Tag Archives: Springgun Press

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: States of Grace by Steven Graham Jones

26 Sep

Stephen Graham Jones’s collection, States of Grace (Springgun Press) is spilling over with unique short-shorts that are compact, forceful and sharp, kind of like a razor blade you’d keep under your tongue. Similar to Dylan Nice’s Other Kinds, the stories are melancholy, bizarre, tender, and familial. As with any other collection of fierce short-shorts, the first sentences are barbed and laced with a noxious tonic that grab the reader by the scruff of the neck. Here are a few:

From “Modern Love”

My son’s first-grade teacher doesn’t shoot heroin any more.

From “Neither Heads Nor Tails”

My father lost his left nipple in a hunting-related accident.

From “Hatchery”

Martin once tried to shoot a fish he put in a barrel.

From “Seafood”

After examining the facts for eight-odd years, in which both his wife and his job fell away like a second, unnecessary skin he’d never even known he had, Rick finally decided that it had been obvious, really, and, being not just rational but bound by the smallest indicators, he had no choice but to admit that that day he’d taken his four-year old son to the beach it had, yes, been almost solely to have him dragged out by a shark.

From “Bulletproof”

When Ton and Ricky and the rest of them came to shoot my brother in the street in front of our house, I was eleven years old.

From “Easy Money”

All we had to do was record the sound of a wooden bat on a human skull.

Jones takes on a variety of techniques throughout the book, but he’s never guilty of displaying simple literary stunts. Instead, the pieces have been skillfully and precisely crafted, and flow at a feverish pace with rhythm and fluidity:

From “Faberge”

and then there was the day the week the year my mother found the magazine I had hidden in such a perfect place, shuffled in with the rest of my magazines, and I don’t think she even told me at first but thought about it for a week, maybe two, looked at herself in the mirror a little too long some mornings, was too polite to me about staring into the refrigerator for minutes on end, and she never told my dad, either, but that was just because he was dead already so maybe he knew anyway, in the way dead people know things, which makes our skulls into glass . . .

From “Seafood”

If there had been a painting of that day, he knew, then he and Danny would have been at the center of it, every brushstroke radiating out from them. But there had been no painting and he hadn’t even known then to be looking for the brushstrokes.

From “Matinee: A Love Affair”

In the darkness of the theatre we did it too, stretching our fingertips up just to be part of it, a brief shadow. Even walking home we would find ourselves silhouetted against a building by approaching headlights and smile, then cast our eyes down over it, trying to affect a forlorn posture before the car swept past.

From “Backsplash”

You can’t bleach everything, after all. At a certain point, the harsh smell starts to be the thing that gets you caught, not whatever it is you’re trying to erase.

Awful Interview: James Belflower

24 Jun

postureFINAL-COVER-web-750x380Springgun Press released three new collections in February of this year, two of which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. The third offering they released was James Belflower’s The Posture of Contour: A Public Primer, which is by turns poetry, philosophy, and performance art. Over the past several weeks James has been on a reading tour, during which time he and I corresponded about his new  book.

Your new collection, The Posture of Contour: A Public Primer (Springgun Press, 2013), reads like a work of pataphysics, which Jarry defined as “the science of imaginary solutions.” Would you agree with this claim, why or why not? How would you describe your book to someone who has not yet read it? What other texts influence or inspired you to create a work in this form? (I realize the Works Cited section lists many texts; but I’m more interested in the form and/or genre of the text, as opposed, strictly speaking, to the content.)

I think pataphysics is an excellent framework for the book, though I’m wary of getting hung up if the term is too firmly hung on to. Alfred Jarry’s extended definition is helpful for avoiding this since it expands on a couple of the more ambivalent motifs of the text. He describes it as a science which “symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments, […] it is a science which lies as far beyond metaphysics as metaphysics lies beyond physics, in any direction.” I’m using virtuality a bit differently, but Jarry’s emphasis on description through virtuality to an object’s “lineaments” encourages all types of thinking conducive to investigating postures, gestures, contours, and non-coordinate dimensions.

The effectiveness of pataphysics as a poetic methodology isn’t new, but has remained on the literary periphery in the U.S. For me it’s inextricable from the humor of the epigraph by Andreas Cappellanus that begins the book, and Cage’s cognitive dissonance in “Lecture on Nothing.” I came to it roundaboutly by way of Gilles Deleuze, who is part of a larger coterie promoting this pseudoscience, which includes many of the Oulipo, Marcel Duchamp, Antonin Artaud, and most recently Christian Bök. Its effectiveness really hit home as I approached the fluid dynamic equations that often serve as titles throughout the book. Fluid dynamics is not a traditional discourse for poetry, so part of my reasoning for incorporating equations is that it forced me to approach my ignorance of the topic in very different ways. In other words, I thought of imaginary solutions. I knew that “solution” in the sense of solving these formulas was not an option, so the exercise necessitated returning through ignorance which demanded a repeatedly novel schematic. Rather than a science of imaginary solutions, for me it became a science of imaginary approaches to very real problems. Without the knowledge to solve them, these approaches were sustained through inventive address, rather than mastery or control.

It’s vital (Jarry even called it a “crying need”) that we reinvigorate a science of imaginative solutions because, at the very least, the process of importing solutions from one sense making mode to another generates very real and very fecund conceptual struggles. These are particularly catalytic in the other meaning of solutions: chemical baths, or logic systems (Albert Ayler might have named them smears, Gilbert Simondon uses them to describe individuation) into which alternative mixtures and discourses are introduced to produce very different links across all dimensions of connectibility. In my wildest hopes, The Posture of Contour serves as a primer for approaching some of these dimensions.

Throughout Posture, you’ve embedded sidebars that provide the reader/performer of the text with physical and tonal flourishes that enhance the written word when performed for an audience. Could you speak about the relationship you’ve attempted to foster between the abstract and the corporeal self and/or kinetics? What is the relationship between the two, to your mind? What can we learn from the tensions or relationships between them?

The figure began as the “Performer” in my first book Commuter (Instance Press, 2009), but didn’t appear as the Virtuoso until Posture of Contour. In one sense, the figure of the Virtuoso tunes into Jack Spicer’s call for poets to be entertainers. In another sense, the figure is derived from Paolo Virno’s analysis of linguistic economy in the Post-Fordist public sphere, where he describes the contemporary speaker’s flexibility and adaptability as virtuosic, practicing an activity that “produces something which is not distinguishable nor even separable from the act of production itself” and is understood as “an activity which requires the presence of others” (52).  Surprisingly, he pinpoints the most politically salient features of virtuosity as idle talk and curiosity, noting in disagreement with Heidegger’s insistence on a purely mental ecology, that idle talk carries great potential for imaginary invention and experimentation, but is also foundational to social production. Though Heidegger also dismissed curiosity as a contaminated form of knowing, Virno, drawing from Walter Benjamin, finds in it a socially engaged and enriching practice rooted in the commonly sensual.

For me, the Virtuoso is a figure that embodies an enactment of the circulation between ecologies; Buñuel’s sliced eye is a perfect example of mingling the “fluid of a mental ecology” with that of an exterior one: the moon, magically evoking the gut wrench of disgust. Of course, rooting it in violence imports all sorts of other problems I grapple with in the razor sections, but regardless, the Virtuoso enacts this through idle talk and curiosity. The Virtuoso is the most active event that encourages an emerging counterpublic: it is the reader, myself, an object on the wall, an eye, a razor, a gesture, a sound, etc. I like the way Michael Warner puts it, “Counterpublics are ‘counter’ to the extent that they try to supply different ways of imagining stranger sociability and its reflexivity; as publics they remain oriented to stranger circulation in a way that is not just strategic but constitutive of membership and its affects” (122). As one of the figures circulating through these occurrences, the Virtuoso relies on the attraction of curiosity, gestures, confusions, noises, idle talk, and conversations real and imaginary, but all given more to poesis than persuasion. In the process of emerging, the Virtuoso creates a politics of wonder: believes the plastic static of a trash bag might attract anyone’s tongue, and that a grandiose flick of the hand toward any object on the wall also draws that object into a social gambit.

As I’m sure you noticed, most of the activities of the Virtuoso in Posture are limited to gestures or flourishes that don’t require any specialized training outside of basic literacy. I wanted to avoid the more common understanding of Virtuoso, and perhaps transform some of the more exclusionary qualities of performance into invitational alienations. I have misgivings about the term “performance art” (as probably most people do!), but I knew that I wanted to stimulate a “public” by rethinking the reader as a real and imaginary performer through the Virtuosic sidebars. What excites me is the possibility that other virtuosos might publicly perform Posture! This is one of the main reasons for including aural collaborations with the book on Soundcloud, to encourage a public of a different sort.

In Posture, you write that “what if we attempt to enfold mathematical formulas not for the purpose [of] comprehension but for purposes [of] resistance” (54). If “comprehension” and “resistance” are placed in binary relation to one another (and we, thus, can read “resistance” as something akin to obfuscation), does resistance/obfuscation serve as a viable “solution” to a problem? And if resistance/obfuscation is a viable solution, does that negate pragmatics (which Deleuze and Guatarri, particularly, were champions of) and use-value? Are pragmatics and use-value modes of operation or intellectual stances you find compelling or worthwhile? If so, how do you remedy the apparent contradiction; if not, what purpose does your text serve?

The excellent question you raise regarding a binary between comprehension and resistance is an ongoing one for me. I think resistance and comprehension are not necessarily binary. For one thing, resistance can take many forms, but for some reason obfuscation, unintelligibly etc., seem to be the popular ones. I think that’s why I gravitate toward Deleuze because he models a philosophy that wants to (though it’s up for debate how successful he is) reconsider the binary thinking that opposes those two terms.

I always return to his section on the Body Without Organs in 1000 Plateaus for trying to understand the complexity of that comprehension/obfuscation binary. His emphasis on intimacy with the resisted object, or idea, his emphasis on motion, and on provisionality and contingency is of utmost importance for Posture:

Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it., find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO. Connect , conjugate, continue: a whole ‘diagram’ as opposed to a still signifying and subjective program (161)

His advice here has always struck me as very pragmatic: know the thing, concept, idea, etc., your attempting to subvert, or at least get very close to it!

So the long answer to your question culminates in saying that, yes, I definitely subscribe to a pragmatics and a use-value, but both couched in all the speculation and provisionality one can muster. I think this approach amplifies potential of all sorts: it provides options, and makes them manifest. The “Approaches” to fluid dynamics are an example; rather than obfuscating them, my readings offer other potential methods for engaging them. It recognizes other approaches through which they might potentially sense, and this sense, while not contributing to the primary logic from which they are derived, allows a public to communally engage them and diagram a variety of implications.

I think it was Deleuze who said that current philosophy is not abstract enough. I wonder what happens if we consider contemporary poetry as having a similar issue? If we collectively recognize the virtual quality to life, and tailor our language for that approach, then it has a greater opportunity to emerge. There seem to be many ways of pointing toward virtual things before obscuring others is necessary. Okay, off my soapbox, it’s sounding very utopic from up here!

2013 Springgun Press Releases

31 May

Last year, Springgun Press released its first offering of full-length collections: Lily Ladewig’s The Silhouettes, Adam Peterson’s The Flasher, and The Container Store, which is a collaborative text written by Joe Hall and Chad Hardy. For their second round of full-lengths, Springgun published three more solid collections: James Belflower’s The Posture of Contour: A Public Primier, Michael Flatt’s Absent Receiver, and Aby Kaupang’s Little “g” God Grows Tired of Me.

 photo MF1_zpsc9e4ef01.jpg  photo AK01_zps6d145db9.jpg

A conversation with Belflower discussing his Posture will appear on this site in the coming weeks; so I will focus my attention on the other two collections.

Flatt’s Absent Receiver opens, literally, with a microphone check: “check // check // check // check” (1); then proceeds to explore sound as both an object of study and as a form of study. Take, for instance, the following passage:

through the narcissism of reverb

we expect big things from small ones.

the propeller thrums the night

and electric light

brings blackground into relief.

in this space my open mouth

does not create a cavern. (32)

The excerpt begins with a meditation on the nature of reverb, and its ability transform “small” sounds into bigger ones. But there is more than meditation here; the form itself also contains a music in the hard rhyme of “night” and “light,” as well as the consonance of “create” and “cavern.” The reverb(eration) of phonemes in rhyme and alliteration, it would appear, propel the poem forward with their sonic thrums.

To this extent, then, Absent Receiver looks to travel “deep in the sound” of poetry in order to “deepen / the sound” (69) of the poems. In doing so, “the page” becomes “an amplifier” (47) through which Flatt sounds his songs; and the sounds, it would seem, are emotive:

the inside of a poem
isn’t anything
anyone needs to be shown.

the illiterate already know it
as the space between the
heartbeat and the heart. (46)

While Flatt’s preoccupations deal primarily with sound, Kaupang’s, Little “g” God Grows Tired of Me focuses mainly on the body and its various permutations. Take, for instance, the following segments from the poem “Scenic Fences”:

the body                    {that other body you
respond to—the one you reap}

refuses to wake
writes grieve

in the rainbed       the basalt       the mobile
choking over the baby’s crib (30)

return the body       {the one you
resound to}       lose it       once

and leave

be sad at the demolition of house (37)

ménage-a-toi

the bodies beside
the body       {you
sometimes}       and lying
there and trying
accidentally appear too

misaddress invitations for
other men’s pockets (43)

Over the course of these three passages, one body “refuses to wake,” calling into question our agency over the very thing we think we control; and “writes grieve,” thus undermining normative conceptions of Cartesian dualism, wherein the ability to write, think, or communicate resides, first and foremost, in the mind. Likewise, the body is a space to which we can return, we can lose or leave, or, like a house, be demolished. Kaupang’s collection contains a plethora of bodies that function in many different ways. Yes, this is the multiplicity of the body.

The proliferation of bodies, then, disassociates corporeal selves from the concept of identity and, more specifically, the pronoun “I.” As such, “I is useless in the dung / of words that name” (57), because “a name means nothing,” whether it be “I,” another pronoun, or a proper noun. But Little “g” God Grows Tired of Me is not a lament for a lost sense of self. Instead, the collection offers us an “exchange”: in place of a determinate “I” residing in a particular corporeal body, “I inhabit[s] innumerable houses // your “body / in jeopardy” (73). By placing the body and the self in jeopardy, though, we attain a fluidity heretofore unattained.