From this issue forward, Fascicle will be published at a (loosely) annual pace, with a continued emphasis on a global and historical view of innovative poetry & poetics: a US-centric conception of poetry has become, for many of us, increasingly ridiculous. Even a conception of “American poetry” (whatever that may mean) is instantly made more complex and rich by a consideration not only of Pound’s & Stein’s (as the two central figures in my view of American Modernist poetry) respective exiles on their own poetics, but how their self-conceptions as “citizens of the world” transformed the very basic assumptions of what it means to be an innovative American poet. Moving forward in time, many of the most important & beautiful American achievements of the last 50 odd years — from Spicer’s channeling of Lorca to Eshleman’s realization of Vallejo & Cesaire (among others) to Olson’s explorations of the Mayan to Rosmarie Waldrop’s rendering of Jabes to Rothenberg’s absolutely essential anthology projects — have likewise completely re-conceptualized and re-considered the most basic notions of national and innovative traditions.
At the most fundamental level, I conceive of Fascicle as an educational and inspirational venue for myself as a poet and reader; my own more or less official poetic education seemed to pass over notions of not only global but also local conceptions of poetry for a rather uninspiring institutional orthodoxy of self-containment and self-marginalization. Fascicle is hopefully one of many venues that endeavor a richer stance towards the poetic.
There are numerous reasons why I think this is the strongest issue we’ve managed thus far — foremost, perhaps, is the first translation into English of the Chilean modernist Vicente Huidobro’s major long poem, Sky Tremor, brilliantly realized by Tony Frazer. Among other significant archival material: the first two publications credited to Gertrude Stein (the first co-authored by Leon M. Solomons, who reputedly is the sole writer of the piece, though the findings were the result of experiments co-conducted with Stein), both from Psychological Review in the laste 1890s, on motor automatism (a side note: these two pieces have enjoyed an increase in critical attention from Friedrich Kittler, Priscilla Wald, Stephen Meyer and others, but have remained out-of-print and unavailable for decades); jasminlive selections from two books by the woefully overlooked 1920s innovator and publisher Harry Crosby, as well as DH Lawrence’s introduction to one of those selections; the collective manifesto “Poetry Is Vertical” from Eugene Jolas’ transition magazine, published in the 1930s, signed by Jolas, Beckett, Arp, McGreevey & others; a further installment from Edna Sarah Beardsley’s mysterious, compelling and rigorous The Word: a Philosophy of Words, published in 1958; and new translations of Catullus, Oliverio Girondo, Juan Sánchez Peláez & Jean Paulhan, among others. Additionally, Fascicle is lucky to feature a series of beautiful translations from the Chinese by Ken Chen.
Another major feature of this issue is the presence of two superbly edited and conceptualized portfolios of recent live sex chat work from Taiwan and Eritrea, edited by Shin Yu Pai and Charles Cantalupo, respectively. Both of these portfolios offer readers a generous view of sites of poetic energy and expression that have, as of yet, not received a great deal of attention, at least in my part of town.
Finally, this issue also features new poems and translations, as well as essays and interviews. Some of the highlights include Sex, a chapbook by Allyssa Wolf, author of Vaudeville, one of the most exciting poetry debuts of the aughts; new poetry from Stephen Rodefer, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Eleni Sikelianos, Kent Johnson, Elizabeth Robinson, Peter O’Leary, Robert Kelly, Tyrone Williams, Clayton Eshleman, Kate Greenstreet, CS Giscombe, Deborah Meadows and many others.
Also featured in this issue are new work by Alexei Parshchikov, Tim Van Dyke, Matthew Goulish and a haunting and inventive one act play by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, as well as Wilkinson’s interview of the exciting prose writer Danielle Dutton. You would also be remiss to not read Van Dyke’s fascinating, illuminating and free-wheeling interview with Jake Berry, author of Bambu Drezi among other works.
Among the new essays featured in this issue are David Rosenberg’s compelling and most likely controversial essay on “The Authentic Poet in the Late 20th Century,” focused upon three intensely beloved and/or disputed figures: Ted Berrigan, bpNichol, and Araki Yasusada. Also discussed, provocatively, at length, is the sainted George Oppen, whose work and person come alive in Kevin Killian’s talk
I’m going to take a few months off from Fascicle-related work, but by late spring/early summer, we’ll again be welcoming submissions of poetry and (especially) translations, essays and other-genred work. You can send submissions or queries to fascicle. Be warned: we get quite a few submissions, and my schedule can be sporadic, so it will likely be a matter of months until you hear a response.
Most of you know the entire career of George Oppen better than I know my own name, but for the newbies among you I’ll try to sketch out his life in four parts. He was born in 1908, in New Rochelle—like The Dick Van Dyke Show —but ten years later his family—a wealthy Jewish family—came here to California. In college Oppen met Mary Colby, a Gentile beauty from a lower class family in Oregon, and the two of them abandoned school and hitch-hiked to New York. Then they came back and tried to settle into the high livejasmin society of San Francisco, but they couldn’t. On a later trip to New York they joined the avant-garde circles of Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Reznikoff. By the early 30s the “Objectivists” were established as a school, but after writing one book, Discrete Series, Oppen decided to abandon poetry and pursue political activism instead.
The second phase of his life includes membership in the Communist party, being drafted by the Army and serving overseas during World War II, the birth of a daughter, Linda. In 1950 hounded by McCarthy’s secret police, the Oppens left this country for Mexico City, where George worked as a furniture maker and truck driver, etc. In 1958 they returned to New York, whereupon Oppen began to write again.
The third phase includes writing six books and winning a Pulitzer Prize and becoming famous and giving many interviews. And moving to San Francisco in 1969. During this time Mary Oppen assumes her rightful place as George’s other half. You have to read between the lines in a lot of the supplementary material, but it’s clear that if you wanted to meet George Oppen during this time, you had to be vetted by Mary. Many interviewers seem to have submitted to this protocol, so there are a number of articles called, “An Interview with George and Mary Oppen,” even though Mary’s credentials must have seemed of the Whitmanic sort. “I was the woman—I suffered—I was there.” The fourth phase, the tragic one, begins with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and ends with George’s death in 1984. Each of these phases of Oppen’s life has a special, and distinct, interest for a guy like me, because each of them has its own glamor and its own foreboding. I hope my queer reading of Oppen offends none of his old friends and family, please understand that I am trying to find a foothold in his great shadows. After the initial shock your heads will start to nod, as if on their own accord, and your mouths will open and say, “Yes, Kevin, you are right and no one has ever seen this before.” But in the meantime forgive my clumsy lack of tact. I propose to work the “malentendu” of Jacques Lacan—the “tragic misunderstanding” between intention and interpretation which Lacan pioneered in his Ecrits, written at the same time Oppen began his poetic career. “Style is the man,” wrote Lacan, “to whom one is speaking.”2 I misconstrue Oppen’s equation of heterosexual monogamy with living, opposing it through a thin veil of viral meninges. My agency gives answer to the questions posed by the writing. I am his family now. Lacan: a family, beleaguered by its own models, has been caught in the “imaginary impasse of sexual polarization involving cultural patterns, mores, the arts, rebelling and thought.” I start with the holes in Oppen’s poem “Solution”.
There is no piece missing
The puzzle, the puzzle assembled at last, the cultural fad artifact of the late modern age, that first swept France and England in the wake of the First World War (1919), an emblem for an age where confusion and determination to reassemble invented the perfect reflection of the soul’s own struggle. It’s showing off to assemble it in the box lid, something like doing a crossword puzzle in ink, but that’s part of Oppen’s bravura, he is among other things a handy man, a mensch, good with tools. Anyway all of us assemble our puzzles without reference to the box lid in the sense that the picture we are assembling is invisible to us until the very last moment, then we are left with extra pieces or whatever, or we find that the puzzle we thought we were working on is not the picture on the front of the box, etc . . . The puzzle showing a green hillside, a house, a barn, the sentimental landscapes you see on most box lids. The barn and man and wife and children, all of it polychrome, lucid; this matches the general pattern of rhetoric about the Oppen’s own home life, in which only a few important figures make themselves felt in the landscape, a man, a wife, a little girl. Though it is odd that all these human figures are referred to as “it,” instead of the more natural “them.” (“A barn and man/ And wife and children/ All of them polychrome,/ Lucid.”) And also, the specificity of the plural “children” jars a little bit, when you think that after all, George and Mary had only the one daughter, Linda, isn’t the disparity hinting that no, all was not picture perfect in the Oppen’s domestic life, shouldn’t they have had more children instead of the abortions Mary later reveals in her memoir Meaning A Life? Despite how one feels about abortion, there is something kind of murky about it, something in opposition to the lucid normative family “solved” in this poem. Polychrome—and you will remember Polychrome from the Oz books too, the kind of repellently flighty fairy Dorothy gets so enchanted by, you don’t find creatures like Polly in Kansas, do you? Polychrome, lucid, and “backed by the blue sky,” . . . “backed” in the sense of “supported by moral assistance,” or “substantiated.” Nature connives and supports the family unit, without its assistance the figures would assume rather different shapes, perhaps more sinister ones. Lucid, suffused with light, backed by the blue sky, translucent, lucid, as in sane, having full use of one’s faculties, lucid, intelligible, easily read. Okay, that’s the picture, the family, now the poem shows the “jigsaw of cracks,” and the salient part leaps up, yes, the puzzle is filled with cracks, a jigsaw after all is a powerful carving tool, its knife-edge infinitely sharp and painful, used to mutilate the recalcitrant body of the text, in this case, the lucid picture, the “jigsaw of cracks” suggesting the violence with which the oppositions are defined and maintained within mainstream culture. Compare with Auden: the crack in the teacup that looks all the way down to the pit of Hell. I.e. I cite Auden as the gay modernist who’s always going on and on comparing bourgeois family life with hell. This jigsaw of cracks “crazes the landscape,” the poem tells us, “but there is no gap,” why not? If we were to really look at our 3-D world would we see and recognize and read the cracks in our bourgeois solidity, and realize the jigsaw as its most accurate representation? Why no gap? The opposition between the “lucid,” sane, and the “crazed,” the “crushed,” the demolished, the stunned. Of course there’s the hint of the “craze” in there, too, the fad, in the sense that the jigsaw puzzle makes the landscape, the family, popular in an “exaggerated and often transient enthusiasm.” Jigsaw, modernity, makes landscape into fashion. The gap, that there is none of—is the “actual edged hole,” the missing orifice, or, as we read it inside the flat world of the jigsaw puzzle, the orifice that is solidly filled, there is no longer an “actual edged hole,” the triumph of materiality over lack, or, the continuous repression of the genital, despite the cracks there is no actual edged hole. The poem is turning into a series of “no”s—but these “no’s,” oddly, become positive and reassuring entities, these little words each one hammering home another reason why the speaker or reader should not be anxious. “Nowhere the wooden texture of the table top/ Glares out of scale in the picture.” Because of this emphasis on reassurance, the glare becomes the most important thing in the poem. It’s not there, but it might have been. What’s so bad about seeing part of a table top? And this is the poem of a man who made tables for a “living,” and did not hesitate to point out the Christology involved in hiring a “Jewish carpenter.” So how does the table top frighten? Well, it glares, like a monster, or an angry human, or the heat of the sun. And, it’s out of scale. Hence it shows up the landscape and its figures as having been a construction, a miniaturization, somehow a falsification of the realities of existence. But at the same time this sight, the ghastliness of it, is “nowhere,” thanks to the successful “solution” of the puzzle, the success of its maker. We may also think of the seance, of table-tapping, there is a horror involved in the table top in that it has an underside, like the mind, like the narrow membrane between life and death. “Nowhere the wooden texture of the table top/ /Sordid as cellars, as bare foundations:” the sordidity of the cellar is linked inevitably to the concept of the unconscious, the sordid drives, the sex and death drives, that have created the house, barn, man, wife, children, the bare foundations the rag and bone shop of the heart, the . . . it’s like a horror movie, What Happened in the Cellar? It is not for the eye that’s for sure. It is the glimpse into hell, it is the genital, it is the actual edged hole, it may not be seen, it is the unspeakable, and it must be covered. In fact I think of it as the homosexual. “There is no piece missing. The puzzle is complete/ Now in its red and green and brown.” Lacan, taking up the ideas of Melanie Klein would argue that the puzzle is not complete, that the “body” does not exist, except as a mere pile of parts or pieces, a fragmented and thus violent body.
The “solution” provides a veneer of identity, yet as Catherine Clement insists, identity is a “mere outer skin that constantly distorts one’s relations to others.”3 And so it is with the poem, a fixed discrete entity that nevertheless leaks with sloppy, messy juices. The poem “says,” but since it is composed of words, parts, it creates its own desire for that which it does not have or want. The poem lacks meaning, and reader, and slithers across the earth to find both or either. In this case it found me.