LZ and the self

I have a theory – poetical – that it is impossible to take responsibility for the self and to have a – at least, one – voice, own the self in the act of writing a poem. That could explain LangPo’s interest in LZ, as well as answer a few questions about ‘authenticity’ (which is – I am extremely reliably informed – self ownership). I’ve just started an engagement with a LZ expert, so will edit as I need to:

5th line may be doggerel, which we all know is fine in a small dose.


Michael Palmer

I read a few of his books a few years ago, both the most recent one then and the most successful (‘Notes form Echo Lake’). The question seems asinine in the extreme, and he did not reply to me when I sent him a link to my blog, but I definitely don’t think it’s fair to say that I’m doing the same thing just 50 years later. It’s really a question for a critical readership, not myself, but why not comment?

There may well be overlaps in what we want to incorporate, but he seems (I can’t speak for him) to want to hoax closure, forge a lack of readers and their reading, while I’m putting a question mark over whether I have written any poems at all.

Notwithstanding all the naive poetic bullshit: it’s extremely unlikely I’m a post modern version of him, anymore than I am Henrik Ibsen or Debord (which would be my favourite).

I like his poems, and they are difficult to pin down with a general analysis. Independent of whether Palmer is responding to an inability of radical art to fully include itself (which can’t be an ephemeral moment but quite the radical impulse), his “Echoic” writing seems very different in effect, content (I’m an MA student), and form (a sort of narrative composure?).

Just in no way are we different people writing the same poems with essentially the same poetic, which is pretty obvious if you read past the first paragraph. The idea I have to defend that claim is ludicrous: even if Palmer was my only historical precedent (which is also an absurd claim) that means I am no more out of date than any ‘historical precedent’.

Still, kinda funny.


from a sequence by Tim Allen

A natural saucepan and an unnatural boat

Joke about what they could have for dinner tonight

As a slapdash campsite the sea is an abstraction 

The cliffs in darkness now a sculpture garden of dangers    

Visually, it seems made by the lack of full stops; which makes it shimmer eerily, as a campsite might But this / these fragments construct its unity with the last four words; quite why or how, I’m unsure of, but as well as that there is an echo (there is a paper I have read that analyses Palmer’s poetry, one which says it is almost unreadable, which suggests that won’t be of much help) through the stanza. It bears a slight shift in the previous gentle diction, as well as Tim Allen’s threatening unconscious. It is his poem, yet I also suspect it does not bear only his signature, which comes off not as muddled but “on the hoof”. I like this stanza very much, especially its “slapdash” musicality, though quite what the boat sculpts isn’t lost entirely.



energetic and compact sonnets; you can read what I think is the best poem in the collection, Hyphae, here (it is clearer, and I didn’t need to look up anything to enjoy the poem). It is brilliant.–%20poems.pdf


Charles Olson

Going to start the Maximus poems this month. I was reading a few shorter poems of his. Olson tried to retain the “force” of a “busted” ego.

But if Adorno is right that in capitalism taboo has shifted from the super ego to external commands, then I think the“self” (his “ALTERNATIVE TO THE EGO POSITION”) acts like a strong ego insofar as belonging protects against conformity. This despite adherence to an authoritarian “polis” as the ideal.

I think this can result in idiosyncrasy.



The missing piece of the puzzle is the puzzle itself. Without basing the unit of fragmentation / analysis on the (new) sentence, what do you combine? “You make it up” (Ron Silliman). OK for reading, but I’m OCD enough to need a unit of composition, and I go with the obvious: shifts in perspective. That is probably the least radical answer, but that also makes it a decent starting point.

Just a little attempt.


In Darkest Capital ii

I was reading ‘Still Lives’. I think I can easily identify what is being written about. E.g. ‘A grammar of don’ts’ seems to be about prison life, ‘A cityscape’ some exotic ruins. I can maybe identify a theme/mood of a “crushing finite” (just a phrase that stood out to me). The poems seem to be directly influenced by Prynne (especially visually) and Ed Dorn, as if he were using the latter to undermine the impulse of the former (“‘Shoot into the foot, I say, and only then into the air.'”): I had the sense of the line trying to escape its energy.

What’s puzzling me about them is less what any phrase means (“These favours of abstraction are spun out”: what good was Rimbaud in the Paris Commune… “This is a felt suit in an immaculate glove”: the texture of revolt is what matters) than how they combine.

I cannot easily see what is a fragment, let alone how they combine. I have a similar problem in Pound’s cantos (I’ve read some), though at least there I’m clear that they combine as analogies or disanalogies.

Is it just text here, lines? If so, these read like gentle (e.g. an ironic laurel “wreath”) lyric poems looking for rest.

Either that, or read them for their moments of hope.


Robert Sheppard

I have now left two slightly critical posts on Sheppard. I wanted to defend that, though honestly it’s not meant coldly (perhaps oddly?) and I probably think the ontological status of form is irrelevant or at least should be beside the point. I feel pretty bad about blogging my incredulity, but anyway.

He seems to think that the language etc. of poems is mind independent. The language of mathematics may be mind independent, in so far as the abstract entities it refers to really exist. Likewise moral discourse, maybe. But, while the world, even the world we inhabit and its coarse objects of tables and laptops, may well be real, it is just insane to think that the conventions of language exist mind independently. Even in Platonic realism (I’ve in effect read nothing about his philosophy of language) forms are surely not linguistic; instead, language imperfectly represents reality. It is not even especially fashionable (in philosophy) to claim that languages exist at all, rather than each person’s idiosyncratic means of communicating.

In e.g. Foucault (I read some of the archeology, but got distracted. Maybe I’ll find my notes later and add to this), very many “statements” may well be true independent of their assertion, but that does not mean they materially exist independent of sentences etc., ready to be discovered like a real object is, rather then e.g. justified. Statements work as functions of enunciations (relating them to objects, subject positions, etc.): unsaid statements do not construct the discourse; the discourse is constructed from the principle that means some things are unsaid.

I just think Sheppard’s apparent claim, that poetic form exists as artefacts do, is pretty indefensible; surely they are no more real than, and contextually dependent on, the acts of writing they organize. Maybe form is propositional and propositions are mind independent (a live issue), even-though “truth content” is not propositional. But it seems Adorno is a nominalist, just wants to draw attention to nominalism: the existence of the social whole, as it is, is not the only possible way of carving things up, and that reveals an alternative, reflective, nominalism in which capitalism is self consciously shown to be missing something. It’s probably difficult to fully work out the relation between the fetish of commodities – which do control us day-to-day – and the enigma of art. The former reification is real to me despite being a product of the social institutions of capital. If analogous, then form is a product of artistic institutions, maintained through “habit” and “second nature”, but not independent of them, just like the commodity form depends on capitalism. Exchange value is not “inherent in things in general”, is inherent in commodities only as a fetish that can “vanish”.

“It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied forms of existence as objects of utility… [W]hen exchange has acquired such an extension that useful articles are produced for the purpose of being exchanged… the labour of the individual producer acquires socially a two-fold character… a definite social want… [and] a branch of a social division of labour… [W]e also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it… to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language… The categories of bourgeois economy… are forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production. The whole mystery [vanishes]… so soon as we come to other forms of production… The religious reflex of the real world can [vanish with] reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature (Das Kapital)”.

“Form is sedimented content”; it depends on content, and that content is past art (which is precisely not to assume a pre-impressionist “pictorial” vision of art, but to say that unity etc. is a quality of the work itself rather than its artistic precedent: is the past “pre-given” when form transforms content?). If form “emerges” from content, is not violently imposed, that surely means – if the same is true of artist and post hoc critic – it is best to assume it exists only in acts of forming content.


quality ii

Leaving aside ‘unreadability’, in performance or otherwise, if I can move the unconscious, lightness, of the poem, from the vehicle, figurative language, to the tenor, then we might wake up. My poems are a formal success in so far as they are just out of reach


‘The English Strain’

Nice book so far. If he’s confessing to never being in love, then he should bloody well hurry up. Heavy on the S&M references, I have no complaints. Had originally thought the hoot went on too long without being funny, but I think that lacks subtlety. If I pay attention, Sheppard keeps reappearing, slightly altered and with no less aplomb. There are few lines that you can take seriously, not without being turned off sex from here on in. “Now / then: hate is when you’re feeling top of the pops”. Thatcher is all.

The next section is titled ‘overdubs’, and I liked the engagement with sonnet xxi of Milton’s (he sharpens it nicely), but feel let down by most of it. The last poem in this section, dedicated to “Lee” (could be Lee Harwood), ends “… Cast light

on this dimness of knowing, straining across

the expanse to take in tree or meadow or cottage.

This is a haunt of the living. Let it go.”

There are allusions / references which work in an unusual – i.e. satisfying – way; it reads somewhat like a medley of different, I suppose you could say, “songs” (at fist I balked at ‘Song Net’, just before this poem, felt let down again, but it’s funny). Incidentally “a haunt of the living” has just four google hits, topped by the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society. And I’m guessing he’s addressing himself in the last sentence, but I am lost as to what he’s so angry about, if he feels e.g. cheapened by still being alive. So anyway, the problem I have with all this is his personality is a pain in the neck, and stamped heavily on all of these poems. Maybe Harwood liked his personality; your guess is as good as mine. Did you hear the one about Thatcher on a Brighton postcard?

These are fun sonnets that invariably close strongly, but I really want to engage with the “writing” more than ‘Sheppard’, which I cannot do, if only because of my unfamiliarity with the tradition. I am not being hyper-critical, Sheppard is meant to be one of the most important modernists still writing. Maybe you need some “trickster” theory…

The third section ‘It’s nothing’ is genuinely impressive. Sheppard’s humour is not entirely absent, but there is elegance to his references to e.g. “Lee”, and the poems seriously drag you in via cacophony and respite of its characters.

The book is a success.