Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wild and Strange Language: can a word do more than carry meaning?

A panel discussion with Lyn Hejinian, Ron Padgett, Carl Phillips, and Kay Ryan.

This is only a small part of the discussion, but it seems to get right to the heart of the subject at hand: is experimentation with language (as a multi-faceted object of sound, emotion and meaning) justified as a poetic end in and of itself; does it need to be contextualized within a more conventional sense of poetics; or are conventional semantics more important (and, hence, vital to poetry) because words, first and foremost, are units of meaning?

On a fairly regular basis, I run into people who criticize poems they don't understand or comprehend, and frequently this criticism seems to stem more from an unwillingness to appreciate a use of language that moves outside a restrictive, traditionally meaningful norm. Such an opinion might assert that poems of this sort are incapable of being understood, and that they violate the norms of language in a way that diminishes, rather than expands, the potential of poetry, i.e. they don't mean anything so they are of considerably less value as a poem.

But, on the other hand, meaning can also be said to derive from experience, and the meaning of sound is not restricted to lexical potential alone. For instance, instrumental music can be very meaningful in the complete absence of vocal language. The cry of an eagle, or the sound of trickling water, or wind through the trees, can be equally powerful. In fact, onomatopoetic language has a long history of suggesting sense to the human mind rather than reason.

So, if a poem can be created that avoids lexical meaning yet manages to overflow with a sense of non-rational experiential meaning (at least for those who are open to this potential) wouldn't that be quite an accomplishment? And wouldn't it be worth noting that not only has it been done before, but it is also a practice worth continuing? Or that 'quality' in poetry is not necessarily limited to the accomplished use of rhetoric, narrative, or lyrical imagery?

It's something to think about.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Who's stealing your money? (short thoughts on two different approaches to healthcare reform)

I know there are more pressing political issues going on right now than healthcare reform (i.e. the debt ceiling crisis created by House Republicans), but I think it's interesting to consider a major (and rarely discussed) difference between Democratic initiatives in the Affordable Care Act and Republican initiatives as exemplified by Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare reform, aka privatization via a direct voucher system.

In the case of the ACA, Democrats are seeking (among other things) to bring a large pool of relatively healthy people (i.e. those who are between the ages of 18 and 30) into the private health insurance system via a mandate for individual coverage. Conceivably, this brings more revenue into the private healthcare system while at the same time creating public subsidies for those who (due to our wonderful free enterprise system) cannot afford insurance.

Conversely, in the case of Ryan's plan for Medicare, Republicans are seeking to dismantle a popular government-run single payer system and transfer the entire population of elderly Americans onto the private health insurance system while, over time, decreasing the size of vouchers relative to actual premium costs, thus pushing more of the premium onto "medicare" recipients. But only for those who are currently under 55. (Disclaimer: I'm 51 years old and this bothers me to a fairly extreme degree.)

Now, I realize that these are essentially two different issues, but think about it: if your private insurance company begins to insure a portion of the costliest demographic (i.e. those who are between the ages of 65 and, um, death) and you pay premiums into this privatized pool, do you think your rates will go up or down? Conversely, if a private insurance company begins receiving premiums from a considerably healthier segment of the population (i.e. the young, many of whom are currently holding out for a job that might provide health insurance), how do you think that would effect your premiums?

Now, think a little further: the highest paid CEO in Minnesota (my home state) is Stephen Hemsley - top executive at UnitedHealth Group Inc. In the last two years (2009, 2010), his total compensation exceeded $150 million. If total costs for UnitedHealth go up (due to providing coverage for a pool of seniors who had previously been covered under Medicare), do you think he (or his well-paid board) will let executive compensation from salary, bonus, and stock options decline? Or do you think (just maybe) that UnitedHealth would be more inclined to raise premiums for all their customers? Granted, they would still have to be "competitive," but presumably most private insurers will be subject to the same pressure: covering medical bills for seniors who had previously been covered by Medicare.

Incidentally, beginning in 2013, the Affordable Care Act will limit the deductibility of remuneration paid to officers, directors, and employees of health insurance issuers to $500,000 -- which sounds pretty reasonable to me. Why? Maybe because I have a high deductible plan (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota) that runs nearly $300 a month and I'm currently selling plasma to help pay for a $1200 medical bill that the plan did not cover. Do you think I think compensation for Stephen Hemsley should be considered a deductible expense for doing business? Of course not. I resent my own bills, and I resent Hemsley's salary - even if I'm not a customer of UnitedHealth.

So, I might also add that Patrick Geraghty, the CEO at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, was paid more than $1.5 million in 2009. That's certainly not high by UnitedHealth standards, but still: wouldn't 500 grand be plenty? After all, I'm paying $300 a month for an insurance plan administered by Geraghty that sticks me with a $1200 medical bill. Further, everyone is accustomed to this: it's "normal." And I hate this concept of normal. I think we need a new normal.

Single-payer Medicare-for-all would have been a good option, don't you think? Well, maybe you don't -- and, unfortunately, it's never been seriously considered. But, for the sake of comparison, how much do you think Donald Berwick -- Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid -- gets paid every year? After doing a little research, it appears he's paid at Level 1 of Salary Table No. 2011-Ex (Salary and Wages, U.S. Office of Personnel Management), or $199,700. That's a healthy salary, to be sure, but by UnitedHealth standards? I don't think he'd even be allowed into the executive washroom. And he certainly doesn't get any stock options.

Of course, this is an over-simplified analysis on my part. But when it comes to healthcare reform, I think I'm more inclined to trust the Democrats than the Republicans. And, if you consider the current insanity over the deficit ceiling, I really don't think the GOP can be trusted at all. Especially when they want to overturn the ACA first and then follow up by dismantling Medicare. So, think about this additional tidbit: if the ACA does away with the practice of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, how many seniors under Ryan's "medicare" plan would struggle to even find coverage? How many would even be able to afford it? Do you think Republicans will seriously address that problem? [Hint: they haven't yet.]

The bottom line is that we should all be thinking about this stuff. And you know $tephen Hem$ley is.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Strange Things Begin to Happen when a Meteor Crashes in the Arizona Desert

Music by Mark Engebretson
Words by Michael Basinski
Images by Wendy Collin Sorin

Recording from a live performance by Janice Misurell-Mitchell
at the 2010 UNCG New Music Festival.

Plus, here's a link to an interesting review of Basinski's book by Tom Hibbard in Jacket Magazine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A map of anything

1. Depiction of the real

a bliss
at the edge of displacement
almost touching

beside the fire or in the cupboard
closeted meanings
cramped & feinting
disposable pale irrelevant

2. Flowers & faces

in fused unison
it started with a buzz
listening to voyeurs
(not quite immoral)
pills & coughing
some random image or thought
splicing the distance
(there is no agonist)
the strain of words
where everything is thin
& waif-like

3. Wit & enunciation

the city
of marketing research
like a holy proposal
I don't disappoint / need / enjoy
gun-toting structures
breeding their precepts
as far as the head can spin
an ad hoc conjunction

4. Far removed from the context

A cluster of beliefs.
All order and explication is deployed.
And they allow ... flowers.

Considered by other texts.

Everyone is involved.

History does not have a goal.

In complete contrast:
Is it really impossible that its leaves quiver when there is no wind?
It rises above the rays of a black sun.
Its relation is to the world.

Ongkarn Chang Nam

(Proclamation Cursing the Water)

She has just finished drinking something.
Studying the inside of life.
Styles & movements.

"... taking off a mask finding a mask ..."

"... the land of dreams / the far side of the sky."

The circle of houses and temples.
The drawings are clearly connected.

"Their foolish eyes."

The lyric speaker and the far flung hyperbole.
The monarch described as an avatar.
The phenomenon explained by a hypothesis.

5. The author's self within the work

The standard of perfection.
To present something "as it is in itself."
To some transcendent Reality.
To substantiate the canonical mystery.
Which accords primacy.
Which has been set in advance.

6. Fluent Gibberish

First psychology
Years the intensification
And many by argument
As that wake by wake
As introduced generation only according
Others are in followed market quoting
Thus in composition intended to question
Wrote again

7. Dat gaat niet

the simplest solution
(admit defeat)

8. Noinimod

Home come and war the win to is
wants man fighting the what that know folks
show. / Merry forever, ferries of fleet a. / Remanded
sorrows the, sanded are feet clay the / one
by one. "Expressive as off come to shout
to have didn't you days those in." Beside
steps / two, over steps three hobbles surgeon dream
the / decoration by bludgeoned, harmony by / braced. Home
slaughter the of ponies / circus the -- distraction demands dominion.

9. Titles are a means of control

The fire of his own confliction,
Echoes, parentheses, hush'd whispers, fear-stalk, steel-thread, brow and sweat,
His hesitation and conception, the pounding in his temples, the parsing
              of stones and blood in his silence,
The cracking of dry bones and broken bones, and of the sky and bright-lit
              monoliths, and of coins in the coffer,
The chill of the dead lips of his voice o'erwhelmed by the commotion of smiling,
A few dry kisses, a limp embrace, a remission of sins,
The sour of his breath and rot on his words as niceties dumbly wane,
Sorrow alone or in the cold-stare of populations, or in the almighty
              shadow of glass-clad towers,
The tight fist of discomfort, the full-sun blazing, the funereal dirge of no one
              flailing or fleeing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"The Menage" by Carl Rakosi

Poem by Carl Rakosi
Reading & Pictures by Anne Waldman & Ed Bowes
with Elizabeth Reddin & a song by Jean Redpath

Open Book (Vito Acconci)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tinariwen, or the Curse of Not Paying Enough Attention to Upcoming Events

There aren't many bands that I get very excited about anymore - at least not enough to actually get off my ass, buy a ticket and catch a performance. Tinariwen is a notable exception. So, imagine my joy yesterday when I found out they were coming to Minneapolis sometime in July.

Of course, this morning, while trying to get more details, I found out that the show was last Friday and I missed it completely. Again.

Anyway, here's a youtube clip from last year's show (which I also missed):

Update (you can file this one under "WTF?"): Tinariwen denied entry visa for two different Canadian folk festivals