Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chocolate bar between two slices of bread--

"If you believe that not everything can be told in a book,
words know how to find their own way
and, left to themselves, decide where to land." -- Marie Chaix

Operating on a loose definition of "words" as the actual messages they express, the works within
The Sienese Shredder collectively reflect Chaix's principle. She illustrates by narration alone the flexibility of language as universal enough to transcend convention, while John Ashbery and Jane Hammond manipulate images and scarce text in order to conceptually test the limits of this flexibility.

While most of the book's entries challenge my rejection of language as mere iconology, poets Jane Hammond, Ron Padgett and Chris Edgar reinforce it. I inherently classify poetry, however narrowly, as an art most heavily dependent on its language -- the way they're arranged on the page or stressed vocally. I suppose more innovative means of presenting a poetic idea or story allow for a wider range of interpretations (and isn't personalized catharsis art's goal?)... but visual poetry like Ashbery's and Hammond's, when presented alongside more conventional free verse poems, seem to contain messages too far removed from the artist's original emotional intent.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Strange, Strange Sienese Shredder

I found “The Sienese Shredder” to be a strange accumulation of essays on life and art, artwork, poetry and prose that investigates (and, in my opinion, pushes the boundaries of) what justifies poetry as such. The bizarre text definitely provides an interesting, enjoyable read, but I feel that the authors sometimes take their exploration of the ridiculous a bit too intensely. For example, Jess’s “Oesap’s Faebles” seemingly random capitalizations and peculiar, multi-directional storyline seemed to subtract from the overall piece, rather than add the surreal nonsensicality which seemed to be the goal. This theme of absurdity to the point of pure silliness reflects a few times throughout the text, although the overall impression portrayed is one of strange yet admirable works.

My favorite piece (besides, of course, our dear Carbo’s :P), is Ron Padgett’s “The Absolutely Huge and Incredible Injustice in the World,” a nouveau work humorously outlining the irony of the unjust and inescapable disposition of mankind. He juxtaposes genuine inquiries and proclamations of human nature, such as “What makes us so mean?,” “It is hard not to be appalled by existence,” and “Life is so awful!” with amusing images of gorillas, hippos, and other oddities, overly dramatic ejaculations, and arbitrary tangents. In doing so, Padgett quite effectively lends a sense of outlandish humor to what could have been a drearily serious work.

Another choice example is, in my opinion, Harry Mathews’s “Romantic Poem,” which, barring the title, would not leave any notion of romantics. I enjoy how the title adds a new dimension to the poem and forces the reader to search for hidden meanings between lines.

All that said, I totally want to kidnap the puppy pictured on the postcard on page 144. How cute can you get? :)

I have a face that stays mostly on the front of my head

The title to this post is a line from a Ron Padgett poem, but I'm going to talk about John Ashbery right now. Ashbery's contribution really made visual poetry "click" for me. Being acquainted with his more traditional "lines on paper" poetry, I saw the same voice and sentiment revealed in both mediums: eclectic pop culture references, whimsy/irreverence, interrelating the high and low and most importantly a real aesthetic beauty. It is even arguable that Ashbery's lack of narrative "I" and audience in much of his verse really comes through in these visual works as well. As postcards, they are meant to be delivered. Ashbery stunts that ritual by manipulating the message (with his collage) and betraying the audience (by not sending them).

film poem by vispo class

The New Crustacean

Among the pieces selected for The Sienese Shredder, I found “The New Crustacean” to be the most fascinating. Kreg Hasegawa’s short story is riddled with holes, each of which is so surrounded by familiar constructions that the reader easily creates possibilities that might fill the vacancies. The execution (this from a student in contemporary academia) is hardly unsettling, in large part because it is presented in a warm tone and with a near flippancy in regard the narrator’s choices of omissions. Commentary is made on the way stories are told – not just in regard to literature, but to the quotidian recollection of a days and weeks, and to the subjects of language which need not be specific to function.

A warning is offered right at the offset that concrete subjects will be problematic throughout the text. The narrator states that he (“a father, a brother, a lover, a friend”) cannot tell about himself because “you’d only be further from the truth.” He sets up the technique that will dominate the rest of the text by stating that he is “determined entirely by context.” The reader learns that he has a family, a past, and at the end he hitches a ride toward an indeterminate future, but the details are not offered. In one instance, no circumstances are disclosed of an event which overtakes the narrator with nausea and pain. All that exists are the peripheries and consequences, and the reader is left to imagine endless possibilities that could assume the event.

The most striking example of this occurs when the narrator prepares himself to return to the site of a family camping trip. The site is not described, but simply by its being an attraction because of its lake, vivid images which must differ from reader to reader cascade through its absence. The same is true of whatever objects a clerk at the “large store” advises the narrator to bring along. He sheepishly purchases four of something we can almost picture clearly: fishing lures, boots, ponchos, meals-ready-to-eat, rifles, snake bite kits, compasses, styrofoam floaties, etc.

The commentary on how stories can exist with such absences suggests that ingrained in readers are types of narrative frameworks which stand nearly by themselves. In reflecting on “The New Crustacean,” it is hard not to think of Saussure and the structures of difference which make language possible. Per the theory of his successors, these structures stand as well without centers. By constructing walls such as the one where Hasegawa’s narrator purchases the unnamed supplies, the author creates empty spaces for images, the specificity of which are unimportant.


I think that if we firstly understand Sienese Shredder firstly a book of poetry and poets, it's easier to understand the ultimate task. Included are John Ashberry, Ron Padgett, William Corbett (who I am assuming is a relation of Edward Corbett), and Richard Tuttle locates it very much within the "New York School" of poets. Furthermore including works by Larry Fagin, who has produced a book of poems illustrated by Tuttle, and who has worked closely with Ron Padgett in Brooklynn further locates much of the contributors in and around New York.
Yet the books seems focused not on compartmentalizing or particularizing these contributors as much as it wishes to reveal their coalescence, discussion, and interest in one another.
It seems that Sienese Shredder is interested in poetry that is infested in and contributing to the world of visual arts, as well as revealing the sort of inverted or surprising discussions of art--such as the interview by Judith Stein wherein Richard Tuttle is interviewed about an art dealer. Instead of reading about the artist (Tuttle) we're reading a behind the scenes; stories about the people to whom the art is made collectible. Suddenly the person supporting art is given representation.
I also thought it was also interesting that the book was edited by two painters—Brice Brown & Trevor Winkfield. Furthermore, Sienese Shredder includes visual peices by John Ashbery. His long interest in Dada and Surrealism as well as his proliferation of art & poetic critique are no where to be found, instead we get only images he's produced.
It seems to be a re-examination and perhaps a revitalizationg of the New York School, the practices and interests of this school, and the ongoing transformation and transmutation of experimental poetry within art and aesthetic practices more generally.

Also, I was also thinking about the title and this is what I came up with:

Sienese = Sienna – during the 14th and 13th centuries was the center of a flourishing school of art
Shredder = a machine or other device used for shredding something.

So, yeah, I think that is an appropriate title.

Sienese Shredder as kooky

I find this collection an interesting and odd collaboration of new and old material. There seem to be lots of pieces rediscovering and reinterpreting older obscure art and literary works. The collection seems to have the goal of mining the past for rarities as well as exploring emerging works. The piece on Nadleman’s Standing Nude was one example of this examination of a piece I would not expect to see in a collection of contemporary. It was interesting to see it examined from a fresh perspective. The breath of material included this book was a bit disorienting to me but its range held my interest.
One piece I was especially interested in was Francis M. Naumann's attempt at solving Marcel Duchamp's unsolvable chess problem Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled [1932]. (It’s weird to think of Duchamp taking a hiatus from art to practicing his extreme chess master skills.) I looked the nature of this essay up on the internet and it said: Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled deals with endgame theory in chess specifically analyzing positions in which only kings and pawns remain, including the incredibly rare and even more obscure Lasker-Reichelm position. The Lasker-Reichelm is a position in which both kings are still free to move and white has 4 pawns all blocked – unable to move – by black’s three pawns. Those are all the pieces on the board and – from what I have been able to carefully gather – black can only hope for a draw and, given competent play, can produce one all the time.

I think it’s interesting to explore the process of chess as one would explore the process of art rather than looking to win or solely at the product/piece. This process of creating and the perspectives and possibilities this opens up to the viewer seems to be a prevalent theme in this collection from the Carbo's poem to the ghost weave.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007