Thursday, April 13, 2006


k: hello ashraf,

no movies tonight, ryan wants to hold off until tomorrow, as he’s just started to feel better, he doesn’t want to risk it right away.

so what i really ought to be doing is working on my personal statement since i just realized what the date is and that i’m going to Amherst in a few weeks and haven’t give my prof’s anything to go by for my recommendations. instead, i am going to start my poetics rampage on isms.

this isn’t going to cover all the isms, and i’m not going to look anything up!!! well, i am going to reference a few bits, but more just for examples of poetry. this is going to be as much from memory as possible, so it’s going to be wrought with errors, i’m sure. you can always look this stuff up on your own time anyway, what you really want is to view these isms in katy-vision (imagine 3-d but with glasses tinted green and pink instead of blue and red).

so where to begin… how about the biggest ism of them all?


it coincides with the american industrial revolution, Marxism, and feminism. within these (there’s a hierarchy developing) there are such factions of thought and interest as economics, medicine, politics, racism, equal rights, social classification (as it begins to blur), exploration of uncharted wilderness (heart of darkness), psychology is still an infant (Freud has only just published in the late 1890’s), evolution!, and with the second world war, existentialism is the most popular religion.

i suppose i should try to come up with some dates… 1890 to, say, 1960 (that, then, includes the new york school, though they are arguable post-modern).

some poets that, for me, embody the motion towards modernism (the pioneers, if you will) are miss Emily Dickenson, Walk Whitman (i was shocked to find out he was gay, even though now i realize how obvious it is in his poetry!), defiantly Thomas Hardy, and Gertrude Stein. I guess we can include Wallace Stevens too, though i’m not sure if he was writing before 1890 or not.

Modernism or Modernity is mostly (in philosophical terms) a reaction to technology (isn’t it all?) of the time; emerging technology. i.e. plastic, denim, cars, trains, elevators, evolution (this isn’t a technology as much as a discovery, but i’m including it, as it caused quiet the shake-up), advanced medical techniques and practice, a reform in prisons (from torture chambers to psych wards), woman with big mouths (i mean, opinions and the courage to voice their thoughts), and wasn’t it in the late 1890’s or the early 1900’s that the double helix was discovered? (i read the book but i can’t remember what the dates were for the life of me, anyway, stuff like that was huge.)

as far as the poetry… what have we got going on? we’ve stepped out of metric feet, strict rhyme schemes and traditional punctuation (Emily’s famous for her dashes) addressed issues like homosexuality (whitman and stein), an indiscrete sense of morbidity and mortality, and have begun to explore the boundaries of poetry. we have begun, as poets, to define ourselves in poetics and by our limitlessness, our revolt against form. modernism is, to me, the age of experimentation. yet, curiously, form remains, throughout, a sort of obsession (we can’t break away from it).

there are hundreds of isms within modernism. the two i know most about are


so confusingly similar, yet so different, only, i’m not sure which one came first… i think imagism did.

imagism is a movement with rules defined by (cringe) ezra pound and a pal named flint (don’t remember his first name).

the rules for imagism (yeah, they had rules) are as follows (and these i did look up in one of my texts):

1: direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective.
2: to use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.
3: as regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

the epitome of imagism is pound’s poem “In a Station of the Metro” which goes like this…
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
that’s it. two lines. it started as some 20 or 30 lines, and pound took everything out. the basic idea behind imagism is “bracketing out the I”

the poem works like this:

[ezra pound sees] the apparition of these faces in the crowd;
[they remind him of] petals on a wet, black bough.

somehow, this poem, is everything you’ll ever have to wonder about what it’s like to be at a subway station in France. go figure.

my poem called ‘swallow song’ is as close as i’ll ever come to this form, this idea. William Carlos Williams was a bit of an imagist. though i’d class him more in the field of objectivists in consideration of most of his poetry, most which excludes his most famous Red Wheel Barrow. The Red Wheel Barrow is quintessentially imagist:
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
(you should memorize this one, it’s a gem).

there’s no i. there’s no me or you or… there’s no one. everything is the wheel barrow and there happen to be a few chickens in the picture.

what i like that these poems do for the reader is create a crystal clear image (that’s the point, isn’t it) without the burden of a story, characters, time, narrators. it is, literally, timeless. however, it becomes so impersonal, and they are so short (how could they not be) that the whole movement really has no motion in it at all.

now for Objectivism, the brain child of one, most magnificent, Louis Zukofsky.

the objectivists are L. Zukofsky, WCW, George Oppen and a few other German/Jewish men i haven’t read anything of. Carl R. and Charles R. (no relation, i just can’t remember their last names).

so much of the energy of the objectivists is drawn from Marxism and the repression of the Jewish race. Zukofsky and Pound argued furiously through letters. pound being the ever-charming anti-Semite that he was, and Zukofsky being the empathetic and sorrowfully misunderstood Jew that he was, obviously did not get along. Zukofsky stood up to defend women against pound, as well as the Jewish race/religion (he was a Russian Jew i believe).

so, objectivism is, basically, a way of looking at a poem as a concrete object (have you read any of karl marx’s essays or economic theories? it’s stupidly complex and i struggle through it, but i have read a bit). here it is in pieces: this is a word, it has been manufactured throughout history, it has been wrapped and shipped and displayed and sold and now lives inside this pocket in this man’s coat. this is the objectivist angle. this is epistemology understood on a functional level. (i am soooo into objectivism, i’m sorry if i lose you along the way, i’ve read An Objective by L. Zukofsky and based the better half of my poemtree intro on his ideas. i apologize if this comes out all… scholarly and confusing, i get excited.)

let me relate this to lenses and prisms for you… Zukofsky used the analogy of an optical lens (which is where my idea for light and poetry came from, directly). “An Objective: (Optics)—The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. That which is aimed at.” (i cheated just then, and looked up his exact words.) what i understand this to mean is that the poem is the lens. everything that you the reader understand and associate with “the object” and everything that i the poet understand and associate with “the object”, converge in the poem. when we both put our histories in through the poem the result is a fixed beam. we have now added to one another’s collections of understandings and ideas surrounding “the object”. does that make sense?

i have an idea of what a white chicken looks like, what it eats, where it belongs in the world. you have an idea of all these things too, though they might be very different. now that we have both read the poem by WCW called “the red wheel barrow” we have a new image to associate with “white chickens”. now, after looking through the lens that wcw created we can come to the same conclusion about white chickens.

objectivism, in part, is a way of linking people’s ideas and thus creating a web of understanding. this is the way language develops. one inside-joke after another. for example, on our level. when i say “salamander” i’m sure we both think of something rather unique and different to the rest of the world.

one time on the bus home from school, our freshman year, Danielle and i used to play the word association game, among others. Danielle starts, she says “apple” and i say, without a moments hesitation “cow”. this stopped Danielle in her tracks. “cow?” what does a cow have to do with an apple?

4 years later lauren and i are visiting Danielle at school. i’m on one bed, Danielle across the room on the other and lauren is leaning up against danielle’s bed. she leans over and whispers something to lauren. they both look up at me and daneille says “apple” and i instantly say “cow”. lauren was amazed. Danielle had told her “i can make katy say cow, want to see?” it’s a fun trick. every now and again daneille will send me a text message: “apple” and i’ll reply with, you guessed it “cow”.

for me, that’s part of objectivism, part of epistemology. for me objectivism goes far beyond poetry. all of it though, is to do with words. part of it all, too, which i mentioned at the beginning of my objectivism spiel is the idea that the poem itself is an object. this is the part of objectivism that i struggle with only because for me, the poem is relative to glass—i know it’s there but i can see right through it. maybe i’ll ponder this more, but for now i’ll end objectivism here and let you ask questions.

and onto…


there isn’t much i have to say about this topic because everyone already understands the ideas and reasoning’s behind feminism. you mentioned that maya was/is in some ways a feminist or at lest a feminist-thinker, right?

there are a few details though, which i can ravish upon you. one is that my beloved Mina Loy wrote the Feminist Manifesto. her take on feminism is one i find particularly appealing. she says, basically (if i remember right) that it is time for women to stop making themselves out to be victims of men and to realize what power and strength women have. she doesn’t compare men and women, instead she separates them. she also focuses on the woman’s ability to change… from daughter to blossoming virgin to mistress to partner to mother to comforter to inspiration. the part that i remember best and the part i like the most is how she defines the revolution. women need to revolt within themselves, to denounce the way they see themselves and to take the steps necessary to become confident and independent of their male counterparts.

unfortunately, i don’t remember the date she wrote this. anyway, i know she took her own advise, the little minx. in every one of her biography blurbs i’ve read in anthologies it says something about all the poets and painters she had affairs with during her hay day.

there is another kind of feminism brewing throughout modernism though. it is along the same vain, i suppose, but it’s more focused on poetry. that is, experimentation.

men experimented, sure. but there’s one woman who i hail as the pioneer of experimental poetry and that is Gertrude Stein. she was really the first to address the importance of process in writing poetry; whereas the emphasis had always been on product. i’ll be honest here, i care more about the product than the process, but i find the process of writing exhilarating and intriguing—after all i do my fair share of experimenting with poetry.

also, i admire Stein’s bold approach to poetry. she is steadfast in her ways and she does not yield for anyone, especially the reader. reading her essay on composition as explanation was more difficult than reading marx’s essays!! but i gained so much from my struggles to understand her and interpret her. it is possibly one of the most rewarding essays if you can dissect it and understand it well enough. i’m sure stein’s responsible for a few of my gray hairs.

it’s difficult for me to explain the link between feminism and experimentation, but just think of it as a breaking off of the main stream of poetry (which was primarily composed by and of men). also, stein has a gentle touch. a grandmother’s touch. if you ever get a chance, read some of tender buttons and be sure you read it out loud. my favorite piece in that collection is called “a red hat” which i think embodies the whole of her efforts (but explaining to you what her efforts in tender buttons was, is an entirely separate email).

there are other isms, but these are the three (imagism, objectivism and feminism) within modernism that interest and influence me the most.

i hope i haven’t bored you to death by all of this!! i hope that you enjoyed it in fact and that you learned something, anything.

a: This e-mail has been sitting flagged in my "Follow-up" folder the until work week now; it's about time I attempt to tackle it, especially that there is still quite a bit to follow up on. It is the end of the day, the end of the week. The office grows quiet here, and I haven't written in ages. So, I'll just jump right into it, sideways if I must.

I am glad you took the time to write this in your own terms, and from memory. That is what I was hoping for. See, it wasn't just laziness on my part, but I did want to see these terms from your perspective, as it is essential to be on the same grounds. For example, I am not sure we understand the same thing by "epistemology". My understanding of the term is based on my philosophy courses meaning "the study of knowledge", or how we come to know the things we know--the senses, the mind, empirical data vs. belief, etc. And I had the feeling that you intend a different nuance of it. That being said, however, I think I won't go as much into my understanding of the same terms (which, if anything, would be more architecturally biased) but rather my reaction to them (as indulgent as it may be; but what are blog if not ultimate self-indulgence?).

I really liked your understanding of modernism; as I believe I already mentioned to you, it reminds me of one of my favorite professors understanding of it: distant enough to be encompassing, and yet down-to-earth enough to be relevant. As you can imagine, Modernism in architecture has different, though interestingly different nuances. I would say industrialization affected architecture more directly than art, literature and poetry: it changed the means of production and construction, it changed the actual building materials, necessitating the "invention" of a whole new architectural language. The rest of the arts I believe were affected more by the social, cultural, economic and perhaps, yes, epistemological effects of industrialization. The interesting thing, though, is that I think in both form was a primary obsession. In architecture, for more obvious reasons, old forms were called into question because of the new construction methods & materials. In poetry, I think it was more of the cultural aspect of modernization, and by that I mean the questioning of old beliefs & values. Another uncanny parallel is the reductionism that was the perhaps the trademark of modern architecture and I see the essence of imagism: the shedding of the "unnecessary", the questioning of established notions to the degree that their reconstruction from scratch, more lean and minimal, is sometimes required. And I think in both cases it was necessary to hit the irreducible for us to realize the necessity of the superficial in our existence.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sex without Touching

k: “sex without touching” is a lyric from a bjork song, but i can’t remember which one and haven’t the energy or ambition to look it up. (okay i’m playing all my bjork songs that i have on my pc, i’m sure it’s in one of these, so i’ll tell you which song it is when i hear it. do you like bjork? it’s ryan’s fault i like her at all, he had the hots for her because he saw this video where she cooked a fried egg… or something, he’s strange ^_^ but i love him.)

ah, this email isn’t about bjork or ryan or anything to do with eggs or iceland or anything like that. it’s about sex and poetry. and somehow that has to do with your wanting me to explain better my preference for modernists as opposed to beatniks.

i have this sort of grand illusion in my mind, that somehow these schools were clearly marked. like history. this happened on this date and the world changed. i imagine that the moment the titanic sank, women stopped wearing corsets and bonnets. that the moment the first page or paper was pressed against blocks covered in ink that the world started reading and publishing and learning. that the moment the steam engine was fired up, cows started getting scared and farmers started to complain (though that one might actually be true). anyway, i know that the effects of one moment take time to cause revolution. it takes a lot of motion to create a movement. and it takes retrospect to see when and where things happened.

anyway, holding onto my silly belief, modernists came and went (mostly to europe) and then beatniks came and lingered and then there were the boys of the new york school (we all love them, and they all loved each other!!). i want to meet john ashbery so i can ask him if he ever kissed frank, and ask him, if he says yes, if he was any good.

this time line a’la katy is obviously bare-bone, oh and actually, all of these movements and groups overlapped, so it shouldn’t even really be called a time-line, it’s more like a big heap. as much as you might think, i’m no expert on poetry! i read all the texts, lavish in all the isms and movements, look them up, read about them, learn who was a part of them, learn about those poets lives… i am always searching, looking, questioning. i only learned recently, truthfully, that zukowski is the fore-father of objectivism. all this time i thought pound was the granddaddy. (pound really gets my back up, you know this already). needless to say, i was very pleased to learn this. william carlos williams and pound really pushed the movement, but it was my louise who had been developing the ism and gave it it’s name.

i still haven’t gotten to the issue though… why do i prefer modernists over beatniks? it’s part in the poetry itself, and part in the characters behind the poetry—the poets. i don’t like kerouac’s poetry, and i couldn’t finish on the road for the life of me, it was rather dreadful i’m afraid. (generally poets shouldn’t write novels, unless they happen to be leonard cohen—i feel like i might be going on about him too much at the moment… i should buy one of his collections…). james dean’s character in rebel without a cause is how i image beatniks. provocative, dirty, cig hanging from their lips, nice hair, care free hitch hiking, writing poetry on scraps of paper, living off ma and pa’s income. and oh! how i loved the idea when i was 16. but i don’t enjoy, now, the drug content. it’s really the only thing i really don’t like about brian’s work actually, is all the smoking and drinking. it’s unattractive, off-putting even. i don’t mind, in the real world, someone having a drink and a smoke. one of my best friends at school—jonah—is a very jazz-club sort of guy, smokes lots, drinks lots, but he never glorified it in any way. he’s a genuine genius, actually, so it was great to get him drunk and get him talking stupid about shoes and the alphabet. but to glorify and dramatize smoking and drinking, so very not sexy.

now you want to talk what is sexy? mina loy is sexy. george oppen, though i’ve only read the first say 5 poems in the book of his i bought, is sexy ( even though his nose is a bit too big, when he was young, he was defiantly hot. he got old and grew a mustache though, so don’t go looking for any picture other than this one, you’ll be disappointed). and they write sexy poems, like that one by mina loy i put in that post about her and frank. frank’s poems are defiantly sexy, no question. as far as modernists though, and the appeal i have for them… i feel like, when i read the letters and poems and essays (they wrote so much!!) i get a real sense of community. i have no idea how many of them mina actually did sleep with, but i know she was very active in the modernist community. in “to want to art” she is “Expression”.

so i guess it’s the community i love so much, and the lack of all the drug stuff. they don’t glorify the bad habits, they merely allude to them in passing. they’re sly and subtle. their poetry is difficult, complex and dense and so rewarding when you finally get it. i love how deep you can dig into a zukowski poem. i have such a difficult time reading his poetry and really enjoying it. though i’ve studied him and written papers on him and use him as a crutch for my prism metaphor, he is such a challenge, and i love it. one of his poems A-9 actually has an equation hidden in it for a cone of light. i have it all written down… something about the ration between r’s and n’s that appear in the poem… unbelievable and so… modern. that whole era fascinates me, actually. the industrialization of america, the late 1800’s into the 19… say 40’s or 50’s… the height of the world’s fair, trains, canals, the great depression, subways and elevators and sky scrapers and all this… robots. it’s all about technology. and the poet’s role in that era was to remind us what butterflies look like, what water tastes like, what a rain smells like. there’s this war being fought on the literary field between nature—the old wise and beautiful—and technology—the strange mangled birth of something astonishing and glorious, the triumph of man.

the song is “enjoy”

there’s a whole new arrangement of poetry today. and there are one thousand and twenty eight ways to talk about it. i won’t here, it’s defiantly too big to deal with in one email, which is why people like ron silliman take it one day at a time, one poem at a time.

more to do with sex… this new poem… the only good part in it is the part about sex… do i embrace this ability to exploit… love? is it really an exploitation, or should i view it more as a celebration? i really enjoy writing those poems, and enjoy reading sexy poems, and since we talked a bit in reaction to ron’s statement about gay men and women writing all the sexy stuff recently, i’ve been thinking about it more and recognizing it more. i don’t know that ron’s really right though… i think plenty of men are writing about sex. but they’re doing it like rohrer, disguising it in the third person or they’re just not that popular, or they’re writing song lyrics instead. they’re out there, just not in the form that ron looks for, i suppose.

anyway, at the moment i find it unnervingly easy to write a good sex poem. i thought, actually, about writing a poem called “a good sex poem”. i think not though, not tonight anyway. the thing is, i have no reason or understanding of why this might suddenly be true. perhaps i’ve been suppressing it? and not really knowing? i wish there was at least one more great robot poem in me. or something… you know… i’m still trying to write the green river into a poem that’s worth something. i just can’t “green river girl” and one about feeling feelings for a robot… those aren’t good enough for the green river. ah, but alas, i am lost in a world of poetry sex… sex without touching. and ryan being ill is really starting to put a strain on … eeergh. enough said.

by the way, the poem that i mentioned earlier is on my blog, complete with disclaimer in the comments. bjork says “enjoy” and if you haven’t seen dancer in the dark then i recommend you get a box of tissues and watch it.

a: Good morning, dear (it was when I started this e-mail!). You know you set yourself up now for explaining "objectivism" in poetry (is it different from whats-her-name Ayn Rand's Objectivism?). I know I could look these up, but the explanation probably wouldn't be half as fun. This is beginning to feel like "Sophie's World" for poetry instead of philosophy (which I frankly think is a great idea; besides, I see poetry as a more concise and eloquent form of philosophy). Have you read that book? I read it when I was a teenager, and except for a dry spell in the middle, I thought it was excellent--the ending just blew my mind off! (Ok, my shirt is officially now the talk of the office: it is shades of pink in an office that is all shades of grey. I thought I'd hear about it...)


In my adolescence and early twenties I enjoyed being so open about sexuality that it might have been jarring; but I enjoyed the shock effect of it. I enjoyed shocking people with that especially because I had such a cute and innocent persona (and I was such a nerd/golden boy in school). But all that changed with Wojtek; he didn't like it. It got me into trouble. And also I realize that I am not that comfortable anymore reading my more explicit poems in public. Besides, this is an instance where I can't think of poetry except as autobiographical (whether reflective of real life or fantasy life, I see both as faces of one persona).

But I think your e-mail brought up a couple of other points for me (that I am sure I forgot one of since I started this sentence and then left it off to go an plot a full set of drawings...). One is the issue of simplicity and complexity (something that I meant to write you about earlier in regards to that Shakespeare sonnet that Silliman posted). In your e-mail you mentioned the complexity of the modernist poems as an asset. And while I do appreciate a layered poem and admit to the joy of a poem "emerging" on one, and revealing itself increasingly with multiple readings, I have also come to appreciate the understated virtue of simplicity in poetry. And even when I appreciate complexity in poetry, it is usually a complexity of meaning, and not structure. And that is perhaps why I react so negatively to Shakespeare. I do realize that part of Shakespeare "difficulty" is the change in language (and mind you I see "difficulty" not as a good thing but as a bad one), but I also find his structures unnecessarily complex. He tends to embody similar simple themes (mostly the anxiety about time and mortality, which admittedly is perhaps the biggest theme in any human endeavor) and present them as complex ideas just because the language is complex. And I realize that at his time his ideas weren't cliched, but they certainly have become so since--a testament to their "greatness" perhaps, but for me that is also a testament to the idea that it's time to move on. I would like to think of myself as a champion of the contemporary, in the sense that I do not subscribe to that nostalgic school of thought that just because they're dead they are great. So, when that complexity gets to the level of encoding, such as in that Zukofsky example, they immediately lose their appeal to me. They become gimmicky, the words no longer mean something but instead becomes assemblages of letters. I can enjoy a good puzzle or mystery (such as the DaVinci Code), but it wouldn't touch me.

The other topic your e-mail brought up for me is the subject of poetry (not as the person, but as the topic): rain? eggplants? trains? time? mortality? love? sex? robots? foxes? trees? I guess that is realted to that idea of sitting down to write about something, which sometimes I wish I could do. I was rereading some of my poetry yesterday to pick what I'm reading tomorrow, and it hit me, for example, how depressed and depressive some of my earlier poetry is. I realize now that I started writing poetry as my way of grieving my grandmother, who raised me, especially that I was away from home and my family and therefore could not engage in the common grieving rituals that they had. Still, the shift in topic from then till now amazed me. I feel now that I am reading the old stuff mostly to air it, so I can put it to sleep. I'd like to get it out of the way, in other words, so I can move on to the newer stuff. Still, sometimes I wish I had the discipline of writing about something (when I started arch.memory it was memory, fresh from my thesis). Now, I don't know... The smallness of life, perhaps?

Which made me wonder, if you were to start or be part of a movement, what would it be? Mine I think would be a riff off existentialism (probably with a different name, since the word now is so passe). By the way, I did very much appreciate your bringing down these movements to their essential human elements and reactions (that was the strength, I thought, of one of my favorite architecture history professors). But also I appreciate your awareness of the artificiality of these isms.

[I Walk Through the Rain]

k: dear,
it doesn’t sound like you’re having the best of days. i’m glad, at least, that writing to me is a sort of relief from whatever’s getting to you. i’m quite flattered actually.

i hope your sister is well. i’m sure she is.

we’re talking about personal in poetry, about autobiography. for me, i think poetry ought to have an entirely separate section; away from fiction and non fiction, away from memoirs and comic books and all that. in my book store i’d put poetry in with the road maps and cook books. and as far away from arts and crafts as possible. though i might make an exception for origami. oh and drama (as in written plays), would get compiled in with all the imported dvds and classical music. i’d have a very special book store, don’t you think?

the prism ^_^ i love that you brought that up, that it’s something of a reference point. i labored over that concept, and it makes me feel so good, almost accomplished, to read it brought up! thank you so much.

i have a poem for you, one that frank wrote. one that you gave me as a christmas present that i’m not going to give back now. hold your prism up to it J this is our autobiography in someone else’s poem…

[I Walk Through the Rain]

I walk through the rain
and it’s really piling up tonight.
My head like a bullet
pierces the downpour.

She in a dark window
irons some man’s shirt
with ponderous columns
atop which the sleepy eggplants
shine in the moon of her peering
out at the mysterious night,

and that’s me.
Why must my eyes, pleading,
response the sky’s convulsion,
humble me before a domestic shrine,
obscure, lonely, slow,
as if I needed this stranger?

[New York, February 1952]

i read into everything frank writes. down to the eggplants. for me, he exists in his poems. he is his poems. i love him because i love his poems. to me, they are real. and i like to make myself the she/her in all of them. in this one, the i is more ashraf. because poetry is that flexible.

i’ll write more to you about this later perhaps. for now i want to leave you with the poem.

a: Oh, Katy, this is wonderful! Thank you for sending it to me. This will be our poem now, okay? I just love it!