we've never left the scene of the poem's making, even in the memory of the poet's making out, is a poetic problem, because Robert Creeley has a stylistic lock on such linebreaks. The jocoserious plea made by the poet—"Bob! Bob, go away!"—inverts Sappho's whining apostrophes to Aphrodite and calls to mind Creeley's own nudging aside of the Cumaean sybil in Heroes. The poet's exasperated outburst is homage and exorcism at once: remembered intimacies—formal, erotic—intermingle and interfere with one another. The only way to love is blocked by the author of For Love. Though the title speaks of "breakthrough," the last word of the poem is "impossible."

Full reading on PennSound. Ron Padgett's website here. Padgett's page on Academy of American Poets website here.

Tuesday — 7 March 2006 — permalink

Barbara Guest - "An Emphasis Falls on Reality" & "Quoting Theodor Adorno." A dozen years separate these two tracks, the first recorded in Buffalo in April of 1992, the second in Berkeley in April of 2004. If the aesthetic position remains more or less unaltered, the voice articulating that position undergoes an audible metamorphosis as time and illness reshape it to their finite ends, slowing, deepening, and abrading it. The whole of the 2004 set recorded by Allan Graham is thus at once very difficult, and very moving, to hear. On the earlier track, recorded when Guest was 71, the voice still serves willingly the decision-making mind, nearly to the point of mannerism: the lines are read at a moderate pace, the intonations strive to deliver not just the denotative content (itself quite complex and floating), but a generic marker ("what you are hearing is poetry") as well. The thinking Guest does in "Emphasis" takes on the form of the willows mentioned two-thirds through: "willows are not real trees / they entangle us in looseness." Similarly, this poem is not an aesthetic treatise, rather it entangles us in lines of thought that pertain also to aesthetics. To be entangled thus in questions of structuration and mimesis, of landscape and architecture, of silhouettes and simulacra, silence and song (the barcarole), linguistic marks and metaphors, is different than finding oneself accommodated in the well-appointed house and grounds philosophy leases—on terms—to art. Art is "just" an emphasis that falls on reality, as stress falls on a syllable, or the gaze falls upon, and transforms, the seen thing. Neither being nor nothingness, a juvenile dichotomy after all, but existence in its emphatic form, becoming apparent. No need for O'Hara's exclamation points to drive the idea home. The tone of Guest's voice—emphasis held in reserve—will do.

Barbara Guest audio archive on PennSound. Her author page at EPC. Articles about Guest on Jacket. The NYT's belated obituary is here (registration required).

Monday — 6 March 2006 — permalink

Sawako Nakayasu - "Capacity." At a crowded party, the poem's speaker and a companion slip out for some fresh air ("be right back"), only to find the balcony crammed to capacity. "What happened next is true...." Two uniformed men, white-gloved like the Tokyo subway workers whose job it is to eliminate such interstices as may remain between rush-hour passengers, mount the staircase and head—"with much professionalism"—for the doors of the balcony. The poem ends with the direct presentation of their imperatives, the first two transparent enough, the final one cryptic. • For the longest time I thought the final sounds of the text aimed, through the noise of cross-language phonological transfer, at the words "kiss you," and the abrupt abandonment of body-packing "professionalism" for limb-loosening libido cracked me up. I've grown less sure of that interpretation with time, but no other unequivocal lexical candidates emerge to replace it: is this the one moment when the poem resorts not only to a "Japanese accent," but to an actual Japanese word? • The accent, perhaps you will have gathered, is feigned, laid on thick—which is to say it belongs to the interpretable performance and is not something to be screened out on the way to the "real" message. How such a displacing strategy, bending the distorted allophony of "accent" to its own artistic aims, relates to the graphic mimesis of speech labeled "dialect" remains to be explored. In the meantime, one of the pleasures of the audiofile as text: to be relieved of received pronunciation ("unaccented speech") as normative horizon.

Sawako Nakayasu edits the magazine Factorial and writes the blog Insect Tutelage. Her new book, Nothing Fictional But the Accuracy or Arrangement (She, just came out from Quale Press. The two disc audio issue of Kenning magazine, on which this recording of "Capacity" originally appeared, is archived online at PennSound.

Sunday — 5 March 2006 — permalink

Gary Sullivan - "Hello and Welcome to Poetry Phone." Sullivan's clever suggestion is that the routinization of poetry has advanced to the point where an automated telephone menu can handle every contingency. The audience at the Bowery Poetry Club audibly agrees: every stab of recognition bleeds out in giggles, guffaws, hoots, and handclaps. Sullivan captures something of the barker's contempt for his mark with his big cartoonish (moviephonish) voicing in which initial bursts of ego-boosting bullshit ebb into the shadowy registers of self-lacerating truths (one of the funniest moments comes after a masterfully held silence at the work's midpoint). Taken as a whole, the live performance, with its instant confirmation—celebration even—of the pettiness of it all, has a strange pathos to it: that so many audience members recognize the truth of their experience in this Spicerian admonition is a message in itself. To hear that message again, press....

Full reading available at PennSound. Gary Sullivan is the author of Dead Man, How to Proceed in the Arts, and, with Nada Gordon, Swoon. His most recent work is Elsewhere.

Saturday — 4 March 2006 — permalink

Elizabeth Willis - "Kiss Me Deadly." A goblin market for suitcase nukes? At the juncture of Rossetti and Aldrich, not unimaginable. • In a little under thirty seconds of beautifully paced and voiced material, Willis gets critical intertextual mass, then stops it on a dime. • Structural parse: Title. Pause. Establishing frame (Rossetti alive and in London), transition ("next thing she knows"), discontinuous frame (Rossetti dead and not in narco-nuclear America). Pause. Intensely compressed four-part middle passage: She (verb phrase), She (verb phrase), slight pause, It (verb phrase), She (verb phrase). Pause. She (verb phrase), conjunction ("and if"), She (verb phrase), slight pause, "That's poetry." • Lexis: Note "sedge" where "toxic" sets up "sludge."

Full reading available at PennSound. Ordering information for Turneresque (Burning Deck, 2003).

Monday — 30 January 2006 — permalink

Thanks to Largehearted Boy, Said the Gramaphone, Lux Lotus, Heraclitean Fire, and others from the music side of things for calling attention to this project. I lacked the time in autumn to advance beyond the first few sketches you'll find below, but with luck, 2006 won't be so brutally busy.

Saturday — 1 October 2005 — permalink

I'm grateful to Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein for inviting me to guest dj over at PENNsound. I've chosen a dozen tracks that I enjoy both in relation to one another and as singles cycling through my iPod in unpredictable patterns. What I'll try to do this fall is "essay" the constellation track by track (some I've already written about below) and also to listen for such continuities as emerge. Spectres, I can tell you already, abound. And the way institutions enclose and displace us is a theme. But the grain of the voice—its presence beneath and beyond and in every crevice of the phonemes—is where the real action is. So: headphones on, everyone. We won't go fast and we might not get anywhere. But we'll try put this new resource to some use.

(For more on the lipstick of noise, read this. Picks now archived here.)

Tuesday — 16 August 2005 — permalink

Ange Mlinko — "Poem Bejeweled by Proper Nouns" — from Matinees (Cambridge: Zoland, 1999) — listen to mp3 [command click (mac) or right click (pc) for new window] — link to Frequency Audio Journal Issue Nº1, edited by CA Conrad and Magdalena Zurawski in 2004, on PENNsound.

Check out the way Mlinko's voice ebbs from the word "nouns" in the title, producing a creaky fissure on the way to the pluralizing sibilant. Vocal quality they call it: what's left over after you've extracted the phoneme from its sonically-fuzzy husk. Then there's the rhyme of "we all went" with Rembrandt, shifting from list syntax to the subject-verb variety and from intellectual glam gallery to the humble repository that is the used bookstore. Fifteen seconds in, we get a tango of affirmations and negations (the long o is the organizing sound figure, the tempo is lovely and could never be guessed from the printed page), then a complicated accretive rush toward a postponed noun: "bits from the jungle economy's logic gates." Gendered patter about who's who ("I'm Voltaire, he said, so what, I'm Gertrude Stein") swerves into a mixed metaphor (pun intended) in which Joseph Cornell "hammers martinis into boxes" and Terry Southern has a quizzical cameo. Just past the half-minute mark there's a flashback to a scene of youthful reading. The allusion to two cultural authorities (or anti-authorities) who refused writing sets up a second cleverly strained rhyme, this time yoking "Socrates" to "paradoxically." The attempt to lend an illicit air to marital monogamy that follows is strained in a way I enjoy less, but the parallel to Abelard and Heloise is sufficiently ambivalent to get me past it to the stretched temporality where Cervantes and Tolstoy trade chess moves across vast intervals. The final ten seconds or so substitute a library, albeit a bizarrely situated one, for the opening scene's bookstore: "Hence to live in a cemetery / being the necrophiliac librarian you can be crazy / saved from thinking, in a way." What librarian isn't a lover of the dead? The vocal trail off on "in a way" differs from Wieners's: his was meant to mute an overly-emphatic sonic parallel, while Mlinko's laces semantic stability with enigma. Throughout the whole poem, Mlinko's handling of tempo and intonation suggest unsuspected dimensions to what could otherwise seem an exercise in style (New York School name-dropping semi-surrealist madcap). The close miking and audible inhalations give the recording an intimate feel, and Mlinko's voice, at once hushed and sharply articulated, is the perfect vehicle for subtle displacements.

More Advanced copies of Ange Mlinko's second book, Starred Wire, are already in circulation; the official pub date is September 1. Her blog is bejeweled with Bachelard.

Bonus It won't be up much longer, I suspect, but the interview with John Vanderslice over at sixeyes includes "Pale Horses" (scroll to first mp3), which sifts the closing stanzas of Shelley's "The Mask of Anarchy" for serviceable lyrics. (I remember first learning of this poem from the back cover of the Jam's Sound Affects.)

Thursday — 11 August 2005 — permalink

Jaap Blonk — "Flux-de-Bouche" — listen to mp3 [command click (mac) or right click (pc) for new window] — link to page at Music Gallery Audio Archive


Beckett dustcover"Not that I was hard of hearing, for I had quite a sensitive ear, and sounds unencumbered with precise meaning were registered perhaps better by me than by most. What was it then? A defect of the understanding perhaps, which only began to vibrate on repeated solicitations, or which did vibrate, if you like, but at a lower frequency, or a higher, than that of ratiocination, if such a thing is conceivable, and such a thing is conceivable, since I conceive it. Yes, the words I heard, and heard distinctly, having quite a sensitive ear, were heard a first time, then a second, and often even a third, as pure sounds, free of all meaning, and this is probably one of the reasons why conversation was unspeakably painful to me. And the words I uttered myself, and which must nearly always have gone with an effort of the intelligence, were often to me as the buzzing of an insect. And this is perhaps one of the reasons I was so untalkative, I mean this trouble I had in understanding not only what others said to me but also what I said to them."

Monday — 8 August 2005 — permalink

John Wieners — "The Garbos and Dietrichs" — from Pressed Wafer (1967) — WBCN Radio, Boston — 1972 — 01:03 — listen to mp3 [command click (mac) or right click (pc) for new window] — link to page at PENNSound

For Wieners the great screen divas were figures of sublimity: remorseless Circes unmanning all comers. In this poem Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, if not in person, than as dreams and legends, circulate through the island resort of Ibiza draped in the purchased "dreams of men," which they wear carelessly as any other bangle.

The audiotext, as recorded in 1972 for radio broadcast in Boston, represents a substantial revision of the poem printed five years earlier in Pressed Wafer (and included in the Black Sparrow Selected Poems of 1986, from which I'm working). The title, which doubles as first line, has expanded from "The Garbos and Dietrichs" to "The Legends of Garbo and Dietrich." Where the print version gives "buying...hearts / to hang at dressing tables, how many ornaments / to wear for dinner," the audiotext sets up a play on the first syllable of "ornaments" by choosing the verb "to adorn" in place of "to hang." It also shifts the scene slightly from "dressing tables" to "dressing room tables," though it keeps the sibilance of "selfish supper parties" (note also the consonance on /p/).

The second and third stanzas are even more drastically refigured in Wiener's 1972 performance. Here is stanza two as printed:

this sin does not show by candlelight, their children
do not hear that cry in the night, odd pregnancies
abortions are not counted, smashed faces

wrenched hearts left behind at harborside
when their ships pull out.

The voiced revision changes the moralistic "sin" to "sales" (pronounced as a very deliberate disyllable). This not only puns on the homophone "sails" (as realized in the nautical imagery at stanza's end), it also refers back to the hearts purchased in the previous stanza, the commercial transaction now naturalized "by candlelight." The enjambed phrase "their children / do not hear that cry in the night" becomes "their children unheard / stray in the night"—a stunning redistribution of agency within roughly the same rhythmic and phonetic material. "Odd pregnancies" have become (to my ear at least) "hard" ones, and the abortions are now "uncounted," which is semantically closer to "countless" than "are not counted" (which connotes negligibility) was.

In the printed version, the first three lines of the last stanza open anaphorically with the phrase "I speak of." In the audiotext, Wieners retains just the first instance ("I speak of suicides, men dropped at tide"), counting on its virtual presence in the trimmed down second and third lines: "sleeping pills that still our aching mind / lovers murdered because they are so kind." The reduction in lexical material makes the many rhymes on the long vowel /aI/ all the more audible. All five lines in the stanza end on it (tide, mind, kind, blind, swine) in a sort of phonic extension of the terminal syllable in the stanza's key word "suicide."

The Pressed Wafer text concludes thus:

Anything to stay beautiful and remain blind
To those men they turn into swine.

Again the audiotext is quite different:

Anything that remains beautiful must stay blind
to those men turned past swine

After observing a lengthy caesura at midline, Wieners pauses markedly between each the three stressed monosyllables of his final line, delivering them with a diminished force that softens the parallel between "múst stáy blínd" and "túrned pást swíne." Again, the revision redistributes agency in an interesting way: in the printed version, the women banish from their sight the "swine" they have created. In the audiotext, the averted gaze is generalized. A willed blindness before an unnamed horror, not just sub-human but sub-animal, is the price demanded of "anything" that would make continued claim to beauty.

More Pamela Petro offers an introduction to the life and work of John Wieners in The Hipster of Joy Street on Jacket 21 (February 2003). • And PENNSound has a new look as of this morning. Among the new features, Al Filreis's pick hits for August, including Bob Perelman's "Revenge of the Bathwater" and Jena Osman's "Dropping Leaflets."

Thursday — 4 August 2005 — permalink

Linh Dinh — "Acoustics" — from Drunkard Boxing (Philadelphia: Singing Horse, 1998) — Reading at Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania — 12 December 1998 — 0:57 — mp3 [command click (mac) or right click (pc) for new window] — link to page at PENNSound

This quick, deftly constructed prose poem by the Saigon-born painter and poet Linh Dinh arrives in three waves, each more expansive than the previous. In the first, some peculiar rituals prove incapable of defeating the speaker's insomnia. The second chronicles the consequences (somewhere between comic and catastrophic) of the same speaker's acute myopia. The third testifies to a dangerously overdeveloped auditory capacity, looping back to lend a sinister cast to the innocuous enough sounding title. At the end of the first two movements, the speaker is prone (sleepless in bed, regaining consciousness on the sidewalk under the gaze of passersby); by the end of the third, he's been pulverized by a distant whisper, though apparently not beyond the possibility of regeneration.

The piece starts fast, with hardly any pause between the three phrasal sequences of the first movement. Semantically, it's impossible to know what the first two phrases (and hence the poem) are leading to until the third recruits them to the frame of insomnia. The second movement commences with a new theme (the speaker's characterization of his "piss poor" eyesight). Anecdotal evidence, in an approximation of the past iterative tense, is offered in support of the initial self-characterization. We also sample the reveries the speaker is apparently prone to, note his taste for alliterative clichés like "long lost friend" and "dear dead mother," and learn that the speaker is unreliable (that mother is still alive, or so he says). When the anecdote resumes, it is clear that a decisive event has been elided. The speaker has been dropped flat by (his collision with) something and lost consciousness. Unable to focus a gaze on the world he moves in, he has fallen inert and made into the focus of a collective gaze poised somewhere between pity and menace. When he comes to, there is no friend, no mother, just a horde of strangers.

The third movement consists of thirteen phrases (about the number of the first two combined) that unfold over a twenty-two second stretch (the whole poem takes about 54 seconds to read from title to final word). Positioned in explicit contrast to the previous movement ("on the other hand"), it opens with a statement we'll soon know to be an understatement: "my hearing ... is not so bad." In fact, the Poe-like acuity of the speaker's hearing is such that a whisper, "even thousands of miles away," can reach him (the enumeration of the conditions that factor into the reception is one of the nice surprises in the piece). Each such acoustical event, however, demolishes the overly-tuned instrument that receives it. Like the accident in the second movement, in the third any comment on the excruciating pain that must accompany the pulverization of "smallest bones" in the speaker's body is elided. With a wince, the poem falls back into silence.

Though Linh's is a prose poem, in the listening it divides into segments that correspond to line and stanza: the complete sentence comprising the first movement/stanza falls naturally into two-second lines, for example. And when the voiced-units are smaller (say just a second in length), Dinh works in an audible exhale-inhale cycle between them. This is most noticeable in the middle of the second movement, where the speaker populates the sidewalk he's on with spectral figures waving at him. The effect is one of hurriedness and exertion, perhaps also mild panic. Linh also imposes a tripartite division on a sentence that might easily be voiced as one unit: "My VISion / on the OTHer HAND / is NOT so BAD" (stressed syllables in all cap). The control of pace and pause and the use of emphatic stress on "not" impose prosodic features on the grammatical structure. As for other poetic devices, the most interesting might be in the second line, where an already tricky minimal pair (warm~worm) echoes, shorn of a /w/, in the penultimate syllable: "WARM [verb] half a WORM in an ARM pit."

More Brief interview with Linh Dinh at Here Comes Everybody • Susan M. Schultz, "Most Beautiful Words: Linh Dinh's Poetics of Disgust" at Jacket 27.

Monday — 1 August 2005 — permalink

Erica Hunt — "Ecstasy" — from Arcade — WPSI Reading and Conversation with Charles Bernstein — recorded 20 June 2005 — 01:46 — mp3 [command click (mac) or right click (pc) for new window]— link to page at PENNSound

As I suspect will happen often as this experiment unfolds, I have no print version of Erica Hunt's "Ecstasy" to refer to and check my impressions against. But after repeated listens and some untrained gazing at a spectrogram of Hunt's voicing of it (for which I used a free download called Audacity), I hear the poem as consisting of twenty-one lines clustered into five stanzas.

The most sustained and rhetorically-intricate stanza is the first, which envisions the departure from self, the ecstasy, specific to aging: the somatic palimpsest grows ever more illegible, the origins of the damage done us become increasingly obscure, our scars mutely refer to "no accident we can recall." This seven-line, twenty-five second riff includes an alliterative run (on stressed "f"-initial syllables) in the second line, a clever, half-audible eye-rhyme on "age" and "package" between lines one and two, a Creeley-esque internal rhyme matching "the scar of it" to the middle syllable of "accident" in line four, all delivered in a brisk vibrant voice. The passage culminates (after a brief pause following line six) on a note of heightened lyricism: "in the dark theater we embrace a faded script." Not until the final line of the poem will anything so detached and dramatic—so "poetic"—be heard again.

What happens next dismantles the elevated tone brilliantly: an unsteady, slightly panicked voice tremulously blurts out the words "I can't explain it." The mode of address shifts so drastically that upon first hearing the phrase, it can seem as though Hunt has looked up from her text and directed a puzzled remark about it to her listener. But the themes are continuous with the first stanza: aging returns as the speaker finds herself, inexplicably, "fully grown." The "faded script" embraced in stanza one is a page looked up from in stanza two. After nine seconds of the bewilderment induced by rapid changes in temporal scale (adulthood endures but an hour), an assertive tone reappears in the third stanza, as the speaker boasts of her semiotic acumen in tracing meaning "even as it stands zigzag at the sheer edges of sight." The final line of the stanza defies transcription (by my ear at least), but even in its slightly blurred state I hear an echo of Hart Crane's "rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene."

The fourth stanza rhymes with the second in its brevity and in the expressive voicing Hunt adopts for the last three words of the line: "instead of planning beauty, I, as they say, let it happen." The decision to postpone the verb phrase by inserting "as they say" is an interesting one in itself; hearing the throaty whisper it keeps momentarily at bay makes it even more so.

The three lines of the closing stanza return to and revise key elements from the statement "I...let it happen": the verb "let" recurs in imperative form, the personal pronoun returns as "eyes" that "connect the dots," the vocalic kernel of the I/eyes homophone repeats when the "air" is said to "connive with the invisible." The last line brings us back to the titular emotion, now personified as a sightless, tattered figure, a kind of Cupid in decline: "Ecstasy is blind and moves on wings, torn feathers."

More SPT bio note for Hunt • Local History from Roof.

The Lipstick of Noise: Project Note — permalink

On an afternoon in late May, 1987, under an open sky in San Diego, the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy arrived, after many a pun in many a language, and to the delight of a small audience made up mostly of poets, at the phrase: "poetry is the lipstick of noise." The elegant poet, bibliographer of Frank O'Hara, and school chum of Steve Benson and Kit Robinson, Alex Smith, then nearing the premature end of his life, was the first among us to steal the line. I reach for it now as a fond plagiarist in need of a rubric under which to conduct some experiments in listening, and writing about the experience of listening, to the digital audio files housed at PENNSound and similar sites.

If you have advice for me, on matters technical or interpretative, or know of an interesting track I should hear, please drop me a line.

The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcome.