Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brief update: I've just received a quote for the printing of my debut chapbook, A Pelt, a Shrub, a Soil Sample. Launch coming soon. All relevant information will be here. Stay tuned.

Various Thoughts on ANZAC day.

There has been some controversy regarding the meaning of ANZAC day recently. Over at Reading the Maps there is a rundown on the politics of the RSA, and the VUWSA has got itself in strife for refusing to lay a comemorative wreath, saying that to do so would be implicitly condoning war. In response they have got a slew of vitriolic comments.

I agree with their actions. The following delineates why, and is a summary of my comments made on both pages.

I think there is the draw of unassailable alterity at work here (in people's recognition of the day), and foggy ideas of 'duty' ...
Good on the VUWSA. It doesn’t matter whether ANZAC day ‘celebrates war’ or not, but the lack of understanding that goes hand in hand with its celebration. what worries me is precisely this erasure of history, and the unquestioned statements that our involvement in one of the greatest blunders of military history, where our troops were sent in as cannon-fodder by our colonial masters to attack an enemy that posed no threat either to us or to England somehow “cemented our national identity”. I don’t get it. Then there is the political history of the RSA (see Reading the Maps), which is very suspect, and (i hope) totally out of keeping with the ideals of any student union (or other union for that matter). Though i suppose we don’t have the very scary (and embarassing) rampant nationalism exhibited by our Tasman neighbours, as if Australian history was anything to celebrate…

And what of the dead in the Land Wars, on our (or Tangata Whenua) soil? noone mentions that because the politics are too difficult.

I Myself am in that age bracket (15-25) that seems most into the idea of recognising this holiday, and what worries me is the assertions of "NZ Identity" formation regarding the Gallipoli campaign, as I have stated earlier, and the ritualisation of the ceremonies with overtly militaristic overtones. There is a lot of rhetoric regarding the commemorations being about memory, honouring the dead, etc, and not celebrating war; but at the end of the day the overt militarism (involvement of the armed forces in their official capacity – uniforms, buglers, etc) undercuts this argument. It perpetuates the power imbalance inherent in any armed conflict, reifying the troops with little regard for the civilians who died, and mythologising the conflicts by perpetuation the official discourse on military history. One of our VC "heroes" fought in the Boer war. We had no business kowtowing to England and being involved in WWI. Without minimising the atrocities committed by the Axis forces, The Allies committed war crimes in WWII as well - the US use of Atomic weapons was unnecessary and simply a show of power against the Soviets, and the RAF and USAF at Strategic Bomber Command's decision to bomb Dresden was a crime against humanity, as were their callous targeting of civilian food supplies. All of this deserves very serious thought, and the manifestation of ANZAC day services as pseudo-religious occasions stifles any real debate, as can be seen by the knee-jerk reactions of many to the actions of the VUWSA. This is dangerous.

Nothing is ever as simple as it is made out to be.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Politics of Anthologising

My Review of 20 Contemporary New Zealand Poets (VUP 2009) Appeared in The Christchurch Press on Saturday.
Here it is:

This anthology contains some excellent work by outstanding individual poets. As an anthology however it is less then the sum of its parts. New Zealand, for a country of its size, has a relatively large number of poetry anthologies, and this should be taken into account when approaching a newcomer to the market. Such collections also necessarily reflect the biases of taste and ideology of their editors. In light of these considerations, the current collection does not stand well up well against other recent publications. Despite this collection’s title there seems to be no concrete idea of the contemporary represented here. Younger poets such as Robert Sullivan (the youngest in the collection, born in 1967) are presented alongside Allen Curnow (1911-2001), Hone Tuwhare (1922-2008) and C. K. Stead (1932). This raises obvious questions as to the purpose of this anthology. Curnow, Elizabeth Smither, Stead and Ian Wedde all appeared in Alastair Patterson’s 15 Contemporary New Zealand Poets in 1980, and Cilla McQueen and Gregory O’Brien were featured in The New Poets of the 80’s, edited by Murray Edmond and Mary Paul. Allen Curnow's son Wystan was excluded from Jack Ross and Jan Kemp’s Contemporary New Zealand Poets in Performance as his birthdate, 1939, excluded him from their parameters. Though the selections presented of these poets tend toward more recent work, whether or not this is the basis of ‘contemporariness’ is, I think, a valid question. If the purpose of the anthology is to showcase the work of younger poets, this renders a large portion of the anthology essentially redundant. This space could have been better used to do so, as was the case with the earlier Patterson and Edmond/ Paul anthologies. The introduction, too, leaves much to be desired, and does not fare well in comparison to previous works. It is a mere two and a half pages, compared to Patterson’s twelve, Edmond and Paul’s just over seven, and the twelve of Ross and Kemp. There is no discussion of individual poet’s work other than a brief gloss, nor is there any real historical or literary background. The editors celebrate New Zealand poets’ embracing of new American models that arrived here in the 60s, announcing that “[William Carlos] Williams’s dictum ‘no ideas but in things’ spoke to New Zealanders’ strong sense of the materiality of everyday objects, of the landscape, of weathers and climates – and chimed with their healthy scepticism of grand ideological claims.” This is a “grand ideological claim” in and of itself. Why do New Zealanders have this “strong sense of materiality”, and is this a uniquely New Zealand trait? My own “healthy scepticism” would argue that this is a rehashing of the arguments that cultural nationalists such as Curnow, Charles Brasch and Dennis Glover made in the 1930s to 50s, which the editors mention as the outmoded ideas of a previous generation just half a page later. There is also the unthinking dismissal of the writing of women before the “feminist revolution” of the 70s, seemingly ignoring the hard-hitting treatment of issues of gender by poets such as Robin Hyde and Eileen Duggan from the 1930s onward. Comments such as that “the emergence of [women poets] was one of the major factors in opening up the range of subjects and styles that give today’s poets so much space” not only reinforce stereotypes of ‘women’s writing’, but as a truism (women write different types of poems to men therefore these poems are different) seems to mean nothing at all. The inclusion of poetics statements by the contributors adds a great deal to the reading experience, and illuminates the poems and the personality of the individual writers. Finding out what makes some of my heroes tick is something I greatly enjoyed. However this is not enough to save the book for me. I would recommend The AUP anthologies Contemporary New Zealand Poets in Performance and New New Zealand Poets in Performance, both edited by Jack Ross and Jan Kemp as far better value for money- they cost a bit more, but are better edited, and have the poets reading on CD as well, adding a new dimension to the poems.

I would like to add that this anthology once again disappoints in the same way that The Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English, edited by Jenny Bornholdt, Gregory O’Brien and Mark Williams disappoints Wystan Curnow, related in his "High Culture Now! A Manifesto". While I do not personally agree with all that is stated in this polemic, a quote from it i think is pertinent here, and while Curnow is discussing the oxford anthology these criticisms can equally be levelled at this more recent one:

“A more important problem or puzzle which the editors have left to their successors is the extraordinary sameness of recent poetry or their selection of it. [...] Since one of the few claims they make is for the diversity of their collection the sameness of it must arise largely from a blindness to it. [...] Usually colloquial, and in the first person, these poems concern themselves almost exclusively with personal feelings, shifts in individual consciousness, as if this was all that poetry could do. In a decade during which the news and entertainment media increasingly personalize and privatize social and political problems, sentimentalize and sensationalize all emotion, this kind of poetry seems a part of the problem of public language in our culture rather than a critical response to it. This kind of poem was designed for the passionless people Gordon McLaughlin once accused us of being, but today everyone is passionate about everything they do, at least they had better be. The new forms of thought and feeling proposed by L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry were a response to corruption of public language in America, and yet the editors of the Oxford dismiss them as another foreign fad. In this they are not alone. Policing the boundaries of the ruling forms with cheap passing shots at L=poetry is as close as we get to serious debate in the poetry world these days."

Further criticism of the hackneyed pseudo-homage to diversity played here is the selection of "minority" poets, which is unsurprising in the extreme. The editors haven't even thought to include "writing in English" or the like in the title, as Bornholt, O'Brien and Williams did so as to not have to do the real work that Wedde and McQueen did in their 1985 penguin in the inclusion of Writers working in Te Reo. There are Two Maori Writers (Hone Tuwhare and Robert Sullivan) one Pasifika Writer (Tusiata Avia) and everyone else is Pakeha-European-Palangi. As Ishmael Reed argues in the introduction to From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900-2002 the "minority" poetries that are endorsed by the dominant culture and selected to be "representative" are often very different to those which said cultures would chose and endorse themselves.

More. A survey of the publishers credited in the acknowledgements shows a huge domination by the University presses of Victoria and Auckland. Of the 58 books credited nearly half (25, or 43%) are published by VUP, 18 (31%) by AUP and a measly 11 by small-press publishers (the others are 1 by Otago, one by Oxford and a Manhire poem from the London Review of Books). Though this may be representative of the state of poetry publishing in New Zealand this domination is worrying (Cf. Patrick Evans on VUP and the IML - this is given simply as a interesting parallel text rather than an endorsement of his argument - though he raises some valid questions I find much of his argument, especially it's regionalism, problematic). This anthology is far from a selection where "each of the voices ... here surprises by its fresh take on language and the world ... offer[ing] a rich, rewarding conversation".

Monday, April 20, 2009

Game Time, Poem Time: "Poetry shall be made by all, not by one"

Anyone that may be reading my stuff (ha ha) and not Jack Ross's should immediately go there and do exactly as he says. It is important. And there will be more poems (and maybe poets) in the world do ing fantastic things. Go forth and destroy shakespeare!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Anyone interested in the political in art, or Antonin Artaud, or Heiner Müller (Teatermaskinen; Die Hamletmaschine) should check out this, courtesy of the wonderful Johannes Göransson. There is excess. It is a beautiful thing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The day I accidentaly became Walt Whitman, or James K Baxter. I'm not sure.

Just received some fantastic photos in my inbox, which I'd completely forgotten had been taken. They're proposed cover-shots channeling my supposed romantic-poet-cum-prophet-pastoral-sublimist persona, in a preindustrial bucolic Riverside setting.
Apparently I should be expending more effort mythologising myself. The best follows, for your amusement at my expense.

Photo is courtesy of the wonderful but somewhat mean Sally McIntyre (look! she's laughing at me! She's out of frame, but you can still hear it... ).

I'm going to write many poems about the weather. And my feelings. And my feelings on the weather.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Politics, Art, Praxis, and artists (some starving)

Ok, so this is my response to some recent activity over at Reading the Maps (more here), mostly concerning a post by Jared Davidson aka Garage Collective (yes, it's one guy) at indymedia. This whole business is patently ridiculous, especially considering the fact that Jarred's work is anything but revolutionary, in any sense that you take the word. proof of this can be found in his constant production of posters for pop gigs. The fact that they are for sale, and that he had a gallery show at HighStreetProject, and is currently ragging on galleries as being the tools of the bourgeois establishment shows the inconsistency of the whole thing.

In his tirade against the establishment Jared posits that any art that is not overtly political, and does not seek to bring down the capitalist system "and replace it with logic, frankly, should be left to die". These are big calls, and , like the entire piece, are contradictory, inaccurate, historically unaware, and inherently wrong. What is being proposed is a form of Neoplatonic Idealism (Cf. Plato on art and poetry in that handbook on fascism, The Republic), and, in the prescriptive nature of his pronouncements, he falls into the trap of fascism as so many hardcore traditionalist Marxist have before him.

The cultural economy, especially in a small city like Christchurch, actually does not produce (or procure) a large amount of capital. Try selling an installation work, or publishing a volume of poetry, or putting on a show without Creative NZ/ Creative Communities funding and you'll see what i mean. Contrary to this, Jared's posters are 'hip and down with the kids'; and Blink from alowhum likes them so he's probably doing a fair bit of business.

Jared asks questions regarding the place of 'art', the value of the term itself, and the praxis of situationism's breaking down of the barriers between art and life, but is seemingly unaware (aside from the situationist name-drop) of the history of radical art, or it's current status. What about Fluxus? Theodore Adorno? It is interesting that he rips terms such as "culture industry" directly (or, more likely second-hand) from Adorno's writings, cites the Situationiste Internationalle of Guy DeBord, and brushes over an essentially Fluxus practice, without understanding them at all. And, just where the hell is Dada, especially Marcel Duchamp, in all of this? His works' functioning as critiques of the bourgeois art establishment is very pertinant to the discussion, and its not as if he' s a paticularly obscure figure.

On to Adorno - in the 1930s there was a very public debate on the role of political praxtice in artistic production between him and György Lukács, regarding the relative political value of Franz Kafka (championed by Adorno) and Bertold Brecht, championed by Lukács. Lukács' argument was for a socially responsive realism that is is able to comment on the sociopolitical in the real-world, and from a Marxist perspective, offer alternative courses of action that will move forward the revolutionary ideal. These realists will "depict the vital, but not immediately obvious forces at work in objective reality. They [will] do so with such profundity and truth that the products of their imagination can potentially receive confirmation from subsequent historical events". He was highly critical of modernist techniques such as impressionism and surrealism, seeing them as "decadent", and create art that is 'subjective' rather than the objectivity' he purports to find in realist literature.

Of course, this is relatively easy to counter. ANY artistic production is subjective, even the chance operations of John Cage and Jackson Mac Low rely on a subjectively constructed operational technique, and the choosing of (subjectively produced) source materials. Then there are subjective decisions about the success of the work, and whether is is finished, and/or fit for performance/publishing.

Adorno's response to such ideas, and Lukács indictment of his (overtly Marxist as well) theories on aesthetics as evidence of his dwelling in the "Grand Hotel Abyss", was simple, and comparable to Rauan Klassnik's comments on political poetry (in the review, check out the comments section for more). essentially Adorno cites the ineffectuallity of overtly political art, and its inability to affect real political change. Art's political value comes from its inherent (conventional) non-functionality, allowing for a line-of-flight from dominant economic models of exchange/use-value. Of course this does not apply to all forms of art, and it seems that a large percentage of overtly political cultural production falls outside of these parameters.

Take, for example, music. every 'revolutionary' phase in music that has garnered widespread popularity (I'm thinking of Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, Punk, Hip hop) has been effectively co-opted by the commercial/state apparatus, defanged, and sold back to the public in a watered down, demilitarized form. And I can't help but laugh when i see bands like Rage Against the Machine wearing their Sneakers, releasing their albums on Sony/Epic, and still "rallying against capitalism".

The alternatives here are not simply to pander to the state apparatus, but far from it. I think the political has it’s place in artistic practice, but rather than a dictation of a polemical position, politics (or ethics even, I’m thinking of Steve McCaffery’s writing on the applications of Levinas’s ethical writings to poetic practice in Prior to meaning) should be demonstrated or performed within the work, and the way the work is created and functions. A pertinent example of this being Bruce Andrews’ essay “Writing Social Work and Political Practice”, and its ramifications for his own work. That piece could be seen as a dogmatic diatribe, and is, for the most part, but knows that it is one piece of the ongoing conversation on “poetry and praxis”. Perforative rather than polemical artistic work has a long and fruitful history, from its origins in the genesis of modernism through Dada, Fluxus, and Situationism through L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and the performance art of Marina Abramović, the theatre of Heiner Müller and Sarah Kane (drawing on the work of Antonin Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty) to new practices such as the poetics of the Gurlesque (see essays and discussions here, here, and here).

So it seems that Jared's Garage collective activities not only indict himself on his own terms, ie:
"Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die", and any art that does this isn't going to actually achieve a hell of a lot.

Furthermore i wish to add that the charge that these works be 'left to die' is highly socially irresponsible, as, even if not meant in such a way, it functions as essentatially a call for the erasure of history. And once more, we are back at Platonic fascism as a means of social control.

There's my two cents. and, in the interests of fairness, you can catch Jared's here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Langpo in NZ, kind of.

There's stuff about me here. Yep, I'm stroking my ego. The origins of said stuff are here, then moving to here.

on a only-very-slightly related note, interesting stuff going on here, especially regaring avant-gardism, the grotesque, poetics of excess etc etc.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Falst Talkin' PIs, Orality and Identity: the unintended consequences of reviewing

I'm writing a review of Selina Tusitala Marsh's brilliant first collection Fast Talking PI (AUP 2009) for the press, and as I'm reading María Sabina's Selections (Ed. Jerome Rothenberg, Poets for the Millennium, University of California Press 2003) and it's mention of Sabina's influence on Anne Waldman, to whom the title poem is dedicated, so I decide to be all presumptuous and ask Selina about any connection here. Great discussion follows, and is below.

-----Original Message-----
From: Ross Brighton
Sent: Tuesday, 7 April 2009 7:07 p.m.
To: Selina Marsh
Subject: Fast Talking PI
Hi Selina-
I'm reviewing Fast Talking PI for the Christchurch Press, and was wondering, regarding the title poem's dedication to Anne Waldman, are you familiar with the influence of the oaxacan shamaness-visionary María Sabina's chants on her work in "Fast Talking Woman"?

Ross Brighton

On Wed, Apr 8, 2009 at 11:44 AM,
Selina Marsh wrote:
Hi Ross
I know Maria Sabina was a formative influence in Anne's performance works and chants, but haven't really looked into the extent of her litanical influences - but will do so eventually since I'm in the middle of writing a piece about the effects of 'Fast Talking PI' and what it really is that people, regardless of whether they're PI or not, respond to. Its like how Bernstein famously noted that you don't know what you've done until you've done it! I think where Waldeman is deeply into avante garde language poetics, my piece works breaks out of a context where voice and representation of the PI can still become so stilted that merely by virtue of claiming space it effects people. I've cut and paste an email I received the other day regarding the title poem, written by a Cook Islander (I've removed his details), to show you what I mean!
Cheers and all the best

"Saw your piece on Tagata Pasifika last week and wanted to wish you
Congrats on bringing out the book Fast Talkin PI. Had a listen of
the audio version but listened on a website -
(Tried NZEPC but being.... 'a computer illiterate PI, a cant afford
a computer so i use the libraries PI'... i didnt know how to work
the site..haha) First impressions of the audio version of the poem -
Brilliant and brought a smile to my face!..Had a distinctly Pacific feel
to it and felt inclusive as it had a very modern relevant take on
Pacific Identity - I felt like the poem represented me all of us as
Pacific Islanders in 2009 at present and wasnt an out dated version
of our identity as Pacific Islanders .
The play on PI stereotypes were cunningly clever!..Made me chuckle
in moments thorughout the poem (Only a Pacific Islander could get away
with some of the topic matter you presented) and at the same time
when topic matter of social injustices against Pacific Islanders e.g.
the Dawn raids were raised, struck a cord of anger and sadness.
It conjured different emotions and reactions and in that respect perhaps
is the poems greatest strength - as it makes you contemplate the issues
raised in the poem and for me as a New Zealand born Pacific Islander
makes me try to make sense of the social, political and cultural landscape
i have inherited and am apart of - my identity, and in essence helps me
to navigate a destiny that matters to me and not be defined by
stereotypes whether they be positive or negative.
Moments actually gave me shivers down my spine!.Very inspirational
to hear a modern Pacific point if view and to hear it be done well. Well done!
Looking forward to having a proper read and disection of the text
afterall 'im an intellectual wanking PI, im a disect a poem and rip
it to shreds PI, im a have to make myself feel brainy PI'..haha
I think this line "Im a...PI" will be stuck in my head all day..Thanks for the that.haha"

-----Original Message-----
From: Ross Brighton
Sent: Wednesday, 8 April 2009 2:30 p.m.
To: Selina Marsh
Subject: Re: From Selina: Fast Talking PI
Hi again-
Thanks for that - the context in which i was thinking of Sabina was the obvious oralaity of your work, and the politics of transcription - Jerome Rothenberg is realy good on that (along with the politics of translation, both literal and into the western catagory of "poet") in the introduction to the selections of Sabina in the Poets for the Milenum series he co-edited with Pierre Joris.
If you want it, here's a bit of my take so far, as a liberal academic Palangi:
The way you have 'captured' the spoken is really impressive, as Deleuze and Guattari state (if i may jump on the poststructuralist band-wagon) "however important the writing machine is to the imperial bureaucracy, what is written retains an oral or nonbook character".
The negotiation of various histories languages, vernaculars and subjectivites in the book is massive, and gives voice to a multitude of pluralites without being pigeonholed as "representative" of any specific "minority" position and i mean this without negating the specific Pasifika subjectivity of the book (if i remember rightly in her introduction to Recyclopedia Harryette Mullen reports on a fellow Black writer in one of her classes complaining regarding 'language' poetry that "we need our subjectivity"), ie you speak through the book without "speaking for" anyone in the patronising manner such a statement takes within popular socio-politics and 'post-colonialism'.

Any thoughts?

On Wed, Apr 8, 2009 at 2:59 PM, Selina wrote:
Hi Ross,
Wow - I'm guessing this isn't for the local rag...Ha! Regarding representative non-representativity, I really like Mestiza writer Gloria Anzaldua's thoughts on existing in the 'borderlands' as a person of mixed blood. It reflects the particular situation of the afakasi Pasifika diaspora and offers insights into the politics of identity.
I find that performance of the written word, either live or when read in the head, momentarily captures the intangibility of shifting identities and the necessity of living between worlds in that liminal space. Anzaldua argues these spaces are transformative, occupied as they are by who she calls the "Los Atravesados" (just sayiing that word gives me tingles on the tongue!): "the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed.those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the "normal" ('This Bridge Called My Back').
I've found that the orality via chant in my work, alongside its relationship to music and rhthym forms bridges across commonly divisive demographics making the work a bridge builder. I've recounted in a Radio NZ interview with Kim Hill (its posted somewhere) the response of Murray Gray (organiser of Going West Literary Festival) after hearing me rehearse. He announced in front of everyone: 'I'm a slow-talking palagi, all the way from Titirangi!' I had a silver sea of grey haired palagi folks come up to me with their own versions: they became honorary PIs! Certainly I take pride in being Pasifika, but its not to the exclusion of the pride I feel as any one of the other mixes that comprises me - and that's what I feel to be one of the most emancipatory things about my work: I don't pigeon-hole nor succumb to the pressures I felt of 'having to choose' when I was growing up.
Anyway, thanks for your interest - send me a copy!!