Eliot Cardinaux


New Book: Nativity – OUT NOW on The Bodily Press

Eliot Cardinaux’s newest collection of poetry, Nativity, now out on The Bodily Press, is a 4 part sequence exploring the symbols, images, and phenomena of the present age. It includes an exhibition of highly triggered, symbolic, imagistic poems, entitled “Guests;” an essay outlining the author’s “Theses on the Philosophy of Rarity” in the digital age; a short selection of personal dedications in verse, titled “Sentiments;” and a long-form, fragmentary poetics, also in verse, entitled “is the soft boy ready.”

‘I’m thinking of an inverse poetry, which turns experience outward like a flower, raises up without empathy, and echoes the reader, without ensnaring; its collection would be, like their trace upon a winter city, a ghost town for friends.’
-Eliot Cardinaux, from the introduction to Nativity


Cover from Nativity

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Cut the String – an Essay in Disproportions

I have a framework in mind for a dialogue about music. I witness beauty in the world, and I’d like to capture that beauty in contemplation at my instrument, but with the world the way it is, the political landscape being as such that beauty might not seem enough, I find it useful to comment on the phenomenon of witnessing beauty in this world.

Now, to me, good music always has at its edges something profound, the idea that it is, at any time, potentially under threat from forces outside of its creators’ immediate control. Beyond this paradox, for me, lies the understanding that somehow beauty, hard as one might try, cannot be taken away — by the ugly, the violence, the misery — that it somehow contains the latter, and that the precept of beauty as a sovereign entity unto itself is false. I admit that at the point of intersect between myself and my music, and oftentimes between nature and art, lies the root of my curiosity at the fault of this potentiality, like a sapling growing out over the edge of a cliff.


My line of thought goes back to Plato and Aristotle’s conversation about the theory of mimesis, (which Susan Sontag writes about in her essay, “Against Interpretation”), in which Plato concludes that art is useless because it is nothing but an imitation of natural forms, and that natural forms themselves are no more than an imitation of transcendent forms and structures.

In her essay, Sontag pinpoints Aristotle’s disaccord with Plato as occurring only in his belief that art is useful “after all, […] medicinally useful in that it arouses and purges dangerous emotions.” When I think of these emotions, I also think of their taking-root in the mind as thought, and in the heart as bitterness. “The hardened hearts of humanity,” calls Leonard Cohen, “the real weapons of mass destruction.”


At this point I would like to raise a question that in some ways might seem rooted in its reasons-adherent to guilt, or to some form of binary understanding of impact, be it positive on the one hand, or negative on the other. Art can be questionable. It can be good, it can be bad, and the same goes for music. But is music-making “action?” When I think of the mode of understanding that Aristotle employs for seeking out the usefulness of art (i.e. its medicinal use in that it arouses and purges dangerous emotions), I have to question the motives of Plato to begin with in trying to find a “use” for art. That being said, Plato didn’t live in 21st century America where the media is running rampant with racism and climate denial, while enabling the people who seem to have the most control in exercising some sort of solution and yet are doing –– not only nothing, but far worse –– much more damage than good in the situation. I don’t know enough about the Greeks to even begin to comment on the context of Plato’s inquiry. However, if music-making is action, what would make that action most effective in “arousing and purging” those “dangerous emotions” that lead to more violence, more hatred, more greed, less compassion –– that lead us further from a solution to our problems, not only as a nation, but also as a species?

If it is harmful action into which these dangerous emotions transform themselves, aroused but unpurged, do we not have a responsibility as musicians to be not only honest and compassionate, but raw in our emotional expression as we perform? If one sees no reason why we should worry for music, one need only to look at the basic tenets of our current (i.e. musical) industrial infrastructure, where music is streamed, often at no cost at all, and then there is therefore little revenue, most of which goes into the pockets of the shareholders of Spotify or Apple Music, or whatever. Besides, we all know that things are different; if they were not, why then would an artist place so much attention — put so much care into the form and consistency of their work to begin with? One might operate on the assumption that art is self-serving, that the artist believes they will be led to the resolution of their own “dangerous emotions” or whatever, on their own, in a natural way, through and by their art, an art which is sovereign and all encompassing; one might daydream a little: “beyond the denial of natural forms — how could art make itself more useless?”


Paul Celan

In 1960, the poet Paul Celan received the Georg Büchner prize. The acceptance speech he gave called for a “radical calling into question of the sovereignty of art.” In 1970, only ten years later, he drowned himself in the Seine.

Now, if we see this in terms of the artist’s psychic collaboration with their audience — the viewer, the reader, the listener — we have only an inkling of what Celan might have meant. Art and music are not the same thing, nor is poetry their triplicate, the idiom in which the poet dedicated himself. Is the artist sovereign over their work? Only in creating it, and even that is in question, but certainly not after. And if so, it follows that art itself is not — that which exists in the realm of abstraction — sovereign. Over whom? The listener, the viewer, or the reader? Over artists themselves? Perhaps, for as Sontag, in her essay, quotes D.H. Lawrence: “never trust the teller, trust the tale…”

Paul Celan survived the holocaust, lost both his parents, and suffered in exile for the remainder of his years in Paris, something that we all should think about before testing the waters in this manner. What he meant was not lost on us.

Wasn’t it James Baldwin who pronounced to the artist, “you are being used, in the way a crab is useful, in the way that sand certainly has some function.” Susan Sontag sheds some light on this in a different manner. She says, “it doesn’t matter whether artists intend, or don’t intend, for their works to be interpreted.” Sontag argues against interpretation in that “all observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content.” By interpreters. It is easy to talk about art, Celan said as he received his accolade. Quotes Celan, “Long live the king!” George Büchner’s Lucile –– at the end of Danton’s Death, when all the artists in their art-serving way are on the gallows, as puppets –– “cuts the string” in Celan’s words, “paying homage to the majesty of the absurd as witness for the presence of the human” with her phrase which Celan equated, for the time being, perhaps his time, perhaps only temporarily, with poetry itself.


New record in the can!

dimension sound

Eliot Cardinaux at Dimension Sound Studio
in Jamaica Plain, MA

Hello folks,

I laid my new solo record down yesterday at Dimension Sound studio in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, where I live. Solo piano, prepared piano, spoken word. Compositions and improvisations written and developed over the course of the last year. I even whispered a little. Stay tuned…



Thoughts on Being and Action after not encountering Hermeto Pascoal

I’ve come to realize that everybody carries a form of responsibility over their music. This makes me think on Hermeto Pascoal’s visit to receive his honorary doctorate from NEC while I was working in the shop outside the hall. I saw nothing of him, except in photographs, during the course of that day. However, the overwhelming lightness of his presence, I felt, and felt still the next day and throughout the course of that week on the block by the Conservatory. It carried its own music to me, by way of those people around him who were willing enough to let it in. It was as if he allowed this to happen. However, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of justice in his presence there, too.

(Hermeto Pascoal with Ken Schaphorst)

It is difficult to consistently carry a spirit like that to others, that is creative. Under circumstances which on the surface deny it its right to exist, it seems doubly encouraging, when it does. However, it is honest for me to say, that it’s a right and responsibility to carry on the work of music so that, rightly, it speaks freely and truthfully, and that the caretaker is no longer caretaker, and so on, but an active exponent of the spirit of sound and humanity. That being said, the word ‘humanity’ has a certain ring these days that I’m not quite sure how to feel about.

I’m not just talking about what does it mean to be human, what is humanity, and all that. I’m also talking about the way language shifts throughout the course of an era, an age, a decade; a year, a day, and so on and so forth. I would guess that since I use words in my music, many people think that’s why I care so much about language; I’m not sure that’s the case. I think about language because it is the medium in which things express themselves (I’m paraphrasing Walter Benjamin, from an essay he wrote called “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man”). Gender biases aside, perhaps inherent in the title, in this essay, Benjamin works out a sort of root logistics for a phenomenology of language, in that it stems, in Western Society, from the bible and so forth, “in the beginning was the Word” and all that, for one, but also in that (and again, I’m paraphrasing) things express themselves, in language, not through language, as the case may be, as it is oftentimes expressed in colloquial terms.

This struck me as true, however, about how I felt when Hermeto Pascoal was in Boston. It didn’t seem to be the things that he was saying, (from what I heard, he made a delightful sound when given the mic) and that it was what he was expressing that came through so clearly I could feel it around me even though I hadn’t witnessed that in person.

This leads me to think about the realm of intersection between being and action, and that those two are interlinked, by example, in the realm of that which is felt, that which is felt, not feeling, and by which choices may be made; therefore underlining the frame under which being and action operate, that is by feeling: one can act, and therefore not react in the realm of that which is felt. Thanks Hermeto.

The Bodily Press


Official Press Launch
Triple Book Release & Reading
Sat. Feb. 4th, 7:00PM
@ Goodrich House
36 Goodrich Rd.
Jamaica Plain

Dear Friends,

As most of you know, I’ve been publishing small books of poetry on my own for about 4 years now; never digitally, but let’s face it – it gets lonely out there for a guy and a computer, and for a while I’ve wanted to start printing books for other people. Rare bits of music released on tape as well, go hand in hand with that, I guess. So today, The Bodily Press awakens, kneeling; and scratches its head at the altar of technology, at last. Read the rest of this entry »

Theses on the Philosophy of Rarity


In the present age, visual and aural senses are the only used to absorb those works of art that are digitally reproduced and distributed. In the case of other senses, we rely on synesthesia as it correlates with these differing modes of expression. In a museum, one is rarely allowed to touch a work of art; as Benjamin states, one may simply stand near it, amidst its “aura.” Read the rest of this entry »


Photo by Michelle Arcila Opsvik



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Music and the Mechanics of a Beloved Creature

Existential answers, like the answers provided by some religions, are a means by which we attempt to find comfort in the present moment. A good example would be this: if someone is going through a rough time, and consequently finds out that others around him are also going through a rough time, that person might find an answer in astrology: say, “Mercury is in retrograde.” The flip side of this answer might be that Read the rest of this entry »

Excerpts from “The Gown of Entry”

The Fit of God

These are from The Gown of Entry, a short collection of prose poems I am working on currently. Feels nice to break into a new way of dealing with language. Because of the prose, some say Read the rest of this entry »

Ways to Mouth


Ways to word


These are part of an ongoing series of writings in which I’m beginning to document my poetic process. These are not meant as a manual for writing, although they indeed intend to spark conversation and thought surrounding the process of writing for many other people beside myself. There is no one way to write, and therefore any convictions I gain throughout this process will remain my own, except if they are transliterated by others into their own ways to mouth. I use the word transliteration, which means Read the rest of this entry »