Monday, June 28, 2010

how reading is taught in school

"Reading is usually taught in school so as to walk hand in hand with assimilation. And it is at its most oppressive when taught through principles of absolute meaning. Beginning reading exercises tend to emphasize meaning as unambiguous and singular; the word 'duck' in the primer means the bird, not the verb. Further, as a learned and regulated act, reading socializes readers not only into the process of translating symbol into word with a one-to-one directness, but also into specific social relationships. Dick and Jane, to use the most cliched example of a primer, teach how to live the normalized lives of the nuclear family as much as they teach how to read. Further, much of what is read does not fully engage the resistant possibilities within reading, and as a result it tends to perpetuate reading's conventions."--Juliana Spahr, Everybody's Autonomy (2001), pp. 11-12

Friday, June 25, 2010

tests of poetry

In 2003 a forum was held to discuss the Cambridge Literature History of the U.S. One discussion featured disagreements about how to handle the history of American poetry and of literary-historical method as applicable--or perhaps not--to poetry and poetics. I was asked to comment on the debate, and my short essay was published in a special section of an issue of American Literary History. Here is a link to that essay.

monumentalist art of the sort I like

Thanks to Kenny Goldsmith who (I think) pointed this out to me some years back.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

facing left

A few years ago John Serio was asked to edit the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens and expressed the hope that I'd summarize what I'd learned over the years about Stevens' response to the radical-left poetics of the 1930s, so I wrote a short paper (10 pages in print) and it appeared in that very good volume. Today I uploaded a PDF copy to my "Selected Works" site: here's the essay.

haunted education

John Reed, from a blog entry titled 'UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION, AND UPDIKE’S “HAUNTED QUALITY,'" dated March 30, 2009:
John Updike refers to his undergraduate education as having a “haunted quality.”  The subject recently came up in a class of mine at New School, and then with an editor friend of mine, Jacob.  The haunted quality of undergraduate education, to me, has to do with so much of the focus being outdated—an emphasis on public domain works and creative movements long gone.  Jacob’s theory was that the education was more valuable once forgotten.  That it infuses your material more naturally, easily, when you don't consciously recollect it.  Appealing to me, since I have completely forgotten everything.

Dan Hoffman on "The Raven"

Dan Hoffman, who years ago wrote Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, talks about Poe's "The Raven." (To see all Kelly Writers House videos on YouTube, click here.)

when Elvis became Che

Phil Ochs, from the liner notes of The Broadside Tapes:

When they show the destruction of society on color TV, I want to be able to look out over Los Angeles and make sure they get it right.

Leaving America is like losing twenty pounds and finding a new girlfriend.

A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit.

And if there's any home for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there's any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.

The final story, the final chapter of western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

must read

In Primo Levi's magnificently modern book, The Periodic Table, the finest of the many fabulous sections is the chapter called "Chromium." Readers of this blog who haven't read "Chromium" should drop everything and read it now. Here's a crude PDF. Good enough. Please read.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

what divide would that be?

No science without fancy, no art without facts.--Vladimir Nabokov via Stephen Jay Gould

Monday, June 21, 2010

we talk flarf

Nada Gordon, Kenny Goldsmith and Steve McLaughlin join me for the 33rd episode of PoemTalk, released today.

Friday, June 18, 2010

watch as I teach Wallace Stevens's "The Snow Man"

I lead a discussion of Wallace Stevens's "The Snow Man" - a video that has been captured for YouTube in two parts. Here are your links to the YouTube videos:

[] part 1
[] part 2

medical students should know about Nazi doctors, don't you think?

Thanks to Sam Sharf, vigilant newspaper editor and former student of my course on the holocaust, for making me aware of this announcement:

University of Pennsylvania Students Participate in
Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics
Rachel Hadler, Jin Suk Kim, and Karen Revere
Join Groundbreaking Program for Medical and Law Students

New York, NY — Rachel Hadler, Jim Suk Kim, and Karen Revere, medical students in the class of 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania, are among the 30 students chosen by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics to participate in its inaugural two week program in New York, Berlin, and Poland for law and medical school students. Fifteen students were chosen from each field. The FASPE programs instruct students on the contemporary ethical issues facing their professions — using the Holocaust and the conduct of their professions in Nazi Germany as a framework for study.

FASPE’s goal is to provide tomorrow’s professional leaders with opportunities to increase their awareness and preparedness for the ethical issues they will confront as professionals. By educating students about the causes of the Holocaust and promoting their awareness of contemporary related issues, FASPE seeks to prevent future collaboration in genocide, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia by professional and religious leaders.

Ms. Hadler said, “The extent to which the ideal of the nameless, faceless, even irrelevant subject remains in our research is frightening….” Mr. Kim said, “The ethics of medicine are so closely intertwined with humanism. Humanism in medical ethics is what allows us to become the true healers for our patients.” Ms. Revere added, “It is uncomfortable to examine our own research methods against those of the Nazis. …to observe that a slippery slope exists, and to urge that we remain ever-conscious of its dangers.”

$110,000 in energy saved in one hour yesterday

This figure is now official. By powering down yesterday afternoon between 3 and 4 PM, the University of Pennsylvania consumed less energy to the extent, figured as cost, of $110,000. Yes, $110,000 in less energy used in one hour by one large institution. This meant: people across the university switched off or dimmed lights, unplugged computers, turned off air conditioners and fans. (I noticed that many folks went outside for meetings and breaks.) I'm sure the office of the Executive Vice President will announce the savings in kilowatts, which will of course be the most significant data. But, still, $110,000 that would otherwise be unavailable?* I hope Craig Carnoroli, whose office organized this (in conjunction with PECO), decides to spend the money on something very visible and very green. On 364 days of the year I am glad I'm not doing Craig's job, but today I would feel more certain than ever that large institutions can push hard to cut back. This might seem a small step, but let me give an example of collateral effect. Carton Rogers--the wonderful, kind, smart and thoughtful director of our libraries--asked his staff to turn off all lights for this first-ever trial in powering down. He was told by his building folks that some of the lighting in the stacks was so old that they worried about whether they could be successfully turned back on again afterward. This of course would be a hazard so they made the right decision to leave those lights on. But don't you think that today Carton is looking into rewiring those lights? These are 1950s-era bulb types, copper-wired no doubt, wires winding their way through a large building whose open stacks are like a rabbit warren. Let's get back deep into these old buildings and see what green economies can be achieved.

Well anyway, Craig, if you're reading this: I can think of a poet I'd like to hire. With an okay salary and all the wonderful Penn benefits, it would come to around $100,000 annually. You can keep the $10K for whatever. I promise to hire someone in the field of eco-poetics.

* I suppose we need to balance this against loss of productivity. This is probably why such a stunt is no good during the height of the academic year. But it is perfect for a summer afternoon. Maybe 4-5 would be better. We should consider shifting full-time staff work hours to 8-4 instead of 9-5. That 4-5 time is in Philly one of the hottest hours of the day (I'm betting that 2-3 is the hottest).

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "Truth" is an early poem - probably written in the late 1940s, perhaps 1949. She mentions this poem in the introduction she gave to Etheridge Knight before Knight's reading on February 26, 1986. The recording of that introduction is available on PennSound's Etheridge Knight page. Here is a copy of the text of Brooks' poem.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Winston Churchill for black counter-violence?

It has always been assumed that Claude McKay's sonnet, "If We Must Die" - a poem calling for counter-violence as a response to racist hatred in the context of the 1919 race riots in U.S. cities - was later recited by Winston Churchill on the BBC (and/or in a speech before the House of Commons) as a World War II-era rallying cry for Britons. McKay himself later said (in the late 40s, by which time his political views had changed) that he felt the poem to be universal - and was not about race. If indeed Churchill recited it and it could be used--presumably with pride and affirmation from its author--to rally the British against the Germans, then its historical, national/ethnic specificity would be in question.

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The Shakespearean sonnet--a strategic choice of form by McKay--would seem to endorse the notion of Churchill's use of the poem. After all, he chose on other occasions to buck up beset Britain by reminding them of their bard who believed in the green isle as sceptered in noblest, complexest high forms. Defense by poetic rhetoric.

I've for some time tried to find the recording of the speech in which Churchill quotes McKay's poem. No luck. I tried again recently, with some help from Emily Harnett. No luck still. We did find a footnote in a book by David Caplan that seems to conclude that Churchill's use of the poem is a myth. Here is a PDF copy of Caplan's note.

Here is a recording of McKay reciting his poem.

oh yes, subject matter

Barbara Guest in reply to a question about subject matter:

"Oh, yes. The subject matter. The subject matter. I know I was talking to some students in Santa Fe and they were very worried about when I said well what have you been writing, and they said, well, not very much. I realized that they were disturbed more by what they thought was in front of them that they didn’t want to write about, so I told them that the subject matter wasn’t important. And this released them. They were thrilled. They went around for days saying she said the subject doesn’t matter. Because the idea is that sometimes you find the subject as you proceed with the poem. It’s a good rule. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a good rule."

This comes from a transcription recently done of Charles Bernstein's LineBreak interview with Guest in 2005. The full transcript will be published in Jacket2.

class on Ashbery back by popular demand

This earlier post has been so often visited and requested that I've decided to re-post. I know this goes against both the spirit and design of blogs (after all, you can just search for the earlier entry), but so be it:

Recently my students and I finished up a "chapter" of English 88 on the New York School. The final class in this part of the course was devoted to some collaborative close readings of several poems by John Ashbery: "The Grapevine", "What Is Poetry", and "Hard Times". (Well, the discussion of "Hard Times," due to lack of time at that point, is really just me reading the poem and making a few comments.) A number of people watched the video live on their computers at home and work, and several of them telephoned in to ask questions or make comments. Here's your link to the video recording of the class.

your daily Al

Get your daily Al daily.

Freud on communism

Years ago I made available to my students--and then through the web to the world (this page is one of the most frequently visited pages in any of my web sites)--Freud's comments on political theory and political life in Civilization and Its Discontents. Here is a link to the excerpt, and here is his paragraph on communism:

The Communists believe they have found a way of delivering us from this evil. Man is wholeheartedly good and friendly to his neighbour, they say, but the system of private property has corrupted his nature. The possession of private property gives power to the individual and thence the temptation arises to ill-treat his neighbour; the man who is excluded from the possession of property is obliged to rebel in hostility against the oppressor. If private property were abolished, all valuables held in common and all allowed to share in the enjoyment of them, ill-will and enmity would disappear from among men. Since all needs would be satisfied, none would have any reason to regard another as an enemy; all would willingly undertake the work which is necessary. I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communistic system; I cannot enquire into whether the abolition of private property is advantageous and expedient. But I am able to recognize that psychologically it is rounded on an untenable illusion. By abolishing private property one deprives the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, a strong one undoubtedly, but assuredly not the strongest. It in no way alters the individual differences in power and influence which are turned by aggressiveness to its own use, nor does it change the nature of the instinct in any way. This instinct did not arise as the result of property; it reigned almost supreme in primitive times when possessions were still extremely scanty; it shows itself already in the nursery when possessions have hardly grown out of their original anal shape; it is at the bottom of all the relations of affection and love between human beings--possibly with the single exception of that of a mother to her male child. Suppose that personal rights to material goods are done away with, there still remain prerogatives in sexual relationships, which must arouse the strongest rancour and most violent enmity among men and women who are otherwise equal. Let us suppose this were also to be removed by instituting complete liberty in sexual life, so that the family, the germ-cell of culture, ceased to exist; one could not, it is true, foresee the new paths on which cultural development might then proceed, but one thing one would be bound to expect, and that is that the ineffaceable feature of human nature would follow wherever it led.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

more Christian Bök

Over at her excellent blog Lemon Hound, Sina Queyras is hosting our talented transcriber of PennSound interviews, Michael Nardone. Michael has selected some excerpts from Christian Bok's discussion with Charles Bernstein's students at Penn a few years back. "Greetings from Blachford Lake," Michael begins, "up near the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. Via the satellites, I've been working under the direction of Al Filreis at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, transcribing some recent and classic dialogues on poetry and poetics that will eventually be published in Jacket magazine once the journal takes up its new residence in Philadelphia. Occasionally, I hope to post on Lemon Hound a few excerpts from discussions I'm working on, and wanted to start with these selections from a conversation with Christian Bök featuring Charles Bernstein and students from the University of Pennsylvania." Here is your link to the blog entry. Above: Michael at left, Sina at right.

online variorum edition of Pound

Using Juxta in the digital variorum edition of Ezra Pound’s cantos. Mark Byron, University of Sydney (Australia), is building an online edition. Exciting stuff. Here's the link.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

eco-poetics here

I'm very pleased to announce that Marcella Durand will be the CPCW Fellow in Poetics & Poetic Practice here at Penn for next year. In the spring semester she will teach a creative writing course in eco-poetics. Durand's bio and a brief description of her course are here. Below is a photo of Marcella with John Ashbery taken a few months ago.

Photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald

poets walk

Last night Poets House sponsored the 15th annual poets' walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Tina Chang, the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, read midway on the bridge: "Brooklyn Bridge" by Vladimir Mayakovsky. Bill Murray, who's been a supporter of poetry through Poets House projects, came along for the walk. Murray read several poems to the crowd before the walk on the Manhattan end of the bridge: "Supermarket in California," Levertov's "The Rights," Ferlinghetti's "Coney Island of the Mind."

Photos by Lawrence Schwartzwald.

women as baseball fans, the whole poetry

Some thoughts on the importance of women as baseball fans begin with the ironically positive effect of Charlie Finley’s otherwise usually destructive mania for marketing his Athletics. When the team resided in Kansas City, he deemed it a good stunt to hire the first woman to be part of a baseball radio team. Her name was Betty Caywood, and she spent most of her on-air time talking about happenings in the grandstands. For Finley it was “another way of keeping attention away from what was happening on the diamond”—in other words, drawing attention away from poorly played baseball. The diversionary stunt had the ironic effect of focusing listeners ever more on the whole game. By permitting Caywood’s narrative peregrinations away from the game being played on the field, Finley was not, to be sure, promoting equality of gendered perspective, nor was he expressing any kind of belief in the voice of the fan. But he was exploring the (actually quite profitable) world of words emanating directly from the fan-centered game, the convergence of baseball and language that “generate[s] excitement-- / a fever in the victim,” as Marianne Moore described it in a poem called “Baseball and Writing.” Moore was a fanatical Brooklyn Dodger devotee, and her poem, which begins “Writing is exciting / and baseball is like writing,” was written not in response to a game but to “post-game broadcasts.” To whom,” she asks, does the victimhood of generated excitement apply? “Who is excited?” “[P]itcher, catcher, fielder, batter”? On the contrary: “Might it be I?” This is the poetic “I”—the speaker, but, more generally, the voice teaching us to see what should be seen. This is the “I” that observes “Carl Furillo’s . . . big gun” (which drove in four of the team’s six runs on a day remembered in the poem) but celebrates “fans dancing in delight” in response. Moore was devoted to the game but the lens of her devotion was a wandering eye that spots, for example, “the Dodger Band in [section] 8, row 1.” That motley ensemble was famously capable of improvising—for example, playing “Why Not Take All of Me?” when the local tax collector happened to walk by. As a form of expression analogous to Don Zimmer’s surprising infield dexterity (feats Moore elsewhere extolled), such extemporaneity was the whole poetry of the Dodgers.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

too feverish, sometimes hysterical

From Irving Howe's negative review of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man:

Though immensely gifted, Ellison is not a finished craftsman. The tempo of his book is too feverish, and at times almost hysterical. Too often he tries to overwhelm the reader; but when he should be doing something other then overwhelm, when he should be persuading or suggesting or simply telling, he forces and tears. Because the book is written in the first person singular, Ellison cannot establish ironic distance between his hero and himself, or between the matured "I" telling the story and the "I" who is its victim. And because the experience is so apocalyptic and magnified, it absorbs and then dissolves the hero; every minor character comes through brilliantly, but the seeing "I" is seldom seen.

Published in The Nation May 10, 1952. Here's the whole review.

Friday, June 11, 2010

verdant time

The Writers House garden - thanks to the Class of 1942 for making it possible! - at its most verdant. Inviting entryway, eh? Come to 3805 Locust Walk, Philadelphia.

digital monastery

Justin McDaniel, a member of the faculty here at Penn, has created a virtual archive of Thai Buddhist materials. It's called The Thai Digital Monastery and the web site is lovely--and shows the potential of this project as a virtual archive of far-off materials. We at PennSound will consult with Justin; they are, in a sense, sister projects, with a similar sort of archival motive.

scholarly uses of sound recordings of poetry

Below is a partial list of articles that make explicit use of PennSound material (prepared by Charles Bernstein):

Christine Hume, Improvisational Insurrection: The Sound Poetry of Tracie Morris, Contemporary Literature, Volume 47, Number 3, Fall 2006, pp. 415-439 (Article)

Hank Lazer, “Is There a Distinctive Jewish Poetics? Several? Many?: Is There Any Question?” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Volume 27, Number 3, Spring 2009, pp. 72-90 (Article)

Andy Weaver, Promoting “a community of thoughtful men and women”: Anarchism in Robert Duncan’s Ground Work Volumes
ESC: English Studies in Canada, Volume 34, Issue 4, December 2008, pp. 71-95 (Article)

Charles Bernstein, Objectivist Blues: Scoring Speech in Second-Wave Modernist Poetry and Lyrics: American Literary History, Volume 20, Number 1-2, Spring/Summer 2008, pp. 346-368 (Article)

Natalie Gerber, Structural Surprise in the Triadic-Line Poems
William Carlos Williams Review, Volume 27, Number 2, Fall 2007, pp. 179-186 (Article)

Emily Mitchell Wallace, The MLA Seminar Papers on Williams and Sound
William Carlos Williams Review, Volume 27, Number 2, Fall 2007, pp. 157-159 (Article)

Don Riggs, Lots of City Poets: A Review of Essays on the "Second Generation" New York School: Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 31, Number 3, Spring 2008, pp. 143-149 (Review)

Xiaojing Zhou, "What Story What Story What Sound": The Nomadic Poetics of Myung Mi Kim's Dura” College Literature, 34.4, Fall 2007, pp. 63-91 (Article)

Charles Bernstein, Making Audio Visible: The Lessons of Visual Language for the Textualization of Sound Making Audio Visible: The Lessons of Visual Language for the Textualization of Sound

Jennifer Scappettone, Traffics of Historicism in Jackson Mac Low's Contemporary Lyricism, Modern Philology, Vol. 105, No. 1, Special Issue on Poetics (Aug., 2007), pp. 185-212

Claudia Rankine, ed.; Lisa Sewell, ed., American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics.

on the institutionalization of e-poetry & related topics

1. Al Filreis, "Sounds at an Impasse," Wallace Stevens Journal, special sound issue edited by Natalie Gerber, Spring 2009, pp. 16-23. [link[

2. Al Filreis, "Kinetic Is as Kinetic Does: On the Institutionalization of Digital Poetry," in New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories, ed. Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), pp. 123-140.

3. Al Filreis, "Some Remarks on the Institutionalization of E-Poetries," NC1 (Spring/Summer 2002), pp. 84-88; part of "New Media Literature: A Roundtable Discussion on Aesthetics, Audiences, and Histories."

4. Al Filreis, "Modernist Pedagogy at the End of the Lecture," in Teaching Modernist Poetry, eds. Nicky Marsh & Peter Middleton (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). [link]

post-isolationist New Zealander

Below is a small transcribed piece of a "Close Listening" conversation with Wystan Curnow, conducted by Charles Bernstein. The full recording is of course available on PennSound. The full transcript will eventually be published in Jacket2; it has been prepared by the remarkable Michael Nardone.

- -

Now you have been interested in network connections trans-national or global, to some degree that was so commonplace as a way of understanding the visual arts. So, going back to my original question of location, thinking of New Zealand as one point in this global set of crossing points and so on, where do you locate your self on the globe in that respect? What are some of the currents, visual and verbal, that go through you, where you are?

Well, first of all, I mean, let’s go back one step, and I sense that, I think that one reaction to going back to England or attachment to home was the idea of establishing something unique and of a particular place. So there was a type of isolationist, or a discovery of a New Zealand identity, a New Zealand literature.

Which would also be marked by features of the place itself.

That’s right.

The boundedness by water, the particular fauna and flora.

And the way in which as society developed, it grew out of those things in particular, rather than things that were elsewhere. That’s in some way a resistance to the global, a resistance to networks. Essentially, I’m of a generation that is more impressed with the limitations and the delusions of such a strategy, and wishes to expand the networks and make more of them. I think as you yourself indicated that somewhere in the 1970s, a considerable change occurred in terms of the influence particularly of American culture in New Zealand, but just at the popular culture level, but in the arts and in poetry.

But one of the things I wanted to say about the network thing is that whatever other sources you are talking about, one looks at sources in a different way than has occurred in the past. It’s a matter of relationships, and the negotiation of spaces between rather than a here and a there.

So networkers, in my view, understood that way.

I’m of course thinking of the particular show that you did of maps and the kind of global networking show. I wanted to ask you that question as you know, but—

I mean for me, the border network began with the States. Then it’s extended to Europe, I would say, in the 1980s. Europe was a discovery for me. I’d never been there before.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

W.E.B. DuBois on why he won't vote in 1956

In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say....

[H]ow does Stevenson differ from Eisenhower? He uses better English than Dulles, thank God! He has a sly humor, where Eisenhower has none. Beyond this, Stevenson stands on the race question in the South not far from where his godfather Adlai stood sixty-three years ago, which reconciles him to the South. He has no clear policy on war or preparation for war; on water and flood control; on reduction of taxation; on the welfare state....

I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?

--W.E.B. Du Bois, October 20, 1956 in the Nation magazine

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Allen Ginsberg's FBI file

Here is Herbert Mitgang's summary of Allen Ginsberg's FBI file:

Ginsberg engaged the attention of the FBI recordkeepers. "I have a stack of documents three feet high," the . . . poet said, and showed me a sampling of them. He has devoted much of his time to challenging the government on issues of privacy and personal freedom - including sexual preference - and arousing his fellow writers to campaign for freedom of expression.

Ginsberg recently told me that Pacifica Radio, the group of radio stations that airs public events, contemporary verse, drama and other literature, may no longer broadcast much of his poetry, including the well known Howl and Kaddish. Under the Reagan administration's policy of destroying the power to regulate of the regulatory agencies, the weakened Federal Communications Commission has carried out Attorney General Meese's diktat against "obscenity" and "indecency." The final report of the Meese Commission on Pornography is a legacy for book censors and book burners that could affect authors, editors and elements of the publishing community for a long time to come.

Ginsberg said that some of the papers in his file come from related customs and Treasury Department investigative bureaus. His file crisscrosses those of other writers. "They include Leroi Jones, who was the victim of much more attack than people understand and, in that context, his anger is understandable," Ginsberg said. "Most people don't realize what he and other black literati have been through, assuming that all past injustices have been redressed or somehow disappeared out of mind. The waste remains, the waste remains and kills. The section on Tom Hayden in Newark intersects with Jones, since Jones was influenced by an FBI misinformation campaign to denounce Hayden as an [FBI] agent and drive him out of Newark. The section on Black United Front and Ann Arbor intersects with John Sinclair, poet director of Detroit Artists Workshop, a multiracial press that is one of my publishers."

Commenting on the FBI's activities in the literary political arena, Ginsberg said, "Why did the FBI lay off the Mafia and instead bust the alternative media, scapegoating Leroi Jones, ganging up on Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Martin Luther King, Jr., antiwar hero David Dellinger, even putting me on a 'Dangerous Subversive' Internal Security list in 1965 - the same year I was kicked out of Havana and Prague for talking and chanting back to the Communist police? 'The fox condemns the trap, not himself,' as Blake wrote in Proverbs in Hell. "

In a memorandum from Hoover to the Secret Service in 1965, Ginsberg was cited as an "Internal Security--Cuba" case, and a potential threat to the president of the United States. On the document, stamped Secret, Ginsberg was listed as "potentially dangerous" and a "subversive," with "evidence of emotional instability (including unstable residence and employment record) or irrational or suicidal behavior," as having made "expressions of strong or violent anti U.S. sentiment," and as having "a propensity for violence and antipathy toward good order and government." All such items were checked on a form in his file.

A photograph of Ginsberg was placed in the Federal Narcotics files in 1967 as if it were a dangerous explosive, and a copy of the photograph was sent to the FBI. Ginsberg had openly campaigned against what he regarded as harsh antimarijuana laws that were used to arrest anti Vietnam War and other protesters. "He is pictured in an indecent pose," the report said. "For possible future use, the photograph has been placed in a locked sealed envelope marked "Photograph of Allen Ginsberg - Gen. File: ALLEN GINSBERG." The locked sealed envelope has been placed in a vault in this office for safekeeping.

The nature of his case was described as "antirioting laws" in 1968 by the Chicago office of the FBI. "[Name blacked out] advised he observed GINSBERG at Grant Park in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in conversation with associates," his report read. "GINSBERG chanted unintelligible poems in Grant Park on August 28, 1968." Ginsberg explained that the "unintelligible poems" were William Blake's "The Grey Monk."

Ginsberg was tracked in this country and abroad. When he returned from a trip to Montreal in 1969, his valise was opened, bonded and held for customs inspectors at Kennedy Airport. It contained his manuscripts, poems, what were described by authorities as obscene photographs, a position paper on narcotics that he had prepared for Senator Edward Kennedy, and newspapers. The Ginsberg file reveals that when he gave a poetry reading in 1970 at Quincy College in Illinois the FBI bureau in Springfield was alerted to be on the lookout for him because he was an "IS" (Internal Security) case. It was duly and soberly noted that he was billed as the "Hippie Poet."

During the first term of the Reagan administration, a list of eighty four people deemed "unsuitable" as government paid speakers abroad was prepared by the United States Information Agency. Among the names were Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate; Coretta Scott King, the black leader; Betty Friedan, the feminist; John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Samuelson and Lester Thurow, economists; and Allen Ginsberg, poet. It was, most felt, the equivalent of the Nixon administration's "enemies list" - and an honor to be included, a disappointment to be left off.

As he demonstrated in one of his recent poems, "Industrial Waves," Ginsberg is unstoppable when it comes to defying the authorities with verse that outrages: "Free computerized National Police! / Everybody got identity cards? At ease! / Freedom for Big Business to eat up the sea / Freedom for Exxon to examine your pee!"

He remains at the cutting edge of controversy. His only weapons are chants and poetry that may be depended on to arouse Washington officialdom and delight his admiring peers and readers. He continues to campaign openly for causes he believes in. Ginsberg's plots thicken, and so undoubtedly does his FBI file.

Source: Herbert Mitgang, Dangerous dossiers: exposing the secret war against America's greatest authors (New York : D.I. Fine, 1988)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

KWH on YouTube

Subscribe to the Kelly Writers House YouTube channel. It's been there for a while, but this summer we're adding a slew of video clips from a selection of our programs. Click here and click "subscribe."

series of black & white paintings

In the new building at the National Gallery in DC, I saw Barnett Newman's series of paintings--done between 1958 and 1966--called "The Stations of the Cross." The Stations of the Cross series of black and white paintings, begun shortly after Newman had recovered from a heart attack, is usually regarded as the peak of his achievement. The series is subtitled "Lema sabachthani" - "why have you forsaken me" - words said to have been spoken by Jesus on the cross. Newman saw these words as having universal significance in his own time. The series has also been seen as a memorial to the victims of the holocaust.

bill of rights, some kind of subversive document

"No doubt all of you recall the incident in Madison, Wisconsin, last Fourth of July, when American citizens were afraid to say they believed in the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. One hundred and twelve people were asked to sign a petition that contained nothing except quotations from these two immortal documents, and one hundred and eleven refused to sign the paper. Most refused because they were afraid it was some kind of subversive document and thought that if they signed it they would be called Communists." - JAZZES H. HALSEY, President, University of Bridgeport, in a speech delivered at the Opening Convocation of the College Year, University of Bridgeport, September 25, 1951. (Republished in Vital Speeches, November 1, 1951.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

that stupid jerk

When in my quick modern/postmodern American poetry survey course I teach the Beats (in two class sessions!), I briefly follow a few paths forward to see and hear where Beat poetics point. An example of one fairly narrow path leads to the rage for Maggie Estep, whose appearance on MTV (poetry on MTV--remember that?) was pretty much a sensation. Here is a recording of Estep performing "That Stupid Jerk I'm Obsessed With." Note that her final line is: "And I couldn't be happier." Try to figure out if she means that. And, yes, her bootlace is untied.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

the written sea

The work by John Marin I know is watercolor. And mostly I've seen his early stuff--from the 1920s. But here is a canvas (at the National Gallery) done in oil, and it was made in his last year (1952; he died in '53). The curator at the gallery suggests that Marin's later painting--a flurry of caligraphic brushstrokes--"inspired the younger generation of abstract expressionists." Here Marin thinks of the perpetual movement of the windswept Maine seascape as a kind of writing. "The sea...wants to be horizontal," Marin said, "but then the horizontals begin to play, to move. Sympathetic lines turn up all over the canvas...all related to each other...all living together." The painting is called The Written Sea.

beginning afresh

Saturday, June 05, 2010

making the archive available before it's too late

I read Ron Silliman's blog post yesterday with excitement and trepidation. He describes a personal archive of recordings of poetry readings that is remarkable (for its size and range) but also typical in the sense that there is no economy to support its being made available--or even for its preservation. If you read what Ron has to say here please be sure to look also at Steve Fama's comment.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Rothko's black series

DC yesterday: awful heat but two good PennSound-related meetings, one of them at the Library of Congress. But then, meetings done, to the tower we went. In and then up into the gorgeous new wing of the National Gallery in DC - to see a series of black Rothko paintings. Here's the official description: "The second in a series of Tower exhibitions focusing on contemporary art and its roots offers a rare look at the black-on-black paintings that Rothko made in 1964 in connection with his work on a chapel for the Menil Collection in Houston. A recording of Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel (1971), the haunting music originally composed for that space,accompanies the exhibition in the spacious East Building Tower Gallery. A new 10-minute film examines the career of Rothko and his development of a style that fused abstract painting with emotional significance. Produced by the National Gallery of Art, the film will be shown continuously in the Tower Gallery." The show runs until January 2, 2011. See it!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Robert Coover

I ask Robert Coover if experimental writing is dangerous and necessary.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ted Greenwald

Ted Greenwald reads from "In Your Dreams."

retelling the Iliad with the letter 'e'

In 2005, a seminar of Penn students and Charles Bernstein spoke with Christian Bok, making a recording that is now part of the "Close Listening" series hosted by Bernstein. Here is the recording and here is more information about the session. Now Michael Nardone has transcribed the interview for later publication in Jacket2 but we cannot resist offering a brief excerpt here:

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So, while we are talking about Eunoia, can we look forward to a consonant sequel?

A consonant sequel? No, I’ve promised myself that I won’t ever write another constraint-based book again. The blood-pact I have with my peer group is that every book we write will be radically different from its predecessor, that the entire oeuvre should be completely heteroclite. So, the next project requires learning a whole new skill-set and re-training my brain, in effect, to learn something else. I probably would not have the endurance now or perseverance required to actually finish a constraint-based book.

So, clearly, this is very constraint-based, and from what you’re saying, you’re probably going to set yourself a new set of rules every time you write something new. So, are you arguing for something, for going back to sort of the poetic formality that has existed forever, against the tide of free verse, or stream-of-consciousness?

Well, actually, I have no problem with those poetic forms. I think my only complaint about those poetic forms you’ve cited is that they are not feeling much incentive to innovate and produce something new and reinvent themselves in a manner which is exciting and stimulating. And to me, it’s not so important that the work actually demonstrate some sort of formalistic character, so long as it has some kind of innovative rationale for its practice. So, I’m not making a case, I think, for a return to rigorous and strict formality. You know, I’m not that fascistic or school-marmish, I think, in my sensibilities. But I did this project thinking that it was a kind of experimental work. I didn’t know if it could be done, and I merely conducted the experiment to see what would happen. And to me, that’s really what writing poetry is about, it’s a kind of heuristic activity where you indulge in a completely exploratory adventure through language itself.

Well, speaking of innovative rationale, where did your constraints, your content constraints about, you know, the nautical voyage and so forth, come from?

Okay, in the book, the five chapters have a thematic thread, which runs throughout the entire book. Every chapter has to allude to the art of writing. All the chapters have to describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, pastoral tableaux, and a nautical voyage. These four scenarios are indicative of a vocabulary that’s common to all five vowels. It’s possible to say something erotic or culinary in theme in all the vowels cause they actually have that vocabulary common to all of them. So, I wanted there to be sort of thematic consistency across the entire book. I didn’t want it to be just five separate, individual stories that had no correlations with each other. I wanted there to be some sort of thematic parallelism, and it just so happened that these were the lexicons that were common to the five vowels. So, included them in the story.

Now, coincidentally, those four scenarios are, in fact, the kinds of scenarios you typically see in Greek epic poetry. And, for me, the word eunoia, which is originally from Greek, means quite literally “good-will”—it was a term coined by Aristotle to describe the frame of mind that you have to be in in order to make a friend—it seems to me it reflects a kind of neo-classical set of values about beautiful thinking. And certainly, there is a kind of classical story in there. The re-telling of the Iliad in chapter E, I think, alludes, in fact, to these kinds of four scenarios, which are common to a classical form of story telling. You would find these scenes in that.

So, did the classical idea come first, because when I read the nautical voyage, it reminded me of, sort of, epic, the epic tradition? So, did the research for what was common come first, or sort of a homage to the classical traditions?

It’s all a side effect of the actual vocabulary itself. It wasn’t as though I planned to write about these four scenarios. The vocabulary determined, in effect, what it was possible for me to say, and I simply said it. It just so happens that, I think, coincidentally, they are easily integrated into this rationale, this explanation, you know, that it has something to do with, I think, a kind of neo-classical, kind of Apollonian rigor or, you know, aesthetic value that I think the Greeks exemplify.

Okay, my final question: have you ever thought of joining an acapella group?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would join an acapella group. I’m too much of an auteur.

I have no vocal training. I’m not a musician.

You know, I always thought Eunoia was what people said about poetry like ours: You annoy-a me.

That’s right, that’s right. That was the standard joke my friends when the book was out wearing its welcome, people would describe it as Annoy-you, or, better yet, Ennui.

four poets

From left to right, Frank Sherlock, Greg Djanikian, Ron Silliman and CA Conrad.