Sunday, January 31, 2010

searchable CD of the first 25 years

Click on the image above for a larger view of the flyer. If you subscribe to the Wallace Stevens Journal now, you'll receive a copy of the first 25 years of WSJ on CD--searchable, of course. A significant resource.


Here is a reminder that we at the Kelly Writers House offer a live video stream of nearly every reading, seminar, workshop, talk and performance that takes place at the House. Any time there's a program scheduled for our Arts Cafe (most weeknights and several lunch hours per week) you can go here

--click the link "view live video," and watch what's going on at KWH as if on TV. That's why we call it "KWH-TV." Our event schedule is always the top link on our home page: . Enjoy watching!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

January's favorite PoemTalks

Not including the most recent PoemTalk episode on Robert Duncan, below are the 18 most often listened-to episodes in the last month. Creeley seems to be in the lead every month lately. The Duncan show had by far the most listenings this month, but that's mostly because we widely announced its availability during this period; and it's still prominently featured on the front page of the Poetry Foundation site. We'll see where it fits next month. Is this of real interest? value? Not really. Such stats are subject to the vagaries of web site and blog cross-linking.

1. Robert Creeley
2. Adrienne Rich
3. William Carlos Williams
4. Wallace Stevens
5. Ezra Pound
6. Vachel Lindsay
7. Allen Ginsberg sings William Blake
8. Barbara Guest
9. Louis Zukofsky
10. Amiri Baraka
11. Alice Notley
12. John Ashbery
13. Ted Berrigan
14. Jaap Blonk
15. Gertrude Stein
16. George Oppen
17. Charles Bernstein
18. Lyn Hejinian

poet reads books, pencil in hand

I recently found the offprint of a review I published in 1988 on B. J. Leggett's work with the annotations Stevens made in several books of literary criticism and theory. Here is a copy of the review.

nothing [was] being done with sound

Marjorie Perloff speaking at a panel discussion in 2000: "[M]y main objection to a lot of the poetry being written today is that nothing is being done with sound and the visual. And even in Stephen [Burt]’s talk just now I didn’t hear him say one word about sound. To me, the sound of a poem is at least as important as the semantics; so is the visual. Both are aspects of poetry, and I had a terrible experience just the other day when we were judging Mellon fellowships, doctoral fellowships, for the West Coast region in San Francisco. We talked to a young man who had done very well; his whole honors thesis was on Shelley’s ‘Epipsychidion.’ He went on about gender, he talked about masculinity and femininity, and how Shelley wanted to be a mother. But when I asked about the sound structure of the poem, he said ‘what?’ I asked, ‘what’s it written in? Is it written in terza rima?’ and he drew a complete blank. I really did find that quite shocking. Obviously Shelley had a reason for writing the poem as he did, as any poet does, and I think inattention to sound structure has produced the kind of flaccid free verse that a lot of poets use today; it’s not really poetry at all. It’s not that I don’t think it’s good poetry; I don’t think it’s poetry."

[from Jacket issue 12, 2000.]

Friday, January 29, 2010

united states of nicotine

Ad in Life, 11/30/1959. There hadn't been 50 states for very long when this ad ran.

modernist pedagogy

I have a long essay on modernist pedagogy coming out in a new book edited by Peter Middleton and Nicky Marsh. The book is Teaching Modernist Poetry and is being published soon by Palgrave Macmillan. You can pre-order here.

Other essays in the volume include Peter Nicholls' "The Elusive Allusion: Poetry as Exegesis," Carol Sweeney's "Race, Modernism and Institutions," and Charles Bernstein's "Wreading, Writing, Wresponding."

art comes presented by a carnival barker...

"Art comes presented by a carnival barker and has no longer...anything to do with 'glowing,' 'roaring,' 'radiant' creation." From Paul Celan's speech, "The Meridian." The text: >>>

3 Stevens poems

I was asked to choose three of Wallace Stevens' poems to represent his entire body of work. An impossible--and perhaps irrelevant--task, but I was game. This short essay is the result, published a few months back.

Rohrschach-derived poetry

A few days back--Jan. 19--the newest exhibit in our art gallery was celebrated at an opening party and presentation. The show is titled "Uncommonly Selected: Rorschach Drawings by Jessica Nissen," and the opening featured a talk about Rorschach-derived poetry by Diana Sue Hamilton. As is almost always the case, if you go to our web calendar entry for this event you will see links to the video recording (streaming video) and audio recording (downloadable MP3).

Jessica Nissen splits her time between NYC, where she works as a scenic artist for the entertainment industry and Vermont, where she keeps a studio and occasionally teaches in the Art Dept. of Middlebury College. Nissen received an MFA in painting from the Tyler School of Art in 1998, a BA from Middlebury College in 1990 and earned undergraduate credits from the Rhode Island School of Design and Tyler. She has been a fellow at The Corporation of Yaddo and the Chautauqua Institution. Since 1991 she has exhibited extensively and has participated both as an artist and as an organizer/curator in several large-scale interdisciplinary art events.

KWH ART is curated by Keagan Sparks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anthony DeCurtis

Listen to Anthony DeCurtis read from his writing. He teaches three courses each year through the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW) and the Kelly Writers House at Penn. He's a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he has written for nearly thirty years, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times and many other publications. He is the author of In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and Work (Hal Leonard, 2005) and Rocking My Life Away: Writing About Music and Other Matters (Duke University Press, 1998). In addition, he coedited the third editions of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll and The Rolling Stone Album Guide (both published by Random House, 1992), and edited Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture (Duke, 1992). Most recently he edited Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer (Scribner, 2009). His awards include a 1988 Grammy Award in the "Best Album Notes" category for his essay accompanying the Eric Clapton box set "Crossroads," and three ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in writing about music. Anthony holds a Ph.D. in American literature from Indiana University and lives in New York City.

At the Kelly Writers House Anthony has hosted our annual Blutt Singer-songwriter Symposium: Roseanne Cash, Suzanne Vega, Steve Earle - and next, Rufus Wainwright. And he is co-director of the RealArts@PENN project. His course the "The Arts and Popular Culture" has become a must-take seminar for young Penn writers interested in criticism, reviews, profiles, interviews and other forms of cultural journalism.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

don't know where I am

Muhammad Ali: "Come and get me, fool. You can't, 'cause you don't know who I am. You don't know where I am. I am human intelligence and you don't even know if I'm good or evil."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

parataxis is unAmerican

Donald Davidson, from "Grammar and Rhetoric: The Teacher's Problem" (1953):

In our time, the conjunction and has too often been the mark of a timid evasiveness in which I do not mean to indulge: "He was an old man who fished alone...," writes Ernest Hemingway, "and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." The philosophy of Hemingway, as man and writer, is latent in that characteristic conjunction and. It bothers Mr. Hemingway to think that there may be some relationship between objects other than a simple coupling. "A" and "B" are there. The inescapable act of vision tells him so. But Hemingway rarely ventures, through grammar and rhetoric, to go beyond saying that "A" and "B" are just there, together. Similiarly, our diplomats and Far Eastern Experts long had a habit of declaring that there was a Red Russia and a Red China, with the tender implication that such a conjunction was entirely innocent. Political theories for nearly two centuries have coordinated liberty and equality, but have too often failed to tell us, as history clearly shows, that liberty and equality are much more hostile than they are mutually friendly; that the prevalence of liberty may very well require some subordination of the principle of equality; or, on the other hand, that enforcement of equality by legal and governmental devices may be quite destuctive to the principle of liberty.

The Quarterly Journal of Speech 39, 4 (December 1953), p. 425.

Here are a few responses (my own is last). Click on the image for a larger view:

"Yes," I wrote in response to Matt, "one way to read this is as an expression of anger and frustration about the easy modernist "and" - early Hemingway, G. Stein, the Williams/Pound kind of juxtaposition. So it's plain 1950s-era antimodernism. But he's also connecting (seemingly with rigor, but I'd say very loosely) two things he hates: he hates modernist juxtaposition/collage (the seemingly easy conjunction of A and B) and he hates the left-learning/'commie' mostly academic China experts whose "modernism" (in this sense) 'lost' us China in '49. He's right about the historical choice ('choice') liberal and conservative polities have had to make when preferring equality over liberty (the former) or liberty over equality (the latter) and he's clearly implying that for him liberty is more important than equality. But Hemingway (and Stein...and others) all would make the same choice as a matter of thought, but not in the written line where they sought to mess with the supposedly inevitable 'choice' aforementioned."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Judeo-Spanish in Greece

Emma Morgenstern gave a lunchtime talk recently at the Writers House to present her research into the survival of Judeo-Spanish language and culture in Greece. She travelled to Rhodes and Thessaloniki on a grant given her through our Heled Travel & Research Grant (made possible by my former student, Mali Heled Kinberg in memory of her mother). Audio and video recordings of the event are now available. Links to both are here.

the Stevens wars

Charles Bernstein commissioned me to write a piece that would bring Wallace Stevens' reputation among contemporary poets up to date - from 1975 to the present. The essay I wrote, as has been noted here before, was published in the fall 2009 issue of Boundary 2. Here is a PDF version of the entire article, called "The Stevens Wars."

In it I discuss the varying responsiveness to Stevens in the writings of (in order of appearance) Susan Howe, Ann Lauterbach, Michael Palmer, Charles Bernstein ("Loneliness in Linden" is a rejoinder to "Loneliness in Jersey City"), Lytle Shaw, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Peter Gizzi, John Ashbery, John Hollander, and again Susan Howe as a very different sort of response than that of Hollander.

Here is the passage of the essay on Peter Gizzi:

Gizzi is one of our most important contemporary Stevensean poets, yet he is adamantly non-ideological about it. Periplum and other poems gathers early work from 1987 to 1992 and Stevens is everywhere, although in the background. Epigraphs from Dickinson, Spicer, James Schuyler, Oppen, Ashbery, Rilke, Rosmarie Waldrop and Keith Waldrop assert the preferred literary company and don’t so much suppress the presence of Stevens as express a remnant of outmoded embarrassment (Stevens and Dickinson? Stevens and Oppen?) and a debt more pervasive than dedications can allow. The great sequence “Music for Films,” written in Provincetown in August 1990, looks and sometimes reads like the Oppen of Discrete Series but is more interestingly Gizzi’s attempt at his own “Variations on a Summer Day” (1940), floating, chartless, using weather as device for directionlessness and (momentary) lack of poetic ambition.

Some Values of Landscape and Weather (2003) is Gizzi’s most Stevensean volume. Again the landscape-and-weather trope provides a means of laconic improvisation, a going which way the wind blows, a subject as a cloud, “imitation[s] of life” that can use terrestrial being as an excuse for impersonality and dislocation. Gizzi here is in Stevens’ floating middle period: “Landscape with Boat,” “Of Bright & Blue Birds & the Gala Sun,” “The Search for Sound Free from Motion,” “Forces, the Will & the Weather,” “Debris of Life & Mind,” even the dour “Yellow Afternoon.” The ironic word-level sonority of “A History of the Lyric” has Harmonium in it, however—

There are beetles and boojum
Specimen jars decorated

With walkingsticks, water striders
And luna moths

A treatise on rotating spheres.

Gizzi’s whole project might be captured in that phrase: “a treatise on rotating spheres”—what Jordan Davis calls a “shorthand sublimity” at the level of the line combined with a knowing engagement with the pathetic fallacy for the purpose of pushing the human to the top of abstraction and thus away from sentiment.

In Artificial Heart (1998), the book in which Gizzi came into his own poetically, the pronominal address is often generalized—points to the poet (even in the first-person plural “we”), an unidentified she (as in “The Idea of Order at Key West,” a muse or paramour a bit damaged over time but still ready for verse, a version of the subject: “She sang unwrapping her bandages”)—articles refer to general impersonal states of being (“the body remembers joy”; “The day static with stuck weeds”), and a communal, funereally functioning “they” who arrive at the end of poems—Ashberyian in this sense—to bring stories that were not told in this poem but might have been told had we not done our work of telling about something else. Gizzi’s “Will Call” ends:

It was an average day
An arrangement of place. A state of report
or a state of grace. For centuries weeds have hidden it.
Now autumn. Silence is what we make

of eyes, trees and growing vine. It pierces.
And these are the stories they will bring in boxes.

The ut pictura poesis of “Utopia Parkway,” dedicated to New York School-affiliated poet-painter Trevor Winkfield, is written out of Stevens’s poems about paintings (especially in Parts of a World) and the 1951 MoMA talk, “The Relations Between Poetry and Painting,” which in its turn had influenced O’Hara, Ashbery, Koch, and Schuyler from the start.

newly released reading of Rezi's "Holocaust"

Abraham Ravett took this photo of Charles Reznikoff in Rezi's NYC apartment in December 1975. Ravett was making his diary-film Thirty Years Later (completed in 1978). He included in it film he made of Reznikoff reading from his long poem Holocaust and we at PennSound have now extracted the audio of the reading from the film. Go here to a special PennSound page and find the audio segmented and some notes by Ravett.

Friday, January 22, 2010

new review

New review to be published soon in Modernism/modernity. Earlier here I posted a draft of the review and got a response from the editors. I enjoyed that exchange.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

writing through imagism

Here's H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" (1916):

Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

And here is Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies" (2002):

Lavenderish dusk
strapped for stays,
pomegranates under the rubberband
chucked for a glass Oz,

splayed by the pillar-shelves
to page upon the ottoman:

his talk has wrought suit
amid citrus gapes
and pall dunked in the bowl
and grated sage
or cleaved clear paleo-pines.

Postgeist, upcast
California upon weed,
what banker yields
so fragrant a cant
as this vagrant cant?

Scappettone wrote through H.D.'s poem, substituting words but always keeping to parts of speech. She echoes the original at certain moments, creating some rhymes and in a few cases what amounts to a homonymic ("husk"/"dusk") and quasi-synonymic translation ("sought root"/"wrought suit"). The poem is a meta-commentary on imagism, a way of decorating or over-elaborating H.D. whose imagistic lines convey a "piety that veers into preciosity" (the poet's phrase).** Conch-shells become paleo-pines. "Fire on leaf" becomes "California upon weed."

"Vase" can rhyme with "maze" or with "Oz," depending on your class. (Scappettone has introduced the poem at readings sometimes by mentioning this valence, seeming to contribute to the notion that it is a commentary on imagism's social preciousness.)

PennSound's Scappettone page happens to include a recording of her reading the poem.

** Email of 1/19/2010.

Kate McGarrigle has died

Kate McGarrigle has died. Here is a YouTube video recording of the McCarrigle Sisters performing "Heart Like a Wheel." Thanks to Irwyn Applebaum, who sent me the link, I've just now watched Kate's performance of a new song, "Proserpina," at the recent family Christmas concert. "Proserpina, Proserpina, come home to mama." I'm very moved by this performance, as remarkable a goodbye as could be imagined. Come home to mama.

Friday, January 15, 2010

being frank, seeing Frank

Yes, I'm obsessed with Hill Street Blues. I apologize. My favorite single image from the show comes from the very end of episode 1 of season 3 ("Trial By Fury"--which won an Emmy for the writing). Frank Furillo, having manipulated the justice system to get the guys guilty of the rape and murder of a nun, realizes (we're meant to think: ironically) that he's committed a sin. Got the criminals but gave into mob justice--listened to the advice of his reactionary SWAT-team adjutant (Howard Hunter) and really angered his liberal-left Public Defender lover (Joyce Davenport). Now he's pulling his car into a parking spot in front of the Catholic Church, the place where Sister Carmella had been raped and killed. He'll go into the confessional, we now realize. But in the moment before we realize that, we get this perspective of him, unlike any visual rendering of a major TV series character I'd seen up to that point (1982). We can barely see him through the urban dark and the bars of the church gate and the statue of Mary standing guard.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Duncan's made place

These three discuss Robert Duncan's prologue-poem to The Opening of the Field with me in episode 27 of PoemTalk, just released today. Please have a listen. And let me know what you think: afilreis [at] gmail [dot] com.

writers on radio

At Kelly Writers House we are preparing to present the 79th episode of our monthly radio program, aired on WXPN-FM (, called "Live at the Writers House." (So-named because during the first two seasons we actually went live to the air from 3805 Locust Walk in Philadelphia. Holy cow.) Here is an announcement about our newest episode, with a bit of looking back at the show's 13 years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

chronicler of guerilla goodwill

I'm pleased to have reconnected with my former student (from the mid-80s) Rob Rosenheck who is a fine photographer. He is author of The Love Book, described by the Times as "not only witty but downright courageous" and by Entertainment Weekly as "an amazing chronicle of guerilla goodwill." He's the creative director of Capobianco & Associates, based in L.A.

two new Steve Benson improvisations - video

I love this screenshot of Steve Benson performing at Berkeley last year. With help from Steve himself, and then Mark Lindsay and Jenny Lesser, we at PennSound have just now added two video recordings of terrific Benson improvised (and quasi-improvised) 2009 performances, one at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York and the other at the "Medium and Margin: Multiplying Methodologies and Proliferating Poetics" two-day conference at the University of California at Berkeley (in the Maud Fife Room, Wheeler Hall). The introduction was given by Lyn Hejinian.

* Benson PennSound page
* video of Bowery Poetry Club/Segue Series performance
* video of Berkeley performance

drawing poem images

More Bob Grenier goodies today. Through Whale Cloth (which has published his Sentences online as well) Grenier has released "Penn Scans": the 71 drawing poem images he selected for presentation during his October 2009 visit to the Kelly Writers House. Go here and read Grenier's notes on these, see links to the 71 images, and a link to the video recording of the KWH presentation, which only permitted time to consider a handful of the 71.

Grenier says: 'Whether drawing poem texts like 'the one about crickets' (no. 39) accomplish (or help accomplish) whatever it is they are otherwise 'saying'—-so that seeing/reading "crickets" a reader may hear 'crickets themselves' (& even be able to literally go ('by ear') "across/the/road"?)—-remains an animating question.'

love of my life

Zach Djanikian performed one of his own songs, "Love of My Life," on our Live at the Writers House radio program, aired on XPN. The first voice you hear in the recording is that of Michaela Majoun, the show's host (and XPN's morning show host for many years).

Fitterman redux

The other day I mentioned Rob Fitterman's new conceptual poetics project, and got a lot of positive response to it. My favorite literary photographer (as regular readers of this blog already know), Lawrence Schwartzwald, found this wonderful photo of Rob standing in front of the Ear Inn. We think the date was January of 1992.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bob Grenier, student of Robert Lowell (and more)

A few months ago, during Robert Grenier's most recent visit to Philadelphia, I sat with him--joined by Bob Perelman and Ron Silliman--and talked about his life and work in the early period, covering roughly 1958 through 1964. We talked a lot about his experience (in two stints) at Harvard. During the second of these he met and was taught by Robert Lowell. In between he wandered to San Francisco and met Robert Creeley in New Mexico. The recording of this 1 hour, 16 minute discussion is available on the Grenier author page at PennSound. Here is a direct link to the audio.

Monday, January 11, 2010

conceptual writing project: holocaust

I'm pleased to have had a chance to read the manuscript of Rob Fitterman's new massive conceptual writing project, called Holocaust Museum. It is now being sent around to publishers. The book will consist of a list of archival materials, organized under headings ("the science of race," "shoes," "mass graves," "uniforms"). The image above (sorry--it's taken from a Word document version of the typescript) shows a portion from the chapter of "family photographs." The effect of the project is realized most acutely only after one has read dozens or hundreds of items on the lists. One begins, blearily, weakly, to be half-conscious of the upsetting juxtapositions. Of course holocaust materials are loaded ipso fact with dramatic ironies, especially all the prewar stuff. The caption of the last-listed photo is of course a poem: "A group of young people pose outdoors in the snow." I could write three interpretive pages--traditional poetic close reading--of that line. That, too, would be ironic. Click on the image above for a larger view.

new Susan Howe at PennSound

New at PennSound. When Susan Howe visited Rachel Blau DuPlessis' class at Temple University, in December 1986, Rachel had the presence of mind to record the conversation. And years later she re-found the tape, gave it to us at PennSound, whereupon we converted the recording from cassette to digital audio. Now Jenny Lesser has segmented the whole recording into short "singles," by topic. Here is the list of the topics (and recording lengths). Links to these, and to the whole discussion, are of course available at PennSound's Susan Howe author page:

1. background to class discussion on Stein, Plath and Niedecker (4:35)
2. the poetics of "The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson" and self censorship in the work of female writers (10:58)
3. the sense of crime in Howe's work (5:19)
4. female symbols in "The Defenestration of Prague" (8:01)
5. on pastoral components and female space in "The Defenestration of Prague" and "The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson" (3:16)
6. on Howe's beginnings in the theater and as a visual artist
7. on the use of contradiction and fragment in the work of female writers (7:28)
8. duplicity in the works of Howe and Wallace Stevens (6:37)
9. Emily Dickinson as an experimental poet (0:58)
10. intertextuality in Howe's work (3:18)
11. on "The Liberties" and reaching an audience (7:08)
12. on Howe's writing strategy as a "post-objectivist" strategy and the idea that when nothing is said everything is said (6:20)
13. on equality and difference in feminist debates, power, and fascism (3:53)
14. how Emily Dickinson abolished categories (2:16)
15. the multiple audiences and functions of poetry (5:22)
16. on embedding in "The Liberties" (4:44)
17. on the meanings of birds, days of the week, and sculpture in "The Liberties" (7:26)
18. deciphering codes in "The Liberties" (4:14)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

to put it simple

If you want to find a cogent explanation of the difference between late modernism and postmodernism, don't by any means go to The site announces that it's "a place to ask questions about Learning and Teaching." Someone, presumably a student somewhere grappling with a paper assignment, posted this question: "What are the differences between Late Modernism and Post-Modernism?" And here is the response: "To put it simple, late modernism is the easiest form of modernism and post-modernism is a more fine sort of painting."

the fan (2)

Baseball is a language, and, for the fanatic, it is language. It is the baseball fan who continues to make language baseball’s lingua franca. No more attentive fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers than the poet Marianne Moore ever attended games at Ebbetts Field or read accounts of their ultimate failures in the New York Times the next morning, and the evidence of that strange attention is of course in the poems. Her Dodgers finally won a World Series in 1955, and she combed through New York Times sports-page coverage, pulling phrases that specified her exultation, and made “Hometown Piece for Mssrs. Alston and Reese” something of a collage. From its rhymed title on, the poem seems to poeticize the unpoetical and thus create high-low ironies, but when one lays the poem beside clippings from Times coverage of the Dodgers, and carefully compares them, one realizes the extent to which this writing about baseball—this writing through baseball writing—doesn’t so much restate as rewrite the already published journalism. In doing so it discloses the latter’s myriad normative phrasings, utterly inconsequential and fascinating only when considered out of context. How could contextless phrases such as “get a Night” and “stylist stout” sufficiently convey Dodger mania? Yet they do. Moore is typical of the baseball fanatic in internalizing sportswriting diction only in the particular, and into her own writing—a fan’s writing—assimilated this quality beyond the need of quotation marks; she was beyond creating scare-quote ironies: irked by one misplay, a specialist versed in an extension reach, Podres on the mound. These, though borrowed verbatim from the New York Times, are simply presented in the language of the poem. Are they her words now? She implies no claim of authorship, nor of methodological uniqueness, for the poem itself implies, of its readership, that almost anyone who listens to or reads about baseball over the course of a sufficient numbers of days, or seasons, will be capable of reproducing phrases like "a specialist versed in an extension reach," despite its odd abstraction, its slightly unidiomatic quality, its seemingly contrived “poetic” assonance and consonance. Marianne Moore’s point is that such phrases are not poetic. They are in the ambience. The fan dating back to the 1930s, for instance, makes the mere substitution of “skein” for “string” and in doing so sufficiently conjures a whole ethos. “On August 3rd [1933],” Roger Angell remembered, “Lefty Grove shut out the Yankees, terminating a string (sorry: a skein) of three hundred and eight consecutive games . . . in which the Bombers had never once been held scoreless.” This is not merely adept verbal imitation. It is the word as entrypoint for whole contact. Possibly our most self-conscious writer of baseball writing, Angell has frequently claimed to despise the baseball-is-life/life-is-baseball conceit. Yet an essay in Once More around the Park and Game Time finds its way—-characteristically moves toward its unanticipated main point—not narratively and certainly not thematically, but along an associational sequence of words and phrases conjured from someone else’s account of a game. Finding himself at one point rewriting the play-by-play account of a Fourth of July weekend game between the Giants and the Cardinals, his writing of the old words merges into those of reporter John Debinger, and here are some: “dazzled a crowd,” “bewildered the Cardinals,” “master lefthander of Bill Terry’s amazing hurling corps,” “broadshouldered Roy Parmelee strode to the mound.” He comes to the point of remembering his father’s love of the game, and then his own love of his father, by way of remembering his own love of the language used by others, in his father’s era, to describe the game. He bears out his hatred of baseball is like life but affirms baseball is like language.

Angell in “Early Innings” discovered as he wrote that recalling the language of that baseball era with more rather than less accuracy, at the level of tone and diction, meant a more rather than less complete psycho-emotional presentation of his childhood. The essay would finally about his father, or more specifically the extent of the father’s connections to the present writer, and the turning point is Angell’s admission that the topic was latent, unconscious, and that the necessary method was that of unintended disclosure—the revelation of the writing’s very topic. “When I began writing this brief memoir,” he self-referentially confesses, “I was surprised to find how often its trail circled back to my father. If I continue now with his baseball story, instead of my own, it’s because the two are so different yet feel intertwined and continuous.” And only then, three pages from the end of the piece, does the fan begin to narrate the early innings: “He was born in 1889 . . . ,” etc. The game itself, as always, begins at the beginning, but the fan’s work of writing through the game ends there. Prior to that is (for so many, so often, so continuously) the discernment through writing of the reason for this inversion. A half page above Angell’s “I was surprised to find” confession—prior to the birth of the father—the son keeps his first mitt “in top shape with neat’s-foot oil,” and only after instating the practice learns the etymology. “What’s a neat?” he remembers asking. Then they pitch and catch. Then the young emergent fan, now the older eminent writer, rediscovers the precisely appropriate diction, chooses to reproduce it and addresses us: “Yes, reader: we threw the old pill around.”

Saturday, January 09, 2010

TV drama-show form/content jibe

Still in an online discussion with a few dozen adults, talking about season 3 of Hill Street Blues, 1983. We just watched episode 14, "Moon over Uranus," one of my favorites. (Watch it here.) Peter Wolk, the attorney and screenwriter, is in the group, and here is something he wrote us last night:

A couple random thoughts. It's amazing how much is going on in each episode. A typical hour-long drama today has an A story, a B story, and maybe a C story that's more comedic. [David] Milch is giving us A through G stories. One advantage he has is that the show runs 49+ minutes. An episode of Monk in 2009 is 42+ minutes.

My response is not profound by any stretch, but gave me a chance to express my admiration for an experiment in television-show narrative (a tight set of rules there, to be sure!) that today seems easy but in '83 was hard to get past the network ratings worry-warts:

You are right that Milch gives us stories A through G. And maybe H. One of us should count them all up. Someone years ago tracked them all across a season, charting which were maintained across episodes and for how long, which died out in a single episode, etc.

I believe it was in the very first show of the series, ep. 1 season 1, that two characters whom we immediately knew would be mainstays, Hill and Renko, were shot and presumably killed about halfway through the episode.** This was much commented-upon at the time. What a disruption of TV conventions! Introduce two characters and then kill them off, and not even at the end of the individual episode, let alone the end of a season! Threw us all way off, and we knew right then that we had to pay attention to our expectations and be prepared for them to be violated.

The formal/structural violations of course mirror the crazy frenetic anything-can-happen early 80s urban reality being depicted. For me, as a longtime TV watcher whose favorite subgenre was the one-hour 9 PM or 10 PM drama series, this was the first time I truly experienced that form/content jibe.

Helter-skelter reality --> handheld camera, ensemble cast, crazy audio techniques, random elimination of characters, many plots going at once.

** Episode was entitled "Hill Street Station" and aired 1/15/81. Official plot summary is: "A hostage situation arises in Captain Furillo's precinct. Public defender Joyce Davenport is looking for her client, lost due to bureaucratic mismanagement. Officers Hill and Renko are shot in the line of duty." The episode was awarded an Edgar for Best Teleplay from a Series.

Friday, January 08, 2010

purging libraries

In March 1953, at the height of the Cold War, with the Rosenbergs awaiting electrocution, Senator Joe McCarthy investigated the presence of certain books in State Department-sponsored overseas libraries. One writer whose books the libraries stocked was William Mandel, United Press expert on the WW2-era Soviet Union. Roy Cohen, David Schine and McCarthy's other staff named Mandel as a member of the Communist Party. Televised throughout the U.S. and watched by 40 million viewers, Mandel's defiance of the powerful Senator was unprecedented. Here is a 30-minute preview of a film about the McCarthy-Mandel confrontation. Mandel's reasonable-toned rejoinders of senators' questions permits little entry-point for senatorial bullying and he goes on to give a fairly cogent reply to McCarthyism.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

sucked a sad poem

After looking at the photographs to be published in The Americans, Jack Kerouac said of Robert Frank that he had "sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film." At right is one of the 83 photographs published in the book. Kerouac wrote the preface.

baroque cop

I've been watching episodes of season 3 of Hill Street Blues on Hulu, and discussing them with an adult "class" of a dozen or so people far flung (all by email). Here are some thoughts about the speech style of Lt. Howard Hunter and Sgt. Phil Esterhaus:

David Milch inherited the hyperbolic and circumlocutious speech of Esterhaus and Hunter, but he added the baroque grammar, upped the ironic euphemisms several notches, and made especially Esterhaus unforgetttably different from your usual TV cop.

About Hunter: I never warmed to that character at all. I enjoyed episodes in which Hunter's law-'n-order ideology directly conflicted with Henry Goldbloom's the-less-fortunate-are-not-to-blame liberalism, because at such moments other characters (including Furillo) had to take sides, and not predictably. But when Hunter's conservatism was ridiculed and left dangling as a non-starter (as in "Trial by Fury"--in the bathroom scene) I have the feeling that dialogue is being wasted for mere satire.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Sunday, January 03, 2010

words is out

I'm completely thrilled and grateful that Craig Saper--one of my favorite quirky teacher-scholar-writers--has been putting so much effort into focusing attention on the work of Bob Brown. Craig is working on a Bob Brown biography. He's just recently edited and re-published Words, working with the Rice University Press on a paper and web version. My printed copy is on its way from Texas, but I've looked long and hard at the web transcription and facsimile and am, as I say, thrilled.

is this any kind of mother...?

Click on the image at right for a larger view: the postcard produced for the current Wallace Berman gallery show, upon which, earlier, I've commented here.

things as they are are changed

An attempt at reading "The Man with the Blue Guitar" as if were voice-strumming.

sticker novel now to be published for the coffee table

A novel, implementation (2006), was published as a series of stickers. It was written (and stuck around) by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. This site tells you all about it. Now Montfort and Rettberg are planning a coffee-table photo book version. Really. Here are two of their instructions for this new version: "2) Choose interesting places to put the stickers up in public environments and stick them there. 3) Photograph the sticker, attempting to get photos of the sticker both at a close/legible view and from some distance, showing the placement of the sticker in its environment." Here are photos of a sticker stuck in Berkeley.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

miniaturist's exploding sublimation

Murad Khan Mumtaz, All Debts Public and Private, 2009. Opaque water color on dollar bill, 6.25 x 2.75 in.

New Art from Pakistan: Noor Ali Chagani - Amna Hashmi - Ayesha Jatoi - Ismet Khawaja - Nadia Khawaja - Murad Khan Mumtaz - Seema Nusrat - Lala Rukh. January 7 - February 20, 2010. Opening Reception: Thursday, January 7, 6-8:30pm. Thomas Erben Gallery (526 West 26th Street, floor 4; New York, NY 10001) presents a group of emerging artists from Pakistan. Murad Khan Mumtaz sublimates images of explosions, some executed on one dollar bills, through their execution in the miniature tradition.

Friday, January 01, 2010

til it could not be denied

Jan Karski became somewhat well known after the release of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, where Karski is an anxious, halting, intense presence in the second half of the film, with an unforgettably creased face and adz-shaped head. He was a member of the Polish underground government--one of its couriers from inside the Nazi-occupied nation after 1939. In 1942 he met with two Jewish leaders who told him what was happening to the European Jews. He listened, then visited the Warsaw ghetto twice, and then set off for London and Washington with the goal of persuading the allied governments to stop the genocide. He did not succeed, and knew from the start that "The truth might not be believed," as he put it in a document he wrote a little later.

Here is a passage from that document:

This was the solemn message I carried to the world. They impressed it upon me so that it could not be forgotten. They added to it, for they saw their position with the clarity of despair. At that time more than 1,800,000 Jews had been murdered. These two men refused to delude themselves and foresaw how the United Nations might react to this information. The truth might not be believed. It might be said that this figure was exaggerated, not authentic. I was to argue, convince, do anything I could, use every available proof and testimonial, shout the truth till it could not be denied.

They had prepared me an exact statistical account of the Jewish mortality in Poland. I needed some particulars.

"Could you give me," I asked, "the approximate figures of the murder of the ghetto population?"

"The exact figure can be very nearly computed from the German deportation orders," the Zionist leader informed me.

"You mean that every one of those who were presumably deported was actually killed?"

"Every single one," the Bund leader asserted.

A longer excerpt can be found here.