Eileen R. Tabios is a poet working in multiple genres and in-between. She also loves books by writing, reading, publishing, critiquing, romancing and advocating for them. This blog will feature her bibliophilic activities with posts on current book engagements and links to her books and projects related to books.

Friday, December 27, 2013

POETRY AND MONEY (#1): John Bloomberg-Rissman

[If you are a poet and would like to participate in this "Poetry and Money" Series, go HERE for information.]

A 3-Question Interview, A Sample Poem, and Book List Featuring

John Bloomberg-Rissman

1)  You are a poet.  How do you make money to survive?

I became a poet at 17. Til I was in my mid-30s, I jumped from job to job in a kind of happenstance way. I worked in the LA fashion district for a year or two, in the circulation department of the west coast equivalent of Women’s Wear Daily. The fashion district is just blocks from skid row, so that was very eye-opening for a young guy from the burbs. Then I worked for Black Sparrow Press as “the office”. That was a great job for a young poet since I got to meet a number of established and well-known poets such as Charles Bukowski, Michael McClure, Clayton Eshleman … Later I worked in a minimum wage rubber stamp factory, as an architectural drafter, as a freelance writer. That gave me lots of time to write. Which was good, because I was and am a slow learner. By the time I was in my mid-30s I was sick of looking under “no experience necessary”, I had two kids, so I decided I needed something more steady and permanent. More “careerish.” So I went back to school and got a masters in librarianship. I was a librarian for the next 25 years. All those years were spent at UC Riverside, but not all of them were spent in the library. For the first 16 years I worked in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on a grant-funded research project called the English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC); when I burnt out on that I became a hard-money librarian, working in the library itself, with responsibility for building the collections in the arts and the humanities, and eventually also for the social sciences. It was a great career, but for about 10 years I stopped writing. I can’t exactly blame the job, tho at least the grant-funded work and raising the kids took pretty much all I had. I did start writing again while still doing the grant-funded work, tho, so I can say that working in the library facilitated my finding my way back to writing. One day, while walking past the new periodicals I picked up a copy of APR for some reason, read a few poems and said, “Is THAT all there is to it???” Anyway, now I’m retired. With a pension. So I can (and often do) work on various writing projects all day and all night if I want. 

2)  How did your money-making choices affect your process of making your poems?

When I started writing again I found that a library was a great place to be situated. First, because of the 10-year hiatus, I had to catch up on everything that had been happening. The collections librarians who preceded me at UC Riverside were really good. So I pretty much had the history of poetry up to the present within 50 feet of where I sat. And then when I began to do collections work, I could build on what they had done. For several years I spent every spare minute prowling the stacks. That in itself was a hell of an education. But I guess this doesn’t exactly describe process. My process evolved during the years I was a librarian. At first, it was pretty straight “I” lyric. Over time it became more collage-y til now it’s virtually entirely mashup. For most of the past decade I’ve been engaged in making a monster poem (if it’s a poem, I don’t really know what it is) called Zeitgeist Spam. The first two sections have been published: No Sounds of My Own Making (Leafe Press, 2007), and Flux Clot & Froth, Vol. I and Vol. II  (Meritage Press, 2010). You can watch the third part, In the House of the Hangman, unfold at my blog, Zeitgeist Spam. I think being a librarian exposed me to a myriad of poetics and possibilities. Additionally, since I was also responsible for collecting for the Philosophy Dept, and the English Dept (think Theory), I was able to develop some insight into all the discussions going on. Many concerned the nature of the subject position, and helped lead me to collage. Also, a library itself is a collage, in which virtually every text sits next to other texts, which sit next to other texts; all this textuality can lead in a multitude of directions and tie in to all sorts of other objects and texts. This helped me break down borders between various kinds of texts, and to see poetry in virtually every kind of writing. Finally, much library work is done in groups (task forces, committees, etc), not to mention that librarians are unionized (and that I was a union activist). This taught me that my own voice wasm’t “special; by that I mean I found listening to the collective more interesting than I found my own “me me me”, and that my “I” worked better as part of a chorus.

3)  What would you consider to be the pros and cons of how you have earned your income?

I really did like being a librarian. I felt useful. I felt “clean” – meaning that I wasn’t dealing arms, or suing farmers for using patented seeds, or anything like that. And, as mentioned above, working in a library means access access access, to countless texts, countless researchers, grad students, undergrads and all sorts of interesting people. The cons were, eventually pros for me as a poet. They included overwork because we were understaffed; relative low pay (because of two reasons: 1) librarianship is a women’s profession, as are, e.g., teaching and nursing, and women are traditionally paid less than men – other, “men’s”, professions such as law, engineering, architecture, doctoring, are much better compensated, and 2) the UCs, being a prestige university, pay less than Cal States and the California Community Colleges (as the TAs at Harvard put it once, during a strike, you can’t eat prestige – at least not for years); as well as constant underfunding (I was a librarian during the years neoliberalism was busily beginning to turn the university world into a poor clone of the corporate and into low-cost patent factories). But these were all good for me as a poet because they exposed me to the corrupt world we live in, which, if corrupt even in the privileged realm of the university, was almost certainly corrupt everywhere, and to the necessity (well, I see it as a necessity) for the poet to link arms with what has come to be called the 99%.

These cons bring me to questions you didn’t ask, but ones these suggest, and ones I’d really like to address. Or at least touch on. Or at least note that, for me, these are or have become the heart of something for me, some kind of obsession. In a way it’s a concatenation of questions, a knot of them, which I’ll simplify a bit here: Who is the poet in a society whose god is money? How does living in a world in which everyone has to make money and worry about money and etc etc or suffer the consequences (impoverished old age, no health care, etc etc) affect your view of yourself as a poet and how does it affect your poetry (and process) [I am thinking specifically of how recent years have seen both DianeDi Prima and Bernadette Mayer essentially begging]? What does it mean to be a poet in a world in which “more than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day”? And so on. I can only really answer these questions via my poetic praxis, so my work is the best answer I can give. I do think collage/mashup is appropriate (“we are many”), I think other aspects of my process, which is a combination of the aleatory and a loose algorithm which determines what texts I use in which order ((“an openness to the possibility of the Event”) also honor the situation. But of course the situation is incredibly complex, these are just my choices how to handle it. I would like to point, tho, to two websites where relevant discussion has taken place. There are obviously, many more:

Militant Poetics http://militantpoetics.blogspot.com/, which was a conference that took place in London in May 2013, and

Revolution and/or Poetry http://revolutionandorpoetry.wordpress.com/, which was a conference that took place in Berkeley at the beginning of October 2013.



Since it’s not quite fair to simply say, “my work is the best answer I can give”, here’s an example (and yes, I consider the notes an intrinsic part of the project):

In the House of the Hangman 1530

But now, from between the black & white spiders, a cloud and fire burst and rolled thro’ the deep black’ning all beneath, so that the nether deep grew black as a sea, & rolled with a terrible noise; beneath us was nothing now to be seen but a black tempest, till looking east between the clouds & the waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire, and not many stones’ throw from us appear’d and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent; at last, to the east, distant about three degrees appear’d a fiery crest above the waves; slowly it reared like a ridge of golden rocks, till we discover’d two globes of crimson fire, from which the sea fled away in clouds of smoke; and now we saw, it was the head of Leviathan; his forehead was divided into streaks of green & purple like those on a tyger’s forehead: soon we saw his mouth & red gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the black deep with beams of blood, advancing toward us with all the fury of a spiritual existence. Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi-Bii-ih-flii-ih; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi,- / Bii-ich zii-ich; Bi Bi Bi bi, Bii-ih iiih; Cha / Doch nit me, Hii-ih? Wii-ih;;;; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi,- / Bii-ih Brii-ih; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi, Bii-ih Dri-ih; / Wiiga, I giiga; D’r Britt het ja, n a Schiiiga;; / Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi,- Bii-ih nii-ih; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi,- / Chlii-ih Chlii-ih; Bi Bi Bi Bi,- ii-ih bii-ih; / La doch nit me, Vii-ih. Rii-ih;;;; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi,- / Bii-ih Brii-ih; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi,- Hii-ih Hii-ih; / D’Schiiga, Sie Chriiga; The cuckoo is gone, anyway. So it is not the cuckoo saying Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; this sentence is endless. It should be squeezed out in p-sized measures / was this splendid toccata opening placed by an urban mammal under the hood? First the apocalyptic herald of 1000 jacked dirtbikes in approach, then the muffled “get ready,” then “my name,” staggering between human and instrumental. It opens, like a lot of stuff, with a sustained, barbaric “kid.” We have seen the ghostly pyrotechnics, the spectral smoke machines. We have known what enters and exists with “rock.” Where does empire come from? Theft, transmutation, amnesia. The foundational chants of hip-hop filched, spliced, remarketed as neo-gregorian drone of white dialect interlarded with Whitmanic list. Kid is the interrogative dreamer here. He dedicates the song to “the questions which don’t have any answers.” These are outlaw: a grabbag of lumpen aspect, festering contradiction. Kid’s riddle is a population. “Thanks to Eggs we are able to harvest the air … at the ‘stiff peak’ stage … [egg] foam is approaching 90% air.” Egg foam’s a snapshot of the air quality in any location. Serve it to politicians or business owners. The tragedy of the commons never tasted so good! For a while I was convinced there was something deeply profound in the connection between Dennis Wilson and Charles Manson, and as a result purchased Wilson’s solo record and spent several weeks researching that element of the Manson ordeal. I came up with very little, but that isn’t really the point. Lately, a research obsession has been Theodore Kaczynski. I mean, when I was younger “Unabomber” was simply something people said when you wore a hoodie up and a pair of sunglasses, but since then I’ve realized that Kaczynski is easily one of the most striking and disconcerting figures America’s ever seen — akin to Howard Hughes, maybe, or the entire Kennedy family. He’s still alive, by the way, and I heard he recently wrote the Harvard Alumni Association with a list of accomplishments including his prison sentence. Today in #laborhistory — The Kansas National Guard is called out to subdue from 2,000 to 6,000 protesting women who were going from mine to mine attacking non-striking miners in the Pittsburgh coal fields. The women made headlines across the state and the nation: they were christened the “Amazon Army” by the New York Times — 1921. What would be less fantastic? Take you placidly stepping out on a black wood lotus; seems mediocre, not horrible, whimsical, maybe. Or we could say at first they were pieces of nonsense, their cities negated, their verbs rounded off randomly. Bad girl meets Santa. To understand this way amounts to ridiculing the state of flying birds. (I remember the salad shooter.) Vaccinated, merciless itch, what is the homeland we travel? Passing thought immortalizes the X+one “casting of cities” thinking past us. A true 2 years before messing with you. Why did we wait for the translators? There were many. The question is, why should one be interested in sophistics today? As occasional causes are by far the most significant and the most efficacious, I would like to explain first of all where my own interest in sophistics stems from. It arose from the encounter of two trajectories which were rivals in all senses of the word. The first phase of study, both jubilant and confused, took place under the sign of Martin Heidegger. Because everything possessed a renewed intelligibility, everything also fit neatly into the palm of one’s hand. In order to move out from this circumscribed territory, no less is required, doubtless, than (a) a redefinition of philosophy throughout its history, in such a way that this widening of the scope does not produce a mere analytic restriction or moral rigidity which can immediately be traced back historically to the technical and technological nature of our epoch, and (b) probably some new conceptual personae in the Deleuzian sense. But the most frequent approach, which Deleuze himself initiated or at least made use of contemporaneously (using the Stoics, Spinoza, and Bergson), is to draw attention to the readings Heidegger failed to perform, or did not perform, inasmuch as they are held to be strategically impossible. My own growing rigid, in this context, has to do with the determination of the origin and the dawn. The Greek morning which Heidegger arranged for us is monomaniacal and kleptomaniacal. It robs an entire array of texts and possibilities so that they may fit under the aegis of Parmenides’ poem. Heidegger’s Parmenides reads polis merely as pelein, the old Greek verb for einai: if the polis in itself is only the “pole of pelein,” then “it is only because the Greeks are an absolutely non-political people” that they could found the polis, and did. The first reading that I found impossible to perform using Heidegger alone, in the truly grandiose perspective of Parmenides’ unveiling, was Gorgias’ Treatise of Non-Being. Approximately a half-century after the dawn, this treatise provides a full-fledged demonstration of the mechanisms or strategies thanks to which Parmenides’ “Poem” conforms to Heidegger’s dream. It is a text which critically exceeds ontology in its nascent state. Thus there was a different way of being pre-Socratic. In order to confirm this diagnosis, it proved necessary for me to undertake the study of Greek, and ever more Greek, not so as to arrive at the bareness of meaning itself by digging through the thicket of semantics. It was a matter of acquiring the tools with which to respond in kind: amphibological appropriations of an emerging syntax and the extraordinarily imaginative rigidity of the various grammaticalizations. This was my counter-apprenticeship, then: philology, with its ceaseless equivocations between the rights of the text and the rights of the interpreters ...

[Note: Sources: But now, from between … spiritual existence: William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; Bi-Bi-Bi-Bi / Bii-ich … cuckoo is gone, anyway: Adolf Wölfli, “It is a march, 32 beats”, from the Cradle to the Grave, Book No. 4, p. 416, in Adolf Wölfli Creator of the Universe; So it is not the cuckoo saying: JBR; Always falling into a hole … gotten out of together: Anne Boyer, “what resembles the grave but isn’t”, at http://anneboyer.tumblr.com/post/48690531600/what-resembles-the-grave-but-isnt *, 23 Apr 013, via Anne Boyer, “beware-beware …”, at http://anneboyer.tumblr.com/post/70202144342/beware-beware-quote-from-anne-boyers-what *, 16 Dec 013; this sentence is endless: JBR; It should be squeezed … p-sized measures and It should be squeezed … under the hood? and There were many: Tom Jones, “Poem Interpellated by Toothpaste”, “The K Numbers”, “Steal Us From Ourselves”, in Mealy Bloom; First the apocalyptic … population: Anne Boyer, “Song of the Week: ‘Bawitdaba’ by Kid Rock”, at http://coldfrontmag.com/news/song-of-the-week-bawitdaba-by-kid-rock coldfront, 16 Dec 013; “Thanks to Eggs … 90% air” and egg foam’s … owners and The tragedy … tasted so good!: On Food and Cooking, and The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, quoted in the Center’s “Smog Tasting”, at http://genomicgastronomy.com/work/projects/smog-tasting/ The Center for Genomic Gastronomy; For a while … Kennedy family and He’s still alive … prison sentence: Grant Maierhofer, “Some Recently Acquired Reading Materials”, at http://htmlgiant.com/random/some-recently-acquired-reading-materials/ HTMLGIANT, 16 Dec 013; I mean and by the way: JBR; Today in #laborhistory … 1921: Aindriu Macfehin, FB post, 16 Dec 013; What would be less fantastic? and Take you placidly … whimsical, maybe and Or we could say at first … rounded off randomly and Bad girl meets Santa and To understand this way … salad shooter) and Vaccinated … for the translators?: Jack Kimball, “Pretext takes over”, at http://pantaloons.blogspot.com/2013_12_01_archive.html#1577075015086291667 Pantaloons, 16 Dec 013; The question is … one’s hand and In order to move … grammaticalizations ...: Barbara Cassin, “Who’s Afraid of the Sophists? Against Ethical Correctness” (tr. Charles T Wolfe), at http://www.soundandsignifier.com/files/Barbara_Cassin_on_Sophists.pdf Sound and Signifier]



No Sounds of My Own Making (Leafe Press, 2007)

Flux Clot & Froth, Vol. I and Vol. II (Meritage Press, 2010)


As Co-Editor (with Jerome Rothenberg), BARBARIC VAST & WILD: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present (Black Widow Press, forthcoming 2014)

As Co-Editor/Curator (with Ivy Alvarez, Ernesto Priego and Eileen R. Tabios), THE CHAINED HAY(NA)KU PROJECT (Meritage Press, 2010)

As Editor, 1,000 Views of Girl Singing (Leafe Press, 2009) 

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