Monthly Archives: November 2008

Photos from Paul Foster Johnson’s Book Launch Party & Reading


Paul Foster Johnson @ the Apostrophe table

Paul Foster Johnson @ the Apostrophe table

The Poet Reading "Rhythmicon"

The Poet Reading


The Poet Signing Books

The Poet Signing Books


Standing Room Only!

Standing Room Only!

Below is from my introduction to Paul Foster Johnson for his reading and book launch party at Proteus Gowanus over the weekend . . . a wonderfully successful event!

In describing the work of John Asbhery, critic Paul Zweig writes the following:

“Every poem creates a mood of density and discretion, which is almost magical. And yet one never knows quite what the poems are about. His fine elaboration of images and arguments forms a concealing net, a sort of camouflage that works not much by covering over as by fascinating, so that one forgets to pursue one’s hunger for logic amid the glories of pure language” (107).

I think something similar can be said of Paul Foster Johnson’s work but with an important caveat. And that is, what Zweig describes here about Asbhery, really speaks to only one of Paul Foster Johnson’s registers. There are poems in this collection that are delightfully elusive and seduce us into believing meaning is forthcoming, but, in the end it never arrives. Like Asbhery, there is a kind of comic-tragic erosion of signification in many of Paul’s poems. It’s like having the rug pulled out from under you, but miraculously you never fall – you just float above the surface as though levitating, magically, on some supernatural syntax. But then there is another register that demands we search for a logical, perhaps even Romanticized order. These poems have an “aboutness” that demand explanation and meaning. They’re musical and lyrical, while at the same time they destabilize notions of identity and selfhood. So, these are Paul’s contrasting sensibilities—highly indeterminate language that seems to decay and then re-distribute through multiple refrains of “dislogic” versus poetic discourse that tends toward something quotidian, Romanticized, profound. These paradigms compete throughout the poems and effectively illuminate different modalities of consciousness and different possibilities of meaning by opening up the field of signification. It’s often difficult to determine—when inside of a Paul Foster Johnson poem—whether he is making sense, as uncertain as it may be, or dismantling it. In Paul’s poetry meaning exists between words, not through or in them. His words “unwork” themselves, by pulling meaning apart and by loosening the semantic surface. Referents and signifiers are not merely undefined, but they challenge definition itself, as phrases, lines and words reconfigure in varying, almost liminal permutations, thus placing the reader into new linguistic thresholds. For example, in “R13. Written Into the Bestiary.” He writes,

All larking

had been a mistake

When you were born

the wolves outside

their footfalls never neutral

abducted the plush symbols

there to greet you

Leaving you sungazing

in pine sap and ambient noise

Things in themselves

wavering in the grove

A beginning indentured you here

on the inmost beaches

surrounded by ventifacts smooth

out of the cannibals’ poems

These enjambed lines force us to disregard linearity and follow language, like the footfalls of the wolves, to some kind of neutral alterity – something outside consciousness, where we abduct our own symbols from seemingly ineffable fragments. So, yes, the poems are deeply philosophical and, as we say at Apostrophe, pataphysical. But, the poems are also beautiful and often very funny. In some poems, it’s as if clusters of words stumble upon and then trip over other clusters of words, and, then, somehow act surprised, perplexed, as if saying,“what are you doing here?! you’re language too? let’s see if we can’t undo some of this meaning, some of this convention and make everything seem otherwise.” Really, you’ll see what I mean. Take for instance this passage from the opening poem of the book, “Rhythmicon”:

Imagine the melody is a landscape you roam through,

it says—this will help you to play it better. Run

through the passage backwards—you will find

it more elastic and never exhausting itself

in a style that asphyxiates the subject. The technique

of visualization produces in this case not one apple

but bins of them, and the rain does not stop

and its pounding historizes the long march

So, this is essentially the introduction, though I did open with some passages from an essay “On Poetry” by the Russian painter, Kazimir Malevich, which I pulled from shelves of the Reanimation Library just before the reading. Some wonderful stuff about the poetic line being stuffed like a sausage! Anyway, Paul organized the event himself with the help of friends, so thanks to all for such great work, including Andrew at the Reanimation Library and Sasha at Proteus Gowanus. Stay tuned for more readings by Paul and our other writers…..

Reminder: Reading & Book Launch for Paul Foster Johnson!

A photo from Proteus Gowanus Gallery space

A photo of the Proteus Gowanus Gallery space

If you missed the Zinc Bar reading on Sunday, which was a great event, don’t fret! You have another chance to hear Paul Foster Johnson reading his work this Saturday in Brooklyn. Paul will be reading and signing books at the Proteus Gowanus Interdisciplinary Gallery and Reading Room. There will be a reception and party following the event. Details are listed below:

Paul Foster Johnson Event @ Proteus Gowanus

Saturday, November 22, 8pm
543 Union Street (at Nevins)
Brooklyn, NY

Books will be available for sale at the event, but you can also order now from SPD.

For more details (and directions) about Proteus Gowanus and their Reanimation Library visit these websites:

Paul Foster Johnson Reads at the Zinc Bar in NYC: Sunday 11.16.08!

Zinc Talk/Reading Series @ the Zinc Bar in Manhattan

82 West 3rd, two doors west of Thompson Street
November and December 2008

Sundays at 7:00

11/9, Lynn Behrendt, Patricia  Spears Jones and Thomas Devaney

11/16 Robbie Dewhurst, Brenda Iijima, Paul Foster Johnson

11/23: Bob Hershon, Sharon Mesmer and Susie Timmons


12/14 Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover

12/21 Ron Silliman and Joel Lewis.

$5 donation goes to the poets
Your hosts Joe Elliot, Kimberly Lyons and Douglas Rothschild

For more information about the Zinc Reading Series:

Subway: ACEBDV to west 4th street.
NR to spring. 1/9 to Houston.
F to Broadway Lafayette.

Paul Foster Johnson: Book Release Party and Reading!

An Image from Proteus Gowanus

The Golden Arm: An Image from Proteus Gowanus

Please join us for a great event featuring Paul Foster Johnson reading from his new book Refrains / Unworkings. Paul will be reading and signing books at the wonderful Proteus Gowanus Interdisciplinary Gallery and Reading Room in Brooklyn, NY. Details are listed below:

Paul Foster Johnson Event @ Proteus Gowanus

Saturday, November 22, 8pm
543 Union Street (at Nevins)
Brooklyn, NY

Books will be available for sale at the event, but you can also order now from SPD.

For more details (and directions) about Proteus Gowanus and their Reanimation Library visit these websites:

Also, Paul Foster Johnson will be reading at the Zinc Bar series on Sunday, 11/16 at 7pm with several other writers. The new Zinc Bar location is 82 W. 3rd Street and Thompson. Details to follow soon!