Thursday, July 29, 2010

the end of your daily Al

Google has announced that they've discontinued supporting the Google gadget called "daily me," which was a personalized easily updated RSS-style feed one could view on one's iGoogle page. I was an early and happy user of this, calling mine--as some readers of this blog will know--"your daily Al." Well now, as I say, Google has decided this gadget is not worth supporting, and so I have had to close down. I apologize to those who are used to seeing me on their iGoogle pages. You'll have to find me elsewhere now: this blog, my Twitter feed, my Facebook page, my Selected Works page, my PennSound page or my PoemTalk blog.

cool down

The Writers House garden, summertime oasis.

nature is the original sports commentator

Click on the image for a larger view.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

six poets each teach a poem to high-school students

In May we hosted a visit by a class of high school students from Friends' Central School, a second annual gathering co-organized by me and Liza Ewen of the FCS English department. (Liza teaches an elective quarter-long course each spring on poetry.) I invited six poets each to teach a single poem in just 20 minutes. Rivka Fogel taught "This Room" by John Ashbery, a beautiful indirect memorial to Pierre Martory and non-narrative meditation on absence as presence. Sarah Dowling then came in and taught a section of "A Frame of the Book" by Erin Moure. Jessica Lowenthal then taught Harryette Mullen's "Trimmings." Randall Couch taught a very early poem by John Keats before revealing that it was Keats. John Timpane taught an Yvor Winters poem about the emotional complication of saying farewell to an adult child at an airport; Wintersean restraint and emotional distance abound here and strike one (strike me, at least) as a refreshing sort of illiberalism in an age of gobs of conventionally sentimental parent-child verse. Tom Devaney may have taken the pedagogical prize on this day, presenting William Carlos Williams' "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"--a seemingly easy poem for h.s. students to grasp. Yet it also does everything a modern poem does, and makes a remarkably good scene of instruction.

Each of the six 20-minute presentation is now being made available in PennSound as downloadable audio, streaming QuickTime video, and the texts of the poems are available as PDF's (digital copies of photocopies handed out to the students).

It's our hope that by presenting such materials, grouped together and well organized, PennSound will be useful to teachers and others looking for an introduction to poetry and poetics - and also to the phenomenon of the poet teaching poetry.

Here is your link to the PennSound page. It includes the six presentations from 2009 as well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Charles Olson and the westwardness of everything

Today we are releasing episode 34 of PoemTalk. In this one I and three PoemTalkers talk about one of Charles Olson's Maximus poems, "Maximus to Gloucester, letter 27 (withheld)." Go here for much more about the episode and link to the show itself. Above is a YouTube clip of Olson reading (over-reading?) the poem.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

summer poetry showcase

Tan Lin read at Poets House in Manhattan the other night. He read with Rachel Levitsky, Ken Chen and Joanna Furhman as part of the Summer Poetry Showcase. Photographs by Lawrence Schwartzwald.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

liking the poets

Here is a draft excerpt from Charles Bernstein's "Close Listening" discussion with Marjorie Perloff - which was recorded in November of 2009. Of course these are candid, drafty remarks and we'll need to edit them for Jacket when and if we publish "Close Listening" transcripts there. And here are some remarks Marjorie sent after seeing the excerpt below: "I’m just back from London from the TS Eliot Summer School and it was WONDERFUL and restored my faith in poetry. The students were exceptional—from all over including Beijing—and knew their Eliot inside out and so I was kept on my toes. And when all is said and done, Eliot is a GREAT and amazing poet; the students this time convinced me (almost) even to admire THE FOUR QUARTETS. Do I like E’s poetry better than Stevens’s? I’m afraid yes I do. But that should be neither here nor there."

BERNSTEIN: How about, let me shift it to Stein/Pound, who are so different, and yet you’ve obviously written a lot about and are a champion of both.

PERLOFF: Yeah, they are very different, and both wonderful in different ways. It’s certainly a different concept of what modernism is, but I do think, actually, modernism can cover them both very well, as opposed to other people, you know, for instance, now there’s this kind of Marianne Moore cult afoot. My feelings about Marianne Moore are she’s a, yes, of course, she’s a delightful poet. She always was admired, you know, it isn’t that she was neglected. Eliot loved her, Pound loved her, Williams loved her, et cetera. But she’s just, for me, not very interesting. So there are always two things. One is a kind of broad view that one can try to have and be objective, and another is, as one gets older and gets more subjective. You sort of feel that you don’t have to like everybody anymore, and, I mean, I’ve taught Marianne Moore, for instance, but—

BERNSTEIN: Was there some time in your life where you did feel like you had to like everybody. I can’t imagine that.

PERLOFF: Well, yes. Yes, certainly I did when I was a student. You had to write about whatever you were assigned to write about.

BERNSTEIN: Sure, but like everybody?

PERLOFF: Not like everybody so much, but acknowledge them. But Marianne Moore, to me, is just, it’s precious. I don’t like all those animals, you know. It’s just not my sensibility. But any of those poets, you see, for me, I would say all those poets, and still I’ll get back to Yeats in a moment, are not as great as Baudelaire, who is the great modernist poet. Rimbaud, Mallarme. Those, to me, are even greater than the Anglo-Americans. So that the fights between Stevens and Pound or Marianne Moore or H.D.—

BERNSTEIN: Are you saying the Americans are not so good as the Europeans, Marjorie?

PERLOFF: Well, just as far as, if you want poetry with a capital P. I mean, you go back and you read Baudelaire and I just can’t believe anybody could be that great a poet. Let’s put it that way. And I don’t really feel that way going back sometimes to, you know, I had to go do a lot of work on Wallace Stevens and I felt that was a good exercise. And when you said you don’t do people you don’t like, I mean, once I accepted that assignment, which came about in various ways, I really did my best to read the new Stevens scholarship. I am a scholar and I go back and read what everybody else says, and I look at what is said about Stevens, and, you know, only to a point can I really get that involved with Wallace Stevens.

Monday, July 12, 2010

sunset last evening

The scene above provides one reason why my blogging is less consistent this month.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


This morning I added to the PoemTalk site a brief excerpt from a transcript of the PoemTalk discussion (episode 22) of Louis Zukofsky's Anew: here.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Myung Mi Kim: emergence implied in the unsaid

On March 15, 2007, Penn students and Charles Bernstein interviewed Myung Mi Kim as part of Bernstein's "Close Listening" series. Michael Nardone has now transcribed the entire discussion, for publication, later, in Jacket2. Meantime, here is an excerpt:

You mentioned yesterday how each reading is different and how you would have other people come up and read your work. If you could just elaborate on that and how would someone who doesn’t speak another language experience repercussions while reading?

Let me start with the second part of your question first, because I think it dovetails nicely with what I’ve just been saying about what are the demands on sense and sense-making that are politically and socially and culturally driven. So, when you ask that question about, well, what about a person who doesn’t speak, you know, another language, and what kind of condition would be produced for that reader, my question always, whether out loud or implicitly, is can you produce an approximation of the condition of language again unhooked from the demands of communication and communicability and transparency, and can you somehow suggest/evoke/amplify/proliferate different ways of being inside and listening to and activating the space that we call language, which doesn’t belong to any one language group, doesn’t belong to any one particular idea of how basic things that benchmarks of language like rhythm, syntax, intonation, inflection, taking all those things as resources for meaning, as resources for experience. So, in other words, even if there were no identifiable thing called the second language, there’s something produced about an experience of language, and I think everyone has access to that.

So, you think that when phrases can’t be translated, so these other limits of syntax, that this is actually more resources, is what you’re saying?

Yeah, I think the whole notion of untranslatability, unsayability, the unsayable remains a profound interest again both linguistically, culturally and politically. The what isn’t there, what isn’t, that can’t be said. The kind of immanence and the emergence implied in that state of the unsaid, I think, has to be a certain kind of social force.

In listening to you last night and then a reading you did at Buffalo, I guess, before Commons was printed officially, I was noticing a lot of differences in what you were reading and what I was reading along with in the version, so I was wondering speak a little about versions of text, and when you do or don’t think something is finished. Also, you mentioned last night about conceiving of your works as one long continuum, and sort of how that might play into how you think about a finished product.

When I finish the text, in fact, that is the finished text. However I feel that when I’m giving readings from the finished text, it’s almost as if the text literally re-presents itself to you. Even if you are the maker of that particular text, there’s a way in which you’re greeting it and reading it. So, the occasion of the reading creates a space in which that re-listening and re-making initiates itself, and sometimes that happens, say, before the event, that I’ll sit down and wonder, in a sense, out loud to myself, what will I be reading. In that process, something gets kicked up, something is, as I say, re-initiated. Sometimes it happens literally in the reading itself, in the performance itself. I don’t think of them necessarily as revisions at all. I do think of them as reformulations, re-takes, re-assembling, which is a lot how I work in the first place, a kind of process of accretion and assemblage and reconfiguration and there are many mobile parts. So, in a way, every time you come back to the text, the process can re-kindle itself. That’s been of some interest to me simply because it opens up the question of what is real time, what is compositional time, and what is the time of making a text. I think they are all different sort of filtrations of what it means to produce a written text, which is not to refuse or in any way empty out the meaning of the book or the text that might come to some kind of rest, right. So, these are things that are being held in some kind of complicity and conversation with each other so that no one part of that, processually speaking, forecloses on any other part.

full of juice but unreal

Over the weekend this wonderful poster-ad caught my eye.

Several centuries back there was a rococo moment that produced paintings of plants still-lived into human figures. Funny that--with a slight touch of or cognizance of surrealism, I suppose--the full-on broad-stroke quasi-proletarianized figurative advertisement poster art of the American 1930s and 40s gave way occasionally to the kind of poster you see at right here. Tough-guy cooperative fruit growers represented by a happy yet slightly menacing leaf-man whose belly is a fabulously "full" orange. The mix of styles, genres and tones makes one smile and, well, want a try a sip of that fullness. But I would really like to know what these particular madmen were thinking.

immigrant picnic

Readers of this blog will note a silence over the 4th of July weekend. Well, silence here at any rate. Around the rural Connecticut roads I ran, the martinis consumed and tennis played, good meals happily eaten with friends, there was plenty of noise, but not hereabouts. July will inevitably be a slower blog month, although stay tuned. I've plenty to say, but perhaps not daily. Meantime, I noted with pleasure that PBS' NewsHour re-ran a July 4thy piece featuring my friend and colleague Greg Djanikian talking and reading about his immigrant family (Armenian by way of Egypt). Here's a link to the video.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

where is this leading me? - on improvisation

Reggie Watts on improvisation in Artforum:

People usually end up thinking, What the fuck is he doing? At some point in a set I’ll start doing stuff that’s not funny. It’s weird or depressing. Or on the verge of depressing. Or just confusing. Then I do something absurd, and there’s a release––and then we’re back on track again. There isn’t an obvious or logical nature to it. I’m recontextualizing things, or taking two disparate elements and making them clash. And when that happens there’s a reaction. Usually it’s something laugh-y. Or maybe the audience is just laughing because they’re nervous. Or just like, huh? Hopefully it provokes some kind of reaction. But it’s really just about absurdity. I like going down the road and taking people way down this path through the thorns and thickets and then, at a snap of the fingers, they’re in a McDonald’s and wondering, how did I get here? I like humor that really goes somewhere and takes chances. I think every joke is an experiment.

The experience of performing is very similar to channeling. The more open I am, the more these ideas come into mind ahead of time. I’m performing but I can see these options in the future and can continue performing. It’s like in Tetris when you see the preview of the next shape coming. You’re playing the game in real time and you’re placing the block, but you’re also aware of the next one. I’m performing live, and I get a preview of a potential idea. I can use it however I want. I can rotate the shape. I can put it over here or put it over there and create a strategy in real time. When I’m open, I see more pieces ahead of time.

I like abstraction because it frees you from structure. As an audience member listening to or watching Bill Cosby, or any of the masters, like George Carlin, it’s absolutely fascinating to hear what they have to say because you feel like you are there with them. But their style also follows a familiar logic. I mean, they throw some curveballs at you because that’s just the nature of the comedy. But when I’m watching Monty Python or Bill Hicks, at times they have this way of creating a psychedelic experience. I think it’s the psychedelic that I’m interested in, because after a while people ask themselves, What’s the joke, where is this leading me? And then I fail to lead them anywhere they expect. And then they let me try it again. And after so many times of being let down, you have to either go “I hate this. I’m leaving,” or just surrender to it. Then you can just go along for the ride.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

male absence is the subject position of the poet

Having internalized the way in which "Young Woman at a Window" (W. C. Williams) beckons toward (a) readers, (b) WCW himself, somewhat mischievously looking in from outside, and (c) the absent, waited-for father, Matthew Abess took to the American road, and found, in Centralia, Washington, a decorative plate for sale, entitled "Daddy's Home," yours for just $2.50. I assume Matt bought it.

She sits with
tears on

her cheek
her cheek on

her hand
the child

in her lap
his nose

to the glass