Will Alexander Benefit

Giant Benefit Reading for poet Will Alexander
Saturday December 1, 2008
7:30 PM in Timken Lecture Hall
California College of the Arts
1111 8th Street, San Francisco

Donations: $10-up

Readers include:
Nate Mackey, Juliana Spahr, Taylor Brady, Lyn Hejinian, Andrew Joron, Tisa Bryant, Adam Cornford, D.S. Marriott, and more!

As you may know, poet Will Alexander is quite ill with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. He’s spent his life largelyoff the poetry grid, and has no financial support or health insurance. Donations will be bundled & sent directly to Will.If you cannot make it, but would like to contribute, please contact dbuuck@mindspring.com

Hosted by David Buuck and Small Press Traffic


Famous snow falling,
covering a mountain famous for its snow.
Famous cedars leaning in the wind.

A stone is famous at the bottom of the river.
But the river is normal enough.
It goes from here to there.

The famous dust is falling,
in nondescript corners and the famous corners, too,
where you stood or I stood

and someone will be standing
for the first time soon. Cup famous for some reason.
Bowl famous to its spoon.

Sunlight famous, most famous of all
as it climbs the garden wall.
Famous moon, coming through night

notorious for its darkness,
and Earth that is famous only on Earth,
with its sweet smell of history.


Math Problems for Modern Culture

Here are some fun vacation math problems for you and the kids.


If the artist 50 Cent gets $300,000 for the product placement
Of Bacardi rum in his song and video “Hey, Shorty,” how many
fifty cents does 50 Cent get?

Answer: 600,000


If President George Bush won one election
because his brother was Governor of Florida,
even though his opponent got more votes,
and won a second election four years later
because the State of Ohio used Diebold voting
machines, how many elections did President
George Bush win?

Answer: 2


If a Walmart employee makes $8.00 an hour equaling
$320 a week, minus $48 a week in taxes, and pays
$350 a month for health insurance, what is the employee’s
annual net income?

Answer: $8,856


The United States has 737 military bases in 36 countries
worldwide. How many bases, on average, does it have
in each country?

Answer: 20.5


The hole in the wall of the Pentagon resulting from the
9/11 attack by the hijacked 757 was circular and roughly
12 feet in diameter. The fuselage of a 757 is 25 feet
in diameter, and the plane’s wingspan is 200 feet. By what
ratio did the width of the airplane exceed the size of
the hole it created?

Answer: 16.5 to 1

Lydia Tomkiw

The poet Lydia Tomkiw recently died in Phoenix. She was 48 years old. Her death is a shock to those of us who knew her, but as someone has commented, not a complete surprise. She had tremendous promise as a young poet. Please see Sharon Mesmer's blog, Virgin Formica, http://www.virginformica.blogspot.com/, which contains her letter to Lydia on news of her death. They met in my workshops at Columbia College Chicago in the early 80s and immediately became best friends. The following poem, which Lydia presented in class, was based on an assignment to create your own form. Maxine Chernoff and I published it in one of the first issues of New American Writing, and it was also included in the first edition of The Best American Poetry (1988), ed. David Lehman and John Ashbery. The poem consists entirely of palindromes, some of which she must have created to suit the poem, for instance the next to last line:

Six of Ox Is

O, no iron, o Rio, no
red rum murder;
in moon: no omni
derision; no I sired
drab bard,
but no repaid diaper on tub.
O grab me, ala embargo
emit time,
Re-Wop me, empower
Eros' Sore
sinus and DNA sun is
fine, drags as garden if
sad as samara, ruff of fur, a ram; as sad as
Warsaw was raw.

Lydia became interested in poetry in her first year of college at University of Illinois Chicago, where she took a class with Maxine. She then transferred to Columbia, where she and Sharon became part of a strong group of young poets that included Connie Deanovich, suZi (then Sue Greenspan), and Deborah Pintonelli, who made such a hit in Chicago with her book Meat and Memory. Elaine Equi, who had taken her B. A. at the college in the 70s, returned to get a graduate degree, but was not identified with Lydia and the others, though of course admired by them. A strong generation of Chicago poets, all women with the exception of Jerome Sala, was beginning to surge. Later Lorri Jackson arrived in the classes with brilliant sleeves of tattoos done by her boyfriend. When she died of a heroin overdose at age 28, the news made the front page of the Chicago Tribune ("heroin takes life of young poet").

At the same time, Marc Smith was developing the Slam format, so there was a lot of performance energy in the city. The first bardic competition in Chicago was created by Al Simmons, who had been a student of Ted Berrigan at Northeastern Illinois University. Its concept was that of a boxing match, with a ring marked off to perform in. Jerome Sala was featured in the first bout. Marc switched the concept to wrestling, and the rest is history. It was in this atmosphere that Lydia and her husband Don created the band Algebra Suicide, which was centered around her poetry. The group had some success, but Lydia was drawn away from the page, and for perhaps that reason, she was not included Nicholas Christopher's anthology Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets (Anchor Books, 1989), though Connie, Elaine, and Karen Murai, also a Columbia College student, were. I hope that new attention will now come to her work. I believe that recordings are available online and perhaps a You Tube item.

Adios, Montevideo: 41 Wisdoms to Live by

When we are no longer dead, we begin to be alive.
We never forgive those who make us blush.

The greater the wisdom, the older the fool.
Time will show you French fries in a handful of dust.
Prosperity delights in sudden reverses.
The family is one of nature’s enduring errors.

Where fear is, only the fearful succeed.
Anger blows out the lamp of the spine.
Ambition and folly also went to school.
If you wait ‘til the weather is right, you will never wash your car.
For the friendship of two, the patience of one is required.
Because liberty is precious, it must be rationed.
Mistakes are our teachers—they help us to unfurl.
The company loves misery.

We are the government, Big Oil and I.
Hasten slowly and you will never arrive.
The most impotent law is always the most forceful.
Every day is lost in which you dance once.

The civilized savage makes the best civilian.
No one can write the life of a man but those who have beaten him.
Advice is like a snowplow—the more insistent, the taller the snow.
A personal library implies a degree of ignorance.
Never be so obscure as to become a reviewer.

Half a lie is not the same as half the truth.
More than those who seek happiness miss it, those who have it disregard it.

A man convinced against his will had better take a yellow pill.
The greatest obstacle to summer is to linger in winter.

When you blame others, you give up your power to rage.
We are what we delete.
Impeccable manners is the chief cause of caustic remarks.
Comedy and tragedy are identical cousins.

If you are nice to people, they will eventually seek revenge.
An enemy’s fire is the first to burn.

Unhappiness is part of a healthy emotional profile.
You’re only as happy as your saddest child.
Rhyme is the first sign of an uneven mind.
One may live in a palace of shame, or one may live in a funeral home.

The cleverest liars tell the truth.
Bullies are never reborn; they’re simply emulated.
In matters of the heart, there are no economy cars.
To the old, the old is news.

Beard of Bees

Beard of Bees is a poetry chapbook site published by Jon Trowbridge and edited by Eric Elshstain. It's also headquarters for Gnoetry activity, which includes the use of poetry machines in the manufacture of poems. My chapbook, "At the Sound," has just been mounted there. Take a look at www.beardofbees.com. "At the Sound" is one of four poems I've written that were written in a single day by handwriting into a roughly 3 x 5" Marble Memo notebook. The rules were: Each page had to hold on its own; I could use only one side of the 80 pages, reducing the task to 40 pages; the back side of a sheet could be used if perspiration demanded it; all pages must be filled; and I could discard bad pages and edit while typing it up. In the published version, pages are indicated by asterisks. Excerpts of the poem appeared in Volt 11. A second day poem, "Audience in the Dark," which has a strong film thread, appeared in Parthenon West Review 1.1 (2004) and later in the long poem issue of Verse, 22.2/3 (2006). A third such work, "The Reading," comprises half of Edge and Fold (2006). Mountain at / the window / is what / I should / have written / The e / in speech / eaten.

Dmitry Prigov

The following is from Eugene Ostashevsky:
The Russian conceptualist poet, performance and visual artist Dmitry Prigov died last night in Moscow. Prigov has been in a coma after suffering a massive heart attack on July 6. Born in 1940, Prigov was one of the two poles of Russian poetry of his generation, the other being his cultural antipode Joseph Brodsky, born the same year. As a twentieth-century avant-gardist, Prigov was a figure on the level of Kurt Schwitters, with similar inventiveness, humor, interdisciplinarity, astonishing performance skills and the ability to find beauty and truth in garbage. Prigov became a major fixture in the Moscow art underground in the 1970s, and is recognized under the ironic title of “The Father of Moscow Conceptualism.” A faint taste of his performance style might be had at http://www.soldatkuepper.de/musik/mantra2.mp3, where he recites the first lines of “Eugene Onegin.” Although not a dissident, Prigov managed to get himself interned in a psychiatric institution for handing out his poems to passersby on the street in 1986. His first book to be published in Russia came out in 1990; it was followed by international fame and numerous awards. I had the good luck to work with him in Italy in 1998. He was a kind, funny, engaging person and will be greatly missed.

Ly Hoang Ly Performance

The visual artist, performance artist, and poet, Ly Hoang Ly, daughter of the great poet and translator Hoang Hung, is one of 10 contemporary Vietnamese women artists who have art works in a exhibition tour, "Changing Identity," that will be touring the U.S. for the next two years. On July 11th at 7:00 pm, the exhibition will open at Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA, and Ly Hoang Ly will present her work along with curator Nora Taylor.

The Air Car

There have been a number of news stories recently about the prospects of a hydrogen-driven car. The only by-product of hydrogen is water, which is non-polluting. However, hydrogen is difficult to store in the car's tank, requires very heavy tanks, and is also highly explosive. So if the car gets into an accident . . .

Apparently the hydrogen car concept is being promoted by the car manufacturers and big oil, to convince us to stick with the current technology. Because, guess what, better solutions, better even than the electric car, already exist. Take a look at the following excerpts from an MSN Network story of today by Larry Hall:

"In 2000, there was much ado about a new zero-pollution vehicle from French inventor and Formula One engine builder, Guy Nègre. His company, Motor Development International (MDI), rolled out an urban-sized car, taxi, pickup and van that were powered by an air engine.
Instead of those tiny, tiny explosions of gasoline and oxygen pushing the pistons up and down, like in a normal internal combustion engine, the all-aluminum four-cylinder air engine used compressed air for the job.

"A hybrid version, using a small gasoline engine to power an onboard compressor for a constant supply of compressed air, is claimed to be able to travel from Los Angeles to New York on just one tank of gas.

"Tata Motors, India's largest automobile company, has signed an agreement with MDI to produce the car. About 6,000 air cars will begin hitting Indian streets in August 2008, with hybrid versions scheduled for 2009.

"A South Korean company, Energine Corporation, also touts its air hybrid car called the Pneumatic Electrical Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV). Like the MDI vehicle, compressed air drives the pistons, which turn the vehicle's wheels. The air is compressed using a small motor, powered by a 48-volt battery, which powers both the air compressor and an electric motor.

"The compressed air is used when the car needs a lot of energy such as starting up from a stop and acceleration. The electric motor kicks in once the car has gained normal cruising speed."
Better yet, with such technology, the U. S. won't have to invade other countries to grab their air. We already have plenty of our own. With no wars to fight, our economy would take on its natural proportions, which is largely agricultural--producing lots of cheap, quality food on the land that hasn't yet been flooded or burned by global warming's new weather. And the violence of our cultural products, like the Die Hard movies, would seem strangely irrelevant. And the Mom and Pop stores would return to neighborhood street corners, as Walmart and other box stores go quickly out of business. And every baseball stadium would look just like Wrigley Field. And, as if awakened from a long, sad dream, our children would put down their video games and go outside to play in the sun.

Cipher Journal

Some poems by Nhat Le, Thanh Thao, Hoang Hung, and Nguyen Do can be read in translation on Cipher Journal, edited by Lucas Klein. The website is http://www.cipherjournal.com/. You can find the works by scanning the contents page. All of the poems on the site will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Black Dog, Black Night: An Anthology of Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008), edited and translated by Nguyen Do and me. You can find work by nine of the 21 poets included in New American Writing 23 (2005), website http://www.newamericanwriting.com/.

Here's a poem by Hoang Hung, one of Vietnam's leading poets of the "outside," meaning not holding membership in the Writers Association. During a period of Soviet-influenced censorship in the late 1970s, he was imprisoned for three and a half years on the suspicion that he had possessed an outlawed poetry manuscript of Hoang Cam, who himself had suffered exclusion in the mid-1950s. Hoang Cam's offense was having requested freedom of expression in the arts. Along with other poets in our anthology such as Tran Dan and the wildly innovative Dang Dinh Hung, he was dropped from Writers Association membership and not allowed to publish his work for over 30 years. Hoang Hung is also a major translator of U. S. poetry into Vietnamese. "A Man Returning Home" is about his own return to his home from prison (that).

A Man Returning Home

He is home from that
His wife cries all night, his kids are confused all day
Home from that
when he walks through the door, his friends' faces are ashen
Home from that
he feels an itch on the back of hi head
in the midst of a crowd
as if someone is watching

One year late, he suddenly chokes during a party
Two years later, he still sweats from his nightmares
Three years later, he still feels pity for a lizard
Years later, he still has the habit of sitting alone in darkness

Some days, he feels a stranger's penetrating stare
Some nights, an aimless voice asks questions
He jumps
at a touch to his shoulder

Here are the opening lines from a section of Dang Dinh Hung's long work, "The New Horizon":

I'm leaving again . . .
on the tray of my back's shadow, a blackboard in from of my eyes and a chalk circle
beneath my feet, which is sticky like the number 8 lying down, like a
smooth magnet,
like a rice grain that will grow into who knows what.

I will know the endlessness of Epicure's crotch, who's fat and
naked, while around him,
loudly dancing, are blue and yellow poker cards on which
praying mantises land then jump randomly!

joyfully ride around on the backs of cards stiff as the Karma
would have them!

I don't know,
maybe I should include the dry cracks in jackfruit
I was looking for in back of a mirror, noting there
but pain from all the small, trivial acts of my life,
slurping bowl and bowl of insipidness and softness
but so happily . . .

Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry

I'm pasting in below a BBC news item regarding a new acceptance by the Vietnamese government of poets who were suppressed in the 1950s. Because they called for more freedom of expression, they lost their privileged positions as members of the powerful Writers Association; some were imprisoned; and their works were banned from publication. Poems by two of the poets named, Tran Dan and Hoang Cam, will appear in the anthology Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry, edited and translated by Nguyen Do and me, to be published by Milkweed Editions in Spring 2008.

Poems by nine of the twenty-one poets included in the forthcoming anthology can be found in New American Writing 23 (2005): Dang Dinh Hung, Van Cao, Hoang Hung (who was held in prison and reeducation camps, 1978-1983, on the suspicion that he possessed a banned Hoang Cam manuscript), Thanh Thao, Nguyen Do, Nhat Le, Nguyen Quang Thieu, Vi Thuy Linh, and Nguyen Duy. The link is www.newamericanwriting.com.

Vietnam recognises jailed poets
By Bill Hayton BBC News, Hanoi

The Vietnamese government has announced that it is to award a prestigious prize to four poets - 50 years after they were imprisoned and their works banned. Hoang Cam, Le Dat, Phung Quan and Tran Dan were part of a movement which criticised life under communism but which was crushed in the late 1950s. The four, two of whom are now dead, published their work in two magazines. The awards seem to be part of a wider effort by Vietnam to reconcile difficult aspects of the past.
The two magazines, Giai Pham (Works of Beauty) and Nhan Van (Humanism), were launched shortly after Vietnam gained independence from France. However this brief period of openness, in which they called for freedom of expression and debated government policies, ended two years later as the Communist Party, under the influence of China, suppressed dissent.

Now the Communist Party is once again experimenting with greater openness, in an effort to repair relations with some of its critics. It has also given a Buddhist organisation permission to hold services in the next few weeks intended to promote reconciliation between former enemies.

Local media coverage of the decision to award the State Prize to the four poets has also been interesting because of the frank way in which it described how the poets were sent to re-education camps after calling for more freedom.

One of the two surviving poets, Hoang Cam, 86, was quoted as welcoming the prize - but said it was a pity it had not happened earlier. "The prize is beautiful, but late," he said.

To see the story in its original context, use the link:

Subtext Collective

At the invitation of guest curator Curtis Bonney, Maxine Chernoff and I recently returned from a trip to Seattle to read in the Subtext series at the Richard Hugo House. The hall was full and we enjoyed both the reading and the visit with Curtis, his wife Sonnet, who teaches at UW, and their daughter Ava. Seattle has always been known as a book town, so we checked out Elliott Bay Bookstore, where they have lots of good poetry in English translation--I found three different selected poems of Akhmatova and bought the edition translated by Judith Hemschemeyer--but a surprising, almost programmatic lack of works by those of the innovative camp. All I could find was a single volume each by Jean Day and Susan Howe. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to Seattle's only all-poetry bookstore, Open Books, because it was closed at the time. But we did meet the owners, John Marshall and Christine Deaver, on the night of the reading. The store apparently doesn't trade online, but the link is http://www.openpoetrybooks.com.

The Subtext Collective first came together in 1994-1995 due to the efforts of Nico Vassilakis, co-editor of Sub Rosa Press, and Ezra Mark, editor of Vortext Press. Its advisory board now also includes Jeanne Heuving, Bryant Mason, Robert Mittenthal, C.E. Putnam, and in the summer months, Joseph Donahue.

Had the pleasure of meeting John and Roberta Olson for the first time, after much experience of reading and publishing John's work in New American Writing. Also ran into Doug Nufer, who said he was once mistaken for me on a Nufer/Hoover soundalike basis. Three poets including Lindsay Hill drove all the way from Portland to attend the reading: four hours on a cold, wet day. It was nice to meet Lindsay after having published a sizeable portion of his book-length work Contango. Good conversation with Jeanne Heuving and Bryant Mason, who stayed late at the party. Jeanne is working on a study relating to love and beloved form in Pound, H.D., Duncan, and others. Bryant is employed by Microsoft, located on the other side of Lake Washington, a worker in code both day and night. And aren't we all. . .

When reading in Seattle, it's also possible to investigate the Spare Room series in Portland, run by a collective consisting of David Abel, Maryrose Larkin, Mark Owens, Chris Piuma, and Lindsay Hill.

Sarah Mangold, who edits Bird Dog and studied with Myung Mi Kim at SFSU, gave us a copy of its latest issue, the 8th: work by Elizabeth Treadwell, Joshua Beckman, Curtis Bonney, Tomaz Salamun, Kevin Magee, Jennifer Karmin, Sheila Murphy & Michelle Greenblatt, Chad Sweeney, Roberta Olson, and others, as well as a series of color collages by Chad Horn and Nico's long work on grid, "The Text Develops and Loses Time in the Reading of It." The cover of this issue reminds me of some early issues of OINK! except that Bird Dog is more professionally printed and designed. To save money in the early 70s, we used blank ink on colored paper and printed the issues ourselves on an A.B. Dick table-top offset press. Nobody in the apartment below ours ever complained. The major lesson we learned as printers was never to print in high humidity (unless you have air-conditioning and of course we didn't). Our double issue OINK! 9/10 had a photo of a tattooed man's man that I got from a tattoo parlor on Belmont Avenue, when only one parlor existed on the entire North Side. Placed all three prime colors in the ink tray, which blended to create a few more in the printing process. Our process was "stank" and therefore, it seems now, something like the real thing. Had to scratch my head when, out photographing gravestones, I discovered A. B. Dick's gravesite in a little cemetery along Sheridan Road, between Chicago and Evanston.