Tuesday, September 30, 2008

oil company CEO bobbleheads

C. A. Conrad interviews poet-critic Kristen Gallagher about her time at the recent Republican convention in Minneapolis. "Minneapolis/St. Paul is perhaps one of the easiest American cities to turn into a fortress." "We hooked up with some folks who were doing a satirical 'Billionaires for Bush'-style protest against Big Oil. About 40 people fake-dressed-up like rich oil barons. About 10 people wore cardboard bobble-heads, each with the face of an oil company CEO. There were boxes and boxes and boxes of very beautiful fake money with John McCain's face on the front and an oil well on the back. That money was for throwing around. It was tremendously fun."

Monday, September 29, 2008

rocky clarity

Centrism has its vices.

By now, position-taking on the Iraq War on the national political level is almost entirely muddled. Someone is against the initiation of the war, against the pre-surge strategy, "for" the surge as an effect but not as a tactic, against setting a date for withdrawal. Another won't speak any longer about initial support for the war (WMDs) but was against the strategy, for the surge, for setting a date for withdrawal. Another is against the war in Iraq because he's "for" the war in Afganistan and yet is generally against Bushian martial anti-terrorism. The problem is obviously the term "the war."

Are you for or against the war?

I'm reminded of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, who uttered this crystalline statement when asked in a press conference for his position on the Vietnam War:

My position on Vietnam is very simple. And I feel this way. I haven't spoken on it because I haven't felt there was any major contribution that I had to make at the time. I think that our concepts as a nation and that our actions have not kept pace with the changing conditions, and therefore our actions are not completely relevant today to the realities of the magnitude and complexity of the problems that we fact in this conflict.

"Very simple."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

invision your video sources

I've been using invision.tv. It's in beta testing still, but works better than just well enough for my purposes. One of these web 2.0 applications, invision allows you to organize all your web video clips - searching across the usual sources (YouTube, myspace, hulu, CNN, etc.) and also indexing many video source sites you've never heard of. As I write this I'm watching a report on a weekly Arabic poetry TV show. I'd typed "poetry" in the invision search box and of course got a bunch of crap in addition to a half dozen web video clips and stories and profiles (and excerpts from poetry readings) that I wanted to watch.

Now the Arabic poetry show is done and I'm watching a clip from a Charlie Rose episode about poetry and next up is a YouTube random selection called "Bjork's Pagan Poetry." I have doubts about that one.

Commoner use for this: get up in the morning and type in "presidential debate" and you'll get video excerpts and analysis - far beyond YouTube.

Here's your link to invision.tv. Go there and customize, picking your "interests" and your preferred "channels."

Friday, September 26, 2008

get your daily Al

Get your daily Al. Daily. Every day. Me, ephemerally. Click here for instructions.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

wooly with research

Recent review in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Click on the image above for a reasonably sized view.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

keep you from going

Defining key aspects of the modern--can't be done simply. But why not try? Here's one. The modern poem isn't about expression or expressiveness, something the poet has urgently wanted to say. It's primarily neither topical nor personal in the accepted 20th-century sense of the person who has things "inside" that must be said, written, conveyed. The poem isn't telling you you should or must know something. It doesn't cover or fill a gap, a need, a want. The poem is merely (oh that huge "merely" - but I don't mean it trivially) a means of keeping a reader from going from it, a detention, a planning to stay, and then--in it--is a remnant of the poet, all we know of him or her at that moment, then (now, the time of coming upon the words) and here (in the poem itself, making an inside that's nowhere else but where it is).

To the extent that the above definition is apt and useful, then the modern verse mode derives largely from Emily Dickinson, who in more than half her poems makes the point I've made above the matter of the poem.

And Cid Corman, not otherwise deemed Dickinsonian, is surely getting at this in this poem:

It isnt for want
of something to say--
something to tell you--

something you should know--
but to detain you--
keep you from going--

feeling myself here
as long as you are--
as long as you are.

And here is a recording of Cid Corman reading that poem (and another short one after it).

Monday, September 22, 2008

TV past its prime

Lately I'm thinking... about how bad the Emmy's are on television. I know I shouldn't be surprised but I was last night astonished - shocked, even - by the extent of the self-congratulation. These people actually believe that television is currently our most effective medium. (One TV exec said this explicitly in a speech - TV is "the most important medium for bringing people together," he announced - that was perhaps the most uninteresting thing I've ever seen on the tube, and that's saying something.) Gee, in this view the television people are at least five or six years out of date in their thinking. Yet haven't these been the medium-changing years? Their ignorance is their only willful quality.

Tim Carmody adds: "It was also bizarre to watch the Academy on the one hand honor Tommy Smothers for political insouciance and to watch everyone, EVERYONE, not just presenters, skirt anything resembling a direct political comment. We had bizarre claims about how The West Wing "was a nonpartisan exploration of politics," purely formal invocations to vote or speak truth to power, joking denunications of ugliness in political advertising, and oblique references to John Adams as a time when politicians could express complex ideas in full sentences. It was as though if anyone spoke the words Obama or McCain or Bush, the TV shock troops would have descended on the stage and the screen would go black."

alert from the edge of the blogosphere: money is a kind of cut-up

I've been using "Google Alerts" for some months. Simple to use: just enter a word or term and each morning you will receive an email message listing and linking all the web entries (including blogs) that were created in the previous 24 hours that used your word or term. My last name is rare, of course (the other Filreises--few of them--are all in my small extended family), so one term about which I have Google alerting me is "Filreis." It will pick up my own bloggy doings, and occasionally references to me elsewhere (in this sense, Google Alerts is an automated clipping service--since these references fall under the old general term "reviews").

Another term I have Google Alerts set to search is "Wallace Stevens." This is imperfect, since I pick of new uses of "Wallace" as well as a few, each day, about "Wallace Stevens." One can set Google Alerts to search only the blogosphere; I have it set to search the whole wide web including the blogosphere, blogs being, of course, merely easily updated web pages that follow a preprogrammed design protocol.

This is how I come in contact with the outer edges of the blogosphere, and occasionally I'm charmed, excited, stirred, surprised, miffed, etc. Mostly I find the air up there at the edge fairly thin. This morning, for instance, I awoke to find someone named "anf" whose blog is called "smallfriends" and whose profile says "forever hoping to look large." I don't see or sense anything small about anf so I'll assume the self-narrowness is a Dickinsonian modesty, which thus might be ironic. Perhaps she's powerful. A link to her web site tells me she's "ashlee nicolle ferlito," a San Fran-based artist, trained at Yale and in France and Cyprus. She's been blogging since January 2007--which is right about the time blogs exploded.

So, Wallace Stevens. What does Stevens mean to this young artist? She's lately been "obsessed with money" and been "fascinat[ed] with the concept of value." So she read or re-read Stevens' lecture (in The Necessary Angel) called "Imagination as Value." The value of money is "a pretty amazing mass hallucination," anf decides. She's losing (she says "loosing") the "ability" to have faith in the value of currency. Somehow symmetry become an alternative to psychic monetary deflation. Putting her blog entries (thoughts) into artistic practice seems to be anf's daily mode, and so here's what follows: photos of some dollar-bill cut-ups. If you look at anf's paintings you realize this is a digression from her usual work. For the moment her art is to make paper part of her world of smallfriends - "paper that just happens to be money." So here, above right, is what Wallace Stevens in the blogosphere has become this morning. I am intrigued by the morphing. Why not?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

talking about the inability to talk

Pier Marton's film Say I'm a Jew is about Marton's inability to talk about the Holocaust. He is a child of survivors and found that he could not talk articulately at all about it, so he decided to talk about that--his inability to talk about it. And about the inability to talk he could talk about freely.

The film is 28 minutes and can be viewed (in RealVideo format - for which you need a "RealPlayer") - on Marton's web site. Look for a link to Say I'm a Jew on the right side of the page.

Here's what Stephen Feinstein has written about Marton in Witness and Legacy: "Pier Marton is a second-generation artist who has wrestled with problems of his parents' survival and the impact of contemporary anti-Semitism. This led him to merge the video interview of children of survivors, called Say I'm a Jew, with an installation entitled Jew, set in a cattle car. Being a member of the second generation and experiencing European anti-Semitism in France in the 1950s and 1960s led Marton to the inability to openly express his Jewishness. Drawing from his own experience, Marton was obsessed with the question of how children of the second generation have coped with growing up in Europe after World War II. While attending a convention of second-generation survivors, Marton advertised for individuals willing to tell the story of their European and Jewish identity experiences on camera. Many volunteered. Marton edited bits and pieces of the video together to form an engaging artistic and psychological work. The American-European painter R. J. Kitaj has represented what he terms "diasporism" as a major component in contemporary artistic life. This is a useful concept to explain the works of many artists in this show, who constantly have to deal with a Jewish identity problem in a world that is potentially enticing and supportive and also contains anti-Semitism, denial and insult. Marton's space was made to represent a blend of cattle car, barracks and a mausoleum. As Marton has written, "Memory can fuse separate locations in an inextricable blend." Within the installation area were seats where the video played continuously. Those attending the show were encouraged to write their responses on the walls of the entrance and boxcar itself, recalling the memory of how deportees did the same on their way to death camps."

Friday, September 19, 2008

not in harmony with existing conditions

Collapse of the financial markets has me thinking about which parts of the economy go first. The arts are not first to go, not now, in part because so many artists are already affiliated with institutiona through "regular" jobs and with universities. Once upon a time artists were among the first two or three economic segments to suffer. This isn't to say that those with regular (non-arts-related) jobs won't get hurt--only that they will get hurt in the usual order of bad times, sector by sector without respect (and I mean that word) to the arts' relevance or irrelevance.

In the 1930s, of course, the government put unemployed artists to work in federal arts projects that included murals for post offices. Many of the post offices had themselves just been designed and built by people who'd been on the dole and picked up work through the New Deal feds.

This meant - famously - that for the first time residents of American bohemia were in more or less direct contact with small-town America. I mean, it's really the case that federally employed artists were "sent out" to communities to paint murals in what then was one of the few social meetingplaces in such towns, the P.O. This produced quite a convergence, and the social results were mostly good. (Much has been written about this.)

Not often but occasionally local conservatives hated the populist, pro-worker, bottom-up scenes depicted in the murals, or thought the paintings showed too much leg, or in general believed the local culture had been mis-represented.

Residents of Port Washington, New York objected to the artist Paul Cadmus's designs for the local post office showing the resort town's summer people engaged in youthful sports, and especially to a girl clad in shorts in a yachting panel. Cadmus reworked his design and put pajamas on the "hot stuff" in the yachting panel.

Westward on the prairie, the Cheyenne Indians pitched a tepee on the lawn of the Watongo, Oklahoma, Post Office until the artist Edith Mahier changed the Indian ponies in her mural which Chief Red Bird said resembled oversized swans and Indian children who looked like cornmeal-bloated pigs.

The artist Joseph Vorst repainted the post office mural in Paris, Arkansas, when local civic groups objected that the lone farmer pushing an antiquated plow in the first mural failed to reflect the progressive nature of the community.

In the mining community of Kellogg, Idaho, Local 18 of the Mine Workers and Smelt Workers praised Fletcher Martin's dramatic design, "Mine Rescue," as distinctly appropriate for the post office while local industrialists rejected it as not in harmony with existing conditions. The industrialists carried and Martin eventually installed a noncontroversial scene of purely local interest. At the top of this entry is a reproduction of "Mine Rescue," the rejected work, and just below is the painting with which Martin replaced it.

In Maryland the director of Glendale Children's Tuberculosis Sanitarium ordered receiving room walls whitewashed after the artist Bernice Cross had decorated them with scenes from Mother Goose. The director considered the work "unsuitable to the dignity of a public institution."

For more about all this, click here.

counting to 538

This morning's electoral map according to 538, which I check daily. Obama = 284.5; McCain = 253.5.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

gigabytes of poetry

As of today there are 16,325 free downloadable files (mostly audio - a few video) of poets reading their own poems in the now-enormous PennSound archive. That's 167 gigabytes - a lot of stuff. And...in the last year (dating back from now) there have been about 20 million downloads of PennSound files.

husk and bark left on the notes

I've unearthed Robert Shelton's September 29, 1961 NYT review of Bob Dylan at Gerde's Folk City. "Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap." "Mr. Dylan is both comedian and tragedian." "...a scarcely understandable growl or sob..." "All the husk and bark are left on the notes." Here's the whole review.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

old man beaver split into singles

Have you been checking on "PennSound Daily" lately? Good stuff there. Almost daily entries compiled by Mike Hennessey.

The newest update announces the good news that Mike and the PennSound team have split up Jerome Rothenberg's April poetry reading at the Writers House into individual poem recordings.

Here's what Mike has to say, in part:

Drawing heavily from the three books collected in Trilogy (Poland/1931, Khurbn and The Burning Babe), as well as 1968's Technicians of the Sacred, 1999's A Paradise of Poets and 2003's A Book of Concealments, the poet read for nearly ninety-minutes, leaving his audience clamoring for more as he concluded with "Night Poems in Memoriam Jackson Mac Low," and a rousing rendition of A Seneca Journal's "Old Man Beaver's Blessing Song," a favorite of the students with whom he'd worked during his visit to UPenn. Of course, Rothenberg's illuminating conversation with PennSound co-director Al Filreis is also available, as is PoemTalk #7, in which Filreis, Bob Holman, Randall Couch and Jessica Lowenthal discuss Rothenberg's poem, "A Paradise of Poets."

Since his springtime visit, Rothenberg has kept busy, launching his new blog, Poems and Poetics, as well as the collection Poetics and Polemics: 1980-2005. This Sunday, from 4:00-6:00 at the Bowery Poetry Club, he'll be leading a 40th Anniversary Celebration of Technicians of the Sacred, which will also feature Charles Bernstein, George Economou, Bob Holman, Pierre Joris, Charlie Morrow, Rochelle Owens, Nicole Peyrafitte, Diane Rothenberg, Carolee Schneemann, and Cecilia Vicuna. Click here for more information on that event, and click here to experience Rothenberg's masterful April reading one more time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

mirror, mirror

I haven't seen Steve DeFrank's new show at Margaret Thatcher Projects (Chelsea; 511 West 25th Street) yet but I hope to get there very soon. Here are some links: 1 2 3.

featured meme

The folks at Polymeme.com have linked the newest PoemTalk episode.

Friday, September 12, 2008

writing through modernism circa 2000

Back in the fall of 2000 we invited nine poets to "read through" their relationship to a modernist poet. They talked and read their own and that modernist's poems. Each presented for 20 minutes. We recorded the events (three nights) and made audio recordings available (then in RealAudio format). In the past few months one of our digital editors, the masterful Mike Van Helder, organized all this material, converted the streaming RealAudio files into downloadable mp3s, made the links really easy to use, and copied the poem files onto the PennSound author page of each of the nine poets.

The newly designed "Nine Poets Read Themselves through Modernism" page is here: LINK

Lyn Hejinian on Stein
Ron Silliman on Williams
Joan Retallack on Stein, Wittgenstein and Cage
Charles Bernstein on Benjamin
Rachel Blau DuPlessis on Woolf
Erica Hunt on Beckett and Baldwin
Jena Osman on Reznikoff
Bob Perelman on Zukofsky
Rae Armantrout on Dickinson

The idea for the project was Bob Perelman's. Kerry Sherin Wright and I hosted and introduced.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

googling lipstick on a pig

"Lipstick on a Pig" is the title of a book about "winning in the no-spin era by someone who knows the game" (i.e., its author, Torie Clarke). (The jacket photo of Ms. Clarke depicts her wearing no lipstick. She should consider running for office.)

If you type in "lipstick on a pig" in Google this morning, the link to Clarke's book is the only entry you will find, for pages and pages, that doesn't directly relate to the fainting-couch response to Obama's recent use of the old phrase and the Obama-ite response to the false outrage. As I write this entry, I'm clicking on pages of Google entries generated by my use of the phrase in the search box. On page 35 (yes, the 35th screen of links) I'm sent to a blog called "Tennesse Guerilla Women". "For someone who is famous for having a way with words, Barack Obama sure drops more than his share of sexist gaffes" etc.

Finally, halfway down the 35th page of links, I get to one Ken Conner attacking Planned Parenthood on OrthodoxyToday.org. His entry is called "Trying to Put Lipstick on a Pig" and here is his opening paragraph: Planned Parenthood is in search of a makeover. For years, the organization has been the biggest abortionist in the business, but as abortion is losing its cachet, Planned Parenthood is trying to reinvent itself. It seems that killing children for cash is just not as fashionable as it used to be.

Finally a real ideological instance: critics of the Blackberry consider the model 9000 to be "lipstick on a pig."

The whole debate about this middle-American idiom becomes, at least for me, more rather than less edifying as I scroll further down and away from the "direct" responses to the "issue." I understand American culture and language more from its use on OrthodoxyToday.org and by the "I Like My Old Blackberry" crazies than from Chris Matthews whose Hardball last night was based on this absolute paradox: We are going to spend the whole show tonight talking about a false response to a non-issue that should not be an issue on our show.

What if a lipsticked pig grunted in a forest and nobody came?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

dead invoked for McCain

John Rich of Big & Rich is already well known as a McCain guy. He's written a song called "Raising McCain” which has become the campaign's anthem.

Rich has been saying that “I’m sure Johnny Cash would have been a John McCain supporter if he was still around."

But now daughter of the late Johnny, Rosanne Cash (about whom I've written here before), has stepped in to remind Rich and us that it's not such a good idea to recruit dead people to work for one political campaign or another. Here's what Rosanne said:

“It is appalling to me that people still want to invoke my father’s name, five years after his death, to ascribe beliefs, ideals, values and loyalties to him that cannot possibly be determined and to try to further their own agendas by doing so. Even I would not presume to say publicly what I ‘know’ he thought or felt. This is especially dangerous in the case of political affiliation. It is unfair and presumptuous to use him to bolster any platform.”

At a McCain rally, Rich had said: "Somebody’s got to walk the line in the country. They’ve got to walk it unapologetically."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

narrative medicine

For several years people affiliated with the Kelly Writers House here have been gathering under the clever series title "Word.Doc" (word dot doc) to talk about narrative medicine and "to discuss and experience the ways in which medicine, narrative, literature and art inform one another in creative and useful ways." A now somewhat dated web site was created by these folks.

One year they made a Word.Doc t-shirt - images from its front and back are below.

This series is one of many that KWH hosts. Have a look at the complete list.

really she's Betty Goldstein, commie

A woman presents herself as a typical suburban housewife, but she's really a communist Jewess with a hidden political agenda. And she lied.

Lied about what? About her political past? No, not really. She "lied" in describing the daily situation of suburban women in 1950s America by implying that she herself fully lived that experience herself. True, she hadn't fully lived it (she had a maid, and was so politically busy that she wasn't the primary tender of her and her husband Carl's home) but when the conservative attack on her, in Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique, was published, the term "lie" was used all over the place but when you actually read the book you realize it's based on an interpretation (an arguable one, to be sure) of her book's thesis.

There's probably not an attack on civil-rights liberalism much more powerful than anti-feminist anticommunism.

Here are the opening paragraphs of David Horowitz' 1999 review of the book about Friedan by Daniel Horowitz (no relation):

Why has this feminist icon continued to cover up her years as a party activist? What is it with progressives? Why do they feel the need to lie so relentlessly about who they are? Recently Rigoberta Mench's autobiography was exposed as a complete hoax. Now it's Betty Friedan's turn to be revealed as a feminist fibber.

In a new book, "Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique", Smith College professor Daniel Horowitz (no relation) establishes beyond doubt that the woman who has always presented herself as a typical suburban housewife until she began work on her groundbreaking book was in fact nothing of the kind. In fact, under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein, she was a political activist and professional propagandist for the Communist left for a quarter of a century before the publication of "The Feminist Mystique" launched the modern women's movement.

And here's the rest of the review.

Monday, September 08, 2008

eating is her subject and so is herself

PoemTalk's 10th episode is being released today. In this show Bob Perelman, Lee Ann Brown, Jerome Rothenberg and I talk about a verse portrait written by Gertrude Stein. Imagine that - doing Stein in 20 minutes. No easy task...but very pleasurable. Here's your link.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

blog tail wags newspaper dog

I've been reading often and widely on McCain's rhetorical strategic switcheroo (he drops the experience claim after picking Palin) and his tightrope-walking on change (he's 90% the same as Bush but avoids all mention of the Prez and claims that he would bring everything New New New New to government). Blogs several times per day. And, on the iPod, two or three extensive podcasts a day (my favorite weeklies are "Left, Right & Center" and "Slate's Political Gabfest" but I also listen to CSPAN's "Road to the White House" which gives you full audio of stump speeches).

One of the daily blogs on which I depend is that of my colleague Dick Polman, "The American Debate". Sometimes Dick seems to need to please the conservative side of his audience, and thus treads lightly. Mostly he does not tread lightly: he's incisive, sees the whirling rhetoric through the spin, writes well and--best of all--is out there for me every single day.

Dick's blog started out as an experiment he was trying on the side - an unaffiliated, unadorned blogger site (like the one you're reading now). A few months ago (April '08) he moved over to a fancier Philly.Com site. Even before that move, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran his American Debate blog column every week or so, continuing Dick's many years as the Inky's chief national political correspondent. Now (happily for me and many others) he's at Penn teaching journalistic writing (and indeed writing political anslysis for blogs) to undergraduates but maintains a connection to the Inky through the blog. It's a good instance of how creating an indy blog can become the tail that wags the dog. In fact, it might be the best instance of that fairly new phenomenon I know.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

anti-intellectualism & its contents

William Carlos Williams' misunderstood, overused mantra, "No ideas but in things," succeeded in mobilizing the young modernist and later post-modernist base (to use the election-season idiom, aptly I think). It also, unfortunately, tended to alienate the undecided middle. Many used it as an excuse to express a false anti-anti-intellectualism. (False because they themselves were showing their anti-intellectual impulse in making the claim "against" Williams.) Others, allegedly pro-WCW, used "No ideas" to sanction their head-in-sand-ism: verse is distinct from all other disciplines and interpretive activities (history, sociology, political analysis), different in sticking to the "purity" of sensory apprehension, of observation, and/or the material world stripped of ideology or of "agendas."

By April 1963 - a month after WCW's death (this was an elegy of sorts) - the misunderstandings seemed so bad to Hayden Carruth, a proponent of Williams' ideas about things, Carruth felt the need to write a hyperventilated parallelistic one-sentence paragraph on the matter:

"When they set aside everything in Paterson, beyond the statement that there are 'no ideas but in things,' when they say that the statement is literally true, when they claim it as a sanction for their anti-intellectual attitudes, and finally when they use it as a warrant for attempting to write poems without ideas, poems which (in their terms) will have the 'purity' of 'self-existent objects,' then they are doing Williams, themselves, and all poetry, a grave disservice."*

Here's a lot of theys. You'd think the antecdent would be a major point made in previous paragraphs, but no. "They" = (mentioned just once prior to this outpouring) Williams' "disciples and admirers."

With friends like these...

* The New Republic, April 13, 1963, pp. 2, 3, 32.

Friday, September 05, 2008

zap retrospective

One of the new shows at the ICA is "R. Crumb's Underground". It runs from September 5 through December 7. Congratulations to my friends at the ICA are in order - for creating this exhibit and on the good review in today's New York Times. That review begins this way:

PHILADELPHIA — What a long, strange trip it’s been. Over the course of his five-decade career the comic artist R. Crumb has gone from hero of the hippie underground to toast of the international art world. Founder of the deliriously psychedelic and ribald Zap Comix during the Haight-Ashbury wonder years, he has more recently contributed comic strips made in collaboration with his wife, Aline Kominsky Crumb, to The New Yorker. In 2004 he was included in the Carnegie International and had a career retrospective at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany.

Now the Institute of Contemporary Art here offers “R. Crumb’s Underground,” an excellent opportunity to ponder Mr. Crumb’s incredible journey. This enthralling selection of more than 100 works from all phases of his career was organized by Todd Hignite, the publisher and editor of Comic Art magazine, for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, where it was on view in 2007.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

few peers among rats

Dennis Drabelle has published a review of Counter-Revolution of the Word. Here are two excerpts:

Al Filreis undertook two tasks: to be a good “archive rat” (a term he has borrowed from historian Richard Hofstadter, who used it dismissively) and to explain a complex movement that blended politics and aesthetics. As a rat, Filreis has few peers. He sifted through special collections, private letters, and other unpublished material in venues from Syracuse to Austin and beyond (even Truchas, New Mexico); thanks to these labors, he has seen through pseudonyms, traced connections unknown to previous scholars, and rescued from oblivion both unjustly neglected poets and their cranky detractors.

The final impression left by this book, however, is a sense of wonder. How seriously everyone—conservatives and liberals alike—seems to have taken poetry a mere half-century ago!

Monday, September 01, 2008

a course about itself

This fall I'm teaching my favorite course - a crazily fast-paced survey of modern and contemporary American poetry. We start with Dickinson and Whitman and finish with poetry written yesterday. The schedule is arranged as a series of chapters proceeding from pre-modernism through modernism (Williams and Stein in particular) and then a short sequence of three doubts about modernism, versions of antimodernisms. After that we consider a fourth antimodernism - the new formalism of the 1950s. Then the Beats as a reaction against the new formlist reaction. Then the New York School as another form of the same reaction against antimodernist reaction. Then an introduction to the languagy side of post-1975 avant-garde verse. Finally a look at what might be called documentary postmodernism.

Geez, I love the roughness of the story I just told of the course and the course of poetry from modernism through postmodernism - am always intrigued, but never more so than here, by the furious learning provoked by the self-consciously binaristic narrative the course proposes. For, you see, the students are asked to destroy that narrative. And the model for that student-centered pedagogy is much of the poetry itself. For example, the give-and-take-away quality of William Carlos Williams's "Portrait of a Lady". Or the anti-binaristic series-not-essence quality of Silliman's "Albany". Silliman there tells a story that might have been sequential (before it became language) but which if told in order would impoverish real understanding of the order of things.

Similarly, I'm happy with the course as a survey - not normally, these days, a positive term - because the idea of survey, with its assumption of causes and effects, is pretty much constantly itself the topic of discussion.

In poets' response to poets, heuristic oppositions give way to interanimations - cross-influences, the sometimes surprising sharing of aesthetic lineages. And, when the course is going well, the structure of discussion - and of the writing of "position papers" - operate just the same way. This is a course about itself as a way - an alternative to the usual survey approach - of teaching not just content (a particular history) but a mode of structuring thought.