Dead Letter Game
you get a choice in this world (and granted this is now just one among many competing worlds, rebus sic stantibus) between carving the pumpkin and smoking its pulverized seeds -- on the one hand craftwork for goodness sake and on the other a four-fold vision of creation, fall, resurrection and salvation
the vision though, let's admit, must have its instrument, and from that rare external agency
one fashions a priest and a time machine -- investigating the structures and possibilities of phenomena while shaving the ice and tickling the lover's toe with a feather -- not "skepticism" so much as judgment suspended in a viscous amber liquid, the method of such and its performance live on a legible if not audible stage, a skepsis to warrant one's Skeltonics, the pencil sketch of this on a broad canvas, the skelp of the skellum who's lost his way
oh tired object, oh lean of the real -- the "outward boundaries" of cultural perception now held up at the border, its advocates pulled from the vehicle and frisked by humanoid dogs while the trunks are searched for contraband bells and tin whistles, computers and jump ropes, the gear of the new avant-garde whose bodies and voices are active "fields" of composition, perfect foils for meditation -- "not a seer are notes" indeed, in the final decades, where the emphasis on form gives way to a brutalist technique versus content, bottom of the ninth with no outs and all that, an active pursuit of a unified self/cultural perception filling up all four lanes while the northbound 5 backs up to Carmel Mountain Ranch
at least as alive as the guilty, the pressed for time, the down on their luck, the ready to move on, and the see you next time not if i see you first -- faced with the prospect of no future, vision as a means of survival, a grotesque archetype
, perhaps, which is revolution.
a passion for redundancy recast as aversion to all things stationary, street lamps, swamps, memory work
rather than being simply rejected in full, understood as contrivance, as artifice, as changes to a mode of expression -- emotion recollected only half as good as motion redirected
a science of distinctions retold as a plain language lyric
, notable for its anti-metaphorical metaphoric -- the murder of the famed poet's daughter brought tears to his eyes, and then, it all flowed
-- a real possibility of voice, but the possibility itself dictated from afar and recorded digitally, played back as Exhibit A, reducing the star witness to tears
, committed to second rounds, attempts, repetitions, negating or neutralizing the quality healing work done therein -- a new mode of autopoetical biographic poised on the edge of "cultural memory" but honestly wanting none of that (?) that interaction
between a so-called lived experience and the anthropomorphized experience of society
setting up elsewhere in the no-fly zone maybe or just off Market at "F" (?) that level of the personal
leveling off just shy of My Life
but heady with "event" and lusting after the Latin evenire
a series of happenings
bordering on talk poem makes the boundary between
far less stable (?)
how close are you, after all, to the agonistic embrace
? -- quasi-fictive image and sentence-making toward visionary release? -- the room was dark, but enough of its light leaked through, boiling over from that other reality, prompting another phase-change
ex nihilo ad absurdum, ad finum, de profundis, ex officio -- a call to duty, a prayer to discharge the meeting, an intellectual enterprise
on the cusp of corpus, a bed of stray straw, a victimless crime, a dropped nickel in the gutteral, a voice at the end of its rope, a suturing of the feeling / intellect split
, a long way from home, a sauce thickening into wine, a reckless but we were just happy
, a willing suspension of despair, a sin committed for reasons too complex to go into here, a nod to the referential fallacy, a language theory but NOT the dismissal of instrumental language, a blue guitar, an article of faith, a student of the 1980s, a transfer of power whereby, an emotion if by no means personal confession
, a musing become a drudging, a fusion of "black leather" and "second skin," a new corollary to the old problem of plucked eyebrows, a new role sound plays, an aversion to cyberspace but a love for "differential poetix," a semiosis of the verbal visual field itself
resold as wall art, a return to Stein's would-be Adorno, a works cited, a dream's content, a singing horse, a page, a blankety-blank, a gust, a rut, a ha, a h, a  , *       ,                .
errors in the sub-routine make for interesting results, but a good friend advises against them, nails the action in a moment of extemperaneous exultation -- the moment at which the cry of the elegy transforms into a bird call -- what the ad promises but in reverse, so satisfaction fuels the desire indefinitely, and what follows is a "futures" projection -- made to last on the one hand, already obsolete on the other -- cooling in the crypt while the loved ones assemble up above
in desperation she took hold of the book and threw it across the room -- it fell like a New York cheesecake against the door and she knew then that her life had changed for good -- she knew that she had made a choice implicitly to reject certain modes of interpretation some forms of pronunciation and all manners of disputation -- logic made her do it but of a limited, distributed kind -- the kind of logic that keeps the fan in the window in the morning tilted at a ripe 45 degree angle, the kind that holds the shelves in place and dresses the pepper tree in spider web and bird song
fittingly, the imagery issued from that not this pen, for she had earlier written the scene in which a book traces a flat arc across the room and lands heavily against the door -- the cheesecake she added later in a moment of desperation, unsure how a book like that (square at the edges, full of pages) would actually perform on a hot day like this with the fan blowing strong and all
anyway, the layers of detail were far more interesting to her than the levels of discourse -- sure, she could map the degrees of fictive aperture as well as the next guy, but focus was more the real deal, the reason-debtor, the punch to be pulled at the last moment -- detail made sense to her as a concept -- detail spoke to her, made promises, constructed long intense arguments whose conclusions felt good, felt like truth, felt like breeze on a hot day -- there was something in detail (you know, as in leaves the size and texture of paint chips, the pasty light of humidity, the twitch of a cat's ear) that even belied the category and the term "detail" -- the word itself seemed ill-equipped to pronounce its own value and range, to account for its own promise -- in the real world, there was something unmarked about details (even as words) that pleased her, that literally threw her (although not like the book) toward a new way of life, a new capacity, a new kind of thinking
but thinking too, she had to admit, was anathema to detail, for since thinking purged detail of its thingness, few thoughts could be trusted, even those that worked overtime to glue those pesky little details together so they wouldn't fall apart in hot weather -- confusion about all of this was a kind of detail that she could write into the scene, but she worried that the actors would have a tough time understanding how to render that confusion as action or dialog -- confusion, after all, was not a detail per se but an abstraction, a state of mind or being, an instance, a result -- she could not see or taste or hear confusion but then again she could because it felt like a train belching an oily residue at the platform, or a sea shell in the pudding, or a full-dentured kiss
the whole thing, she remembered, had started with the book she threw across the room -- she knew now that if she could only remember the title of that book then she might have a better sense of what had set her off in the first place -- but, perhaps expectedly, she couldn't place that detail and so had to let it go as something like an anti-detail, a gap in the story, a hole in the canvas, a missing word -- she knew it was old news that even the absence of detail is itself detail, but she liked the detail nonetheless and so wrote it into the scene, feeling suddenly gratified
there were deeper issues, tougher problems to deal with, and having spent the better part of an hour thinking this through, she took a moment now to reflect without thinking on the results of her inquiry: all the same, more or less, but bathed in a loftier light, the unmarked evidence of time slipping by, the scratch and the ink and the backlit paragraph, proof of the effort, material leftovers, residue, stain, impression, contusion -- bent pages
nice idea -- commendable writing -- but we're missing that all-important "narrative arc," a concept i learned about a year ago and have been unable to shake ever since -- what gives a stone its texture? -- are we committed to surfaces here or can we hold out hope for a deeper substantive -- i don't feel cornered, i feel multiply vectored -- parallel and perpendicular -- at cross-purposes
a visit to the dentist can throw one's balance off for days -- a heat spell can melt a motivation, kill a mandate -- but the show as they say must go on and must feature the local talent, however talented the local talent might be -- so when we play we play with abandon, unsure but equally brave, fearing no evil -- emotive energy is like bait to the swarming school of contenders -- this play is done
a grave in the bowels of a land mass, a lecturing puppet at the pulpit, two dogs, a man and a woman, three career poets, a stage, red curtains drawn, tape on the floor, paper costumes, an idiolect, lunch in the wings, lights, camera, action -- until the dream pulls back into its swamp, everyone's up and alert, on pins and adrenalin, fighting off nerves
but no one comes, this party's a bust, a promise undelivered -- you in the back are distraught and thinking about getting angry -- the game, you're overheard saying, must begin before it can end, and what we have here is the exact opposite, a conclusion whose argument has gone strangely missing, lost in the mail, lingering in some postal limbo while an otherwise gushing stream of info pours into the war and money machines of a zillion wet-lipped heroes -- you expected more and feel literally short-changed, planning on a dividend of portent but suffering instead a huge loss of recall -- the game has negated what initially prompted the game, as well as neutered my and your respective investments and allegiances, thwarting the drive, draining the flesh of its blood, disarticulating joints, pulling back punches, removing the lines and the ligaments -- what gives?
now, now, now -- rest easy, sailor, the boat's nearly docked -- your zeal is more show than shower, so back under the water where the real world weighs in -- you have a point, but then again the rules were clearly posted, the objects rendered, equipment tested, and preparations made -- you can no more account for what is missing than put back what you took in the first place -- note well, there are no weapons of mass destruction here, no local leaders in collusion, and no eyeballs in the sky watching over you -- what serves you now is precisely what has served you all along, and what you missed the first time through will hit you squarely in the face on play back, guaranteed
the elegy as a question of forms, death as a question of dying, history as a question of force and frustration -- postmodern questions, evasions, hermeneutic conditions -- the acute lack of reaction when the lime-green pickup drives against traffic on a one way street -- this could be normal, couldn't it -- this guy might be right and the rest of us wrong -- there are scenarios available today that would support this as legitimate practice, but for the signs, the incorruptibility of past experiences, the limits often placed on belief suspension
the question of borders is altogether different -- once the agency's profit becomes public record, we can hardly look away or imagine skewed arrangements inside of which structures of such force and durability function, make sense, hold sway -- to push a "border" as hermeneutic is corruption per se, a right of way to aggression, a kind of suspension, an anarchic deferral to totalistic agendas, a madness doubly intense for the tacit agreement voiced as habitual silence, a corrosive undoing in the guise of doing nothing
let no one explain -- let the sun quietly set on the park where northern winners grill their daily catch -- let the syllables of a second language hold the beach ball suspended in air, while the planes land, the ball bounces, and the lovers fall back into the grass, laughing
hermeneutic border lovers push an insider evangelism onto a willing audience -- their aesthetic is simple: no rules, which, as a base rule is the worst rule of all -- they dream (and then speak) a politics limited to three chords, stuck in a fringe etiquette, an elective peripheral engagement with all nouns ending in "ion" -- experience is the infinite resource, the last recourse -- "I have seen / a lot of personal shit" -- the church of repetitive gathering, passive listening, and rote co-responding -- anything goes as long as no one knows the difference -- don't rain on my parade, check your brain at the door, brethren -- really, it's that callous and incestuous, I kid you not, when the appetites for border keep the walls high and tight
but these are limited calls for which an army of deaf ears prepares its barracks -- really there are other ways to end this, though ending is for now postponed, relegated, put off to a future posting, endearing as a promised outcome, unlimited and theoretically perfect on that horizon of possibility escaping all names and naming systems -- "Author dies, writer begins" is the sixth issue one the table at which five revolutionaries sit, combing their hair -- all hands to the "humanist torch" whose flames are leaping wildly -- the ideas, at least, are profound if not distributed, sound if not duly noted -- to all of this the continuous caption that reads: the only first thing to hold onto, the evidence of restoration in the assertion of alienation -- running like a wave file looped and unflinching
He forgot how to manage, precisely. He forgot how (and when) to pull the bean from the vine. He forgot why his dreams were important, and why his laments had fallen on deaf ears. Over time, he managed to forget other things too--the proper way to begin a letter, the most effective ways to use both "objects" and "relations between objects." He forgot that praise was a form of desperation, that war was perpetual peace, that the ice melts fastest on hot days.
In forgetting he found himself possessed of a decidedly wild kind of happiness. He would wander far into zones otherwise forbidden to people like him, and his bliss, a kind of radiance, would shield him from those who might do him harm. Strangers would approach with evil intent, but once crossing the border of his happiness, a change would come over and their faces, initially angular and contorted by scheme, would melt into broad pools of warmish ease and contentment, as if the travel ad had finally come true and deposited them on the white pebbly shores of some faraway paradise.
No greetings passed between them. Though wild and effulgent with happiness he was still, admittedly, ashamed of his now lapsed memory. He feared that, upon learning a name, he would forget it a minute later, or that even the faces at first twisted with evil intent but now relaxed and beaming would fade into troubled obscurity. But his fears were unfounded, for those who might venture across the border of his happiness were nonetheless, despite the change coming over them, uninterested in greetings or idle chatter or conversation of any kind. To be fair, they had recognized their own potential happiness reflected in his face now redolent with forgotten dreams. The world of blissful abandon they had glimpsed at the border required no speech, no interaction, and really no contact at all. Once transported to that pebbled paradise there was no going back, no need or desire to go back, and in fact having found that Eden the many mysterious strangers who approached him would simply pass by and move along, their arms loose and hanging at their sides, their eyes formal and saturated.
The border grew to enclose wider spaces. At first, he found this odd and discomfiting and wondered if he should reverse course, keep his happiness reined in somehow, private, foreclosed, to himself. But really he couldn't stop this new movement even if he had wanted to. Walking along, he would no sooner step onto the curb then whole city blocks would burst forth in a kind of lemon-amber glow. The faces on the bodies of storekeepers, bus drivers, homeless men, bicyclists, fathers, mothers, children, and office people out for lunch would change right before him. Eyebrows would lift from their rocky perches to reveal shiny liquid eyes whose pupils expanded as if to isolate some prey. Smiles broadened, cheeks glowed, and hair even danced in its follicles.
Soon, it appeared as though his border had grown to include everything. He couldn't be sure, could see only as far as the horizon, but indeed there seemed to be no stopping the reach of this strange new sensation which now had a will of its own. In fact, he began to wonder if what he had first assumed was a force issuing from inside him was actually something broader, larger, more diffused. Perhaps, once before, he had ventured across someone else's border and gotten a glimpse of that faraway paradise. Perhaps he had found himself transported to a white pebbly shore and had been changed, in that moment, to reflect the new course he was on and unable to alter.
He looked around (he was still walking) and tried to register in the visages of his stranger-companions some sense of what they were thinking, what they were about. He tried to make eye contact and realized with a shutter that he could not. In their amber happiness his fellow travelers had cast their gazes down and away. They were happy, clearly, but also distant, unreachable, alone in and with their newfound joy. He tried to talk, to intercept their steady progress, but couldn't. His voice, like his memory, had failed. His thoughts grew fuzzy now, and the amber-yellow mist surrounding him grew dank and heavy, pulling at his arms and legs.
If, as he now suspected, he had passed one day over some border--if he had found his way unwittingly into this world of odd and indolent happiness--then he would surely remember, some trace would remain of that moment, that encounter. He was doubly perplexed, for obviously he could not remember, and obviously he could not undo what had been done. And even if he could (remember, undo), he recognized even in the midst of this hazy perplexity that it would be foolish to do so. What he had now--in the company of his fellow wanderers--was a gift of paradisal euphoria that once received cannot be given back. On the breath of some benevolent deity his happiness had been delivered unto him, and to question it would be to commit an act of aggression, of hubris, of foolish pride. Forgetting was bad enough, but to remember he now feared would only make things worse, would cancel the effect, and while the logic confused him the conclusion seemed true and good.
His thinking now seemed utterly familiar, and for a moment he felt realigned, re-equipped with what he had formerly lost. He could remember nothing, of course, none of that had changed (and never would). But he sensed that, even better, a new memory had come to replace the old. In a matter of minutes, he could think clearly again, possessed of this new memory. Whole histories emerged, amber-laced and rich with the sounds of people and places he had always known. In this way he was formalized, saturated with purpose, and he could walk about unencumbered. The sky and buildings and the faces of the people around him looked the same and different, alike and not alike, still awash in an amber glow as if a threatening storm cloud had pulled back at sunset, but also still darkened and collapsed as if none of this had ever happened. Some people he recognized, others were still strangers, and while they all kept to themselves, at a distance with eyes cast downward, they were all at the same time close by, concentrated, on hand. He was sure this was as it should be, and he noted for future reference that none of this perplexed him. He had grown into some new kind of ease, as if the border had pulled back again to envelop him and no other. The thought lit and then vanished, leaving no trace.
Interviewer: I'd like to begin.
Poet: All right.
Intvr: First of all, the speaker.
Intvr: She is struggling with the very act of writing about...
Poet: ...children running around, some people kissing.
Intvr: The crucial act in the poem, it seems.
Poet: Yes. "Here" and "now"--exactly.
Intvr: Here's a part of what you write.
Poet: Of course. That's the whole point.
Intvr: You felt acceptance?
Poet: Not quite acceptance, just--well--
Intvr: Did you know immediately you had this amazing poem?
Poet: No. In fact, I had to fly back to the U.S.
Intvr: So the book originally ended.
Poet: Yes, the version going to press.
Intvr: How about the other?
Poet: After "The Taken-Down God" presented itself, I knew the book was open again.
Intvr: There's one more.
Poet: Yes, I needed something to stop the book.
Intvr: What happened to the McVeigh poem?
Poet: I have the notes.
Intvr: You did?
Poet: That was written for the end, to end it.
Intvr: Why does the work in Never focus so intently on the reader?
Poet: I've been focusing on the reader for a long time now.
Intvr: In Never, though.
Poet: Well, yes, because the issues of community are now more pressing.
Intvr: You point to this in your notes.
Poet: Yes--that's how much I am aiming for the participation of the reader.
Intvr: Strange that the communal action you ask for in that poem is the re-hanging of the Christ onto the cross.
Poet: Maybe not so strange...
Intvr: And that's the "real time"?
Poet: Yes. Among other things.
Poet: Well, it's a movie about the end of the world.
Intvr: No, go on.
Poet: So, a Hermes-like messenger tells the man...
Intvr: How did this affect your process of composition?
Poet: Those descriptions in Never take place, physically, en plein air.
Intvr: Now you see it shifting in front you.
Poet: In front of me--water and gulls.
Intvr: The brackets?
Poet: Yes. The things that come to mind.
Intvr: This new focus on the extreme present tense.
Poet: Well, I grew up in Rome, yes.
Intvr: Could you describe that?
Poet: Among other things, it was an era marked by the great presence of Hollywood.
Intvr: But it was still the Rome of the Dolce Vita?
Poet: It was that Rome too, yes, but--
Intvr: So it does end up impinging on the subject matter in the poems?
Poet: Well, in the same way the double self portraits--
Intvr: This was in Iowa City?
Poet: Yes. The early years.
Intvr: You began teaching?
Poet: Yes. I had taught elsewhere.
Intvr: What kind of mistakes?
Poet: I over prepared?
Intvr: Did you start to think of Rome differently then?
Poet: Rome was history, a huge current.
Intvr: What about Wyoming?
Poet: In Wyoming I felt myself to be much more at the other end of the ghosting.
Intvr: I can see many places.
Poet: In Wyoming, vast expanses of space.
Intvr: You were in an amazing place.
Poet: Not hard, but challenging.
Intvr: In Region--but in many other places as well.
Poet: It was. Such a remove was capable of being a lens.
Intvr: And later on?
Poet: Later on, after going to France to the Sorbonne...
Intvr: Wasn't that a shock?
Poet: It all has to do with how you feel about that "stopping."
Intvr: You mentioned you being in Paris.
Poet: No. English was my third language.
Intvr: To N.Y.U.
Poet: It's such a long story...
Intvr: Did Rosenthal ever read your early work?
Poet: Oh no. Besides, I didn't have any.
Intvr: Then you married.
Poet: Not really.
Intvr: Well, but for you.
Poet: Living in Washington.
Intvr: Was it new, or a reinforcement of an earlier sense of seeing history drafted?
Poet: I grew up in a house where art and the news intermingled daily.
Intvr: Many think of you as Italian or French.
Poet: Maybe in the syntax?
Intvr: Would you say that's one of your essential subjects?
Poet: Well, it certainly involves and affects my understanding of what poetry can, must, and will always do for us.
Intvr: How do you see your earlier work now?
Poet: One of the things I see, starting with Erosion...
Intvr: Your readers loved being drawn in like that.
Poet: Yes. I loved that too!
Intvr: What happened between Erosion and Never?
Poet: It's hard to act.
Poet: As William Carlos Williams says, A new rhythm.
Intvr: Still slow, careful.
Poet: Slowed by rhythm that carries.
Intvr: How about the long lines?
Poet: The long line, I think.
Intvr: What did that do to your desire to persuade the reader?
Poet: There was very little attempt to persuade the reader.
Intvr: And prosodically?
Poet: When you're using many sentence-length lines, what becomes useful.
Intvr: I know that you write.
Poet: Whole notebooks are filled.
Intvr: Like what?
Intvr: So you revise a great deal?
Poet: I'd say I spend ninety percent of my time in revision.
Intvr: How do you keep track?
Poet: I xerox.
Intvr: When did you start using a computer?
Poet: At the time of the first poems.
Intvr: Which poems?
Poet: Some poems.
Poet: Yes, "Imperialism."
Intvr: And the feeling of the shroud coming round one?
Poet: I was probably feeling much less liberated.
Intvr: Can you recreate some of that?
Intvr: In Region?
Poet: Perhaps because once you're a parent, you enter into a completely different relationship to time.
Intvr: The lines in these poems are shorter. Why?
Poet: Many things made the lines shorter.
Intvr: And the second line?
Poet: The indented line.
Intvr: So, the indented line...?
Poet: The indented line.
Intvr: And that does what to the reader?
Poet: It brings the reader in as a listener to a confession.
Intvr: Do you mean literal?
Intvr: You've said.
Poet: Yes, but not as much.
Intvr: And you would say?
Poet: I don't know.
Intvr: And what happened?
Poet: I don't know, I was increasingly interested.
Intvr: Even without being in the room?
Poet: I was something being talked about.
Intvr: There's a kind of separation from yourself there.
Poet: I was starting to see a psychoanalyst.
Intvr: It's often been noted.
Poet: The need to explore new terrain?
Intvr: The shortened attention span you talk about?
Poet: Yes, the sexy, highly exportable, American shortened attention span.
Intvr: Is your use of description, in some measure, an exploration of this?
Poet: How does one spearate the acts of human will.
Intvr: It's difficult.
Poet: I think what we're witnessing in this world, the coup.
Intvr: So what does poetry do in the face of that?
Poet: Poetry tries to break through.
Intvr: And so the acute lingering on sense data.
Poet: I don't think you can actually be human.
Intvr: Do you feel you ask a good deal of the reader?
Poet: I don't worry considerably about a reader's patience.
Intvr: Some of that is the impact of technology.
Poet: Yes, don't you think?
Intvr: Is there some way poetry can combat that?
Poet: If you were to ask me.
Intvr: So how would you respond now?
Poet: I'd say poetry wants to be contagious.
Round One: Ex Nihilo [06.05.03 - 08.22.03]
Round Two: Futures [09.30.03 - 12.27.03]
Decom(press/posit)ion [01.01.04 -
06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003
07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003
08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003
09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003
10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004
01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
An experiment in memory excavation and obsessive existentialist detailing, Dead Letter Game
is ideal for one or more players ages 12 and up. The game once started plays indefinitely. Players
will soon recognize that the end is in sight but ever receding on a horizon replete with potential
outcomes. This is not a continuous present so much as a persistent continuum. To stop and start
again is to play the same game only differently. Do not be startled if patterns emerge,
which is normal under ideal playing conditions. The game as played here is neither the all
nor the part of it. Down to the very letter as well as out beyond its margins you will find
the dead letter game, whole and in progress. An open-source document, DLG automatically
self-absorbs upon completion, returning to the epistolary commons from which it came.