Friday, June 22, 2007

Get what I got!

"They only got me, they never got what I got"

- is a sentence I remember from some Bob Dylan interview, hopefully somewhat correctly.

"I remember this coming up right at the time I began writing, in 69-71 - in conversation and correspondance with Ron Silliman, sitting here in the front row- around things like David Antin's famous piece about modernism and post-modernism, where he made that distinction that beginning at some point in the seventies, even for the most radical modernist tendencies in work, that it come face to face with the problematic of the sign and try to granularize language down to the microscopic level that you then could work with. But that, after a while, didn't seem sufficient. I remember as a baby-boomer, coming on the scene, in a sense, coming, you know, debuting, you know, in the poetry world, around 1970, or early seventies - that was the issue alot of us were confronted with. There had been a huge backlog becoming available of avant-garde and experimental writing, contemporary and previous, that had focused on the sign, and had pretty much stayed with it. That was as far as it got. Then this move towards thinking about adress, thinking about interaction, thinking about the discursive implications of larger units than a single word or a syllable or a letter, began to be uppermost in our minds and that became very central to the discussion that led to what people much later ended up calling, you know, so-called "language writing". And later my own work got, I think, maybe, singled out or distinguished within this body of peers, because like some people and unlike others, I became very much interested in pushing that discursive frame out into the social material. Both the social material which was the basis for people creating their subjectivities, and for people creating their social context, their ethnic or national identifications, sexual or gender identifi... you know, all that stuff became very central to me. What I've been struck by of late, among younger writers, for instance, is the attempt to bypass a lot of that, to just go directly to discurse, directly to social questions, without having gone through the gauntlet of confronting the atomized level of raw material we are confronted with using language. And what that often ends up being is just this parade of stereotypes, this parade of cliches, this parade of identification, this parade of big lumpy units which are already taken for grant... which are given. You just operate with these big phrasal or sentence or paragraphs or genre. Hideous! I mean can you imagine? The idea of thinking you are exploring language and you are trapped within the social conventions of genre. I mean, that is a joke. And yet somehow that is now being perceived as "truly radical", you know, experimental activity, by younger writers and that's just, you know, help me here, they're not confronting what the ground level is."

Bruce Andrews in Philly Talks #8

This interview is actually all brilliant, both Andrews and Rod Smith. I'm not really familiar with Rod's work, but I'm definitely very excited by it.

But yes, about the quotes. That idea, Bruce's idea of people not beginning on the same floor as he, reminded me of Dylan's quote there above. Dylan's point was that Donovan and the like weren't listening to Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and were therefore shite. They didn't know the beginning. - Without a doubt this point of view has been the same since the beginning.

Now I know this isn't a completely fair comparison, one quote to the other, Andrews' opinion is rather more stated: What he is interested in isn't being done anymore. What he thinks matters.

I'm not sure tomorrow's poetry can be understood fully if you never watched South Park, if you weren't raised on internet porn, myspace, youtube and constant free access to public media. I'm pretty sure that textual understanding, people's reading, changes constantly based on what we are used to reading - both as individuals and generations. What Bruce reads as lumps of genre, or whatever, may quite seriously be radical, experimental and highly readable to someone else.

What I'm trying to say: Those ideas may be dangerous precisely because they are, despite being radical, also conservative. What I'm trying to say is: Now matter how much of a crush you may have on the teacher, you better not take anything he or she says for given. He or she may be a profound poet, but that motherfucker must be broken, so to speak.

Which doesn't change this: Donovan sucked. You can't just imitate Dylan and hope you're brilliant. And you can't just imitate Language Poetry and hope you'll excel. There has to be something more, a greater devotion to the art than to the vanity - though anyone in arts who claims not to be vain is a liar suffering from the greatest vanity of them all.

I have a reading in august, at Poetry Moon, Runokuu - click here for information - along with Martin Glaz Serup and Cia Rinne, of both of whom I am a fan, and Outi-Illuusia Parviainen, whom I don't know yet, but someone called Iluusia must be a great poet.

I've put up a blog where you can find all articles and reviews I've written about poetry in the last 7 years. I would like to take the oportunity to retract anything and everything I said for the first 5 of those. A few are in English - and all are available here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Digital, translation theory, the news, lipograms, google-based and literary war (are we losing our minds?)

For those that missed it: The new Nypoesi double number on translation is out. Click here for the first one and here for the second one. The second one features remixes of Jörgen Gassilewskis Landskapsinteriör - in the style of Translating Translating Appolinaire, where yours truly, fully, truefully has three versions: 1) Switching out the words for close Icelandic words 2) Using Word autocorrect with english as dictionary language and 3) Switching out the words for the closest dirty word in the Collins Concise Dictionary. All the translations can be read here.

Icelandic digital poet Jón Örn Loðmfjörð has created Goggi, a text generator that uses blog entries to form sentences.

Thanks to Marko Niemi and Nokturno, Goggi can now be found in english and finnish. Click here.

Goggi has also taken to blogging about the news, in Icelandic. Click here.


I've put up two new poems on the poetry blog. The first one is called Leevi is a wild dolphin - simply created with Googlism and backspace. It's protagonist is of course finnish poet Leevi Lehto.

The second one is Höpöhöpö Böks, a univocal lipogram whose protagonist is of course canadian poet Christian Bök. The poem is presented in it's original Icelandic along with rough english translation - and linked to readings of it, both by me and by Christian.


Received two recent filling Stations a few days back. One with an article I wrote about Nýhil, posted here below: A brief history of Nýhilism: Felix Culpa.


Two articles have been written recently in Iceland, one for Tíu þúsund tregawött (a webzine I actually edit) by a Davíð Stefánsson who claims my fundamental setting is "opposition", that I write too much and don't like things (Icelandic poetry) enough. Hermann Stefánsson wrote a similar article for Morgunblaðiðs Lesbók (The cultural section of Morgunblaðið, Iceland's biggest newspaper) - where one of the mainpoints was that Nýhil wasn't at all "new" (always an exhilirating attempt, measuring and proving or disproving "newness") and that it was abnormal that people (I) always answered their critics. The end line was something like: "A new phone book was just published. Isn't anyone going to answer it?"

Today Haukur Már Helgason, Ingólfur Gíslason, and myself have a retort-article in Lesbók - about the new phone book, and how old this crazy recycho-art is getting. At least Kenny Goldsmiths books aren't always the same, year after year.


I've stopped putting new poems in the anthology I'm translating. There's loads of stuff that I couldn't fit in - some simply because it arrived late and there was little time, and other because I haven't found a way to translate it yet. If all goes well I might do another one in a year or two, if Leevi agrees - I already have a list of 15-20 people that I would like to translate. And some I'd like to translate more, actually.

I will post the table of contents here, with original titles, late next week probably.

A brief history of nýhilism: Felix culpa


If a Lorentzian spacetime contains a compact region Ω, and if the topology of Ω is of the form Ω ~ R x Σ, where Σ is a three-manifold of nontrivial topology, whose boundary has topology of the form dΣ ~ S², and if furthermore the hypersurfaces Σ are all spacelike, then the region Ω contains a quasipermanent intra-universe wormhole.[1]

When one tries to speak of poetry one usually starts by making a really big circle, a really really big circle the engulfs the entire universe. When one actually starts mouthing the words that will – if god and effort allow - become one’s eternal speech about poetry (and therefore everything else) one finds that the circle has shrunk. The circle is now no more than a dot. The dot, darkbrown like a mole or something of the sort, one realizes, is on the tip of one’s own nose. This, unlike the words that opened this my eternal speech about poetry (and therefore everything else) is not merely a theory. This is the god’s honest truth.

Sitting on the edge of my bed a few weeks, days, minutes or seconds ago (depending on who you find it proper to believe in these matters) I noticed something on the tip of my nose and on the unfocused plateau in front of it I started marvelling at the accomplishments brought to life by my friends, my close acquaintances, my relatives and, oh yes indeed, by myself.

By some astonishing coincidence this was the same time as I started writing this piece. My eternal speech about poetry (and therefore everything else) – cleverly subtitled: The unspoken facts.

(It shall be noted, and probably has already been noted by the more clever of readers, that this essay, rant, or what you want to call it, is not at all entitled eternal anything or the other, and it certainly is not subtitled).

I don’t remember what it was that I promised to write about, but it must’ve had something to do with literature. Very probably poetry, and I am almost positive Icelandic poetry is what I promised to write about. Oh, the late Sigfús Daðason! The marvels of the late Dagur Sigurðarson! The late Einar Ben, late Davíð Stefánsson, late Egill Skallagrímsson, late Tómas Guðmundsson! Ahhh... one’s heart throbs with joy at the infinite beauty and bleh bleh.

Please, I don’t mean no disrespect. As of late though, I’ve found an increasing desire to dismiss the late, as being a little less than timely. The circle is closing in. We’re not crossing the creek to get water, not this time. We don’t have time, I am in a hurry. Please.


So Nýhil.

A few years back I was standing on a streetcorner in Reykjavik. It was a great winter of much poverty in the circles I was circulating in, and me and a friend of mine, a poet with prematurely greying hair and a knack for walking holes into his shoes in a matter of days, were sharing our last cigarette in a quiet winter still. It might have been tuesday, and I think it was around 4 in the morning.
In the night.

We had just shared a beautiful late dinner of rice and soy sauce, a treat that we had grown bizzarely acustomed to.

And there it was. Suddenly, as if it had crashed on top of our heads: an idea as beautifully upheaving and destructive as if Orville and Wilbur had taken off in a Concorde supersonic transport (crashing or soaring, one or the other, take your pick).

After jumping up and down to display our joy and amazement for a few seconds, minutes, days or weeks (depending on who tells the story) we realized that the idea, like we’ve realized since goes for all ideas worth anything, was naught but a name.

The name was, it goes without saying: Nýhil.


As in nihil: nothing. As in vox et praetera nihil: voice and nothing more. As in aut Caeser aut nihil: Either a Caeser or nothing. As in nihil obstat: Nothing obstructs.

And as in nihilism: A doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths.[2] A wise man once said that nihilism was the black hole of philosophy. A wiser statement yet would be that nihilism is the black hole of poetry.

The nihilists of old went down the blackhole to stay there, with rotting teeth and pathetic revolutions that somehow never got farther than a shot in the foot. When the nihilist says: nothing matters so I might as well rape and pillage. The nýhilist asks: if nothing matters than why should I bother with raping and pillaging? They say buddhism is nihilism with a smile. Nýhilism is nihilism with a ‘ý’.

Ný. It’s the age-old prefix for new, as I guess most nordic readers have already guessed.


This is where we start getting closer to the point. The circle keeps closing in and the spot on my nose is itching with glee. The black hole has a theoretical brother known as the worm hole. The name is derived from an analogy that a worm crawling over any surface will not circumvent an apple to get to the other side. The worm will dig through it, and therefore get to the other side much quicker than otherwise thought possible. Going down the black hole you might reappear somewhere else:

Different types of black holes have differently shaped singularities: in a stationary black hole it is a point, in a rotating black hole it is a ring. If you passed through the center of the ring without touching the ring singularity itself, the mathematics predicts you will come out somewhere else and you cannot return. This is the basis of the wormhole idea. However the mathematics gives no indication of where (or when) that somewhere else is, and no way to control or select it yourself.[3]

Apples and worms: Does anyone recall the symbolism?

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”.[4]

Yet, much like in the apple, there’s a hole in the story – there grew no apples in the Middle East. Which is hardly a great matter for anyone godlike, for anyone that has the wisdom to not circumvent the apple (malum in latin; evil is malus) but to go straight through. From one side to the other, laughing, in an action of non-action known as wu-wei within the Tao – in the old texts they compare it to moving through water. But enough of that.

What was the first thing the Lord asked, what was the first question to form on the lips (or not-lips) of God Almighty after his children betrayed him?

The Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”[5]

Man had dug through the apple and was long gone.


Nýhil is deliberately hard to define. For one thing noone really knows who belongs to it. It’s been claimed that anyone that has done anything in the name of Nýhil in the two weeks preceding anyone’s claim that anyone else is a nýhilist is in fact a nýhilist. If more than two weeks have passed, supposedly that individual (poet, artist, athlete, patron-of-the-arts, etc.) is something completely different.

Anyone that does belong to Nýhil (if anyone really does) can claim whatever they like about Nýhil. Manifestos have been written and forgotten, remembered and rewritten only to be deemed utter nonsense. The plan is perhaps not so much to make a symbolic gesture towards the ambiguity of truth, as much as it is to achieve contradiction, along with all the friction and movement that such an accomplishment brings. That’s how it happens that a society of not really anyone, with noone in charge, a worthless army of fools any way you look at it, has published around 20 poetry books, 4 essay collections, 2 DVD’s, a novel and a CD, produced four short films, a sportsbag, three instruments, while travelling the country for readings, holding a two-day international poetry festival in Reykjavik, and will soon open a bookstore in Reykjavik with an emphasis on underground art and poetry. During this entire time (about four years) people belonging (or not belonging) to Nýhil have continued publishing poetry books, novels, and translations with other more pristine publishing houses.


Poetry is thought for those that deem it worthless. Good poetry comes from those that loathe poetry with a greater fervour than your average reader can possibly muster. There’s probably a point in explaining it, but I’ve lost sight of it. But my faith remains as firm as ever.

[1] Lorentzian Wormholes; Matt Visser.
[2] One of a few definitions in the Merriem-Websters dictionary.
[4] Genesis 3:4.
[5] Genesis 3:8.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Out of the good of my graces

Ágúst Borgþór Sverrisson - superstar of the Icelandic short story, blogs about two recent comments I've had about the Icelandic culture-media. There he has this near canonizing statement about yours truly:

"I have a strong feeling that EÖN is not and will not be in the good graces of the [Icelandic] literature world."

Click here to read in Icelandic.


Kenneth Goldsmith's new book is out - Traffic.


Jón Örn Loðmfjörð, one of Iceland's few digital poets, has a new machine-thingy up: click here (in Icelandic, but maybe nice for others as well).


Reverend Örn Bárður Jónsson writes about recently deceased poet Elías Mar (in Icelandic): click here.


Poet Kristian Guttesen published a poem by Bjarni Bernharður on his site, called Quoting Dagur - presumably meaning Dagur Sigurðarson, Icelandic beatnik poet, loosely translated so:

With a large cock
and a large heart,
you will fare well.

Read here in Icelandic.


Danish poet Kenneth Krabat writes about barbaric Danish (in civilized Danish) - (link via Leevi Lehto) - click here to read.


Icelandic poet Hildur Lilliendahl quotes the chilling ruling of an Icelandic court because of a fatal traffic accident - something in some ways reminiscent of Charles Reznikoff's Testimony. Loosely translated thus:

"As well as being caused by the raging weather and slippery ice, the slanting of the vehicle and its height over the roadway were a contributing factor to how lethal the injury was to become."

Read in Icelandic here.

For a paper from the Legal Studies Forum on Testimony - click here.

Listening to the Linebreak interview with Steve McCaffery, he had this (among other) wonderful things to say (quoted from memory):

"As it happens, my life lends itself to cheap freudian analysis"

Which I found laughwarming. Click here to hear the interview. Hear to ear to here.


In the recent weeks I've been quoting an article about Stalin the poet, saying that it originated from The Guardian. Today Ron Silliman links to it, and it seems it wasn't in the Guardian but in the Deccan Herald. Click here to read.


Yesterday evening Leevi Lehto was presented with the Nuori Voima award. Leevi read, both in "civilized Finnish" (not so civilized really) and "barbaric English" (HUMUNGOUSLY BARBARIC).

One of the poems Leevi read was byos - his translation of Lars Mikael Raattamaa's Pajkerno, a univocal rendition of a Swedish classic, Pojkarna by Anna Maria Lenngren, written in 1797. The method is quite simply to switch out all the vowels and replace them with single vowels so that the nonsense will read a bit like Christian Bök's Eunoia: "Jag mans dan ljafva tadan / Jag mans dan sam a gar" etc., changing vowels with each new verse and going through all the Swedish vowels in alphabetical order - nine in total. Leevi honoured me by asking me to read the Swedish part, while he read his English translation. The reading should soon be up at Nokturno.

Anyways. I did a similar thing last winter, much shorter and with only one vowel, and sent it to the Flarf postlist. For the occassion of Leevi's award, I have posted it to the poetry blog. Click here to read. The name is, by coincidence, some sort of allusion to Leevi's new barbaric second language.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Links, quotes and recommendations

I've posted a new homophonic translation of the first verse of Time and the Water (Tíminn og vatnið) by Steinn Steinarr, over at my poetry blog, called Teaming of what, Ned?

Martin Johs. Möller posted my Biskops Arnö reading on the Brink.

Mirroring language's tendency to mirror itself I will link to Charles Bernstein's linking of my essay The importance of destroying a language (of one's own) - linked as a "terrific essay on new transnational poetry", which makes me gleeful and giddy.

The essay also just showed up at

For those who understand Icelandic - Kári Páll Óskarsson writes about recently deceased poet Elías Mar for Tíu þúsund tregawött here.

Kistan just published a few poems from Kristian Guttesens newest book, Glæpaljóð, here (in Icelandic). A nice change, since I don't remember seeing poetry being published there since... maybe 2002, when 3 poets were featured, Komnino Zervos, Kristín Ómarsdóttir and Bragi Ólafsson.

The debate over the power of the post-avant in Sweden continues - Anna Hallberg asks why Johan Lundberg can't be bothered to read, and Johan Lundberg retorts by saying that he never used the word "conspiracy". (Evidently he can't be bothered to write what Anna reads neither).

Reading Camus' Rebel for the first time, I get the distinct feeling that every other word is citable, which would be an interesting project (meanwhile also reading Grettis saga, and feeling that I want to write up the names of all the characters, which are beautiful and hilarious).

"Romanticism demonstrates, in fact, that rebellion is part and parcel of dandyism; one of its objectives is outward appearances. In its conventional forms, dandyism admits a nostalgia for ethics. It is only honour degraded as a point of honour. But at the same time it inaugurates an aesthetic which is still valid in our world, and aesthetic of solitary creators, who are obstinate rivals of a God they condemn. From romanticism onward, the artist's task will not only be to create a world, or to exalt beauty for its own sake, but also to define an attitude. Thus the artist becomes a model and offers himself as an example: art is his ethic. With him begins the age of the directors of conscience. When the dandies fail to commit suicide or do not go mad, they make a career and pursue prosperity. Even when, like Vigny, they exclaim that they are going to keep quiet, their silence is piercing.

But at the very heart of romanticism, the sterility of this attitude becomes apparent to a few rebels who provide a transitional type between the eccentrics and our revolutionary adventurers. Between the days of the eighteenth-century eccentric and the "adventurers" of the twentieth century, Byron and Shelley are already fighting, however ostentatiously, for freedom." - Albert Camus, The Rebel (transl. Anthony Bower).

My runner-up prize winning poem for Ljóðstafur Jóns úr Vör, Parabólusetning, was published in the latest Tímarit Máls og menningar magazine as well as my retort article to a review of the year 2005 in Icelandic poetry, that was published in Són magazine last year.

Books I've acquired recently and recommend:

Martin Glaz Serup - 4: et digt - for which he received the Michael Strunge prize. Published by adressens forlag.

Oscar Rossi - Kelvinator and Brev till polisen, published by Söderströms.

Agneta Enckell - innanför/utanför, also published by Söderströms.

Audiatur - katalog for ny poesi - The catalogue for the Audiatur poetry festival in Bergen, 2005. A massive book that I'm not fully through with yet, but will munch on in the following months.

said like reeds or things by Mark Truscott, from Coach House books - a Basho meets bpNichol sort of book.

Nerve Squall - Sylvia Legris - Coach House books.

Dyslexicon - by Stephen Cain - I've only read little bits of this, but I really liked his American Standard / Canada Dry, and this one looks good. Also Coach House.

Another Coach House book I just got is bpNichols Zygal, but that hardly needs introduction.

FIG - Caroline Bergvall - from Salt publishing.

fait accompli - Nick Piombino - Heretical texts.

Scrawl (from the markings of a small her(o)) by Susana Gardner. A wonderful chapbook from dusie.

From the Nifin (Nordic institute in Finland) library I've been looking at Svenska dikt by Lars Mikael Raattamaa, På era platser by Anna Hallberg and Swinging with neighbours (huge with many poets), all of which are recommended.

I've also received a lot of poetry through email, word and pdf's, for the Ntamo anthology, including works from people like gherardo bortolotti, Nico Vassilakis, Malte Persson, Rita Dahl, Rachel Levitsky, Rod Summers, Craig Dworkin, Ulf Karl Olov Nilsson, derek beaulieu, Jan Hjort et al.

And in Helsinki the sun is shining. I need new pants and shoes that don't hurt.