Archive for the essays Category

“Why I Laugh?” Poetry Readings & Audience Feedback

Posted in essays, interesting things that caught my attention, poetry, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on 03/29/2012 by alex c

As both a co-host of a poetry reading series and someone who has lately attended a fair amount of readings, I’ve begun to notice certain reading trends. The most notable one, and one that more seasoned readers and reading-goers probably recognized long ago, is the inherent connectivity bias an audience develops with more humorous readers. At our Mental Marginalia reading last night, of our five readers, the work of three tended away from overt humor, often eschewing it entirely. The other two poets utilized it extensively, which isn’t to say they used it as a crutch, but it was a heavier element in a broad emotional mix. These latter two received the most immediate and obvious audience reaction (though all five readers received very positive reactions at the end of their “sets”).

This makes sense. People laugh at funny things, so there’s always a straightforward way to know what worked. When that element isn’t present, it’s much more difficult for an audience to outwardly demonstrate their affinity for a particular poem. People tend not to applaud after each poem – unless it’s totally mind-blowing – which I’ve always found a little bit too polite, but I think it also stems from the fact that if people did do that, it would be very obvious when something failed, whether intentionally funny or not.

Failure is a good thing, though. Continue reading

Trading Post °1: Axe to Vox

Posted in essays, music, The Trading Post with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/24/2012 by alex c

This is the first installment of The Trading Post, what hopefully becomes an ongoing series in which I trade albums with fellow writer friends and then we proceed to dance about the architecture with which we’re presented. This project stems from the many discussions through which it became undeniably clear that my musical tastes are vastly different than most of my literary friends; I thought it would be fun and enlightening for us to both share what we love with while hearing new music we might not otherwise encounter. Though there will likely be a decent amount of hating on stuff (from myself at least), that’s not the point at all. Rather, much like my encounter Lynne Tillman’s novel American Genius: A Comedy, I appreciate wrestling with work with which I don’t have an immediate affinity and then trying to understand why I might hate it so much while also recognizing important qualities such a work may possess. Having said all that, these aren’t going to be deep analyses, either, merely thoughtful reactions or something along those lines. I guess we’ll see what happens and that’s part of the fun!

For this first installment, Seth Graves decided on a simple trade based on vocals and guitar. He gave me albums by Why?, Danielson and Destroyer. In return I made him listen to albums by Gorguts, Krallice and Vektor. We’ll start with Seth’s responses because I flipped an imaginary coin and won the toss. Follow us after the jump!

Continue reading

Jurgen Klinsmann Press Conference

Posted in essays, poetry, the universe will wreck you with tags , , , , , , on 08/03/2011 by alex c

My co-conspirator in the MENTAL MARGINALIA Reading Series, Mark Gurarie, has published my recent piece “Jurgen Klinsmann Press Conference” over at his site, TaoLinIsGoingDownButIRemain.

You’ll feel like one of the folks below when you read it— Go check it out!

Your Taste In Music Is Terrible

Posted in essays, music, random with tags , , , , , , , , on 07/27/2011 by alex c

Over at the ol’ HTMLGiant, dude posted a list of albums he downloaded and wrote one-line (mostly) responses. It was posted last night about the time I was enjoying the first of two Tullamore Dews on the rocks. Is one supposed to enjoy that beverage in such a manner? I don’t know about “supposed to”, but it sure was tasty. Right now I should be doing something productive, but it’s unclear what that could possibly be (laundry? finding a good job?). I’m catching up on my blog reading, operating on 3 hours of whisky-infused sex sleep and thought I’d take a nap. Instead, I’m thinking about dude’s silly post about music and how limited his range appears. It’s a lot of names I recognize and could not care less about because most of it’s for wussy pansies. Can I say “pansies” without offending anyone? No? Oh well.

Assertive, forceful, insistent, vigorous, energetic, dynamic, bold, enterprising: all listed synonyms for “aggressive” in this little thesaurus on my floor. “This music is so aggressive.” “It’s so loud and angry-sounding.” “You can’t dance to this, the rhythms are all weird.” Hey, I like other stuff, too, but I was weaned on distorted guitars. A rock band is a technologically-advanced chamber group (trio, quartet, quintet, etc.) and I love Bartók‘s string quartets. Continue reading

I Guess You Had to Be There

Posted in essays, interesting things that caught my attention, places to check out, poetry, random, the universe will wreck you with tags , , on 05/11/2011 by alex c

At school there’s a great bathroom stall, a bathroom-graffiti hotspot for “undergraduates with wild imaginations”. A few weeks back someone drew a lovely bust of Karl Marx from what appears to be a Sharpie. Not long after a speech bubble appeared: There is a spectre haunting your butthole. This seems like a good reason to own a smartphone.

(I wrote this 3 weeks ago and forgot to hit “publish”, though it was probably not worth the time it took to write—ed.)

Soft Architecture: Incommensurate & Irreduceable

Posted in essays, Office for Soft Architecture, poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , on 04/22/2011 by alex c

The more I post sections of this in between revisions, the more confusing it must be for anyone reading it…

Openness, following Hejinian, emerges in a text where “all the elements of the work are maximally excited…because ideas and things exceed (without deserting) [the] argument[s] that they have taken into the dimension of the work.” Behind this is an implicit call to describe, as an observer would, so that the reader is able to pull the material together in their own imagination. Consider, for a moment, an oppositional stance that would set up a scenario in such a way as to manipulate the reader to feel something specific. An open text refuses to set such limits on the reactions of each reader, inviting reader participation while rejecting the writer’s authority over the reader.1

In accordance with these principles, Robertson’s work is descriptive rather than prescriptive. “Soft Architecture: A Manifesto” makes this point clear: “All doctrine is foreign to us.”2 Then, in the next paragraph, she exhorts: “Practice description.”3 Though at first glance that may seem an order, the phrase lacks a direct object, allowing it to otherwise be viewed as a reminder to the self to avoid falling into the -ism trap. The SI had impossibly attempted to avoid this same fate, claiming “There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine for interpreting existing conditions.”4

Such an ambition seems destined to fail, despite all intentions. As Simon Sadler outlines in The Situationist City, his study of the SI’s fertile early years, “The situationists’ caution about a ‘situationsim’ was a clever way of reminding themselves of the dangers of becoming ‘academic’ in their procedures, a fate that had befallen their avant-garde predecessors.”5 The open textuality that Robertson employs recognizes that danger lurking in the prescriptive modes of the modernist avant-garde: “That institution is all doors and no entrances.”6 Her attempt here was to test a purely descriptive mode of writerly dérive, one that renders the reader not merely a spectator, but a partner in understanding the increasing dimensions of sensation that unfold over the course of reading and rereading. Continue reading

Soft Architecture: A Brief Literary Lineage

Posted in essays, Office for Soft Architecture, poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , on 04/11/2011 by alex c

Another installment in my ongoing investigation of Lisa Robertson’s Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture

My initial impression of Robertson’s “Seven Walks” was dominated by the implicit association with the situationist concept of dérive. However, upon familiarizing myself with just the first three essays of “Occasional Work”, I realized that the similarities shared with dérive was just one of several fundamental associations—or inspirations—developed from her knowledge of the Situationist International (SI). That the book opens with a manifesto signals Robertson’s clear engagement with an avant-garde modernism stretching back at least to the Futurists, whose leader, F.T. Marinetti, issued the “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” in 1909. Though Robertson’s work under the auspices of the Office for Soft Architecture (OfSA) often reads vaguely like a contemporary feminist retort to Futurist masculine-ism, there otherwise hardly seems to be any direct correlation in content between the two—a contrast all the more notable for Robertson’s occasionally clear, regularly subtle overtures to the SI.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, formally speaking, the OfSA owes a great debt to Marinetti and company. Lawrence Rainey, in his introduction to Futurism: An Anthology, illuminated a novel and defining facet of that early movement:

“Futurism had done something startling. It had revealed the power of a new type of intellectual formation: a small collectivity, buttressed by publicity and spectacle, that could produce cultural artifacts that spanned the spectrum of the arts and were constructed in accordance with a coherent body of theoretical precepts grounded in not just arbitrary aesthetic preferences, but a systematic reading of contemporary society. Futurism had irreversibly forged that fateful link between a theory of modernity and the project of the avant-garde, setting a precedent followed by all the avant-gardes to come.”1

Despite the fact that the OfSA only had one true member in Robertson, the writing presented in Occasional Work demonstrates a form that echoes Rainey’s sentiments exactly. Continue reading

Dear Metalheads, Stop Trying To Sing

Posted in essays, math-rock, music with tags , , , , , , , , on 02/16/2011 by alex c

Just shy of two years ago, Mastodon issued their fourth lp, Crack the Skye. I’d been a major fanboy since first hearing 2002’s Remission and had avidly awaited each subsequent release. One Friday night not long after, I got together with two good friends so we could all have a first listen together. The three of us nearly cried as that vapid husk of pablum plodded towards a conclusion that could not arrive fast enough. While a new listening public ate it up, we felt alienated and betrayed by a record that lacked—in all but track 2, “Divinations”—all the elements that made their previous records so enthralling: raw, grinding, often sludge-encrusted, yet still intricate string work combined with the most active, pummeling and rhythmically-nuanced percussion. From early eps through three studio albums Mastodon consistently delivered goods that satisfied the libidinous, reckless inner teen within the maturing adult in need of intellectual stimulation.

Then, on Crack the Skye, Mastodon began to do the unthinkable: they began to sing. Whereas previously the vocals featured a mixture of primitive howls and bellows that perfectly complimented the power and finesse of the instrumentation, the newest record brought to the fore the one element of ’70s-era prog rock that they had thankfully jettisoned: the vocals (which is not to mention unnecessary guitar wankery on songs like “The Czar”). The “prog rock” stylings pioneered by bands like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and others had, in almost every instance, become bloated by an infatuation with technique and operatics, particularly with respect to vocals. Mastodon’s success as a modern variation of progressive metal lay in its skillful negotiation of this terrain, balancing incredible technique with savage animality. And to top it all off, the production values were even more noticeably cleaner and slicker than on 2006’s Blood Mountain (a major-label debut that sounded the part while retaining the characteristics that had brought them to that point). Continue reading

Soft Architecture: A First Stab at an Understanding

Posted in essays, Office for Soft Architecture, poetry with tags , , , , , , on 02/14/2011 by alex c

In the beginning there is a timeline and we make acquaintance. Perhaps we, unwittingly, go farther. Here we lay, creating and created. Rumpled, ruffling sheets vaguely insinuate sex and newborns; a human encounter recognizable by its passion and contradiction. “We walked through the soft arcade. We became architects.” Familiar images, sounds and physical sensations spring forward whose immediate purpose remain mysterious, though inviting. A whimper projects from swaddling, marking entrance to a long, arched building or gallery; an amusement center; a dense collection of inference composed to lead us down this memorial path. It would not be amiss to apply the adjective “vaginal”. Around our heads the cultural artifacts of Homo Sapiens Sapiens are displayed in successive bursts; history as a museum, the way our modern eyes can recognize it and become familiar. Continue reading

Soft Architecture: Of Unindicated Known Origin

Posted in essays, Office for Soft Architecture, poetry with tags , , , on 02/09/2011 by alex c

Vancouver. A city I’ve never visited but have seen numerous times as the stage for a film or tv show set elsewhere. The province’s largest cash crop is weed. A meticulously organized array of silvery white towers in a fuzzy green bowl. A still of milk-splash after a cereal bombing.

Robertson, in the mi(d)st urban fountains, p.54: “Thus, when we are strolling we wish to abandon salubrious habit to better welcome spontaneous transitions to collective states.” Sounds like dérive.*

Finally, a mention when I flip to the sources, but I’m reading a book not just flipping. How silly am I to forget a caveat I had never noticed before in the bulletins/journals of the SI:

As a rule, this bulletin is edited collectively. The various articles written and signed individually must also be considered of interest to all of our comrades, and as particular points of their common research. We are opposed to the survival of such forms as the literary review or art journal.

All texts published in Internationale Situationniste may be freely reproduced, translated and adapted, even without indication of origin.

In that case…

*Dérive: A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. The term also designates a specific uninterrupted period of dériving.