P O R E S   4
An Avant-Gardist Journal
of Poetics Research
INDEX
 
 
 
A  l  l  e  n      F  i  s  h  e  r
title page

Tony Trehy
Questions of Ideology and Ideological Apparatus

Gallery of work from contributors to the Forum on Women Writers:
Elizabeth Jane Burnett
Marianne Morris
Susan Johanknechtarmour
Emmanuelle Waeckerle
Carol Watts

Alan Halsey
An Open Letter to Will Rower

Will Rowe
Invisible Power

Frances Presley
Piano Trio by Nicola le Fanu

Frances Presley
two flames

Frances Presley
Frances Van Goor

Philip Davenport
Vogue Divine

Bill Griffiths
In Audience

Tony Lopez
What Can Be Done

Ceri Buckmaster
Contemporary Poetics and the Re-inscription of Urban Subjectivities

Dell Olsen
Interview



Minimaus: in response to cultural malaise: Redell Olsen, Secure Portable Space, Reality Street, 2004.

In a period when the arrival of books exceeds the time to attend to them, it is appropriate to recognise the capacity of some authors to limit their projects to less than book length. Redell Olsen's latest collection holds four projects in 109 pages. The projects are distinct and connect with each other. You feel a jump in cellular tissue as the bus you are on suddenly changes direction and then you recognise some renewed undercurrents.
This is achieved in a number of ways; mainly through layout, spacing and line length, partly through typeface, font size and visual intrusion. The connections are achieved by simulation and association; photography of Redell Olsen in mouse ears, recalls Claes Oldenburg's Mouse Museum recalls Disney in a capular war zone, followed immediately by a section simulating then transforming Charles Olson's Gloucester and 'Maximus' through the English Gloucester of Ivor Gurney to 'Minimaus'.

The shift in the work of Redell Olsen from modernist critique and the conventions of coherence prepares readers for contemporary reading and attention, the poetics, and thus the politics, of reception. Her exemplary work as editor for How 2 and with students on the 'Poetics Practice' programme at Royal Holloway, demonstrate her range and commitment. Her work at once and at different energetic moments celebrates and develops aspects of concrete poetry, addresses the dematerialisation of objects proposed by some conceptual art, considers the machines of Mac Low, Darragh, Cage and Retallack, the displays and performances of Susan Howe, and carries these instructions on roller-blades into chromium fa็ades and rural deserts, holding on inside the consumer bubble wrap, cordoned off streets and anxiety of contemporary international capitalism. With the work of Redell Olsen reception becomes involved with a poetics of cultural critique and political change across a wide spectrum from the art of Japanese anime (cartoon) culture, European contemporary crafts to American schizophrenia.

The book title derives from Valerie Olsen's photograph of a 'secure portable space'. The backdrop is palm trees, perhaps a concrete building, street light, Miami coast. The color is transformed from grey to purple, from sky blue to lime green. The photograph is of an actual object-situation – part of a portable cubicle used for storage, an urban railing and palm trees. The photograph references the situation, actually and figuratively – the need to store goods economically without a large ground rent and the recognition of the poignancy of happenstance, often kitsch, words with images, kept safe in a book production. The cover's demonstrative use of designed blocks of abstract color, interrupted by the post-modernity of evergreens in an urban setting, conjures up American aesthetics and coasts, Ed Ruscha's Palm Trees on a table in front of Richard Dibenkorn's Ocean series. On the cubicle cabin a label of the title (reused in the poem 'make-up' [54]), blurred out wording and a contact phone number. The back cover shows the same portable unit from the other side; it encourages the thought of the cover around the poems as container of them, secure spacetime for the work.

The first section, 'Corrupted by Showgirls', uses movie stills without showing the actual images (there is one faded fragment as a preface). At moments this feels emblematic. It begins a critique of modernist celebrity and identity, one of undercurrents in this book. The section in fact uses a range of styles within a singular metonymic stance. In part 'v' the head fragments lines of poetry, a proportionally large empty gap below the head as if from a missing film still image and a third section at the base, a commentary, akin to the method of emblems. That this pushes the illusion beyond limits, not all sections do this, adds to this figurative apparency. There is a scan throughout for missing images implied by the gaps and by the textual context. The poet becomes represented in a state of realisation and misplaced identities. 'I have to imagine,' writes Olsen, 'that I am a man who sews' (9).

The second section is 'Spill-Kit', named from the first poem in the sequence, engages with a machine that selects words and phrases in composition. That is machine in the modernist sense, developed by Constructivists and others in the early twentieth century as a poetics for making choices, often mechanically realised, often not, usually aesthetically strident, seldom Personist or biographical. But this view changes over the sequence. 'Spill-Kit' develops, through nine four-line stanzas, an appearance of narrative that has been damaged or obtrusively selected from, so that beginnings, progress and endings are absent. The narrativity encourages a formal movement – a momenergy that begins in a statement of observation and ends in a suitable past tense as if now over: 'shapes bandaged' (38). The poem is preceded by a photograph, which includes the skull of an animal – perhaps a crocodile skull – on top of a box on a post, as part of its subject. The box is labelled by a loosely panted sign – 'TIP'S THINKS YOU' – as asyntactic as some of the poems in the section that follows; the second poem begins: 'tips thinks/you going/rotter up/next stink/we meet/trust frock' (39). The stanza presents damage and uses that damage as an expressive tool that carries the remoteness and implied absence in the image into travel, past this dwelling's veranda, through swamp ('rot' and 'stink') to rhymes with the photograph on the last book page (109) of a mock-rustic wooden sign with the word 'Homesick' in gothic script as an alternative to 'Home Sweet Home' or alluding to Ivor Gurney's sonnet 'Home-Sickness'. In many poems in the sequence the use of machine shifts. In 'felt' (45) alliteration ('so spelt it out of spittle') and overt commentary on identity ('crack open the distance/ from safe "I".') and Personist signs: 'fidget of the lip-bite/chewed end of biro' (45); in 'make-up' (54) sound rhymes ('judgement slug parks/list black marks against') lead the idea of machine with found texts or chosen texts by others, to machine applied to the writer's own journal.

'Era of Heroes' follows; it is a tour de force – an alphabetically ordered combination of names of heroes, spoken aloud in the street and into a bookshop video and presented in this book in bold face and strident condensed font. The one punctuational glitch highlights the over-determined aspect of the enterprise – deliberately over-determined as the comics and internet demand – as tv and popular films demand – no room for nuance or doubt or quest – this list is emphatic – and thus rhetorically the list is humorous, canny and critical of its source – its social rigmarole and context, its social necessity in a desperate culture reading the lives of personalities fantasised into/ out of this world into super-real, rather than surreal, contexts, both the society in praise of the spectacle and in need of another place, conserving its misplaced idea of grandeur, of where it was utopia, a proto-fascist nowhere in particular.

The pleasure and play, which Redell Olsen provides in the last section, 'The Minimaus Poems' beginning 'I, Minimaus of Gloucester, to You', takes off directly after the photographs of Olsen dressed in Mickey Mouse ears reciting 'Era of Heroes'. A map of Gloucester, Massachusetts, from the cover of the Cape Golliard The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson, overprinted with parts of a map showing Gloucester, England, near where the author is writing from (the leap of saying that permitting, Olson was not in Gloucester when he started his sequence and Redell Olsen does not specifically insist on her location). The poem begins with a brilliant transformed simulation – audacious, outrageous, on the ball:

'Inland, by Iceland hidden by the blood of
jewels & discounts, I, Minimaus
sitting on hot metal, boiling in a vest,
ask you…' (77)
from Charles Olson's:
'Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood
jewels & miracles, I, Maximus
a metal hot from boiling water, tell you…' (5 [I,1])
In section 2' Redell Olsen's work shifts more expansively in and out of Charles Olson's work, leaving it, alighting on it elsewhere, returning to it. In section 3 Redell Olsen writes:
'the underwater is, though expected, uncertain
is, as bodies are, monied are, fractured
bent straws, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand
flooding (provisional sandbags), lifeless and heavy
the game of fly home parades in parody
of heroic frisson we are played by, that they must
be played by, lights and tides

By, ear he sd.' (79)

which, whilst it partly derives from Charles Olson's:
'the underpart is, though stemmed, uncertain
is, as sex is, as moneys are, facts!
facts, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand
that they be played by, that they only can be, that they must
be played by, said he, coldly, the
ear!' (6 [I,2])
also merges with presumably, English local history. As Redell Olsen later notes, as if reflecting on Hans Haacke's work, 'the argument goes like…it is not/always a quick job to find out who owns buildings' (79). 'Minimaus, to Gloucester' 'Letter 2' (83) lists letters sent to Marion Scott (Ivor Gurney's wartime correspondent); and then 'Song 1' uses phase-shift poetics beginning 'you islands, of men and plants'. Her overlaps, parallels and parodies shift: in her 'Song 4':
'you sing, you
who also is
wanting' (90)
from Charles Olson's 'Song 6'
'you sing, you
who also
wants' (20 [I.16]).
In Letter 4, Redell Olsen takes on, as if, her own position, without parody – rather with a different edge:
'what is aware is
that anything is I, more than that
is called for. Limits
suggest confines for
revolt from within' (91).
This activity moves reception back into reflection on the lines parodied in the earlier parts of the book: identity and Persionism. Redell Olsen's shift into use of bad taste, derived from exemplary popular images such as Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, emphasises her work as part of a nexus of artists and thus a range of approaches directly addressed to a contemporary milieu and its malaise. It lifts out from that malaise in a combination of humour and critique. To take one range of examples: the use of Mickey Mouse has a significant tradition of figurative shifting.

George Herriman's Krazy Kat ran in Hearst's New York Evening Journal from 1913 until 1944. Its themes included issues of identity, personal relations and the structure of society. The use of a mouse in cartoons then proceeds from Disney's Steamboat Willie in 1928 and Ubbe Iwerk's Mickey Mouse in 1930 through to Art Spiegelman's Maus in 1973 and 1980. En route the image is achieved in a variety of simulations and new expressions. Roy Lichenstein and then Andy Warhol redrew Mickey in the early 1961 and 1962, into allegories of Americana, Eduardo Paolozzi followed in 1964, Claes Oldenburg started his Mouse Museum drawings in 1965, the same year Equipo Crónica produced America! America! with its images of Mickey Mouse and the atomic mushroom cloud. Even Max Ernst was drawn to the kitsch image in his 1969 collage. In a subsequent period the use of cartoon images and the metonymy of political power have been reintroduced into visual culture, parallel with Spiegelman's Maus. In 1971 Michael Sandle started his drawings for his 1978 Mickey Mouse Memorial and the same year Dorfmann and Mattelart published How to Read Donald Duck (in English 1975) as a critique of American imperialism and its invasion into Chile.

The use of kitsch imagery and what may be named the ambience of 'bad taste' today is both an implicit critique of the current social norms and an overt affront to middle class taste. In contemporary graphics, both still and animated, it has a radical power that is appropriate to address with care. The most recent images of suicidal violence in work by Maskoto Aida and other Japanese anime, the pornographic manga in, for instance, Mahomi Kunikata, the kawaii (cute) of Hello Kitty products, the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Takashi Murakami's cartoon sculptures and the introduction of Mr. Dob into fine art practice, build a counter-culture dealt with only in trepidation. These are addresses beyond the cultural stronghold of middle class Dada and modernist norms.

Secure Portable Storage addresses these norms and malign productions with humour. It is work that demonstrates a critical edge, informed by a broad range of artistic activities and attentions necessary to contemporary poetics and politics. It is useful to identify the difficulties and opportunities this provides; it is also important to make clear the urgency of this task and to recognise Redell Olsen's achievement in this book.

Allen Fisher, 08/05.