Mark Amerika Remixes Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus

Raymond Roussel’s amazing and bizarre novel Locus Solus — the namesake for the journal founded by the New York School poets as well as for this humble blog – turns 100 this year.  Just in time for that anniversary, the visual artist, novelist, and media theorist Mark Amerika has produced an unusual new version of Roussel’s influential novel that he calls an “auto-translation/remix.”  The book, which was “composed by playfully postproducing the original 1914 version using a variety of mediocre online translation programs,” will be published this month by Counterpath Press.  Amerika explains that he sees his Locus Solus “as not so much as a literal translation by any means, but as a work of performance art.”

Amerika recently posted some remarks about how he came to Roussel’s novel and the process he used to performatively remix and re-create Locus Solus.  In the course of working on an elaborate remixing of Marcel Duchamp’s work, he came across the following remark Duchamp once made in an interview about important influences on his work: “Roussel showed me the way.”  This led Amerika to seek out online translations of Roussel’s work, but he came up mostly empty.  So, as he explains, “I decided to get an immediate feel for Locus Solus by turning to a few mediocre online translation programs that would auto-translate the first few pages, line-by-line, and see what came up.”

As he goes on to detail, the auto-translation of Roussel’s novel produced some strange results (as anyone who has ever used Google Translate will appreciate), which inspired Amerika to undertake an extended performance art piece of auto-translating and remixing Locus Solus:

“My simple late-night plan to use a translation program to better understand Roussel’s writing and why it might have ‘shown Duchamp the way,’ was immediately introduced to a severe obstacle as I tried to make some narrative sense out of the mangled text and mistranslated puns and double entedres that were given to me by the auto-translation program. My intuitive response was to not get frustrated at all but to creatively remix these mangled translations through my own experiential filters as valuable source material that would enable me to remixologically inhabit the spirit of Roussel’s own procedural aesthetic. This is when Roussel’s Locus Solus started becoming a mash-up of auto-translation and autobiography or what in META/DATA I refer to as pseudo-autobiography (an always already fictional rendering of experiential data sampled from the practice of everyday life).

That first night, I started to really get into the auto-translation / remix process and decided that I did not want to buy and read any of the out-of-print books that had already attempted to translate Roussel into English, that, instead, I would approach this experience as a work of performance art and, like so many works of performance art, view it as a kind of durational achievement. And so it was, four months later, that I had translated / remixed the entire, mangled French version into what I started referring to as

Locus Solus (An Inappropriate Translation Composed in a 21st Century Manner)

All throughout the auto-translation/remix performance I was well aware of the fact that things were getting lost in the transmission, that the stability of the narrative trajectory, assuming I wanted to maintain a certain amount of stability and even semantic consistency, was going to depend on my ability to remixologically inhabit or even embody the praxis of another artist-medium who initially communicated these messages to us a long time ago (100 years to be exact). This was a creative parameter that actually liberated me from having to feel better about myself as I assumed the role of so-called ‘translator.’  Instead, I could approach the whole system as a literary traitor, one who pirates information signals and trades in a performance art practice that imposes their own literary and artistic traits onto the one who is being auto-translated, remixed, inhabited.”

To celebrate the centennial of Roussel’s Locus Solus, check out Amerika’s interesting homage.  You can also learn more about Roussel in Mark Ford’s highly-regarded biography, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams and about John Ashbery’s fascination with Roussel in this piece by Paul Grimstad.

Posted in Influences on the NY School, John Ashbery, Locus Solus, Mark Ford, Raymond Roussel, Translation

“Into the Sun”: Frank O’Hara’s “True Account” Inspires Performance Piece

Frank O’Hara’s poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” has had a remarkable and robust afterlife, as I’ve noted before in reference to Kent Johnson’s controversial A Question Mark Above the Sun.

Now the poem will be taken up once again, this time by an arts group called The Arts Fusion Initiative, which describes itself as “a group of New York based artists. Within this initiative, each year’s project will have one poem that inspires the fusion of different art forms culminating in an innovative, live performance.”

The group’s 2014 project is called Into the Sun.  It “will combine multiple art forms with the text of A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island by American poet, Frank O’Hara.”

Into the Sun will be performed this upcoming week during a tour through Kansas, with stops in Garden City (9/2), Lawrence (9/4), and Kansas City (9/6).  The group “will be doing school workshops, concerts, and different events within the larger communities.”

One of the young composers who wrote music for the piece, Gabriel Medina, had some interesting things to say in an interview on High Plains Public Radio about the use of this particular O’Hara poem :

“As a composer, I’m most interested by collaborative projects.  When Kristen explained her idea for the American Fusion Project to me, I was intrigued by her desire to combine multiple artistic disciplines into a common programmatic theme.

The theme – Creativity and Artistic Inspiration – is especially important to me as a young artist. I often struggle with artistic merit. Does what I write fit into the mold of contemporary aesthetic ideals? What will my colleagues think of the piece I’m writing? Is the piece really me?  These are questions that face every young artist, and they are all addressed so sincerely in Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.’ For a long time now, I’ve taken comfort in this poem during periods of self-doubt. As such, this project is what I consider a personal tribute to this poem.”

More information can be found here.  I’d love to hear more about the performance if anyone sees it or knows more about it.


Posted in Frank O'Hara, Kent Johnson, Music, NY School Influence, Performance

NY Times reviews Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems: “the little black dress of American poetry books”


Three editions of Lunch Poems (circa 1990, 2000s, and 50th anniversary edition, 2014).

Three editions of Lunch Poems (circa 1990, 2000s, and 50th anniversary edition, 2014).

Apparently, the season of celebrating Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems continues!  The New York Times has just posted a glowing review of the new 50th anniversary edition of the book by the always-great Dwight Garner, one of the paper’s daily book reviewers.

Garner is always a delight to read, has excellent and eclectic taste, and must be thanked for single-handedly bringing the regular practice of reviewing books of poetry to the New York Times daily book coverage.  It’s great to see him weigh in on the reissue of O’Hara’s book:

“Frank O’Hara’s ‘Lunch Poems,’ the little black dress of American poetry books, redolent of cocktails and cigarettes and theater tickets and phonograph records, turns 50 this year. It seems barely to have aged.”

Garner gives some background on O’Hara, offers quotes from “Music,” “The Day Lady Died,” “Steps,” “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed)” and other favorites, and points out how fresh and radical the book was when it appeared.

“Lunch Poems was urbane and sociable, a cheerful rebuke to the era’s more determined academic verse … America in 1964 was straining to break out of black and white and into color, and Lunch Poems was part of the brewing social drama. The directness of O’Hara’s voice was a tonic. Taxis are preferable to subways, he declared in one poem, because ‘subways are only fun when you’re feeling sexy.'”

Garner closes by offering O’Hara’s little book some high praise:

“This is a book worth imbibing again, especially if you live in Manhattan, but really if you’re awake and curious anywhere. O’Hara speaks directly across the decades to our hopes and fears and especially our delights; his lines are as intimate as a telephone call. Few books of his era show less age.”

An ironic sidenote: Garner doesn’t mention it, but the New York Times didn’t even bother to review this now-beloved future classic when it first appeared in 1964 — another sign of how dramatically O’Hara’s reputation has evolved over time.

One small quibble: Garner mentions that O’Hara died when he “was hit by a beach taxi on Fire Island.”  It wasn’t a beach taxi that killed O’Hara — in fact, the beach taxi he had been riding in got a flat tire, and while waiting for another to arrive, O’Hara was struck down by a speeding dune buggy that was being driven illegally on the beach.

You can check out the whole review here.


Posted in Book Review, Frank O'Hara

“Devoted New Yorker Frank O’Hara” quoted in today’s NY Times

Another sign that Frank O’Hara is on the New York Times’ (and everyone else’s) mind these days.  In this morning’s “Fashion & Style” section, there is a light piece by Matthew Schneier about the legions of New Yorkers who have never learned to drive, and the challenges they face in the summer.  It begins with a little nod to O’Hara:

“On any given Friday afternoon in the New York summer, offices clear out early, weekend bags are hoisted onto shoulders, and many of those city dwellers who are, in colder months, perfectly happy to live concrete-encircled lives — they who, like the poet and devoted New Yorker Frank O’Hara, ‘can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy’ — slide into cars and head out of town.

Some of them just happen to be riding (inevitably, bashfully and maybe a bit anxiously) in the passenger seat.”

As many of you know, these quintessentially New York lines from O’Hara’s “Meditations in an Emergency” are prominently displayed in lower Manhattan, inscribed in bronze along the water in Battery Park at the World Financial Center:

Posted in Frank O'Hara, New York

On John Ashbery’s 87th Birthday: “Extraneous good wishes from everywhere”

Today is John Ashbery’s 87th birthday.  I’ve been thinking of lines of his that might seem appropriate for this happy occasion, and some of my very favorite, the closing sentences of “The System” (1972) immediately came to mind:

“It seems truly impossible, but invariably at this point we are walking together along a street in some well-known city.  The allegory is ended, its coils absorbed into the past, and this afternoon is as wide as an ocean.  It is the time we have now, and all our wasted time sinks into the sea and is swallowed up without a trace.  The past is dust and ashes, and this incommensurably wide way leads to the pragmatic and kinetic future.”

In digging around for an Ashbery meditation on birthdays I came across the poem “Someone You Have Seen Before” (first published in April Galleons, 1987), which not only features some lines about a birthday — “their happiness is for you, it’s your birthday” — but also about change, time, and “wondering what the new round / Of impressions and salutations is going to leave in its wake / This time.”   Here’s the poem’s second half:

But people do change in life,
As well as in fiction. And what happens then? Is it because we think nobody’s
Listening that one day it comes, the urge to delete yourself,
“Take yourself out,” as they say? As though this could matter
Even to the concerned ones who crowd around,
Expressions of lightness and peace on their faces,
In which you play no part perhaps, but even so
Their happiness is for you, it’s your birthday, and even
When the balloons and fudge get tangled with extraneous
Good wishes from everywhere, it is, I believe, made to order
For your questioning stance and that impression
Left on the inside of your pleasure by some bivalve
With which you have been identified. Sure,
Nothing is ever perfect enough, but that’s part of how it fits
The mixed bag
Of leftover character traits that used to be part of you
Before the change was performed
And of all those acquaintances bursting with vigor and
Humor, as though they wanted to call you down
Into closeness, not for being close, or snug, or whatever,
But because they believe you were made to fit this unique
And valuable situation whose lid is rising, totally
Into the morning-glory-colored future. Remember, don’t throw away
The quadrant of unused situations just because they’re here:
They may not always be, and you haven’t finished looking
Through them all yet. So much that happens happens in small ways
That someone was going to get around to tabulate, and then never did,
Yet it all bespeaks freshness, clarity and an even motor drive
To coax us out of sleep and start us wondering what the new round
Of impressions and salutations is going to leave in its wake
This time. And the form, the precepts, are yours to dispose of as you will,
As the ocean makes grasses, and in doing so refurbishes a lighthouse
On a distant hill, or else lets the whole picture slip into foam.

The past is dust and ashes, this afternoon is wide as an ocean, and here’s to John Ashbery, and the “pragmatic and kinetic future”!

Posted in John Ashbery, Poems

The Day Frank Died: O’Hara’s NY Times Obituary

48 years ago today, Frank O’Hara died in a tragic accident on Fire Island, New York.  Last year at this time, I wrote a post about the wealth of fine elegies for O’Hara that appeared following his death, by poets like Allen Ginsberg, James Schuyler, David Shapiro, Ron Padgett, and others.

Today, I thought I’d put up a copy of the obituary that ran in the New York Times on July 26, 1966, a document that is not so readily available.  As I always point out to my students, the headline tells you quite a bit about O’Hara’s reputation at the time of his death: “Frank O’Hara, 40, Museum Curator,” with the subheadline “Exhibitions Aide at Modern Art Dies — Also a Poet.”

“Also a poet” indeed.  Although it may be hard to believe now, at the time of his sudden death, O’Hara was better known as an art-world figure than a poet.  The obituary discusses his work on the painter Robert Motherwell and the controversy over Larry Rivers’s nude portrait of O’Hara, before turning to mention his poetry. (It also says he was “struck by a taxicab,” which was not in fact the case — he was run over by a dune buggy driven illegally on the beach by a young guy on a date).

Here’s the obituary:

O'Hara obituary

Two days later, the New York Times also covered O’Hara’s funeral in an article entitled “200 Pay Tribute to Frank O’Hara.” Among other things, the piece discusses Larry Rivers’s famously shocking and graphic eulogy and John Ashbery’s moving recitation of “To the Harbormaster,” while managing to misspell the names of John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, and David Shapiro.

O'Hara NYT funeral story

The opening pages of Brad Gooch’s City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara feature a detailed description of the funeral, and also mention that an early edition of this New York Times article (which I recall I once had a copy of, but now can’t locate) contained “a snide line” about the “many bearded, tieless friends of Mr. O’Hara.”  Tieless!

Lastly, here are some lines from O’Hara’s “Poem (And tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock in Spingfield, Massachussetts”):

When I die, don’t come, I wouldn’t want a leaf
to turn away from the sun — it loves it there.
There’s nothing so spiritual about being happy
but you can’t miss a day of it, because it doesn’t last.

So this is the devil’s dance? Well I was born to dance.
It’s a sacred duty, like being in love with an ape,
and eventually I’ll reach some great conclusion, like assumption,
when at last I meet exhaustion in these flowers, go straight up.

O'Hara Tombstone 2

Posted in Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Larry Rivers, Robert Motherwell

Alex Katz’s Birthday and “The New”

Alex Katz. Passing. 1962-63

Alex Katz, Passing (1962-63)

The Allen Ginsberg Project has a good, typically link-rich post up today in honor of the painter Alex Katz’s 87th birthday.  (I’ve written before about Katz and his close ties to New York School poetry here and here).

Among other things, it features a great comment from an interview with Alex Katz by the artist Richard Prince, from the Journal of Contemporary Art, in which Katz offers a wonderful list of things that struck him as truly new when he first encountered them, in effect providing a blueprint for a great syllabus or map of 20th century music, art, literature, and film.

Prince: What are some of the things in your life that you saw or heard or came on and you thought, “Yeah, now that’s new”?

Katz: Lester Young. Billie Holiday. Be Bop. Stan Kenton. Dizzy Gillespie. Manchito. Charlie Parker. Stan Getz. Miles Davis. Sonny Rollins’s “Wagon Wheels.” Man Ray. Charles Lamb. Georges Braque’s 1913 black and white collages. Pablo Picasso’s sculptures. Malevich’s Suprematist paintings. Henri Matisse’s collages. Jackson Pollock. Barnett Newman. Clifford Still. Roy Lichtenstein, early 1960s. James Rosenquist, early 1960s. Eva Hesse. Jeff Koons. Mike Kelley’s rugs. Richard Avedon’s fashion photos, 1960s. Red Groom’s early happenings. Paul Taylor, late 1950s. William Dunas, early 1970s. Samual Beckett’s Happy Days with Ruth White. John Jesuran’s Red House. Meredith Monk’s theater and music pieces. Godard’s Breathless. Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Rudy Burckhardt’s city and country films without acting. 1960s vinyl coats, white or black. Guillaume Apollinaire. John Ashbery’s “Skaters.” Color TV. Ads. Football. Wide-angle technicolor movies.

He had me at Beckett’s Happy Days, if not way before that …

Posted in Alex Katz, Andy Warhol, Film, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jackson Pollock, Jean-Luc Godard, John Ashbery, Rudy Burkhardt, Samuel Beckett, Visual Art