Thursday, December 30, 2010

Poetry, Published In 2010

“Ooooo . . . what a lucky man I was!,” to borrow (and change a bit) the chorus of the catchy if portentous rock ballad from forty years ago – or to allude to the more rollicking movie title song from the same era. Yes I say yes: 2010 was an incredible shimmer-bonanza of poem-blessings, and I was lucky to read some of what was published.

Starting about a month ago, I began working up a list – similar to those I did the previous two years (click here for 2008 and here for 2009) – of the poetry (and poetry-related matter) that appeared this year and especially moved or interested me, or which for a particular reason deserved a special shout-out. All told, I came up with approximately seventy (70) such books (including chaps), poems, and other stuff, a total almost double the number I’d listed in last year’s annual round-up. To repeat, it has been an amazing poem-reading year.

I next put these books and poems into various categories, both of the type you might expect and others more personal: including Poetry Book(s) of the Year, Ten Perfect-Bound Poetry Books That Rocked, Ten Chapbooks That Rocked, Great Individual Poems and Poem-Sets Published On The Net, Great Poems In Print Magazines, Translation of the Year, Poetry Re-Issue of the Year, and Published-In-2009-But-Not-Actually-Available-Until-2010 Books of the Year.

And also: Best Collected Poems by Ex-Pats Who Lived (or Live) In Provence, Rae Armantrout New Poem of the Year, Heard-But-Not-Yet-Published Poem of the Year, Sound-Poem of the Year, NewWord Poems Book of the Year, Visual Poetry Book of the Year, Inter-Genre Book of the Year, Philip Lamantia Book of the Year, Poem-Set-to-Music Song of the Year, Stand-Alone Book of Poem-Proverbs of the Year, and Adapted-From-Shakespeare Poem-Book of the Year.

Plus: Recycled-Visual-Poetry-Publication of the Year, John Olson ProsePoem of the Year, Poetry-Appropriated-From-The-Law Book of the Year, PennSound Mp3 Upload of the Year, Silliman Blog Video-Post of the Year, Silliman Blog Link-List Lead-Link of the Year, New Poetry Blog of the Year, Bay Area Bookstore Poet of the Year, Joe Milford Radio Show of the Year, Death-Don’t-Have-No-Mercy-In-This-Land Poetry Book of the Year, Largest-Sized Book of Lineated Verse, Best Big Book of Prose Poems, Best Volume of Trans-Book Poems, Best Re-issue of Epistolary-Poetic-Prose-Novels of the Year, and etc.

I then decided to write substantively about each book or poem on the list, and do so in more detail than I’d done last year, when I tried to give each book in the annual round-up its just due. I don’t like bare-bones lists, and prefer to share the particulars of my enthusiasms.

Besides, writing about poetry in detail greatly clarifies and expands my responses to it, and thus increases my enjoyment of the work. Plus – and maybe this is a delusion – I believe detailed substantive responses to poetry may encourage others to read the poetry I’ve written about, and then maybe even write about it themselves. Finally, and this too may be a projection on my part, I feel detailed substantive responses may help the poet, and in some small way honor their work.

And so I set out to write something for the round-up on each of the seventy books/poems on my list. Each write up, as I envisioned it, would be similar to the posts you typically see here in the glade, except not as long. Each would include excerpts from the poetry, close readings, and carefully crafted appreciations. I even decided to write something for the books and poems I’d previously posted about this year in the glade, since when I re-read that poetry this month there were additional poems I wanted to discuss.

I had here at the end of December about two weeks off work to do this, a glorious stretch of stay-cation time, and so the reading of everything was done and the writing on individual books and poems began. It was but tremendously fun. I feel privileged to have had the time to read or re-read and think about all the 2010 poetry on my list, and to have written in detail about some of it.

However, and unfortunately, my annual round-up project this year ultimately has been, is, a – sigh – failure. Despite what I think was a diligent effort, I’ve finished the entries for only approximately one-quarter (!) of the seventy books and poems on my list, and completed portions of only about a quarter more. Given how the writing has gone, with individual entries taking considerable time and ending up several paragraphs to over 1,000 words in length, there is no way I can finish the 2010 round-up by year’s end.

In retrospect, this year’s round-up was doomed both by the number of books and poems I decided to include and my decision to go all-in on everything on it. That fact, plus about fifteen bucks, will buy me the next perfect-bound book of poems that strikes my fancy. In any event, there’s no big round-up this year here at the glade. Maybe I’ll be able to use some of what I’ve written – it amounts to more than twenty-five pages of single-spaced text – for future posts, which perhaps could focus on some of the individual books. Regardless, my apologies to all for not posting what I hoped I could.

That all said, the post-heading image here of Pegasus (an emblem for me of the wonders of poetry) demands that something be recognized, that an end-of-the-year honor be given to at least one publication. And so I will. It is a shame that anything in this glorious year for poetry should stand alone, but perhaps that is appropriate here, since even if I had managed to complete a full round-up the particular publication recognized below would have been the only one in the first, top-of-the-post, category. And so here we go:

Poetry Book(s) of the Year

Larry Eigner
The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner

– edited by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier –
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010)

The Collected Eigner, four 8.75" x 11.25" volumes comprising more than 1,500 pages that contain over 3,000 poems plus substantial editorial matter, clearly deserves to be singled out as the poetry publication of 2010. These books dominated my poetry reading and writing this year. As you probably remember, after first getting the books in late February/early March I blew my stack about the decision to crowd the poems’ left-side margin so close to the page edges (see my posts here, and here); it’s a look that still bothers me, even after having become accustomed to it.

More importantly Eigner’s poems in the books, both the full expanse of them and in their individual marvelous details, also blew my mind. I devoured the books after first getting them, reading for long stretches every day and deep into the night on weekends, bookmarking pages and compiling poem-lists. Although that intensity has waned, I continue to read deeply and regularly in the books.

Consistent with, and as a result of my reading of The Collected Eigner, I wrote posts throughout 2010 concerning (click on each clause that follows) the poems arising from the news (i.e., current events of the time), the poems with but one word per line, a poem that presents a scintillating variation on Rimbaud’s “Après le Déluge” (“After the Deluge”), and a poem with the first line “ah, so, yes” that’s wonderfully weird.

In addition, I presented (again, please click on each clause to go) a gathering of Eigner’s own words on his poetry, and another post collecting comments on his work written over the years by other poet-readers. I even wrote about (click here) the generous decision of the Eigner estate to offer, at essentially no cost, a complete replacement volume to correct an error which had deleted two poems (and my post also discussed one of the restored works).


Even with the regular reading of and writing on The Collected Eigner, I’m still discovering, or getting more deeply into, its many remarkable poems. In some ways it feels as if the fun here has only just begun. And so today I try to keep it going, with brief comments on a few other Eigner poems that seem to me to embody or illustrate important principles or characteristics of his poetry, or otherwise are appropriate to point to as part of this “Poetry Book(s) of the Year” post.

Recently, I’ve been appreciating again a core Eigner principle: that the world is full of incredible and often quite involved permutations and connections. Many of his poems bring in, reference, disparate matters that seem to demonstrate this principle. And so permit me to simply present one poem (# 1699, dated October 9, 1991 and found in Volume IV at page 1643), in which Eigner with characteristic good humor sets forth his views on the subject, and seems to say about it all that’s really necessary:

C o m p l e x i t i e s

    everything’s more or less
       rube goldberg

“everything’s more or less / rube goldberg”


My year-end re-reading in The Collected Eigner has also reinforced how much I love Eigner’s focus on the moment, and his ability to represent moments of perception, including shifting moments of thought in his mind, in his poems. In many of these, Eigner presents perceptions, basic actions, and/or events without adornment, to make a poem of a scene and/or a sequence of moments in time. Poem # 1326, written May 14-15, 1982 and found in Vol. IV at page 1457, is a great example of the type:






        the stars


Eigner here appears to be somewhere outdoors, and with just eight words provides enough detail such that we can only see, hear, and maybe even smell a bit of, what he perceived, with the placement of the words (one or two to a line, with spaces in between) marvelously heightening the effect of cinematic movement, as if we were watching a film projection with a blank frame inserted between each image. The shifts of vision -- the eyes first looking down, then up, and finally down again -- are marvelous

A sub-set of these poems that focus on a particular scene or sequence of moments are those to which Eigner adds within or as part of the sequence of perception some philosophical or speculative twist and/or assertion about the world. There are many such poems, but let me single out one – #1610 (April 25, 1987, found in Vol. IV at page 1590) – that seems particularly great. Here are its eleven (untitled) lines, presented (as were the poems above) in a Courier font with spacing that approximates what Eigner typed:

the autumn of my life, spring
        fever of my life
           life of the world
            with no end

               a train whistle
                   through the dark


                    only the armadillo
                               besides man
                                     has leprosy

                                   what goes on

Eigner in this poem begins by musing about both his aging self (he was about to turn 60), and – via a neat switch of the seasonal metaphor he began with – his continuing vitality (and note too that it was written just after the vernal equinox), which he then immediately expands to include the ever-continuing world. It’s a natural enough procession of ideas, with “life” obviously the center from which the three distinct thoughts arise.

However, after a double-space pause, a train whistle in the night arrives. It’s another distinct moment in time, one that interrupts the thoughts that came before. Yet the sound heard, via the implied movement of the train, also carries forward, or underscore, the previously presented notions of the never-ending world and the continuing vitality of the poet who lives in it. The whistle, in other words, comes in the poem as (probably) an actual spontaneous or unexpected event, but it’s also there for a reason, because it works as symbol or echo of the ideas Eigner’s writing about.

After another double-space the whistle via just a word (“again”) is heard once more. I love how that’s done with just the space and the single word. The pause-on-the-page seems to mimic the gap-in-time between the two soundings of the whistle. Further, the short-long syllabic structure of the adverb (“again”) may mimic the actual sound (e..g, “ong-oooong”) of the train whistle through the air. Even if that’s an overstatement, there’ss no doubt that Eigner here adds an auditory element, one that also has a strong melancholic tone given the cultural associations of the train whistle. Of course, this second whistle-in-the-dark is yet another distinct moment in time in the poem. I really sense here, with these back-to-back whistles, how Eigner must have been that night, moment-to-moment with his thoughts and the world around him.

After another moment passes – represented by another a double-space break – Eigner’s mind comes to another thought, and this one really surprises. Given what’s come before – the opening lines’ ideas about life and then train whistles – Eigner startles the reader with his three lines about armadillos, humans, and leprosy. The thought’s so unexpected and odd that I let out a guffaw when I first read it, and still think its pretty funny. I mean, who’d have thunk that would come next?

What’s Eigner up to? I think a couple things. First it’s an example, a deliciously one, of how the mind can sometimes work. Thought doesn’t always proceed as closely related ideas, as the first lines of the poem showed it could. Sometimes just about anything can pop up in the head, and juxtapositions that seem illogical are common. So yes, here now is something completely different: a thought about armadillos. That’s the way it rolls, or at least did that night, for Eigner.

At the same time, the armadillo / leprosy lines seem both particularly Eigner-ian and even appropriate here. Eigner’s thinking could be wonderfully different (I recall here Michael McClure’s characterization of him as a kind of astronaut who had the advantage of seeing the world from a perspective that the rest of us don’t get to see), and this particular matter probably was something he’d recently read and which he decided was of some significance. Plus, this odd-but-true fact is an example I think of what can and does happen in the – to quote the poem’s third and fourth lines – “life of the world / with no end” and thus isn’t all that out of place here. Of course, that the example Eigner uses is so idiosyncratic makes it all the more memorable and thus makes it – hey, what do you know – great poetry.

The line that ends the poem – “what goes on” – is an observation or assertion that is yet another distinct thought or event, I think the seventh in the poem. The phrase obviously echoes or re-frames the ideas, posited in the poem’s opening lines, of the forever-proceeding world and Eigner’s continuing energy. And of course, the absence of a terminal period reinforces the ongoing-ness of it all. Indeed, the poem as a whole, with its series of instants or moments of thought and time, and its left-to-right as movement on the page (or screen here) is itself an example, a marvelous one, of “what goes on”.

“[...] // a train whistle / through the dark // again // [...]”

“ [...] // only the armadillo / besides man / has leprosy // [...] ”


Another Eigner poem – # 220 (written July 4, 1968, found in Volume III at page 854) – can in its entirety be re-purposed to serve as a near perfect capsule review of The Collected Eigner:

beautiful books

   again and again it’s

       the complicated world

Yes, in honor of the Eigner’s poetry in the Stanford volumes, I’ll say that his words in this poem above are just about exactly right as a capsule review of these books, and with that I hereby bring this post, and this here glade in 2010, to an end.


The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reading (part 4) The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner

The Wonderful Weirdness


“ah, so, yes”

Among the superabundance of sensational poems in The Collected Eigner (Stanford, 2010) are those that even amongst the uniquely Eigner-atic energy are so particularly idiosyncratic that all the reader can do is stop in the name of what-the-heck-is-this.

And so today the glade, in this the ninth – yes, ninth – post here this year on The Collected Eigner – presents the wonderful weirdness and puzzling (indulge me please) perplex-osity of one such “what-the-heck-is-this” Eigner poem. Known (since it’s untitled) by its first line – “ah, so, yes” – the poem was written in early September 1987 and is found on page 1600 in Volume IV of the Stanford edition. Here’s the poem, in a typeface (Courier) and spacing roughly equivalent to Eigner’s:

    ah, so, yes

      that’s where things leave you ,
           full of abstractions






                        . . .

                        . . .

                     mer can

                    jdeo crt


May I count or more precisely point out a few of the marvelous oddities here? How about the opening line? That is an unusual poem-starter for sure. It seems to jump us right into a three-part moment-in-time comprised, one after the other, of an instant of (1) recognition (“ah”), (2) logic-connection (“so”), and then (3) some certain conclusion or affirmation (“yes”). The line presents this series informally, even conversationally, and it perhaps is all entirely internal to the mind of the poet. Most amazing, the thought process all happens via three simple, monosyllabic words and a bit of punctuation (and the two commas, with their pauses, make it feel, marvelously, as if Eigner’s cogitating, his turning of the gears between the ears, happens right there on the page).

After the line break, Eigner in the following two lines delivers the conclusion he has seemingly just reached:
      that’s where things leave you ,
           full of abstractions
Of course, the use of the “you” here raises the question of who’s being addressed, with the further question being what “things” have left that person, in Eigner’s mind at least, “full of abstractions.” It was at this point that I happened to turn to the endnote for this poem, wherein it’s stated that on the typescript of this poem Eigner had written:
“this on a card to Bernadette Mayer, 9/8/87, a while after she sent me her book, Utopia [United Artists Books, 1984] . . . Sept. 8 too. Oh yes . . . new york city, i.e. [re: last line].”
A-ha, I concluded from this endnote, “ah, so, yes” responds to Mayer’s book, and in that way it’s not unusual at all. As I wrote in my post (click here) about his version of Rimbaud’s “Après le Déluge”, there are dozens of Eigner poems that arise from or were inspired (he sometimes said “occasioned”) by other people’s creative work. And so, being the curious sort, both about Mayer’s work (which I enjoy), and this particular Eigner poem, I went out and found then bought then read a copy of Utopia.

Bernadette Mayer
(New York: United Artists Books, 1984)

Reading Mayer’s book – interesting as that was – did not immediately or entirely clear up the perplexity of Eigner’s poem. Part of that may be that Utopia itself is an extremely odd duck. It’s a mostly prose collection, with approximately twenty different works, that mainly features writing by Mayer but also includes a few contributions from others (e.g., Hannah Weiner, Charles Bernstein, and Anne Waldman). There’s also, and this is yet another mark of its unusualness, an index so detailed and lengthy – it covers seventeen double-columned pages and contains well over 1,500 entries to the book’s 130 pages – that it’s a piece of work itself.

Utopia is also different in the sense that its writings don’t provide any easily stated view or even views about the subject suggested by the book’s title. There’s no straight-line narrative or critical examination of the concept, and while utopia is mentioned and discussed somewhat in some of the twenty or so pieces no over-arching or even competing directions or possibilities seem apparent in the sum of those parts.

As such, I cannot explain what Eigner means when he suggests in “ah, so, yes” that “abstractions” are what Mayer is left with in her book. Unless I’m just being dense and have overlooked something (which is possible, feel free to suggest the same in the comment box here), this perplexing suggestion by Eigner is a key part of the “what-the-heck-is-this”-ness of the poem. Of course, the “abstractions” that “you” are left with might refer to what is left for a reader of Mayer’s book (including Eigner himself). This possible ambiguity is yet another facet of the “what-the-heck-is-this”-ness.

Sometimes when faced with this kind of uncertainty or perplexity when reading a poem it’s best to just read on. The lines that follow, either directly or by providing additional context, can sometimes shed light on if not totally illuminate something that had been baffling or hidden. And so after the couplet in “ah, so, yes” that asserts the conclusion about “abstractions” Eigner writes:




and oh my don’t these lines, especially on a first reading, just seem to add to the “what-the-heck-is-this”-ness quality of this poem!? I mean, some of the “words” here don’t even look like words: except for “animality” they aren’t going to be found in any dictionary and appear to involve idiosyncratic spellings or lexical coinages.

These four latter lines/words, after decoding (by which I mean staring at them for a good bit, trying to figure out what was going on), reveal themselves– at least I think they do – as Eigner-made nouns that denote or refer, as does “animality,” to taxonomic classifications or ranks related to humans. These classifications proceed, top-to-bottom in the poem, from the more general to the more specific: animal, chordates, vertebrates, mammals, and finally primates.

Notably and significantly, the suffixes Eigner uses here, both actual and invented (“ity” or the variants, including “[i]sm”) act to make more abstract the classifications (e.g., chordates) which are themselves abstractions. So as it turns out these lines do indeed reflect on, even serve as examples of, the “abstractions” that Eigner believes the things in Mayer’s book leave you with.

But then there is the puzzle of how the listed taxonomic ranks relate in particular to Mayer’s Utopia. Again, I can again only guess. Eigner possibly, maybe even probably, was spurred to list these classifications by a single phrase that appears almost at the very end of one of the twenty works in Mayer’s book. Specifically, at page 103, in a piece titled “The Fish That Looks Like A Bishop” – a delightful imagined dialogue (styled a “debate” by Mayer) between various and ever-shifting historical and contemporary figures – is a statement (in the voice of Giordano Bruno, the Italian Renaissance philosopher, mathematician and astronomer) that includes the phrase, “and all the land animals and all their types and forms.”

That phrase, I think, can rightly be read as the generative force for Eigner’s taxonomic listing. But while that seems right, it remains a puzzle why Eigner, out of all things in the 130 page book, seized upon that one phrase. Some mysteries here, I think, can’t be solved.

And as such, let’s once again keep moving with the text, and take another look at the rest of Eigner’s poem, which continues (and ends) with:
                        . . .

                        . . .

                     mer can

                    jdeo crt

Here again it’s fair to say that Eigner’s lines initially baffle, except of course for the endnote’s explanation (quoted above) that the final three letters (spread over two lines) refer to New York City. As for what’s going on in the other, preceding, lines, I again have a hypothesis to suggest. Eigner’s ellipses signify omissions from what might otherwise be including on the taxonomic list, while the “words” that follow are further sub-categories, types or kinds of humans: “[a]mer[i]can” / j[u]deo c[h]r[is]t[ian]. Now I’m not sure whether the order of classifications is exactly perfect here (wouldn’t the latter precede the former?), but arguably it works and in any event nothing else seems plausible.

So that’s almost a wrap here, I think. The poem, after it’s very effective you-are-right-there-in-the-moment-with-Eigner opening line, suggests that things in Mayer’s book leave you full of abstractions, and then proceeds to list, as a sort of object example, abstracted or abbreviated taxonomic classifications relating to humans, from the most general (animality) down to the most specific, New York City, where Mayer lived at the time.

Of course, a further question is what Eigner means to connote with all this, including in particular the string of classifications which in the main are oddly or incompletely spelled, is another layer of what-the-heck-is-this-ness in his poem. Is the presumably intentional difficulty here a reflection of Eigner’s own difficulties in coming to terms, in puzzling through, Mayer’s work? I think that’s might be exactly what’s going on, given that Eigner sometimes wrote that he found L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing difficult, even as he admired and read deeply those writers (as they deeply read and admired him). If I’m right, then the object-lesson in difficulty in Eigner’s poem is one very special poetic mirroring of his readerly response to Mayer, with that mirroring as wonderfully weird, intelligently idiosyncratic, and excellently eccentric as “ah, so, yes” is as whole.


The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner
Volumes I, II, III, and IV
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010)


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bruce Conner . . .

. . . an In-The-News Round-Up!

Bruce Conner
circa 1980
(posing in front of one of his paintings)
[photograph by Chris Felver]

As you might have guessed from previous posts – one of which (click here) is entirely about him, and others which reference his work (click, for example, here) – I hugely adore the work of Bruce Conner, the great artist in a variety of media who died in 2008.

My deep fascination and love for Conner’s art all came about because of poetry. I’ve previously written about some of the mid-1960s collaborations between Michael McClure and Conner (click here, please, and scroll down to reason # 7), but I think my first hit of Conner was the Conner designed and illustrated (with a black-and-white photo of one of his assemblages) cover Philip Lamantia’s Destroyed Works (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press 1962) –

Destroyed Works (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1962)
8.5" x 7"

– and one of Lamantia’s poems in that book – “The Bride Front And Back” – concerns Conner’s assemblage/sculpture THE BRIDE, a rendering of Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham in detritus, stretched nylon, and wax:

THE BRIDE (1960)
36" x 17" x 23"

Lamantia’s poem blazes in response to Conner’s Havisham vision. Witness the final stanza:
WHAT SECRET DRUGS in her womb?
What watches out of her toenails tied to atomic submarine breasts?
Who’s torn her open in the dark turkish skyscraper ATLANTEAN PRIESTS
                          The Christians have slaughtered themselves!
The reflective and refractive energy in this assemblage of mantic/manic (including the super-heavy use of capitals) lineated observations and questions made me – maybe would make anybody – curious about the artwork which inspired it. And so Lamantia’s book and poem, when first experienced (the memories fuzz, but it was in my mid-20s, around 1980), first rang the Bruce Conner bell.


After having seen and enjoyed his artwork for years, I met Conner in the mid-1990s, after a screening of his films in Berkeley. I brought along and asked him to sign my copy of Destroyed Works, which had been previously signed by Lamantia. Bruce agreed,

and there probably aren’t many double-signed copies like that around!

Anyway, that brief moment with Lamantia’s book – Conner remarked on how much he liked it, and of course I did too – began what soon enough became a close friendship between Bruce and me. We lived in adjacent neighborhoods here in San Francisco, and for the next almost fifteen years we talked and saw each other often. Occasionally I accompanied him and his wife Jean at out-of-town exhibitions, taking personal vacation time to experience installation work (Bruce was always heavily involved in the details) and to have some fun. As do many others, I have my share of “Bruce Conner stories,” but those will have to wait for some other day.


Fast forward now, if you please, to the last 30 days. Bruce Conner is two years dead and gone, but his work most definitely lives. The convergence in the news and elsewhere over the last month of notices and appreciations of Conner’s work, indicating its continuing vitality, have been – with a tip here to the style of Lamantia – ASTONISHING. Consider the following, and please do click through the link(s) “beneath” much of what’s mentioned below:

Between November 10th and 23rd, The Film Forum in New York City each day presented Bruce Conner: The Art of Montage, a double-program featuring 17 of Conner’s independent, experimental, and mostly very short movies, made between 1958 and 2008.

the poster for the New York Film Forum program


To have most every Conner film shown twice-a-day for two weeks in Manhattan was thrilling enough. But there’s more! The critical response to the Film Forum program ran my brain-track off its sprocket! Now, Conner’s movies have always been well-received, and his first, A MOVIE (1958) long ago was selected for The National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Nevertheless, the breadth and depth of the very positive to glowing reviews last month was something else. Among those weighing in were writers published in (click on each source or pull quote to read the full review):
The New York Times: “There is plenty of pure pleasure to be had from these films, for the eye and the heart as well as for the brain.”

The Village Voice: “Bruce Conner (1933–2008) was a film artist who changed the game with his first movie, titled A MOVIE (1958).”

ArtForum: “Conner’s reputation as a maker of still images—assemblages, collages, photographs, drawings, and paintings—has taken off in recent years, but it is his moving-image work that cements his place among the innovators and masters of twentieth-century art.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Conner was an epic poet and philosopher of the form, turning the very concepts of "epic" and "form" inside out.”

Time Out New York: “endlessly rewarding . . .”

Cinespect: “. . . noteworthy is Conner’s ability to play with hyperactive editing patterns or even very slow ones . . . ”

Capital: “Conner wasn't an essayist, but a visual musician . . . rhythms and melodies convulsing right on the screen.”

Idiom: “Conner’s contributions to film are, in very real sense, undeniable . . . his early explorations, sampling and remixing have become mainstream, even traditional, in film and video.”

Slant: “Conner was a 'fuck this' artist, not just for savage cultural criticism lightly guised as celebration, but because of the myriad ways in which he offered it, shifting style as soon as it bored him. [ . . . ] Conner's films are still essential.”

The L: “ . . . extraordinary in terms of serving up eerie resonance and offering satisfying and complex sound-image conjunctions.”

The AV Club: “Even now, film students regularly get their minds blown by Bruce Conner’s first major work: the 12-minute 1958 short A MOVIE . . . .”

and the (believe it or not) New York Post: “an excellent way to discover or revisit Conner’s mesmerizing and influential filmmaking.”

a still from Conner’s THE WHITE ROSE (1967)
(this seven minute film documents the removal of
Jay DeFeo’s monumental painting from her apartment;
per The New York Times last month, it is “as powerful
an evocation of love and loss as Hollywood has ever given us”)


Also last month, Conner’s LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (1959-1967 / 1996, an edited-in-the-camera proto-psychedelic romp set to a trippy Terry Riley soundtrack) was featured by Ron Silliman on his blog the day before Thanksgiving (and after you click through here please do take Ron’s advice and view the film full-screen).

a still from Conner’s LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (1959-1967/1996)


At Christies in New York City on November 11th, a set of small collages made in the 1960s by Conner from old reproductions of engraving collages, and formerly in the collection of Dennis Hopper, was sold for just a bit under, er um, a half-million dollars, approximately ten times the pre-sale estimate. Oh my!

an untitled Bruce Conner/Dennis Hopper collage (6.5" x 5.5")


A November 22nd post on The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog reported that a Conner installation (I believe the work is THREE SCREEN RAY, a magnificent projected movie triptych) was recently purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Conner’s long-time Los Angeles dealer, Michael Kohn, who brokered the sale, calls it “the pinnacle of success. Now at the museum, there’s Rembrandt, there’s Vermeer, and there’s Bruce Conner.” Oh my again!

installation view # 1 of THREE SCREEN RAY, a film triptych by Conner

installation view # 2 of THREE SCREEN RAY, a film triptych by Conner


Also last month, European reviewers continued to enthuse about Bruce Conner - The ‘70s, a large exhibition of drawings, paintings, prints, film and other work currently on view at the Kunsthalle Vienna. Click here to read an appreciation published about ten days ago, in Italian, if you please. For a video with many views of the installation, along with narration (in English) by the two Austrian curators, click here (and let it load).

88" x 37" [life-size, of Conner himself]
currently on display at the Kunsthalle Vienna


Finally – and this is a nice way to end it, as it brings Conner together with a poet – the Bureau of Public Secret’s amazing on-going project to republish Kenneth Rexroth’s weekly San Francisco Examiner newspaper columns exactly fifty years after they first appeared happened last month to print the one from November 13, 1960 in which ol’ Rexroth discussed . . . yes, indeed . . . Bruce Conner!

Set out below in full are Rexroth’s four paragraphs on Conner. They are breezy yet sharp in the classic Rexroth style, but also entirely spot-on in terms of what he conveys about Bruce. For those outside the Bay Area, the “Upper Fillmore” mentioned in the first sentence refers to a section of a street here in San Francisco; in addition, the Batman Gallery mentioned was one of a few short-lived but important (almost fabled) showcases for new art here in the early 1960s. Okay, here’s Rexroth on Conner, almost exactly fifty years ago:
On Upper Fillmore, in the heart of the new high-toned Bohemia, the Batman Gallery has opened with a bang. The owners are fine people, the decor is original and effective, the place is crowded — opening night it was jam packed, and best of all, the pictures sell. And well they might. They are by Bruce Conner, a young man full of beans.

Mike McClure introduced me to the work of Conner when he was still in school somewhere in the Middle West — paintings with that certain umja-cum-spiff that is the only sign of a truly original creative talent. A few months later I was being shown around Joe Pulitzer’s collection in St. Louis. In his bedroom and study where he could get the most good out of them were the oldest favorites and the latest acquisitions.

“Aren’t those by Bruce Conner?” I asked. He had seen them in the window of an obscure gallery some place in the sticks and gone in and come out with them under his arm, convinced that here was a significant painter. I was the first person he had ever met who could give him any information about Bruce. There they still are, I guess, with the Pissarros and the Gris’s. This is the response Bruce’s work seems to elicit from all people of sensibility — “This is the real McCoy.”

I think the best things he does, in the long run, are paintings and drawings. The wax sculpture, like the famous Baby in the highchair [blogger’s note: it’s actually titled CHILD and is now in the collection of the New York MOMA], and the corpse stuffed into a packing box, and the three-dimensional collages hung up in torn nylons, are what the nineteenth century called “machines” — gallery art, designed for immediate effect. There’s no doubt that they have that. He’s oddly nineteenth century, this young
enfant terrible, a traveler from another time. In the last analysis, his shockers are moral criticisms of contemporary society, and from, really, the point of view of the sylvan utopias of William Morris, just as the visions of his sensitive drawings are close to those of William Blake and Odilon Redon.

Kenneth Rexroth, circa 1960
in front of his Scott Street flat, San Francisco
photograph by Jonathan Williams


Further information about Bruce Conner can be found in the New York Times obituary, published days after his July 7, 2008 death, and in appraisals or appreciations published shortly thereafter in the Times (by Manohla Dargis), San Francisco Chronicle (by critic Kenneth Baker), and ArtForum (by film scholar Bruce Jenkins). The second page of the last article, quoting the often contradictory and wide-ranging labels that critics and commenters pinned on Conner, is especially engaging.

Another way to get further information about Conner is to take a look at the photograph that follows. I do not know who took it, but I call it “The Great BC” or “The Artist as Prestidigitator.” It surely conveys the magic energy in the hands, mind, and eyes of Bruce Conner:

Bruce Conner, at the CineVegas Film Festival, June 2004