I’m so pleased to receive the mini-tome LIVING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER, RIGHT? by John Bloomberg-Rissman.
But before we go further, let’s first admire the very special stitched fabric cover to the book, made by Kathy Bloomberg-Rissman! Here is the book’s front cover, and then an image of the front and back cover:
Kathy’s “got skills,” as John puts it. And Moi agrees! I love Kathy’s color diction and how the stitched mini fabric expanses imply both landscape as well as textual lines. I find it logical that John would come to describe how he made the poem inside the book as being “stitched,” no doubt “after” Kathy’s creation.
So, John “stitched” the book-poem together from lines by Nazim Hikmet’s ON LIVING (translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk) and Gregory Corso’s ZIZI’S LAMENT. John thought the combination makes for a funny, yet “totally true” paradox: “life is no laughing matter and yet one has to laugh to truly get why it’s no laughing matter, etc.” Hence, his text which I write here as “stanzas” and each fit one-per-page on his accordion-type book:
LIVING IS NO
YOU MUST LIVE
G O O D
Oy, vey. It hurts moi brain to parse this text. It’s way deeper than Moi. I will share that I appreciate its form=content, by which I mean that the ending question (to me) agonizes in perhaps the same way one might agonize over the meaning of life or one’s significance during a mid-life crisis (as regards the latter, NO THIS BLOG DOES NOT MANIFEST MOI MID-LIFE CRISIS!). By agonizing, then, it shows that the poem’s persona does not have that “laughing sickness.”
I read the text to signify an acknowledgement that Life is significant if not valuable (not a laughing matter or insignificant) and, thus, the poem’s persona acknowledges that s/he must behave in a way that honors the value of Life. So that while I consider the ending question to be agonizing, the questioner is not despairing and questioning his/her/hir value (as might be implied by “What good am I?”). The questioner is actually questioning how s/he is to manifest the “G O O D” that s/he should be in order to honor Life.
People who don’t ask this question—or these types of questions—on the other hand, are often those who are unthinking, unaware, jaded, unconscious … the list of adjectives can go on but it also would include those who choose to make a joke out of everything.
But note, too, the fourth stanza:” I MEAN / WITHOUT / LOOKING FOR / SOMETHING / ABOVE & / BEYOND / LIVING—”. This is an interesting sentence. To me, it reveals how one might dishonor Life by not living in the present and one’s environment, but instead in illusion. Illusion here can encompass religion, political dogma, or just illusion itself—elements where one could escape from real life to something else that may not be real. (This is mini-philosophy from a Mini Moi sitting on a mini chair, so let’s not get into that “what is real” question, okay?)
Anyway, that’s enough for now. To prevent my brain from exploding, allow Moi please to direct you to the images of the front and backside of the accordion page inside the book:
Well, well. I so appreciate the last page with its “FOR EILEEN TABIOS”!
Since I also just wrote a critical essay for a critical (pun intended) anthology forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press, READING THE DIFFICULTIES co-edited by Thomas Fink and Judith Halden-Sullivan, let me also note how John’s creation of his mini-book is consistent with his technique of recent years in creating his poems. The following is an excerpt from my essay on another of John’s publication, 2ND NOTICE OF MODIFICATIONS TO TEXT OF PROPOSED REGULATIONS:
In response to interviewer Tom Beckett’s question, “Where did/does poetry begin for you?” John Bloomberg-Rissman replies:
It begins for me in a constraint-based making of new texts out of a chorus of other voices/writings, other others, other sames, in a voyage of discovery. // [But] I don’t approach language only in terms of its materiality. I don’t think Wittgensteinian language games are purposeless (after all, the builder wants to be handed that brick, and wants to do something with it), or that Snyder was wrong when he wrote, “The moral imperative this yuga is to communicate.” So, yeah, I am trying to “say” something.
In the same interview, Bloomberg-Rissman speaks of his process of “writing beyond [him]self”: “…for the last 5 years or so [his texts] have always involved appropriating/ sampling/ collaging/ assembling/ mangling other texts.” He regards “this assemblage-work” as “the opposite of a tight corner. It ties me to, opens up for me, opens me up to, the human universe.”
Bloomberg-Rissman’s 2nd NOTICE OF MODIFICATIONS TO TEXT OF PROPOSED REGULATIONS, REGULATION AND POLICY MANAGEMENT BRANCH, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION is a document that the poet unexpectedly received as a .pdf. Its text addresses modifications on regulations for how the death penalty is administered in the state of California. Bloomberg-Rissman decided to print it out. He then created a cover to be folded around the print-out and, voila!, ... a “poem” was born.
That’s right. John’s decision to use the lines from others, in this case Nazim Hikmet and Gregory Corso, reflects a poetry-making desire to open himself up to whatever the universe contains. It is a goal currently being manifested by his in-progress project, IN THE HOUSE OF THE HANGMAN, which he’s blogging as it unfolds over at Zeitgeist Spam. Please do click on that link to see how far poetry has progressed—and if you do go to the link, you will see each blogged post followed by the many sources John accessed in order to write each section of IN THE HOUSE OF THE HANGMAN. (IN THE HOUSE..., by the way, is the third part of a larger project, Zeitgeist Spam—which I mention because moi Meritage Press published the second part, FLUX, CLOT & FROTH. Order this book—HERE for Vol. 1 and HERE for Vol. 2—to see how far Poetry has stretched since Shakespeare!) John’s projects show the commitment, restlessness and curiosity of John’s beautiful mind…
….distilled so enchantingly in his mini-book contribution to SitWithMoi’s “Books on Chairs” project. Thank you, John. But of course you’d be interested in this project … because you’re interested in the universe! On behalf of the universe, Thank you for Seeing Us!
Indeed, you saw us so clearly that you actually paid attention to the desired scale of the book: no more than 2” x 2”! That is exactly the scale of your book, which is not at all a coincidence!
Okay, where shall we “shelve” John and Kathy Bloomberg-Rissman’s book? Oh Moi thinks it’d look enchanting—and does look enchanting!—on one of the Mab Graves stools!
And because "everyone loves miniatures," as Liza at the local bookstore exclaimed, here's a close-up: