Why I hate Anderson Cooper tonight
   File under: America , Poetry & Poetics , Teaching

I'm just returned from another 3-hour History of American Poetry Monday-night-till-10pm extravaganza, and I turn on the television for some World Series of Poker or, if I'm lucky, something actually funny or intelligent, like The Daily Show, and my wife has been watching CNN, and there's Anderson Cooper saying how he got into the news business so that the lives of others could change his life, there's Anderson Cooper talking about how he carries the lives of others with him, how the suffering of others is secreted within him, and I understand now why it's so hard for students to read Whitman and consider his interest in the subject and his apparent self-aggrandizement as democratic, as a promise of equality. Whitman's claims — I am with you — are hollowed out here in this emotional pornography masquerading as magnanimity until we cannot believe anything sincere anymore, any gesture toward the enlarging positive.

Wanted for crimes against American Literature...

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Music Reform
   File under: Denver

For those in Denver or with an interest in coming to Denver, I am curating and speaking as part of an evening dedicated to Charles Mingus this Thursday, September 29th, at 6.30pm at Belmar. Come on out if you get the chance.


   File under: America

I've spent the morning with the Denver Post, thinking particularly about the referenda for the November election, especially Referendum C, and I'm pleased to see the level of discourse rising in the letters to the editor. I'm especially happy to read this (from Craig Eley of Denver), in response to a previous week's letter:

In her letter, Cheryl Redmond Doyle of Littleton asks, "Why are the government's needs and budget more important than my family's? I am voting 'no' on Referendums C and D."

I am sure that our families are the most important single thing to almost all of us. Does that mean we should keep all our money for ourselves, giving none to charities, churches or kids selling wrapping paper to help their schools? Even the most selfish among us realize, as Doyle apparently does not, that C and D are not addressing "the government's needs." They are addressing our own needs.

Yes, they are our own needs.

I will admit that I have some self-interest in seeing Referendum C pass because higher education will be affected most by the result of the vote: if my job is secure (and I'm not sure it is) then my working conditions are not.

But my self-interest does not exist individually. As a teacher I exist and work inside a web of personal and ethical relations. When I do well, my students can do well. When my students do well, I can do even better. So what my interests — in funding that will support decent facilities, namely classrooms that will seat the students comfortably, and a library that will support their learning, and perhaps a little money for curricular and cultural initiatives that improve the general tone of the learning environment — are also in the interests of my students.

But they are also, in some measure, in the interests of all.

As I say, I work as a teacher in a web of personal and ethical relations. That web encompasses me and my students, primarily, but it also extends outward: as my students graduate, as our students graduate, and enter the general populace, their capacity for rational thought and dialogue and investigation has a direct impact on the general (averaged) capacity for citizenly intellection. What I want, more largely, is an intelligent citizenry, an increasingly intelligent citizenry. Right now, I am interested in the means to secure the project of preparing that increase.

Mr. Eley's letter is particularly heartening to me in its recognition of the contingency of our lives:

For example, decent roads allow goods to be delivered to us, permit us to view the beautiful scenery around the state and perhaps even help us avoid some expensive repairs to our vehicles.

Of course, my family is the most important thing to me. But I also care about safe school buildings for students in rural counties where I will probably never set foot. Of course, I think I can spend my money better than the government can. But when is the last time I built a road, a school or a sewer system?

It is ironic that in television ads, the anti-C and D crowd calls the rest of us "pigs." If all you care about is yourself and the immediate needs of your family, then you will probably vote against C and D. I have confidence that most of the citizens of Colorado will take a broader view of the state's best interests and, yes, even their own.

I've been saying for a few months now, to whomever will listen, that the question beneath Referendum C that few people want to confront is a question about self-sufficiency, about independence.

For so many people it seems that personal or political independence must be expressed in economic of fiscal terms. The opponents of Referendum C say again and again that you know better than the government what to do with your money. You can determine its use and effect better. You can control it.

You can control it. Maybe the decisions you'd make would be different from those the government makes. But you can't embrace this totally, or you'd lead yourself into unliftable burden.

If you believe this, this is what you have to do: sell your car and home today and all your clothes and divest yourself of all your goods and move onto a nice parcel of land with a stand of trees. Cut down and plane those trees into planks and raise your own house. Once you are done here, you must begin to till the ground to plant your own crops (you must be getting hungry now) and cotton for fiber for cloth (it's cold too without those clothes). And once you're fed and clothed, begin drilling for oil and smelt some metal and work it into a small refinery and also get to work on a car of some kind. And then work a bit on flattening out the land so you can drive your car. You're going to be late for work, but maybe you should quit that, too. You're self-sufficient.

The fact of our lives that we all live inside a web of personal and ethical and economic relations, and we do depend on the work of others and, more importantly, at the intersection of our needs (personal and corporate) and our capacities to fill those needs. Someone can refine some fuel, but too much for personal consumption, so the neighbors get it. And so forth.

To pretend otherwise is to participate in delusion.


I hope our collective horror at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would push us even further toward such realization.

Here is a situation in which the abilities of the individual, even of the local body, were not sufficient to withstand this storm, a situation in which the corporate (the body I mean is the body politic) capacity was required to weather, and so much of what has gone wrong lies in a failure of the body to respond to this rupture. If ours was a body, we'd be dangerously ill.

I am happy to see the discourse of federalism returning, if in isolated pockets, in the discussion of Katrina's effects.

I just hope we can continue to have this conversation about our interdependence before gas reaches $4 or $5 a gallon and more of us are meeting as pedestrians on the street.

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The Emergent
   File under: Poetry & Poetics

A few fine entries by Kasey on the emergent here and supra.

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Cairo, Illinois
   File under: America , Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics

Kevin and I are making our travel plans.

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My Refugee
   File under: America

My brother, who lives in Oxford, Mississippi, calls me today. Near the end of our conversation he tells me to hang on for a minute, then I hear him yelling at someone. I can't make out the words he's yelling so loud. Then he comes back on and I ask, What was that? And he says Oh, that's my refugee.

At first this is just another of my brother's quasi-intentional witticisms, but when he explains that he now has a friend, who'd evacuated from New Orleans, living with him, and when he explains that this sort of arrangement is fairly common now in Oxford, the phrase my refugee begins to resonate more strongly and more widely. Because it's not only an index of how large and how personal Katrina's effects are but, more importantly, a statement about refuge. My brother's not saying that he owns this person, but that she stays in his refuge. My refuge-e.

I don't know how common this is in the hurricane diaspora, but I'm interested. Everywhere new language must be arriving as the refugees (or evacuees) arrive.

That's my brother, my refuger. My friend. My refugee.


In response to Kevin's comment:

I wasn't much of a fan of the word "refugee" either before today for just the reasons you name. I agree that the word implies persecution and it points to a rather difficult and painful fact in American culture: it reminds us that racial and economic discrimination are systemic and not as far away as we might like.

But today I heard the word "refuge" in "refugee" and I started thinking that, felicitously, perhaps, as we're all trying to donate and care for those who have been displaced, evacuated, moved on, that though tragedy — though tragedies — have brought us here, if we can become that refuge those people need, we'll be better people. Ours will be a better country.

Some won't become. Some won't provide. But this seems to me the point where we do begin. Our emerging language has a residue in it, which we use to tell ourselves what we weren't ready to hear.

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   File under: Denver


Oral History
   File under: America

(A break from the sympathy and evidence considerations.)

Am working furiously on the barbecue project these weeks since the Copper Nickel release, and now I have some interesting new evidence on the origins of the word and method, and as I am considering patterns of instance and the potential diaspora of the word itself through the Spanish colonial Caribbean and into North America in particular, I'm thinking a great deal about how oral barbecue really is.

I'm troubled by the gaps in the historical record, but when we consider early barbecue, we are looking at a practice in which everything, including the cooking apparatus (which is made of wood) is consumable and is consumed in the act. So, the evidence I find myself seeking is always indirect, is always a witness, a memory of an event or a technique.

If we didn't have maps and locations these days, barbecue would be much the same. I go to Dreamland and eat the ribs, which I consider among the best in the universe, and I polish the bones down to their grey, and what evidence do I have to show for it? Soon the bones are gone, my styrofoam plate is gone. I have sauce stains around my nails, but that too will be gone before long. And what I have is a memory. What I have is my own articulation of the experience. What I have is the jawing over whether or not this lives up to the last time or if someone's found better ribs in Dothan.

In all this, I get so hungry, as if my fingers and my brain need some input to keep this whole process going, some oral manifestation so the reconstruction can continue. Which means the first barbecue breakfast of the fall semester is soon to be upon me.

Back to work...

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I Went Down to the Crossroads...
   File under: Information Technology

Kevin brings Raymond Williams:

By 'emergent' I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship are continually being created.

When I haunt the crossroads at night, Robert Johnson on the iPod, waiting for one devil or another to arrive, am I not doing the same?

(& if the devil that comes is some new devil?)


Sympathetic Reading
   File under: Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics

Christopher Nealon, from "Camp Messianism":

... I think we're at an impasse in literary studies, on the way to which we have sacrificed the critical potential of appreciation and advocacy in favor of what has become a rote "problematization" of texts, and a sadly narrow practice of appreciation that is only able to find subversiveness to admire. But what if the texts we admire, even the politically engaged ones, turn out to be not subversive? What if their political efficacy has been evacuated or is pending? Ascribing performative success to these objects — to pick one of our favorite strategies of the last decade — and equating that capacity for performance with agency doesn't seem to do justice to the theoretical power of the idea of performativity, which I take not to lie in our applauding the aesthetic object's performance but in our not being able to pin down when the performance is finished. Crucial to the sympathetic reading practice I want to advocate is an understanding that critical acts are not discrete. To dismiss appreciative or content-driven readings of texts on the grounds that they are insufficiently politicized, insufficiently counterhegemonic, is to mistake the work of countering hegemony (if that's what we're doing) as individual work. When I read a text that interests me, especially for its political-affective comportment, my impulse, my critical impulse, is: pass it on. Highlight it as best you can, read against the grain, or with it where you can, and make sure others take a look. This is as true for texts that I find repulsive as for those I admire: I don't imagine myself, as a critic, judging by myself.


Materiality / Orality
   File under: Alabama , America , Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics , The South

I'm very much enjoying the breadth and clarity of this post over at Jane Dark's Sugarhigh.

I especially like the use of "residual poetics" to describe what I think Silliman would put into the "School of Quietude." I find that in my own work, I am using residual poetics but consciously, as I am most often writing about residues or traces, and it seems the right way to go.

I understand the critique of the "common sense" argument, which I find offensively ahistorical as well. So I want to separate the class of "residual poetics" into two classes at least, into "consciously (even ironically) residual poetics" and "residual poetics that presents itself as presiding poetics" (aka the common sense school).

For it seems to me that residue is not only interesting as fuel for nostalgia but as well as a form of recognition of the past's inflection of the present. It's hard to bring this off, and I think in many ways it's intellectually safer to enter into what Jane calls "emergent poetics" since the formal and significant forms this poetics creates clearly break from and can then more obviously comment on the past without being used or assumed by it. The "consciously residual poetics" I am interested in is always in danger of being assumed or subsumed by the presumptively presiding ahistorical "common sense" residual poetics, and indeed is often claimed by it and in some cases even becomes such poetics.

Take Seamus Heaney as an example. I think in his early work Heaney was playing very seriously with the traditional inheritance from both English and Irish prosody, and he used one to slighly destabilize the other, setting up through seemingly nostalgiac echoes of the Irish tradition, a kind of protest to English in his work. At the same time, his tactic was not to destroy or deform the English as sereverly as someone like, say, Medbh McGuckian, whose work is more clearly a linguistically and poetically formalized protest. So, Heaney, at once delightfully wry, is now claimed by the staunchest common-sensors (censors), as his late blank-verse and Anglo-Saxon work give him trad-cred, while McGuckian finds an audience in those who are interested in "emergent poetics."

But Heaney should not so quickly be aligned with, say, the William Logans and Timothy Steeles, those poets whose metrical histories are decidedly skewed to underwrite the claim of a "common sense" order and who more often than not seem to wish to live and write in another, earlier era. That is a more nostalgiac kind of residue, though it's not altogether clear that such a nostos existed, in the English speaking world anyway.

I'm particularly interested in this as I consider my own writing, not so much because I'd be surprised to discover that I'd been characterized as a School of Quietude poet or as a residual poet, but because I find myself uncomfortable with some of the company I'd be given in such characterizations (there are disagreements, fundamental ones) that seem to me like so many false distinctions. It's not that there's no difference in color that could or would sustain a line of demarcation, but that there's a middle ground --- and it's not just one where (as Silliman implies) people don't think about what they're doing, but a place where the gestures of encampment cannot be made with the same clarity. Some are interested in working in that area of potential dissonance achieved by emulating both signals at once, or by using one for a purpose that's been unforeseen.

Admittedly, such ruse is hard to keep up, and one can find a comfortable embrace by a community with whom one disagrees significantly, but sometimes comfort overcomes disagreement. It makes the lines even harder to discern properly, but if we're cartographing, I want some more complicating shading on this border.


Such strict marking says the Southern accent (and it always assumes there's only one) is a sign of ignorance and bigotry, or a witness to it, or a sign that it once existed.

But even if this sound long ago became the auditory marker of these behaviors, does that mean that its survival or its use today should so clearly be nostalgiac, retrograde, Stephen Foster?

Must the Southern diasporite always be representing the planter class or the poll-tax class?

When the answer is yes but the Southerner does not harbor such characters or positions, then there is that doubleness, a necessary, a militated betweenness.

Must I shed my accent to become emergent? Or can I emerge with these ghosts in my mouth?


All this to say that while I'm taken with the clarity and the general cartography of Jane's schema, I'm concerned especially by the ways in which emergence is witnessed by and militated by a demonstration of a decidedely Marxist interest in the materiality of language, over and above its oral qualities. I'm concerned because I think the belief that language can ascent above or can transcend the accident into the materialization of language is an especially middle- and northeast-American fantasy.

It's been shown again and again that there is a lattitude that marks what we enshrine as a culture as "standard" American English, and the line runs through Pennsylvania all the way west into South Dakota (Tom Brokaw, anyone?). Those who have lived near the line to the north have been allowed to participate in the fantasy that their accent is not only specifically but significantly different from the accents below the line, as if an auditory map of the United States could provide a spectrum from ignorance to genius. Those below the line carry the accent and the marks.

It is not possible, in the dominant parlence, to be both Southern, in a culturally recognizeable or meaningful sense, and emergent.

Yet we emerge.

Can't you hear it?

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Sympathy (3)
   File under: Information Technology

Adam Smith, from Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759):

By the imagination we place ourselves in his [i.e., our suffering “brother”] situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them. His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves, when we have thus adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us, and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels.


Sympathy (2)
   File under: Information Technology

President Bush's shirt matching and blending with the cathedral and the statue pediment is not quite what I had in mind.


   File under: Information Technology

There are times, more and more often, when I'm talking, and I'm thinking about what I'm saying and I'm suppressing my accent properly so "mispronunciation" isn't a factor and I'm thinking about everything I know about the person I'm speaking to and trying to shape my speech to their hearing and I'm trying to hear them hearing me and I'm wishing I could make a speech that fit like a hearing aid in that whelk of an ear, and then I see that this person has no idea what I'm talking about no idea what I'm saying, or the head turns and we see that the ears are already plugged and nothing's getting through and then I am lost I wish I could turn and turn back and be heard that my words would fall into place that I would hear their not hearing me and know how to speak around that deafness a way to encourage their listening to encourage their sympathy to ask them to consider what I must be saying to encourage them to share the burden of interpretation of communication but the best I am offered is a glimpse of a cocked head and a cornshuck peaking from behind one lobe and I am hungry now.

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The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
   File under: Intake

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   File under: Intake

every pause a listening, every listening reach, a question, waiting for an answer


   File under: America

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Listening (2)
   File under: Intake

John Coltrane's "Dearly Beloved," Sun Ship, track 2.

Feed the disk to the player. Click ahead one track. And then.

Then you can go into it later.... But I think it'd be better to keep it pressing, so we we we'll keep a keep you know keep a thing happening all through. But you can go to it when you feel it later, you know.... Ready?

A shower of sound. Keep a keep you know keep a thing. Keep.

When I first bought this record, who knows when, I was looking for something — maybe Love Supreme again, maybe something better, more —l but I remember not finding it. Nevertheless, I didn't sell it, and I kept going back to it, and I soon discovered this beautiful song that I'd have had as the only music at my wedding if I had known it then.

And slowly this has become one of my favorite records, beginning with this song and extending to the opening tune, "Sun Ship" and through the disk to the end.

When I first started coming, I wasn't ready. And now I am a different person. Larger, if not multitudinous.

I've had occasion to return to my (incomplete) posts on craft (1, 2) after a Friday conversation, especially to my interest in "craft" as a concept that is more than shorthand for "qualities I admire in poems."

To add to the record and the conversation, I mean in part that one must listen to a poem, not just for the musics that come most strongly to our ears, but more importantly for its idiom, its poetic, its ethic, the proposal it makes for our living near and with it. I mean in part that one must become sympathetic to the poem. Indeed, one must make the effort to become sympathetic with a poem if one is to read it. One may then, as Whitman suggests, walk freely out of that precedent that suits one not. But you must arrive before you can depart.

Too often as readers, as listeners, we depart before we've finished arriving. We "know" how it's going to fall out. We "know" what it's about, where it's going.

I too.

I am trying to return to those incomplete arrivals, to come through sympathy to some place that is beyond me.

To adopt for a time a consumptiive aesthetic that is different from my productive aesthetic, to read something different than I would write, and thus to escape an ideologuery.

To be inside the music.

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   File under: Intake

James Agee:

Get a radio or a phonograph capable of the most extreme loudness possible, and sit down to listen to a performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony or of Schubert's C-Major Symphony. But I don't mean just sit down and listen. I mean this: Turn it on as loud as you can get it. Then get down on the floor and jam your ear as close into the loudspeaker as you can get it and stay there, breathing as lightly as possible, and not moving, and neither eating nor smoking nor drinking. Concentrate everything you can into your hearing and into your body. You won't hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

From Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.


So, when I listen, I try to get inside the other's language.

But is anyone else trying to get inside mine?

Someone asks recently if we can be more than ourselves.

I hope so.


Listen here.



Evidence (2)
   File under: Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics

On the Monk's Music recording of "Well You Needn't," just after Monk's solo Coltrane is supposed to come in. If you have one of the recently remastered copies, or if you turn your record up loud you'll hear Monk shouting to Coltrane (at 2:22), who must not have appeared ready. Sascha Feintstein, in his poem Coltrane, Coltrane" suggests Coltrane might have been in a heroin daze.

Whatever the case, the moment is a remarkable one, one of those moments in which what you think you're hearing, what you're listening to, becomes something else. The song is now not just the record of how these musicians respond to one another through their instruments. It is also a record, an evidence of Coltrane's lag, and enough of a trace of the people in the studio one can begin to imagine what was happening there.

Whenever I listen to this "Well You Needn't" (though he did), I have to turn almost immediately to the recording of Charles Mingus's group playing "Meditations on Integration" at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival. There, about a third of the way through a 25 minute composition (right at 7:01), we can hear Mingus yelling "E! E! E!" signalling a change from one segment to another. And there as well, we get to hear not just through the instruments but between and behind them as well. Though I've never seen pictures of the Monterey gig, I begin to imagine it always at this moment. The recording ends with thunderous applause and a short "Thank you" by MIngus so the imagination can expand, following from the trace into the world.


   File under: Information Technology , Lomography / Photography , Poetry & Poetics

The tune sticks. I don't know enough about music to describe Monk's line on a staff, but I'm drawn again, not to the apparent dissonance that gives the tune its most immediate character, but instead to the logic I find there, the way the rhythmic interplay between phrase and pause asks us to consider the present and the absent, positive and negative evidence, and the way in which the succession of the positions and omissions, so vital to the song, is also key to our sense of authenticity or authentication. There must be a trail. A chain. A record. A trace.

I've been talking about evidence a lot lately, with my colleague Philip Joseph whose been writing about racial reparation, in reading Wai Chee Dimock's Residues of Justice as a result of my conversations with Phil, and in (the highlight of my Denver) talking with Adam Lerner lately about Tehching Hsieh, of whose work Adam is preparing an exhibition.

It's taken Adam's interest in evidence in the context of Tehching Hsieh's work to make me think about evidence more directly in my own work, particularly in my poetry. Evidence is so clearly an important aspect of my scholarship, not only because the evidentiary drive is fundamental to all scholarship, but because I believe evidence to form the solid frame for any work of poetics: to show must always be the first act. But as I think about what I'm writing now toward a new book of poems, and as I think about my photographs a bit more directly, I'm increasingly interested in the explicit and implicit questions of evidence I've been thinking about for some time, and especially interested in how these questions are unfolding through my work.

Once you see Murder Ballads you will see the interest in evidence in the poems that have an archaeological concern and with those poems that are interested in historical, especially lynching, photographs — the concern with the power and the veracity of the artifact and of the document and the enormity of the disclosure such evidence makes possible or makes inevitable.

I hope you will also see, in a poem like "Negatives," the concern with the capacity of the thinker, and especially of the storyteller, to create a new kind of evidence, to create a counter-reality by creating the evidence of a state that does not yet exist, to bring a world into being by counterfeiting evidence of the world the story would find. This last move is especially important in those poems, like "Negatives" or "Vigil," that were undertaken as compensatory visions, attempts to create the world that should have existed.

The evidentiary concern, including the interest in evidentiary process, are clear.

What I haven't considered until today — because several conversations have brought me back to my photographs — is how much larger my interest in evidence is and has been for some time.

I've liked this shot for a long time for a lot of different reasons, and it's one of the few shots I have in my lomographic albums that I know has been viewed by a lot of people, so while there are qualities that feed my interest in returning to this shot there must also be qualities that draw others to it, though I don't know if those are the same qualities. (Maybe you can tell me.)

There are several histories to this photograph — several histories that intersect in this photograph and the viewing of it.

The history that's most immediately germane is the history of the photograph's subject. It's the hand of a student who had been through a difficult time, most of it seemingly centered around her troubled relationship with her live-in boyfriend. She seemed nearly destroyed by the relataionship, and the withering was hard to watch. Indeed, I refused to witness much of what was going on, though I was aware of it nevertheless.

On this day, just a few days after I had a bicycle accident and badly bruised and possibly cracked several ribs, this student, who lives but a block from me, called in sobs saying she'd decided to break it off and asking if I wouldn't mind taking a walk as she talked it out. So we took a walk, she with her break and I with mine, each of us in a pain. I took my camera, as usual. We walked east to Cheeseman Park where we sat on a bench for a rest. She lit a cigarette, and I took this.

I didn't take a portrait face-on. Maybe she asked me not to. She says she doesn't take good pictures. Maybe I just didn't want to face what was already too obvious, what was written in her face. But this shot captured it all, the burning to ash, the suppressing and quickening burn.

The shot captures the moment, which I remember well: November, dried leaves inscribing the sidewalks, chill air occasionally cutting in the lungs, my drug-numbed body.

It is evidence. But not in any compendious way. It is a trace, even as the ash is a trace of the tobacco. The photograph itself is an ash that proves we were there and that those burnings were our acts. And the record is better, more faithful to the moment, for being partial, for being fragmentary, for being incomplete.

The viewing of this photograph produced an interesting history itself when another student accused me of showing partiality to the photographed one, an accusation that produced its own evidence, revealing what many of my students thought of me (some good and some bad), revealing the partiality, the fragmentariness, of my self in the minds of others. I realized that I too was a trace of myself. I was asked to evidence myself more completely in the lives of others. I chose instead to become even more elliptically traced, distancing myself further from the evidence of my going over which others concern, which has actually made my awareness of my appearance to my students and to those with whom I work even more acute. Sometimes painfully so.

I've become interested in being hidden, in being occulted or occluded. Honestly, I've always been interested in hiddenness. Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely" was an immediate favorite if for nothing else then for the line that keeps me sane in interminable meetings: "I'm not here. This isn't happening."

I do want to disappear. To observe from my blind. But not only for distance. Not only for protection. Not only to know what is there.

Because my interest in the hidden, as it has required a sharpening of the evidentiary hunger and the evidentiary eye, has disclosed myself to me as much as anything else.

When I stand at the window that lets me see what someone else has hidden from those within the building, when I stand to capture this hidden message's public broadcast, I catch myself as well. Even if I but make the shadow that makes the hidden visible to my camera. Even if I can trace my shadow, my outline on the window, in the other shadows, from the other shadows. There I am. Here.

Skins are peeled away. Autopsies reveal. And our staring draws a line into the near interior. Attention showing where we tend, what tendencies keep us from within.

In a strange city, the evidence that keeps me is the mark of a former city, a number etched into a long-hid post, a sign for a culture that disappeared nearby. The closed-down restaurant. The note left for someone who may never have shown. But as I stand marking these signs I become the reader for whom the sign has waited. I have closed a circuit. And now the artifact is whole, the body laid to see. What was a trace has led to the whole, has traced me into the circuit so I see the whole more clearly than if I'd stood inside its expedient electricities, seen what was thought important to be seen. We are beyond choice here. Except that what I find, what I choose to examine, to evidence, shows my choice, my interest, my suspicion that what's hidden's never hid. Nothing ever goes away. Always an echo, a shadow, a trace.


Maybe this is why I write so many echo and near-echo poems, poems in which the interest isn't simply rhyme, auditory joy, but the trace, the persistence, the uneraseable recognition of one in another. The next book is built on such poems, through which my commenting friends have waded, with bewilderment so often.

Now maybe this can serve as legend.


On the Blackhawk recording, the capture seems to widen as we work through the two-saxophone vamp and Rouse's solo, and almost two minutes in we enter more deeply not only the evidence of a night in April 1960 but as well the traces of nighclub conversation. Not just Joe Gordon's trumpet break, but as well a low tenor chatter, one man saying Oh yeah, that's definitetly....

That's definitely. Or that's epistrophy. A turning in place. Turntable vinyl. Acetate under the cutting head. Monk spinning at the keys. A turn away that turns back toward. Theme and reprise. Trace to body to trace again. Perfume haunting sheets at sunrise. A dirty glass. Hair in the drain. My fingerprint smudge on the floral card.

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   File under: Denver

Last night's Copper Nickel release was a huge success, and there are many many people to thank for coming out. I'm sure more than one enjoyed the spectacle of my behind-the-bar high-wire act, which turned from a single hour into an all-night gig. That, however, is not thanks enough, so we hope to see you all again in October when we're helping program a show at Quetzalli gallery.

Now that the journal is making its way into the world, I can go back to my other preoccupations. This weekend, I have to make some progress on my barbecue history — I've a lot of notes that need to be brought together — but I hope to return early next week to the questions of poetry that drove me through the summer. I've been doing a great deal of thinking about what I'm doing, and I think I'm close to articulating a few key ideas. Perhaps such articulations will be unimpressive or unimportant, but people continue to read this blog, which is simply amazing to me but gratifying and hope-producing.

So thanks to all you readers. And thanks to all those who've supported Copper Nickel. Those who are elsewhere, I hope you will soon find our coin in circulation near you.


Olbermann on the City of Louisiana
   File under: America

Finally went looking for the text, and it's here. Do read.


Copper Nickel Release
   File under: Denver

Tomorrow night, Thursday, 8 September, we will celebrate the publication of the fourth isue of Copper Nickel with a party at the Denver Press Club (1330 Glenarm) here in downtown Denver. If you're in town or anywhere near town, you must come: I will be tending bar for an hour during which tips go the journal's operating fund. I promise pictures for those out of town.

We're still all quite shaken by recent events, so we'll also be collecting donations for Red Cross relief efforts at the release, as are many artistic events of late.

We do hope to see so many there.

If we miss you, look for my report (in which faculty meetings will figure prominently) on Friday or Saturday.


   File under: America

Thanks to Kevin for this link to some of most righteous anger I've seen in a long while.

If you can, do catch Keith Olberman's editorial on tonight's Countdown. Now I love him for something more than alluding to Moby-Dick in the course of a sportscast.


   File under: America

I've now seen maybe ten different websites devoted to helping those separated or lost during Hurricane Katrina find one another. Some are at news-channel websites, like Fox and CNN, while others have been established by humanitiarian concerns, like the Red Cross, while still others are maintained by smaller private concerns. I'm considering this proliferation of information services this morning when I get an e-mail from a student proposing a national housing exchange program to help place those left homeless, a brilliant idea that not only deserves a hearing but a realization, but which may not get very far because there are so many people working separately toward the same end. I consider the widely circulated story — I don't know if it's true — that the Red Cross was barred from interior New Orleans by the National Guard for fear that relief effort would keep people in New Orleans.

I consider that I have yet to see Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin together in one place. And that the evacuees have been relocated to Baton Rouge, Houston, even Denver now, spread almost as far as hurricane rain.

I saw one gentleman interviewed on the local news last night saying that he and his wife had been separated when the busses were boarded; now he's in Denver and doesn't know where she is and doesn't know how he will find her. Hell, I don't know how he'll find her. I think, horrified, about a scenario in which my wife and I were separated: I guess we'd both try to go back to Alabama, our common root, and find one another there. But what happens to those whose entire lives, their entire extendede networks, are in New Orleans? Where will they go to find one another? Especially if the city remains flooded for some time to come?

Like so much else, a centralized information system, an evacuee database, a system that will help people find one another, should have already been in place. We saw such desparate searching after 9/11. There one municipality, one multi-state authority, and a swift federal response made such reconnection possible. Here, I find it hard to see such coordination.

Maybe it is too early to see such things, to early to expect them, and perhaps my hope is wrong altogether, but I would think that the government that derives its authority from each of us in common would use that authority to deal with a common horror and the common problems that descend so that these don't become more common.


I'm sure the terms in which I've been thinking about this are overly simplistic, but I've been concerned with this idea of the common — and an antithetical term, the particle (or the particulate, not the individual) — as we discuss the future of pretty much everything here in Colorado. This fall, we'll vote on two referenda that can loosen some of the constitutional restrictions on the state's ability to raise and use money for programs that include K-12 education, Medicare, social services, and higher education.

As you might expect, the arguments against these referenda focus on the need for individual self-determination, tell us we know how to use our money better than the government does, tell us that government is already too big and too threatening. Some are even saying that these measures will not only temporarily suspend state tax refunds based on funding surplus (though they won't suspend refunds based on your overpayment, but opponents never say this) but will also claim your federal tax refunds. The arguments for these referenda stand on prophecy more than anything else, warnings of the coming flood, or the coming drought and destructive fire, to use our local meteorology.

I'm more than a little concern that we continue to avoid a conversation about common good. From my perspective — which I will admit is self-interested: though my job is likely secure, my university could be seriously debilitated if state cuts continue at the present rate — this is really an issue about common good. So much of our lives depend on commonwealth and common good. It is only because our needs as well as our desires overlap so often and so extensively that we are able to live as well as we do.

To those who say to me that individuals know better how to spend their money than the government, I say, this sounds like an interesting idea. But if you believe that, seriously, this is what you must do: you must sell your current home and buy a parcel of land and live in a tent while you wait for the trees you've just planted to grow into tall timbers; then you must cut and plane and lumber those timbers, and then you must raise the frame for your house, and then you must enclose and roof it, and then you must set about making your furniture; meanwhile, you must raise your own crops and your own animals, and you must slaughter and cook your own meat; and you must sell your car and chainsaws and set up a furnace in your yard and refine your metal and set about to make your own saws and your own conveyance, and you must establish a refinery in your yard so you may produce your own gasoline....

This is to say, you could perhaps pay for all this, but the fantasy of the dollar's power allows us to ignore just how much we depend on proximity and contingency for the very availability of those services we would purchase.

And unfortunately if we continue to invest in the idea of the economically self-sufficient, self-sustaining individual as someone whose only important community is his or her family, then we are headed back to pioneer days when we weren't just individuals but particles. Maybe we will reach the fundament there, but we will bear so many more of our own burdens, I doubt many of us will be able to carry them.

Government need not be viewed as an overlord or as a crutch. It rises out the spirit of commonality and turns to serve the common interest. Indeed, it is, well-conceived, the common interest.

And in the spirit of the common interest, I hope we begin to see our center emerge again.

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Preach It
   File under: America , The South

Anne Rice.


Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
   File under: America , The South

I've been quiet. But taciturn. The last week has been hectic here in Denver, but the news keeps me sick. It's nearly debilitating.

Fortunately, all my family and close friends who lived in the area are fine. I have yet to hear from a few people, but I trust that they've found their ways to safety.

But it's been paralyzing to watch the unfolding in New Orleans. And infuriating to witness the general inaction of the federal government and the general failure to assess the situation properly.

Other bloggers, other figures, have said it better than I, and I won't attempt to retrace the difficulties that make me nearly blind with anger and with sadness.

New Orleans' flooding and its related descent has struck me personally, though, and not just because I have so many friends, so much family there. I spent part of almost every summer of my youth, from about age 6 to 16, in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and have continued to return there throughout my adult life. My best friends and I traveled there to celebrate our college graduation. While the President seems to recall it fondly as a place where he got drunk — I believe the town where I used to come -- from Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to — New Orleans has always been much more for me, a near-paradise where the pace and philosophy of life had acknowledged and even abetted nearly all that is bad but managed nevertheless to provide a source of comfort and joy in the knowledge that we were all in it together. Like Whitman, the city has always seemed to say: It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, / The dark threw its patches down upon me also.... And for that, and for the consolations offered there, in music, in food, in accidental friendships, and even in the occasional menace that reminded me who I was and what I was in for, New Orleans became an ideal city and a part of my internal, psychological geography. I don't think I realized until this week how often I turn to New Orleans in my mind so I can forget about the stupidity of a local situation. If I can recall myself to the Cafe DuMonde, smelling the Mississippi through beignets and praline-sugar, I can weather anything. Except this.

When, on my graduation trip to New Orleans, I woke early Sunday morning, I decided to cross town on food to see another college friend who had just moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane. She was a dear friend who had helped me through a small nervous breakdown and several months of nervous exhaustion earlier that year. I remember vividly losing it one night in my apartment, crying so hard I couldn't move. Who knows how she knew, but she did, and she came to make sure I was alright. Kind of Blue was on the stereo on a loop, one of the few calming things to which I could turn. I was thinking about that night and the intervening months and in general about how good a friend she had been to me when, descending one of New Orleans' curving streets, I heard one of the most awful sounds I have ever heard. I followed it a half-block, then looked up.

On a sign that likely once advertized a nightclub with a loop of colored incandescent bulbs but which was now entirely inscrutable, I saw a pigeon. Its eyes had been plucked out, were now dark stains descending from empty sockets down all the gray feathers of its breast. It was crying out, terrible. Beside it, another bird, wing around the crying one.

It was the worst and most wonderful thing I have witnessed in this life.

That is my New Orleans as surely as anything else: the unwanted comforting the wounded.

When I am cast out, that is where I turn. And where I hope to turn again.

If I thought I could do any good, I would leave today and return there to become the unwanted to comfort the wounded. Now I send my hope and my money on other wings.