Canyons tour begins @ the Just Buffalo Literary Center 10.6.13 by James belflower

 Just Buffalo Literary Center

Just Buffalo Literary Center

The Canyons tour started last night at the beautiful Just Buffalo Literary Center reading series which is curated by Barbara Cole & Kevin Thurston. Matthew & I performed with the high energy Buffalo slam poet Eve Williams, & Donika Kelly who's debut collection Bestiary won the 2015 Cave Canem Prize. The crowd was lively, giggling & bantering with the poets. Our set was a blend of Matthew Klane's deep droning voice & my visceral electronics. Best of all, my fuzz pedal picked up Outkast's "Hey Ya" broadcast from the radio tower on the roof, & our set, which usually ends with thick moody feedback, tapered down to the bouncy chorus and the crowd rolled with the beat!

We recorded the event, and I'll be posting Canyons audio as soon as possible. Come see us at one of these stops if you missed last night. 

Finding the Ell In Your Writing by James belflower

If you've never scaled your page size down in Microsoft Word when writing, give it a try. As I began a new manuscript a few years ago I happened to scale my pages down to where the words were only shapes. I was able to consider it from a distance. This experience was much more important than I realized at the time.

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Okkyung Lee and the Insistent Forms of Affect by James belflower

Okkyung Lee's newest album Ghil

Music that resists my capacity to divide, to classify its parts. Music that grabs my ears by the shoulders and shakes them, blurring all its auditory patterns into novel seams. Music that recognizes that repetition, as Gertrude Stein believed, does not exist. What we hear instead, since music can never repeat the same emphasis, is insistence.

EMPAC Performance Hall

Last night at EMPAC in Troy, New York, I had this experience of insistence listening to the noise artist and cellist Okkyung Lee. After listening intently, I thought of Eugenie Brinkema's description of affect in her book The Forms of the Affects where she extrapolates a formalist reading of affect from the tear clinging to the face of Psycho's murdered heroine in the infamous shower scene. She argues that the resistance of the tear to frameworks of representation formalizes the l'informe historically attributed to affect. The tear, in all its "tearness," writes Brinkema, insists that it is "pure exteriority of the sign of emotionality" (22). Tearness, as insistent non-representation also applies to Okkyung's performance, particularly the way in which Lee's style resists uncomplicated emotional connection and the impulse to divide her textured noises into westernized notes, phrases, or rhythms. This is not to say that it is an emotionless music, but that it is an affective music rich with sonic particularities that provoke a precise dissident intensity that insists on a life of its own. The resin smoke cloud floating in the spotlight above her frenetic glissandi was a vivid example.

I started to consider it this way. To attend carefully to Lee's performance, to practice "reduced listening," by way of Michel Chion's Audio-Vision, is to recognize that Lee's achievement deforms emotional interpretation as opposed to inviting it and thereby affirming categorical feeling. Lee's music also refolds a listener's semantic ears by sustaining its difference from perceptual frameworks. It refuses to honor the implicit contract my perception brings to it. Think of trying to locate that lid in the Tupperware drawer that will fit the jar you are holding. Lee's music thus provokes questions: Why do I want to link frenetic string work with anger?; Why am I compelled to refer Lee's thick textures to a sound I've heard before that evoked an emotion? The powerful moment she incites shows what is in the event of listening, rather than reducing the listening experience to what I habitually remove from it to "properly" hear. Alfred North Whitehead's perspective on a proper relationship to nature relates to the listening act in this affective moment. In this quote from Isabelle Stengers's A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts, I replace nature with music to approach the listening act Lee's music constructs. "The problem is not to polemicize but to accept the risk, to try the adventure, to explore what the rejection of a bifurcation of [music] obliges us to think" (40). To put it simply, I enjoyed the insistent "noiseness."


Brinkema, Eugenie. The Forms of the Affects. Durham: Duke UP, 2014.

Stengers, Isabelle. A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011.

Richard Thorns Dissertation Fellowship Award by James belflower

I'm very pleased to have received a Richard Thorns Dissertation Fellowship from SUNY Albany this past summer.

The English Department awards one or more Richard Thorns Fellowships each year to doctoral students who are within one year of completing their dissertation projects. Supported by the estate of Richard Thorns, an Albany English alumnus, the fellowship offers a summer stipend that aims to give students the ability to concentrate on their research and writing.

With the financial help from the Thorns I was able to finish my project, "Making Thought Matter: Postmodern Models for Material Thinking," in early August and defend on September 4th. The defense went very well. I will be receiving my diploma in a week or so! Very thankful to be done with that part of the process. On to new things!

Louis Zukofsky and the Index of American Design by James belflower

I recently started planning a course which I'm tentatively naming "Poetry as Design." In this course I want students to consider poetic practice through the more pragmatic approaches often associated with commercial design. One of the first poets I turned to for material was Louis Zukofsky.

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When Life Gives You Lemons: Jack Spicer And Hollis Frampton by James belflower

  Cuneiform Press  hosts a full PDF of the original chapbook of   After Lorca

Cuneiform Press hosts a full PDF of the original chapbook of After Lorca

I want to sketch some rough ideas about the threshold where virtuality becomes materiality by comparing the San Francisco Renaissance poet Jack Spicer's discovery of a lemon, in one of his letters to the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca in After Lorca (1957), with the slow unveiling of a lemon in Hollis Frampton's minimalist film, Lemon (1969). The film and poem (indeed all of After Lorca) are perfectly suited to each other in large part because they address how we translate an object's temporal dimension into concrete form. What I mean by this is that like Spicer's desire to "make poems out of real objects," his lemon emerges through a process of discovery (133).

"Things do not connect they correspond. That is what makes it possible for a poet to translate real objects, to bring them across language as easily as he can bring them across time. That tree you saw in Spain is a tree I could never have seen in California, that lemon has a different smell and a different taste, BUT the answer is this--every place and every time has a real object correspond with your real object--that lemon may become this lemon, or it may even become this piece of seaweed, or this particular color gray in this ocean. One does not need to imagine that lemon; one needs to discover it" (Spicer 134).

The discovery is that this lemon is not equivalent to anything but itself at that moment in time. This is why objects for Spicer do not connect in the poem they co-respond. Frampton's film also "discovers" the lemon, makes it visible, not only by technically shadowing where its shape meets darkness, but by refusing to metaphoricize the lemon. His film fulfills Spicer's desire, to transport the object through time rather than translating its viscerality to a symbolic, timeless dimension. The lemon's material rudeness tingles the back of your tongue, and its stippled skin rubs across your eye as it slowly emerges from the shadows. In Lemon, the lemon is not a fruit we imagine, as much as its visceral presence is disclosed to us through its passage across our senses. This means that the lemon is not preserved (pun intended), but like taste, it arcs into and out of our awareness. Both Spicer and Frampton carefully negotiate how the lemon "is lead across time, not preserved against it," because too much light, whether visual or textual, would exceed perception's footholds in the rind and point the edges of its appearance elsewhere (Spicer 133). As Spicer put it, and Frampton's film visualizes, it is a different act than imagining, because "the imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real, disclose it..." (133). Read the poems, enjoy the film, and make lemonade!

Read more on Jack Spicer here and here.

Read more on Hollis Frampton here.

Spicer, Jack. My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer. Eds. Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Things You Carry by James belflower

Earth Day reminded me of a wonderful graphic narrative by Vincent Stall I found lurking on the shelves at a record store in Denver, Colorado a few years ago: Things You Carry (2011). Published by 2D Cloud, an independent Xomics/comics press out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Things You Carry graphically portrays a wordless, faceless humanoid's quest for connection in an environment as vibrantly alive as it is. The character flows, morphs, and reconfigures its passage through a world on the edge of being overrun by unidentifiable fragments. But the character's quest sidesteps an overt doom and gloom commentary, because it seeks connection with both the astronaut it encounters and the similitude of its body to the gomi of its world.

One of the things I most enjoy about Things You Carry is Stall's transformation of the images and textures of the book into wooden form. In the video below, many of the prints in the book became acrylic paintings on rough particle board or 2X4 sculptures at an installation at CO Exhibitions. Stall's translation process from word to wood is a vivid meditation on vital materialism, and it poses an important question, "when we aestheticize our relationship with the planet, what is the difference between representing the vitality of matter and simply personifying it"? Much of the detritus in Things You Carry self-organizes throughout the book, assembling, reassembling, and proliferating through Stall's detailed sketches into humanoid and nonhuman configurations. The intimacy in these transformative relationships between human and nonhuman in Things You Carry helps me remember the uncanny, exciting, and impersonal moments when the world seems the most alien, and at the same time, the most immanent.

You can buy prints from Things You Carry here.

You can read an interview on Itchy Keen with Vincent Stall here.

You can purchase Things You Carry here.

A God In Drone by James belflower

When I think of the Old Testament the first thing that comes to mind is not rich, textured, drone music. However, AMULETS, the tape + electronics moniker of Austin based audio/visual artist Randall Taylor, crystallizes them beautifully. On his album The Old Testament, AMULETS repurposes Old Testament books on tape. So, if you spent much of your childhood punching play on various bible versions recorded on poor quality TDK or Maxell cassettes, then the stretched, looped, and collaged stories will melt into biblical soundscapes that not only bring to mind those moments but pleasantly subvert them. What I love about Old Testament is that there remains a god lurking in these warm sonic clouds, but it is not the angry, vengeful god the Old Testament leads us to expect. Instead, AMULETS finds a human heat in the ambient tape scrub, a viscous and sensuous cumulus of biblical proportions. Check it out and enjoy!


Find other AMULETS offerings here.




Echo Locution: Aural - Environment - Body - Poetics Part 3 by James belflower

Maryam Parhizkar, David James Miller, & James Belflower

At the Disembodied Poetics Conference: Writing/Thinking/Being at Naropa University, in October, 2014 David James Miller, Maryam Parhizkar, and myself discussed the influence of music on our critical and creative writing practices in a panel titled "Echo Locution: Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics." The conversation afterward was very rewarding and there were many questions about the various textual and musical sources referenced. To say thanks, and to keep that conversation going, we've posted a brief summary of our talks and a list of resources from our papers. This is the final installment in a three part series. We hope you enjoy!

Echo Locution

David James Miller

How might poetry of attuned attention function—connecting the deliberate act of listening inwardly to the self with listening outwardly to the environment? As in some experimental music, listening is somatic in such poetry, where one becomes open and receptive to dialogue between the self and the larger environment. Pauline Oliveros describes this as: “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds.” Her improvised, collective compositions (with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis) perform such attuned attention deep in an empty, underground military reservoir 70 miles north of Seattle. Likewise, the music by Taku Sugimoto and other so-called ‘Onkyo’ musicians, performing at the Tokyo performance space Off-Site at the turn of the millennium, enact a similar listening experience. Emphasizing a “conscious recognition of the reverberation of sound (oto no hibiki)” (Plourde), their performances are often almost completely-silent, resulting in music of an interactive dynamic, highly attuned to tensions between the material, sonic performance and the unplanned sonic experiences from the immediate environment. This recalls, for me, John Cage's statement that “the sound experience I prefer to all others is the experience of silence... and the silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic.” This also recalls writing by Leslie Scalapino and John Taggart—poets whose writing connects (the body of) the self and sound, with the body of the many social, political, spiritual, and psychological environments we inhabit.

Echo Locution: Aural - Environment - Body - Poetics Part 2 by James belflower

Maryam Parhizkar, David James Miller, & James Belflower

At the Disembodied Poetics Conference: Writing/Thinking/Being at Naropa University, in October, 2014 David James Miller, Maryam Parhizkar, and myself discussed the influence of music on our critical and creative writing practices in a panel titled "Echo Locution: Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics." The conversation afterward was very rewarding and there were many questions about the various textual and musical sources referenced. To say thanks, and to keep that conversation going, we've posted a brief summary of our talks and a list of resources from our papers. This is the second of three parts. We hope you enjoy!

Reckoning in the Feedback Loop: Some Notes on the Poetics of Transcendence/Transfiguration

Maryam Parhizkar

The feedback loop – in sonic terms, this is the event in which a produced sound, an output, is returned to the input, causing changes or modulations in the new output, but always being a continuous buildup of what came beforehand. I’m going to mangle with this idea a bit, figuring out ways in which the idea of this buildup – this coming back to oneself in a performative act that is of past, present and future at once – might be a way for us to think of how language, whether musical or textual, can be used, and what such a buildup might be working toward.... This project aims to transcend the restraints of the body, or, “the limits of body” to think in resonance Akilah Oliver’s question. In other words: how the loop can be an act of constant reckoning, especially for those who create and perform from the several variations of the margins. To transcend, or rise above, can require a change in the performing body – in other words, a transfiguration. How does a politics of transfiguration operate in this constant return?  The politics of transfiguration is what scholar Paul Gilroy describes in The Black Atlantic as the utopic intersection of politics and aesthetics in a “emergence of  qualitatively new desires, social relations, and modes of association,” working in a lower frequency,  “under the nose of the overseers.” My emphasis, in thinking of transfiguration within this context, is on the literalness of the word: trans/figura, the changing of the figure, or, here, the body. Transfiguration as possibility. To work in counterpoint with Akilah’s question: what are the possibilities of the body when the body becomes language or sound?