Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

PoemTalk #39 is out

PoemTalk episode 39 is out. Have a listen.

an unfinished film

At right: Yael Hersonski.

Pier Marton, whose ideas about film and video I completely trust, has written a blurb-length review of Yael Hersonski's An Unfinished Film, a work I haven't seen (but will soon, somehow) and, based on what I've heard and read so far, want to consider using at the end of my course on representations of the Holocaust. Be sure to re-read the review on Pier's good site. Here's Pier:

- - -

Beyond the Visible: A Vital Film (w. review)

December 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Yael Hersonski’s An Unfinished Film
Had posted a trailer back in August, but this film requires much more attention. My short review: One of the sharpest media literacy lesson to be found: the set-up and staging stink… we are indeed all actors in a terrible movie, but it is clear that whatever the word “hell” stands for, these images were conceived through one of the most vicious deceptions ever devised in “that place.” As the indictment reaches us all, the images in all of their obscenity (in the sense of what should be “off stage”) scream for the possibility of an “ethical viewership,” away from our scopophilic universe. An urgent and vital film which like the Holocaust and ALL mass murders cannot be digested. Not to forget, and to do something now before it is, once more, too late. –>A+

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

the other tradition

Per Larry Sawyer, Andrew Whiteman has asked the following:

I’m interested in poetry of the ‘other tradition,’ as spoken about by Jerome Rothenberg or Marjorie Perloff or blogged by Al Filreis or Lemon Hound. It’s not simply contemporary work. It’s a way of reading poetry through types of restlessness of being in the world. It could be Pound translating “The Seafarer” or it could be Linh Dinh’s photo blog; the poet is engaging with the ‘soul of the world’ which he or she finds to be fucked up in some way or another. The stance of being against the zeitgeist. Saying that, I definitely am not a fan of all types of ‘rebellious’ / ‘disruptive’ poetry, whether abstruse or ‘slam’, just because it speaks out. Nor do I dislike the haiku of Basho or the ‘everydayness’ of Berrigan and the New Yorkers. I suppose the way I read these writers is that their voices are implicitly rejecting of what society-at-large was pimping at the time. I feel like the times are hurtful, solipsistic to a new level and cruel and ignorant to staggering degrees. Poetry is a way to make vision clear. What’s my fucked up version of Shelley? “Poets are the true legislators of the unacknowledged world.”

Andrew Whiteman is a Canadian musician and songwriter. Forming the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir in Toronto out of high school, he eventually left the band in 1993 after eight years and went on to produce a solo effort, Fear of Zen, in 1995, as well as an album with the band Que Vida in 1998. Leslie Feist subsequently invited Whiteman to collaborate with herself and what was then essentially the core of Broken Social Scene—Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew and Justin Peroff.[1] The chemistry was successful and Whiteman became one of the band's four members to consistently appear in every tour. Whiteman also fronts the band Apostle of Hustle with bassist Julian Brown and drummer Dean Stone.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Thanks to Beth Kwon.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the pure products of America

On July 8, 1999, we at the Writers House held our first live interactive webcast. The discussion was all about William Carlos Williams's "To Elsie" (the pure products of America go crazy) from Spring and All. I hosted and was joined by Bob Perelman, Shawn Walker, and Kristen Gallagher. We fielded questions from people watching on the internet, among them Jena Osman and Terrence Diggory.

It was streamed as video in RealVideo format and preserved as a video later in the same format. (Those who have RealPlayers installed still can watch the grainy video.) Later we extracted the audio from the video and now we've segmented that audio into topical segments. Here are the segments:

[] Bob Perelman reading "To Elsie" (2:21)

[] Kristen Gallagher on facing alterity (4:30)

[] Al Filreis on the poem's uncertainty (1:54)

[] Bob Perelman and Al Filreis on "the pure products of America" and the issue of control (5:26)

[] Shawn Walker, Al Filreis, Kristen Gallagher and Bob Perelman on Williams' position towards Elsie (6:44)

[] Bob Perelman and Al Filreis on imagination (8:26)
audience comments and Bob Perelman on "peasant traditions" (3:17)

[] Bob Perelman on how the open architecture and "unsuccessful" quality of Williams' poems are relevant to poetics today

[] Al Filreis on Williams' attraction to the new "mixed" American culture

Here is the link to the page with links to audio and video.

PennSound's Williams page includes eight recordings of the poet reading this poem. Check them out! Here is the text of the poem:

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags-succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum-
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie--
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

children with renal disease

This holiday season I have been raising money to send kids with kidney failure to camp next summer. My goal is $13,000 and I'm now at $11,770. I invite readers of my blog to go here ( and consider--please--making a donation. The gift you make for this kids is fully tax deductible, and the online system is good and secure, I promise.

I've been associated with Frost Valley since I was 8 years old. I was a camper, then a counselor, then a director for many summers and now proudly serve as a member of the Board of Trustees.

In 1975, Frost Valley partnered with the Ruth Gottscho Kidney Foundation to become the first camp in the world to offer children with kidney disease a chance to experience summer camp ("mainstreamed" with healthy kids) while also receiving their dialysis treatments. These children have experienced sleepaway camp while gaining confidence and independence in what is typically their first time away from family and home. Most learn new skills for managing and coping with their medical condition. I've seen this program succeed miraculously for 30 years.

The cost of sending one child on dialysis to camp for a two-week session is $1,500. Will you join me and please make a donation today?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

paid summer internships

Today we announced our summer 2011 RealArts@PENN paid internships. Click here for more. We created this program because we began to feel that the standard summer internship--especially in the arts--was exploitative. Orgs and companies want free smart help from college students desperate for a line on the resume and "real" "experience." An already bad trend has gotten worse because of the bad economy and because in newspapers and publishing there are the additional pressures of the changing "business plan." Our internships have been created each through a special partnership. Since we pay the stipend we are able to shape the process of selection (although finally the interns are chosen by the staff of the host entities).

romantic and neo-romantic poems (audio)

At left: William Blake, "The Ancient of Days," 1794.

On October 7, 2009, Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson, editors of the third volume of Poems for the Millenium, came to the Writers House, gathering some friends and colleagues - and we all put on a show: readings from the anthology of romantic and post- and neo-romantic poems. The readings ranged from Black to Heine to Whitman to Perelman.

Now we (thanks to the talented Anna Zalokostas) present a fully segmented set of recordings from this event.

Download some romantic poems to your iPod this holiday and listen while you shop or while you drop.

Here is a link to the PennSound page, and here, below, are the segments described:

- - -

Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffery Robinson reading "The Ancient Poets" and "The Voice of the Devil" from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; "Athenaeum Fragment 116" from Friedrich Karl Vilhelm von Schlegel; "To Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818" from John Keats; an excerpt from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, Fifth Book; and "An Archaic Torso of Apollo" from Rainer Maria Rilke (11:51)

Charles Bernstein reading a poem after Edward Lear's "The Old Man of Whitehaven"; CB tr. of an 1847 poem from Victor Hugo's Les Contemplations; "The Ballad of Burdens" from Algernon Charles Swinburne; CB tr. of Heinrich Heine's "Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht" followed by poem after "Der Tod" from Shadowtime; his own "The Introvert," after William Wordsworth's "The Hermit"; excerpt from Walt Whitman's "RESPONDEZ!"; CB tr. of Charles Baudelaire's "Enivrez-vous": "Be Drunken"; William Blake's "The Sick Rose" from Song of Experience (12:12)

Jerome Rothenberg reading a Samuel Taylor Coleridge and JR tr. of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Mignon's Song"; Coleridge on urine (3:38)

Rachel Blau DuPlessis reading from William Wordsworth's The Prelude, Book Five; followed by a brief selection from her own "Wanderer" (12:04)

Jeffery Robinson reading "Ode: Composed on A May Morning" by William Wordsworth; followed by his own "Vernal Song of Blithe May after William Wordworth"; an excerpt from Wordworth's "The Triad"; his own "Poem on the Letter 'A'" (6:29)

George Economou reading "The Shark" from Dionysios Solomos; "The Maldive Shark" from Herman Melville; "Shipwrecks and Sharks" from Isidore Ducassee, comte de Lautreamont; his own "The Amorous Drift of the First Hoplite on the Right Wing" (13:33) [At right: George Economou reading from Melville.]

Jerome Rothenberg reading "On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery" from Percy Bysshe Shelley (3:02)

Rochelle Owens reading "Judith" from Adah Isaacs Menken; her own "Song from Out of Ur" (16:05)

Jeffery Robinson reading Emily Dickinson's "I think I was enchanted" (1:50)

Bob Perelman reading his own work "Transcription" (13:33)

Jerome Rothenberg reading his own poem "Romantic Dadas, for Jeffrey Robinson" (1:23)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Klaus Barbie: "He took pleasure in it."

Simple historical math. This kind of trial (see below) doesn't happen any more. Most perpetrators and many and probably most victims are superannuated or gone. Yet when I watched the Klaus Barbie trial in the late 1980s, I had a ho-hum attitude about it. Read the news stories and took it all mostly for granted. Then the shock--now, going back to it--of reading even the blandest standard newspaper stories about it (bland=he had a smile as thin as a knife blade). In the spirit of being shocked in such a manner, I present the full text of a March 1987 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- - -

Klaus Barbie: women testify of torture at his hands

Saturday, March 23, 1987 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer

LYON, France--In 1944, when she was 13, Simone Lagrange testified yesterday, Klaus Barbie gave her a smile as thin as a knife blade, then hit her in the face as he cuddled a cat at the Gestapo headquarters in Lyon.

Lise Lesevre, 86, said Barbie tortured her for nine days in 1944, beating her, nearly drowning her in a bathtub and finally breaking one of her vertebrae with a spiked ball.

Ennat Leger, now 92, said Barbie "had the eyes of a monster. He was savage. My God, he was savage! It was unimaginable. He broke my teeth, he pulled my hair back. He put a bottle in my mouth and pushed it until the lips split from the pressure."

The three women were among seven people who took the witness stand yesterday to testify against Barbie, the former head of the Gestapo in [Paris] during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.

Barbie, 73, is on trial in Lyon, accused of torturing Jews and members of the French Resistance and deporting them to Nazi death camps.

But he did not hear their testimony because he has refused to attend the courtroom sessions since the second day of the trial, as he may do under French law.

He has, however, denied the accusations against him and has contended that his 1983 extradition from Bolivia to France was illegal.

Several of the seven witnesses yesterday sobbed as they told of arrest, torture, rail convoys to the Drancy collection center near Paris and on to concentration camps.

They depicted Barbie as a harsh, sadistic officer ready to resort to any cruelty to extract information.

Lagrange, her voice breaking, recalled the arrest of her father, mother and herself on June 6, 1944, the day Allied troops landed in Normandy to drive back the Germans.

Denounced by a French neighbor as Jews and Resistance fighters, Lagrange and her parents were taken to Gestapo headquarters where a man, dressed in gray and caressing a cat, said Simone was pretty.

"I was a little girl, and wasn't afraid of him, with his little cat. And he didn't look like the typical tall, blond SS officer we were told to beware of," she said.

The man, whom she identified as Barbie, asked her terrified parents for the addresses of their two younger children.

"When we said we did not know, he pulled my hair, hit me, the first time in my life I was slapped," she said.

During the following week, the man hauled her out of a prison cell each day, beating and punching at her open wounds in an effort to obtain the information.

"He always came with his thin smile like a knife blade," she said. "Then he smashed my face. That lasted seven days."

Later that month, Simone and her mother were put aboard a sealed train for the Auschwitz concentration camp on a horror ride "which turned us into different people" and that still gave her nightmares 40 years later.

From Auschwitz, where her mother was gassed, the inmates were marched to Ravensbruck, where only 2,000 of the 25,000 people who began the march arrived alive. On the way, Simone saw her father marching in another convoy.

"A German officer told me to embrace him. As we were about to meet, they shot him in the head," she said. "It wasn't Barbie who pulled the trigger, but it was him who sent us there."

Ennat Leger, who lost her sight at Ravensbruck after her arrest, was hoisted to the witness stand in her wheelchair by four policemen.

She was a Resistance fighter nearly 50 years old when she was arrested in 1944, she said, and Barbie and his men "were savages, brutal savages, who struck, struck and struck again."

"Have you heard of the Gestapo kitchens?," she quoted him as saying, in an allusion to the torture chambers.

Lise Lesevre, frail and upright despite her 86 years, described the defendant as "Barbie the savage," saying she recognized him decades later because of his "pale eyes, extraordinarily mobile, like those of an animal in a cage."

Lesevre, who belonged to a resistance group, said the Gestapo arrested her on March 13, 1944, while she was carrying a letter intended for a Resistance leader code-named Didier.

She said Barbie spent almost three weeks trying to learn if Lesevre was Didier, and if not, who was. She was interrogated for 19 days, she said, and tortured on nine of them.

First she was hung up by hand cuffs with spikes inside them and beaten with a rubber bar by Barbie and his men. "Who is Didier, where is Didier?" were Barbie's main questions, she said.

Next was the bathtub torture. She said she was ordered to strip naked and get into a tub filled with freezing water. Her legs were tied to a bar across the tub and Barbie yanked a chain attached to the bar to pull her underwater.

"During the bathtub torture, in the presence of Barbie, I wanted to drink to drown myself quickly. But I wasn't able to do it. I didn't say anything.

"After 19 days of interrogation, they put me in a cell. They would carry by the bodies of tortured people. With the point of a boot, Barbie would turn their heads to look at their faces, and if he saw someone he believed to be a Jew, he would crush it with his heel," she said.

"It was a beast, not a man," she said. "It was terror. He took pleasure in it."

During her last interrogation, she said, Barbie ordered her to lie flat on a chair and struck her on the back with a spiked ball attached to a chain. It broke a vertebrae, and she still suffers.

"He told me, 'I admire you, but in the end everybody talks.'" But she never did, and she heard Barbie say finally, "Liquidate her. I don't want to see her anymore."

She was condemned to death by a German military tribunal for "terrorism" but was placed in the wrong cell and deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she survived the war. Her husband and son did not. She said they were both deported to their deaths by Barbie.

Lesevre said she identified Barbie in February in a face-to-face confrontation at St. Joseph Prison, where he is being held.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

writing through postmodernism

Kent Johnson decribes his new writing project: "Right now I’m a little ways into a book-length project of writing through Paul Hoover’s The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry, where a “stanza” gets devoted to each of the poets therein. I’ve had some sort of connection by now, however brief or silly, to most of the contributors. So I begin with an anecdote and go from there. In those cases where I don’t have anything truly anecdotal to say, I indicate that I’ve never crossed paths with him or her and then make something up, trying to be as interesting as I can. I suppose politics will come into many of the entries—references to politics inside and outside of poetry, not that inside and outside are ever completely separate, of course. It will be a pretty long poem—my first epic, I guess."

The full interview is available here at Mary: A Journal of New Writing.

burying the 1930s in 1960

In Daniel Bell's The End of Ideology (1960) he waits until the epilogue to deal the final death blow to the 1930s. Much of the book implicitly denigrates the "chiliastic" passions and utopianism of intellectuals of that decade. The fifties and, he predicts, the 1960s will be a quiet time of moderated passions and adult choices, compromise and centrism. The entire text of the epiloque is available on my 1950s site. Here, below, are the first paragraphs of a subsection of the epilogue:

- - -

The Loss of Innocence in the Thirties

FOR A SMALL GROUP, the thirties have a special meaning. These are the individuals who went through the radical movement and who bear, as on invisible frontlets, the stamp of those years on their foreheads. The number is small. Of the four million college and high-school youths, less than twenty thousand, or one-half of one per cent, took part in radical activity. But, like the drop of dye that suffuses the cloth, this number gave the decade its coloration.

A radical is a prodigal son. For him, the world is a strange place whose contours have to be explored according to one's destiny. He may eventually return to the house of his elders, but the return is by choice, and not, as of those who stayed behind, of unblinking filial obedience. A resilient society, like a wise parent, understands this ritual, and, in meeting the challenge to tradition, grows.

But in the thirties, the fissures were too deep. Seemingly, there was no home to return to. One could only march forward. Everybody seemed to be tramping, tramping, tramping. Marching, Marching was the title of a prize-winning proletarian novel. There were parades, picketing, protests, farm holidays, and even a general strike in San Francisco. There was also a new man, the Communist. Not just the radical--always alien, always testing, yet open in his aims -- but a hidden soldier in a war against society.

In a few short years, the excitement evaporated. The labor movement grew fat and bureaucratized. The political intellectuals became absorbed into the New Deal. The papier-mache proletarian novelists went on to become Hollywood hacks. And yet it is only by understanding the fate of the prodigal sons and the Communists that one can understand the loss of innocence that is America's distinctive experience of the thirties.

Murray Kempton, in his book Part of Our Time, has looked at the small band who dreamed, and who--because of having a dream "possessed no more of doubting"--sought to impress that dream into action. But in action, one defies one's character. In some, the iron became brittle, in some it became hard; others cast the iron away, and still others were crushed. In the end, almost all had lost the dream and the world was only doubt.

The story opens, naturally enough, with Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. Kempton retells the familiar story, but with a special nuance. What united the strange pair was their symbiotic relation to Baltimore, a mildewed city which was Kempton's home and whose musty character he captures so well. Hiss, from a shabby, genteel Baltimore family, fled its faded elegance to meet Chambers, the tortured man from the underground, who settled gratefully into its Victorian dust. Each found, in the secret craving of the other, the lives they were rejecting, until, locked in defeat, they both sank beneath the waters.

The story spreads out and touches on the writers attracted by the myth of the revolutionary collective, the "rebel girls," the militant labor leaders, the youth movement, and others who were riding the crest of history's waves. it is not a formal history of the left, but a series of novellas. What gives it its special cast and enormous appeal is the elegiac mood, the touch of adolescent ache in the writing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jacket2 on facebook

Jacket2 has a new Facebook page.

Jacket magazine discussion at upcoming MLA

John Tranter, founder and editor of Jacket for many years and for 40 issues, will be coming to Los Angeles from Australia to join a panel (roundtable discussion) about Jacket at the Modern Language Association conference. The editors of Jacket2, Michael Hennessey and Julia Bloch, are among those who will join John on this panel. Marjorie Perloff will join too and give a response. The session is Saturday, January 8, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Olympic III, J. W. Marriott. Here, below, is a summary of John Tranter's presentation:

- - -

Jacket magazine: a summary

I had misspent many years of my youth working with various print literary magazines. When I saw what the World Wide Web could do with type and layout, I put together an issue of a poetry magazine, with international contributors, one October day in 1997, and launched it onto the waters of cyberspace. I had no idea whether anyone would know it was there, among the other hundreds of millions of pages on the net, but a week later a fellow sent me an email thanking me for publishing a long interview I had done with the British poet Roy Fisher in the magazine. “I like his work,” he said, “and it’s hard to find material on Fisher up here in Nome, Alaska.” I knew then that Jacket would be all right, and find its readers. Or rather they would find Jacket, with the invaluable assistance of the search engines that make the net workable. Since then Jacket has grown to forty issues stuffed full of mainly contemporary poetry in English, though many other cultures appear there too as well as interviews, book reviews, and critical articles. The counter on the homepage shows more than 800,000 visits.

Jacket has featured poetry and criticism from France, Turkey, Poland, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Netherlands, as well as features on John Ashbery, computer writing, Mina Loy, flarf, Yasusada, Anne Waldmann, Frank O’Hara, Denise Levertov, Jack Spicer, Barbara Guest, Robert Creeley, Susan Howe, Pierre Joris, George Oppen, Joanne Kyger, Clark Coolidge, Omar Pérez, hoax poetry, Kenneth Koch, Jonathan Williams, H. D., J.H. Prynne, humor in poetry, Mallarmé, and many others. Several issues have been collaborations with other (print) magazines. The latest issue, number 40, is over 1,200 pages long and growing. Jacket is free, and the contributors don’t get paid. In fact no one gets paid. That’s poetry.

I am delighted that Jacket has found new friends and a new home in 2011, and has moved holus bolus to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Jacket will flourish and grow there under the guidance of publisher Al Filreis and editors Michael S. Hennessey and Julia Bloch, and many other keen supporters.

Poet John Tranter has published more than twenty collections of verse. His collection Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected won lots of prizes. His latest book is Starlight: 150 Poems (UQP, 2010). He is the founding editor of the free Internet magazine Jacket (, the founder of the APRIL project ( and he has a homepage at

Bob Feller dies

Bob Feller is dead. Signed for $1 and an autographed baseball, he never played a day in in the minor leagues. Went straight to Cleveland where he played for the Indians his entire career. People who hit against him and Nolan Ryan both (how many of them could there be--but oh well) said that Feller threw harder than Ryan. Toward the very end of his career, someone finally clocked a Feller fastball--at 98.6 mph. Amazing. He walked tons of batters and hit more batters than pretty much anyone. But he also led the league in strikeouts 7 times (2581 for his career) and struck out 17 in a game when he was 17. He served in the Navy during WW2 and missed four season, the only Chief Petty Officer in the Hall of Fame.

Feller was very opinionated--one of those straight-talking midwesterners with many passionate views but no discernible politics. (Forced to find a label, I'd say progressive farm-state populist.) Most of the Hall boys (good old ones, typically, let's face it) think it's a fine idea to admit Pete Rose, but Feller was outspoken against it.

Bob Feller and Negro League star Satchel Paige broke racial barriers by traveling cross country on barnstorming tours that matched Major Leaguers and Negro League stars. Paige and Feller had pitched against each other going back to Feller’s days as a schoolboy amateur. Feller also had a founding role in the Major League Players Association, the union that today represents players.

I've visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown just twice--once as a child with my father, and again maybe about ten years ago with my own children, then 6 and 9. I was hoping they'd get to see Feller at least from a distance (we were visiting just prior to the Induction Weekend in the summer). Walking along those crowded little streets, we turned a corner and literally bumped into Bob Feller. Quickly bought a baseball from a store and asked him to sign it; he did and chatted with us for a few minutes. We found an old Feller card too.

Rest now, young thrower of smoke.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Heather Fuller on Claes Oldenberg

On February 10, 1999, at a PhillyTalks episode featuring Heather Fuller and Melanie Neilson, Nielson mentions Fuller's "pretty gutsy" tendency to refer to artists in her writing, such as Claes Oldenberg. Here is Fuller's response:

The really intriguing thing to me about Oldenberg is he was such a public figure. Everything for him was so hyperbolic. His sculpture sort of was upon you before you were even close to it. In a sense he was really holding court in a very public way with whosever was in eyeshot. It's often funny to me to think of Oldenberg in relation to, say, the person who is going to be uttering the line, in "hearsay", about the splatter guards from the civil disobedience unit of the police. To what extent is the splatter guard holding court? What extent is Claes Oldenberg forcing court upon us? These are all very public and visual elements that sort of force themselves into our space. And so, often there's a disconnect between these very forceful and—the word "power" you used, power—powerful elements and people who will perhaps not be reading this text.

Bruce Andrews

with Charles Bernstein
New York City, 1995

One way that your work, overall, but, say, especially the work since the Reagan years, defies normal generic categorizations as poetry is the range of kinds of language and sources that you use. Not that no other writing has ever used that, not even that no other poetry has used some of it, but still, the scope, almost the encyclopedic scope of the social reference in your work seems to break down conceptions of poems, not even the lyric poem, but even other types of poetry.

But think of how poignant that sounds even as you read back the transcript, I mean, just the idea that somehow having a desire for an encyclopedic range of possibility and reference and content and social bits of matter in your work would automatically seem odd that it would be poetry, that somehow what we think of as poetry or literary writing is supposed to accept the fact that it can operate happily with such a shrunken range of reference, meanwhile everybody in the world is confronted with this increasingly exploding range of reference that they embody in their own personal lives. I mean, if you are walking down the street, admittedly—I've lived in urban an area for twenty years—mass-culture, television, whatever your range of information is, you're being bombarded with this stuff all the time. And to somehow think that poetry is a place where you can't, unlike all these other areas in your personal life, have this come to life, seems so sad.

now you can listen to Michelle Taransky

I'm listening right now, as I type this, to an audio recording on Michelle Taransky's brand new (as of yesterday) PennSound author page. She reads from her book, Barn Burned, Then. She reads at the exhibit opening for "Spin Glasses and Other Frustrated Systems" in 2009. She gives a presentation at the "William Carlos Williams and the Women" symposium in 2008. She teaches Creeley's "The Sentence" to high-school students (video and audio of this). She introduces several "Whenever We Feel Like It" readings. And more.

Monday, December 13, 2010

EdTech today

We're featured today in "EdTech" here.

recordings of 1960 symposium now available

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.

Now available at PennSound:

* segmented audio recordings of Snelson on Cage, Kaufman on Guest, Perelman on Donald Allen, Nichols on Berkson/O'Hara, Silliman on Duncan, Goldman on Brooks, Funkhouser on Mac Low, Gallagher on Baraka, Hennessey on Daisy Aldan, DuPlessis on O'Hara, and Bernstein on Eigner;

* audio recording of the complete program (downloadable mp3)

* video recording of the complete program

Click on the video player above for (obviously) the video, or go here for links to the video and all audio: link.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

versions of Ike's greatest speech

Click here for more.

Kissinger: "...and if they put the Jews into gas chambers..."

Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, came to visit Richard Nixon (and Henry Kissinger) on March 1, 1973. Tapes Nixon's staff made of all his conversations in the Oval Office record Meir offering warm and effusive thanks to Nixon for the way he had treated her and Israel.

Then she left the room, whereupon Nixon and Kissinger dismissed her in brutal terms. Meir had asked that the U.S. put pressure on the Soviet Union to permit Jews to emigrate to Israel to escape persecution. Now I quote:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

poets from Wuhan, China

Yesterday morning (12/9/10), a large delegation of poets from Wuhan, China, visited the Writers House. For nearly all of them, this was the first visit to the U.S. Getting visas, dealing with protocols, was a major business, as you can imagine--much of it, on our end, handled nobly by Charles Bernstein, who, with Marjorie Perloff, chairs our Chinese/American Association of Poetry and Poetics (CAAP, which is housed at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing here at Penn). After a welcome and reception, poems by the Chinese poets were performed--by the author himself or herself, and, in translation, by one of the KWH-affiliated poets. Then poems by these American poets were read in English and then in new Chinese translations by various Wuhan poets. Gifts were exchanged and promises to do more collaborating were made. Of course we made both video and audio recordings of the event. We're pretty excited that presumably for the first time poems by certain contemporary American poets, translated into Chinese, will now be available to Chinese poets and scholars of contemporary poetry any time through the web, e.g. Bob Perelman's "China," Michelle Taransky's "Banking Rules," Charles Bernstein's "Let's Just Say," Gregory Djanikian's "Years Later."

Joan Didion on the rejection of the socialization to narrative in American education

I make a comment on Joan Didion's early sense of the failure of the American educational socialization to narrative. She described the experience as a breakdown, and sought to experience, in writing, the "breaking down" of writing. And then I ask her to read a passage on this same topic from the book she wrote about the death of her husband many years later.

Patti Smith at the Writers House

We had the pleasure of hanging out with Patti Smith at the Kelly Writers House last night. The highlight was an interview/discussion moderated by Anthony DeCurtis. The event was the fifth in our Blutt Singer-songwriter Symposia. Our previous Blutt visitors: Steve Earle, Suzanne Vega, Rosanne Cash, and Rufus Wainwright (Rufus is being rescheduled, actually). Some of these sessions were recorded so take a look at our Blutt page and enjoy.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

PoemTalk 38 just out

Julia Bloch, Linh Dinh and Frank Sherlock talk with me about a poem by Norman Fischer: link.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sandy Frazier on lists

Ian "Sandy" Frazier talks about writing (ans speaking) lists. (The question is posed--off camera to your right--by Tom Lussenhop.)

1960 last night

Bob Perelman presenting on Don Allen's "New American" anthology and Mel Nichols talking about the Bill Berkson/Frank O'Hara collaboration at the 1960 symposium last night at the Kelly Writers House. Stay tuned for video and audio recordings and, later, transcripts of the discussion and various essays in response.

Monday, December 06, 2010

cold-war games people play

I've been re-reading Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and co-leading a month-long discussion online with a few dozen adults. We discuss every aspect of the play by email. Lots of fun. As anyone who knows the play will remember, George and Martha play a series of always slightly varied games with each other. These are games played to vary the relationship (in part to create sexual excitement through, for instance, role-changing) but also as a means of altering the power dynamic between them. (George married Martha in part because her father is the president of the college where he is a not very successful history professor. So she's got the power but he shifts rules of the games they play in order to challenge those positions; she often likes the rule-shifting because it shows some evidence that George is not entirely flaccid.

So our group was talking about the elaborate games in this play, and I decided to explore the possible connection between what Albee is doing here in this 1962 work and the Cold War rage for game theory. Here is what I wrote to the group this morning:

Game theory developed rapidly and quite publicly in the period when Albee was first writing plays - in the late 60s. It reached its peak in the early 50s. Gamesmanship, following from militarily-applied gaming scenarios, is largely credited for the White House strategy in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962. (Our play was written earlier and produced before the crisis in October that year, but audiences throughout that period would have been quite aware of cold-war versions of gaming as Martha and George engaged in their personal power struggles through ever-varying game scenarios.)

The way George and Martha interact - stepped up, psychological 'warfare'-style games whose rules shift ever more at the brink of danger - has always reminded me of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). This balance required open acknowledgment of each side's strengths and vulnerabilities. However, as "prisoner's dilemma" showed us, both players must assume the other is only concerned with self-interest; therefore, each must limit risk by adopting a dominant strategy.

I'm put in mind most keenly of the relationship between cold-war gaming and the "cold war" marriage in this play when George enters and shoots a rifle at Martha. For all we know (audiences), it's loaded and George has gone mad. But he hasn't gone mad at all; he's engaging the MAD psychology. Of course when a gun enters the play, analogies to current notions of warfare make momentarily a lot of sense.

Albee is explicit about the games. But we know these are not fun ha-ha harmless games. These are games played for keeps. When we get into the area of games involving sexual exploitation and domination, the games are dangerous. The gun isn't the place in this play where I am most scared. It's when George strangles Martha - chokes her at the throat. To this day, having lived with this play for years, I still don't know if we are to think that George has really lost control there, and is acting outside of gaming character, or if this is just the most dangerous line-crossing of his many games. (What do you think?)

By the way, the American art avant-garde was very much aware of Cold War game theory and made it relevant in their art. It was much the talk of the New York art scene in the late 50s and early 60s. Marcel Duchamp (a key figure of the modernist revolution back in the teens and 1920s) was making a comeback, and was in New York, promoting surrealism especially (an -ism that attracted Albee). Duchamp was constantly talking about game theory and gaming, and thought new art had to be relevant to it (and critical of its Cold War application). Duchamp was obsessed with chess, and considered it a form of psychological one-ups-manship.

Finally, game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences, most notably in economics - BUT ALSO IN BIOLOGY AND HISTORY. It strikes me--speculatively--that George is also gaming the system that permits a young turk biologist to rise in power at the university and suppresses the historian. There's a disciplinary war going on here as well. In part, George is performing his power games for an audience - for Nick the up-and-coming New Man, the breed about to take over. He's out-gaming the gamer and even offering his wife, with her access to power (daddy), as bait in the game. He offers Nick both paternity (pretending Nick's their son for a moment) and patriarchal lineage (fuck the President's daughter).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

January at the Writers House

Click here to listen to a summary of January 2011 events at the Writers House - including the several-day "North of Invention" program, a gallery exhibit of photographs by Linh Dinh, our annual "Mind of Winter" event, and the 5th birthday celebration of our Common Press. The photograph here, taken by John Carroll at the 2008 Mind of Winter program, gives you a sense of the fabulous soup we make on that wintry evening - or at least of the pleasure taken from said soup by Michelle Taransky.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

a cover of Cage

From "Do They Know It's Christmas" to "4'33"?

I love this. A group of British artists have gotten together to record a "cover" of John Cage's silent "4'33"! Here is a brief report on this from Pitchfork, which thanks to Willa Granger for pointing it out to me.

In the UK, the race to become the number one song in the country at Christmas is a big deal. Last year, a Facebook campaign succeeded in making Rage Against the Machine's years-old track "Killing in the Name" the Christmas number one, upsetting X Factor winner Joe McElderry. This year, an indie-leaning all-star group of artists is attempting the same thing, with a "cover" of John Cage's experimental piece "4'33"", which famously consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

The group of artists getting together to record the new version of "4'33"" are using the name Cage Against the Machine, naturally. Their number includes Pete Doherty, Billy Bragg, producer Paul Epworth, and members of the Big Pink, the Kooks, UNKLE, Orbital, Coldcut, and many others. (More artists may join up.) They'll all gather at London's Dean Street Studios on December 6 to record the track, and director Dick Carruthers will film it. Wall of Sound will release it-- along with "pocket remixes" by Hot Chip, Herve, Adam F, and Mr. Scruff -- on December 13. (It's tough to imagine how a remix of silence will sound, but it's happening.) And even though this version hasn't been recorded yet, there's already a Facebook campaign to get it to number one.

Proceeds from the single will go to five charities, including the British Tinnitus Association. Britain has a long tradition of "We Are the World"-esque all-star charity singles topping the charts; check Pitchfork contributor Tom Ewing's long-running Popular blog, which reviews every British number one ever, for evidence. But if this particular track succeeds in hitting the top spot, it'll be a massive coup for quixotic conceptual stunts. A college professor once told me that "4'33"" ended music forever, so maybe this release will end all-star charity singles forever?

Friday, December 03, 2010

the careful young men of 1957

In March of 1957, the Nation magazine ran a feature called "The Careful Young Men," with this subtitle: "Tomorrow's Leaders Analyzed by Today's Teachers." They sought contributions from English professors--all men as it turned out, not surprisingly--at mostly elite universities, soliciting comments on what students were thinking, writing and reading. These students, "tomorrow's leaders" per the subtitle, and the "careful young men" per the title, befit--lo and behold!--the general notion of Nation articles and editorials of this period: the Fifties were pretty much uniformly a time of quietude, caution and rising orthodoxy. That the late fifties was a time of extraordinary experimentation is nowhere indicated, not even marginally, not even in one sentence in one of the entries--not even as a hint or premonition. Of course I see the names of the contributors (Carlos Baker at Princeton, Stanley Kunitz of Queens College, Wallace Stegner at Stanford) and understand that a major problem here is the narrow choice of respondents. The obvious irony is that these male literary academics, for the most part lamenting the aesthetic conservatism of their students, evince no sense of the intellectual diversity--to mention only one form of diversity--that might be required to see the resistance and experimentation at the edges of their classrooms or perhaps outside their office windows or at the fringes of campus (or indeed far down the academic road, at places like Black Mountain). It may be that these gentlemen are writing in 1957 but thinking of their students of 1950-1954, the cowed McCarthyite generation recently graduated. Or it may be that the freer spirits on campus had stopped taking lit courses, or kept quiet whilst Stegner and Baker were lecturing at them, or saved their heterodoxy for the sloppy garrett and cheap coffee shop six blocks from campus.

Anyway, Kunitz notes that the students don't seem to have culture heroes who are themselves young, and seem to be stuck with Jung, Mann, Yeats and Eliot. Stegner claims that "only Eliot seems to arouse enthusiasm in students." (He's talking about a San Francisco-area campus in 1957! Can that generalization really hold even for students on the conservative Stanford campus of that time? I doubt it, but of course I'll need to do a little digging to confirm my hunch that he's wrong.) J. A. Bryant of the University of the South notes that the Hemingway these young men love is not the unallegiant expatriate Hem but the Hem who "symbolizes the virility and essential goodness of the American male and is identifiable with the warrior [and] the athlete." R. J. Kaufmann says that his students "like Joyce's Portrait very well up to the point in which he works out his elaborate aesthetic." John Willingham of Centenary College says there's no rebellion in these students at all--that they "envy the undergraduate of the twenties" [sic - not "the thirties"].

I should note that Leo Marx (then at Minnesota) wrote an exceptional piece for this feature, and so, to some degree, did Alan Swallow, whom we think of now as primarily a great publisher but who had then recently left the University of Denver but was in any case never really comfortable in the academy the way Stegner, Baker and Kunitz were.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald reads Keats

Jackson Mac Low

Thanks to the efforts of Anna Zalokostas, we at PennSound have now segmented every one of the readings by Jackson Mac Low for which we have recordings. Through this work we re-discover that Jackson read four sections of Forties at the Ear Inn in '92; that in 1995 at a Little Magazine seesion he read "This Occasion, a Poem for John Cage after his 79th birthday"; that at a Radio Reading Series Project session in 1998, he explained Forties and discussed how he applied the diastic method to Pound's Cantos; that he read "Baltimore Porches" at the Ear Inn in '82...and much more. Have a look at our newly revised Jackson Mac Low author page.

Monday, November 29, 2010

1960 symposium, Monday December 6, 6 PM eastern time

Next Monday, December 6, at 6:00 PM, the Writers House celebrates what happened in poetry a half century ago with a symposium entitled POETRY IN 1960. Symposium host and Writers House faculty director AL FILREIS brings together eleven poets each to discuss a seminal work from that pivotal year -- work by Frank O’Hara, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Cage, Barbara Guest, Larry Eigner, and Jackson Mac Low. A Q&A and reception will follow. We hope you will join us for this exciting confabulation!

If you can't make it to Philly, watch this live as a video stream. Just go here at 6 PM eastern time next Monday and watch!

The recordings will later be made available in PennSound and the symposium will be published in Jacket2.

- - -

The Kelly Writers House presents

a symposium



hosted by AL FILREIS

Monday, December 6, at 6:00 PM in the Arts Café
Kelly Writers House | 3805 Locust Walk
No registration required - this event is free & open to the public

- - -

KWH Faculty Director AL FILREIS curates a remarkable gathering of poets to present brief commentaries of books of poetry published in 1960 – to help mark the 50th anniversary of each. Each poet will read his or her 500- to 750-word critical commentary or retrospective review, after which there will be a Q&A session and a celebratory reception. The poet's commentaries will later be published as a special feature on the poetry & poetics of 1960 in Jacket2.

BOB PERELMAN on The New American Poetry edited by Donald Allen

RON SILLIMAN on The Opening of the Field by Robert Duncan

RACHEL BLAU DuPLESSIS on Second Avenue by Frank O'Hara

CHRIS FUNKHOUSER on Stanzas for Iris Leza by Jackson Mac Low

ERICA KAUFMAN on The Location of Things by Barbara Guest

JUDITH GOLDMAN on The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks

KRISTEN GALLAGHER on Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by LeRoi Jones

DANNY SNELSON on Cartridge Music by John Cage

MICHAEL S. HENNESSEY on A New Folder edited by Daisy Aldan

CHARLES BERNSTEIN on On My Eyes by Larry Eigner

MEL NICHOLS on Hymns of St. Bridget by Bill Berkson & Frank O'Hara

Saturday, November 27, 2010

the social network

Jane and I saw The Social Network last night, finally. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay was for the most part very good--snappy, although sometimes too snappy. (Sorkin's Mark Z., cleaned up a bit and given at least a little bit of social/political sense, would do well in the West Wing. Which is perhaps just another way of saying that Sorkin makes all smart characters sound like Toby Ziegler.) But I despised the overwrought pathology (girl dumped him and so....the rest is history) that gives the movie a nice, nice, neat, very neat arc (yuck), and offers a reductive psycho-motivation when surely this person's motives are extremely complex. Can't a movie in 2010 (this far into the genre's history) permit a character extremely complex motives?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

be thankful for poets

Click here to see the "PennSound Daily" entry for the Thanksgiving weekend. This is Mike Hennessey's survey of Thanksgiving poems in the PennSound archive, and there are some very good ones. So go there, have a listen, and be sure to include poets in your list of folks for whom to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Corman remix

Cid Corman's poem beginning "It isn't for want" haunts me. It's the urgent quality of Cid's voice, recorded there over the telephone. And the way he so pressingly emphasizes any word adjacent to the word "you," as in "Something to tell you" or "To detain you." The phrases of the poem go round in my mind. So much so that I decided to remix the poem, almost as a way of getting it out of my head. As if to Stein-ize it would relieve it of its longing to have us listen. The remix also has the virtue, I think, of instructing us in Corman's use of breath as a formal unit. Anyway, I'm certain this will sound annoying to some, but here you go.

review of Ellison's "Juneteeth"

Here is Michiko Kakutani's review of the posthumous publication of Ralph Ellison's much, much, much delayed second novel, Juneteenth - the first few paragraphs followed by a link to the whole text, which was published in the New York Times on May 25, 1999:

- - -

'Juneteenth': Executor Tidies Up Ellison's Unfinished Symphony


Over the years, Ralph Ellison's unfinished second novel has assumed the status of a literary myth. His first novel, "Invisible Man," published in 1952, established him unequivocally as a modernist master, and over the next four decades he labored to produce a follow-up to that masterpiece. In 1966 a fire at his home destroyed a portion of his manuscript, and during the ensuing years there were reports that the work in progress was slowly changing shape, evolving into an increasingly ambitious saga that, in the words of his literary executor, John F. Callahan, was "multifarious, multifaceted, multifocused, multivoiced, multitoned."

That manuscript was unfinished at Ellison's death in 1994, and from some 2,000 pages of typescript and printouts, Callahan has extracted "Juneteenth," the one narrative he says that "best stands alone as a single, self-contained volume."

"Aiming, as Ellison had, at one complete volume," Callahan writes, "I proceeded to arrange his oft-revised, sometimes reconceived scenes and episodes according to their most probable development and progression. While doing so, I felt uneasily Procrustean: Here and there limbs of the manuscript needed to be stretched, and elsewhere a protruding foot might be lopped off, if all the episodes were to be edited into a single, coherent, continuous work."

The resulting book provides the reader with intimations of the grand vision animating Ellison's 40-year project, but it also feels disappointingly provisional and incomplete. Given all the cutting and tidying up Callahan has done, the book's opaqueness and attenuation come as little surprise: after all, he has effectively changed the book's entire structure and modus operandi. Instead of the symphonic work Ellison envisioned, Callahan has given us a single, tentatively rendered melodic line. Instead of a vast modernist epic about the black experience in America, he has given us a flawed linear novel, focused around one man's emotional and political evolution.

[ more ]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reznikoff's voices

The opening of an essay by Charles Bernstein:

- - -

“Reznikoff’s Voices” by Charles Bernstein

Holocaust, Charles Reznikoff’s last book, is, like his great work of the 1930s, Testimony, haunted by the voices of the dispossessed. In Testimony, Reznikoff worked with legal records of violent crimes from 1885-1915 to create tautly etched accounts of the turbulent underbelly of these United States. The two long volumes of Testimony are difficult reading, though a different senseof “difficulty” than that of other modernist poetry by first-wave modernists such as Eliot, Pound, Stein, or Stevens. There is no difficulty interpreting the content of these poems; in a sense they start with the heresy of paraphrase, for each poem paraphrases the longer account of a crime that Reznikoff appropriates, edited but verbatim, from the legal documents. The book, composed entirely from archival material, averts an overarching story line or poetical reflections. In contrast, Muriel Rukeyser’s documentary poem “Book of the Dead” (1938) uses passages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and a multi-voice format that shifts from quoted letters from a variety of sources and journalistic accounts, to weave together a far more theatrical and narrativizing work than Testimony.

Testimony is presented in a monolithic, if not to say monotonous, form, which offers no respite from directly confronting an unfolding, accumulating series of horrific events. Reznikoff’s methodological refusal to mitigate means that the work speaks not for itself as as itself. Perhaps the most important precedent for Testimony is Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: Reznikoff’s work is the antipode: in place of Whitman’s bursts of celebration, Reznikoff’s Testimony is a prolonged elegy; an unflinching acknowledgement of unredeemable and inexcusable loss. [more]

last night at KGB Bar

Alan Gilbert, at left, and Rosemarie Waldrop, at right, at KGB Bar last night. The occasion was Rosemarie's reading--with Monica Youn. Photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald (for more about Lawrence, click the tag below).

Monday, November 22, 2010

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Writers House turns 15 - a short YouTube video

Jacquie Posey took some video at our recent 15th anniversary event at the Writers House - a reading given by four alumni writers. Then Jacquie edited it and has posted it to Penn's YouTube channel. Please watch when you have a moment. Here is a link to our web calendar entry for the event--which features links to the full video and audio of each of the four readings, plus my introduction.

& my favorite character was Thing

The 1964 opening sequence for The Addams Family is, of course, available on YouTube. My favorite character, from the first episode on, was Thing. And I also immediately loved the Dali-influenced tsotchkes strewn around the set. Note, there, the odd tree-like things bordering this close-up of Thing's table.