My 20 Favorite Albums of 2009

Would love to see your list — let the comments stream begin!

Oh, if you see something you’d like, click on the artist’s name/title. Consider it my holiday gift to you.

Umlaut – Umlaut

Sack & Blumm – Returns

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On Utilizing The Five Senses

In my five years of experience teaching college English courses, I have noticed a trend amongst young writers toward taking for granted the fact that we experience life through our five senses. Beginning writers tend to overuse the sense of sight: describing things in terms of the visible without paying much notice to the four other senses. This is one reason why I love to teach Diane Ackerman’s masterpiece of nonfiction, A Natural History of Senses, which does a tremendous job getting students to think critically about all five of their senses.

(If you haven’t read it, you’ve got a perfect gift to ask Santa to bring you. Ackerman’s poetry helps transform the otherwise potentially stale material into something magically interesting. Also, if you get hooked, Ackerman has other wonderful books on the natural history of love, and of the brain, which are equally brilliant.)
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If You Like Avant-Garde British Cinema

One of my favorite presses, University of Minnesota, just released this new (potentially very interesting) book called Derek Jarman’s Angelic Conversations by Jim Ellis:

Derek Jarman’s Angelic Conversations analyzes Jarman’s work—including his famous films Caravaggio, Jubilee, Edward II, Blue, and Sebastiane—in relation to his critiques of the government and his activism in the gay community, from the liberationist movement to the AIDS epidemic. While others have frequently focused on Jarman’s biography, Ellis looks at how his politics and aesthetics are intertwined to comprehend his most radical aspects, particularly in films such as War Requiem and The Last of England.

Recovery Project (3) Ron Silliman – The New Sentence (1977)

The qualities of the new sentence:

1) The paragraph organizes the sentences;

2) The paragraph is a unit of quantity, not logic or argument;

3) Sentence length is a unit of measure;

4) Sentence structure is altered for torque, or increased polysemy/ambiguity;

5) Syllogistic movement is (a) limited (b) controlled;

6) Primary syllogistic movement is toward the paragraph as a whole, or the total work;

7) Secondary syllogistic movement is toward the paragraph as a whole, or the total work;

8) The limiting of syllogistic movement keeps the reader’s attention at or very close to the level of language, the sentence level or below.

(page 91)

I first heard about this book approximately six years ago, in my first semester of graduate school at U Nebraska, when Marjorie Perloff (then president of MLA) came to Lincoln to give a talk that would end up being a formative moment in my education. That was where I first learned about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, first heard the name Christian Bök, and first experienced a poem by Charles Bernstein — Perloff shared a particularly brilliant one called “Every Lake Has A House” (which you can listen to Bernstein read here).

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New from The Cupboard

A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic
by Michael Stewart
32 pages. Tape-bound.
$5.00

Every illusion carries a price and no one is more aware of that than the wondrous, tragic magicians detailed here. They know darkness that leaves scars. They know failure that gives birth to terrible life. They know their journey is one of haunting, their competition one that doesn’t end with this world. Did it never occur to us they keep their tricks a secret to protect us?

Plus tricks you can do at home!

(You should never do these tricks at home.)

Recovery Project (2) Baron Münchhausen

illustration by Gustave Doré
illustration by Gustave Doré

On the eighteenth day after we had passed the Island of Otaheite, mentioned by Captain Cook as the place from whence they brought Omai, a hurricane blew our ship at least one thousand leagues above the surface of the water, and kept it at the height till a fresh gale arising filled the sails in every part, and onwards we travelled at a prodigious rate; thus we proceeded above the clouds for six weeks. At last we discovered a great land in the sky, like a shining island, round and bright, where, coming into a convenient harbour, we went on shore, and soon found it was inhabited.

Below us we saw another earth, containing cities, trees, mountains, rivers, seas, etc. which we conjectured was this world which we had left. Here we saw huge figures riding upon vultures of a prodigious size, and each of them having three heads. To form some idea of the magnitude of these birds, I must inform you that each of their wings is as wide and six times the length of the main sheet of our vessel, which was about six hundred tons burthen. Thus, instead of riding upon horses, as we do in this world, the inhabitants of the moon (for we now found we were in Madam Luna) fly about on these birds.

–from Chapter XVIII: A Second Trip to the Moon
The Surprising Adventures of Baron Münchhausen
By Rudolph Erich Raspe
(1895 version)

The Münchhausen stories were first collected and published (in German) anonymously in 1781. They were basically the tall tales of this guy who went and fought some Ottomans and came back bragging about how he’d ridden on cannonballs and defeated swaths of Turks with the bat of his eyelashes — stuff like that.

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Recovery Project (1): Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911) by Alfred Jarry

“This dead body,” said the doctor, “from whose carcass you can see old fogies trembling in senility and young men with red hair, equally cretinous in their speech and their silence, giving beaks full of flesh to speckled, handwriting-colored birds, like ichneumon flies boring into flesh to lay their eggs — this dead body is not only an island but a man: he is pleased to call himself Baron Hildebrand of the Squitty Sea.” (pg. 32-33, translated by Simon Watson Taylor)

Behold the brilliant insanity of Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician, written by the diminutive alcoholic Frenchman Alfred Jarry between 1893-95, but not published until four years after his death in 1907.

It seems fitting to begin my Recovery Project with this text because so much of my current scholarly research involves theorizing the ‘pataphysical underpinnings of many (if not all) other avant-garde movements. Don’t worry, I won’t get all dissertationy on you — suffice to say: this book is like the butterfly that flapped its wings and caused the elephants of Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, et. al. to stampede across the history books of literature.

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