New forms of life are germinating in the vast, rusty metal racks of the ruined city.

- William S. Burroughs

 

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RELATED SITES  

Miscellaneous sites related by direct affiliation or practical interest

CHARLES H. KERR PRESS
Publishers of Chicago Surrealism, popular history and "anti-establishment literature since 1886"

COACH HOUSE PRESS
Toronto-based press for Canadian experimental poetry and fiction

BEARD OF BEES
Chicago-based press cranking some incredible poetry - tricky stuff

ARRAS.NET
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DEMOCRACY NOW
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CRIMETHINC.ORG
Think about it

 

POETRY RESOURCES  

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EPC
The Electronic Poetry Center is an important site for information on postwar experimental poetry from the 'States. Perhaps the oldest poetry web online, the EPC is maintained by Loss Glazier with the assistance of volunteers from UB's Poetics Program.

UBUWEB
Kenny Goldsmith's UBUWEB is an invaluable resource for alternative poetries, as well as a site of ongoing experimentation with new electronic distribution media. To know it is to live it.

NACIP YORK
Directed by Steve McCaffery, The North American Centre for Interdisciplinary Poetics is a web-based forum for experimental interdisciplinary work art and writing.

FLUXUS
Flux your muscles.

 

A SPORADICALLY-PUBLISHED "MAGAZINE" OF POETRY AND POETICS
Christopher W. Alexander and Linda Russo, eds.

ISSUE 7
Last Updated: 15 April 2005

CORRESPONDENCES (review)
Chris Alexander & Matthias Regan

Gordon Hadfield and Sasha Steensen, CORRESPONDENCE
Buffalo: Handwritten Press, 2004

The major theme of Gordon Hadfield and Sasha Steensen's CORRESPONDENCE is dislocation, the experience of the tourist or traveler, the stranger in a foreign land. For that reason maybe the best place to begin talking about this book is outside the book itself, in Wallace Stevens' "A Postcard from the Volcano." Stevens seems to be tackling two issues in this poem. First, in the loss of actual history, the loss of the thickness of lived experience:

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost

The kids are like archeologists digging through remains for clues to existence, but Stevens suggests they will fail to imagine the liveliness of what existed. Closely bound up with his wariness is a second issue, the failure of a language spoken "without history" to recognize the terms of experience -

We knew for long the mansion's look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is . . . Children
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world

Here, "what we said of it" has subsequently taken on a quality of obviousness, too much in front of the kids for too long to be seen. Reaching on the one hand for a romantic image of ghostly intrigue - the gothic idiom of the ghost story brilliantly enfolded in Stevens' line - then for its opposite in the complaint of a cynical "realism," the kids fail to apprehend the actual experience of history, the real hauntedness of language, because they grasp it only, on each side, through the "neutral" lens of an inherited discourse. Repetition and familiarity deadens the event; idiom takes on an explanatory force that becomes almost irresistible in time.

Stevens' image for this is the postcard - a cheap reproduction of experience that, absent since the title, is surprisingly reasserted in the concluding lines. And yet the style in which he delivers that image is vivid to the point of abstraction, trumping the inherited rhetoric of the preceding lines with a renewed imaginative effort:

A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.

Here the poet's elevated language breaths life back into the photograph of the volcano, a print in gratuitous colors that Stevens both regrets and, through his language, reclaims. The postcard - a cheap souvenir, a mere remembrancer - is made to transcend its role in the simple act of consumption for which it was designed; dynamized in the poem so as to convey the unlikely force of the encounter that it was supposed to mark. Life eludes marketing. Characteristically, Stevens' lines resist the suggestion that they might contain the "true story" of the volcano, offering instead an argument for the centrality of the imagination in recasting and thus recapturing the force of lived experience. In place of a dead certainty, a tension exists between lived history and the matter of its representation; where the kids have reached for pat rhetoric to define what is, Stevens gives us the question afresh: "what is?"

This movement is very much at the center of Hadfield and Steensen's CORRESPONDENCE - "part record, part recognition of the impossibility of recording," the press flyer says - a chapbook-length poem that encompasses two modes of writing brought into dialogue. Each page contains about as much text as would fill one or two postcards, and the lyrics - which together recount a series of arrivals and departures, passages through South America - speak to each other in the back and forth language of a literal correspondence. One half of the dialogue tends toward the prose poem and self-conscious explanations of the poetic project in which the authors are engaged:

We arrive in Machu Picchu in July. There is no more talk of delegates or free
trade agreements, only freedom. That is, your position frees you from all respon-
sibility. Except to the state of perpetual tourism. Other images of this tower-
building-temple-landscape have already flashed out onto the world-screen. This is how
the postcard operates. Climb the hill and pose next to a llama. How we operate.
Responsible to no one. Sender-and-receiver take another photo.

The other mode is more lyrical and tends toward imagistic descriptions of the landscapes & events the poets witness:

indignant tourists handling guns

perched on scaffoldings

to lose specific gravity

they strike brief sparks

And then, sidewise to the right in way not reproducible in HTML:

this epode
shrinks at the sight of it

It's hard to say exactly what's being described here; that specificity, at its limit, takes on an elliptical quality is very much a part of this mode, in some sense -the opposite of the more discursive style cited above. As in Stevens, we are presented with "a thought revolved."

Yet in another sense this passage sings fully and clearly one of the key notes of CORRESPONDENCE: our poets' awareness of the various ways in which they are implicated in the cultural landscapes they're passing through. This is, after all, a work of poetic tourism; and though it's sometimes a bit too apologetic in this regard, in its many profound moments the book arrives at a language that involves close observation and yet, as poetry, manages to refuse the remote gaze of the tourist and the "neutral" authority of the anthropological observer posited by enlightenment social sciences. In some instances, it is the particular, idiosyncratic details of cultural appropriation and overlap that the project conveys:

We depart from Chiclayo. The entire coast of Peru is a desert. Busses leave on
time and are extremely clean. Tickets are sold by computers. Video Coach. You
watch dubbed Hollywood action movies and try to sleep. Dunes engulf the large
passenger bus. At this, I am, and have been, ill for days: dotted yellow lines, dank
curtain, dotted yellow lines, dubbed Braveheart, dotted yellow lines, dark aisle, do
not, ill, depart from Trujillo.

- here, with what must be the strange sense of traveling far to discover not only the most familiar, but among the most banal of American cultural products: a mock-Scottish film epic, starring an Australian expatriate, shot in Hollywood and dubbed into Peruvian Spanish. Elsewhere, such imbrications extend to the legacy of colonialism that marks the land itself:

even before the road for wheeled vehicles          this is the message
there was a road
                                                                      this is the address
they came on horseback to bathe in the mineral springs

in the 1930s the Shell Oil Company opened the road as far as Mera
drilled a few holes abandoned the well sites

And even to the colonial structures that support the tourist industry in South America:

we climb to the top of a hill overlooking a lake
there is a navy base below      guarding telephones

- a moment, literally an aside, that quietly brings to light the infrastructure that is the necessary condition of the poets' presence on the South American scene, none other than that of American neocolonialism; that the base standing below in the distance lay at the heart of their project.

--

What more to say, having established that CORRESPONDENCES is a book that rewards a reader's attention as few enough do. Mebbe only that this is one of the most beautiful chapbooks ever to pass through our hands, printed on fine paper and hand-sewn, filled with complex images and a number of colorful silk-screens; yet without being in any way ostentatious or book-artsy. Of course those images bring a complexity to the work that we've neglected entirely: the book is also very much about the photograph and the language by which to describe it; the status of experiential memory in a global economy of images; the bleaching of the eye in trade. But that, we'll leave for you to figure on your own, closing instead with another quotation:

We depart from Copacabana. In order to reach the other side of the lake, our bus
is driven onto a barge. We cross, adjacently, on a fishing boat. The barge, not
much larger than our bus, tilts to one side, and the angled edge conceals a
harbor. Poem including bridges. So with weight, and with weightlessness, a type
of plowing down, a type of washing over, a trackless passage. Into which the
water rushes. We are left ten miles from town. We are left with a color image
affixed to a slice of cardboard.

 

 

 

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