Thursday, February 28, 2008

meanwhile, in New Haven...

...some very smart kids at Yale are throwing snowstikas. Penises also, but that didn't seem to get as much attention as the snowstika. A gossipy, sporty online Ivy League blog-newspaper, IvyGate, has got it covered.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Jessica Haralson for sending this one along.

more more

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

subway genocide

MTV has created 30-second think spots. Some of them require not much thinking indeed but this one surely does. It could happen here, so the saying went (and goes). I'm generally wary of teaching kids about genocide, but this thing seems on track (as it were).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

bodies in classroom

Years ago Jim O'Donnell - a pioneer in internet-age teaching - said that the role of the teacher would change from that of provider of knowledge... to that of "front end to the universe": from be-all/there-all giver in a room full of receivers and final arbiter of what constitutes relevant knowledge to medium or gateway or traffic cop gently guiding but never blocking the learners' pathways outward to a world of information and knowledge and text that made the teacher a speck on the horizon yet still great in importance if she or he would thrive in the role of medium. Not maker or giver of the medium, but medium itself. There are classrooms today (and it has not much to do with computing hardware available, though a minimum is required...namely a good wireless connection for everyone) in which the new role is possible and the teacher loves playing it. From time to time here I have mentioned Kenneth Goldsmith's teaching, in part because I adore what Kenny does and in large part because I happen to have access to it, a close look at its development. Kenny's artwork did all this before he taught regularly, but now the pedagogy is catching up with the rest of the project. Here are a few paragraphs Kenny sent me this morning about what the hell is happening in his classroom:

During a recent classroom visit of a visual artist, it occurred to me that we've reached a new paradigm in radical pedagogy. The artist entered the room, greeted the class and began his lecture with a PowerPoint presentation about his work. While he was speaking, he noticed that the class -- all of whom had their laptops open and connected to the internet -- were furiously typing away. He flattered himself that, in the traditional manner, the students were taking copious notes on his lecture, devouring every word he spoke. But what he was not aware of was that the students were engaged in a simultaneous electronic dialogue with each other about what the artist was saying, all played out over the class listserv, which they all had instant access to. During the course of the artist's lecture, dozens of emails, links and photos were blazing back and forth to each other; each email elicited yet more commentary and gloss on the prior emails to the point where what the artist was saying was merely a jumping off point to an investigation of such depth and complexity, that the artist -- or any ideal of traditional pedagogy -- would never have achieved. It was an unsurpassed form of student's active and participatory engagement, but went far astray from what the speaker had in mind.

When later told about this, the artist was very disturbed. His ego was mauled and when shown the blizzard of gloss, was more dispirited as he felt much of what had transpired was irrelevant and even irreverent (hastily Photoshopped detournments of images and concepts he brought up). He was flabbergasted that all of this "conversation" was happening and he, the authoritative speaker, was not privy to what was being said.

I had to explain to him the very positive aspects of this new pedagogy, that in fact his words were triggers for engagements and explorations that, while not wholly controlled by him, were catalysts for thinking in ways other than what he had planned. I told him that their engagement was a deeper one than what normally occurs.

And so we have a glimpse into the future. I can envision a class where bodies physically exist in the same space without a spoken word having transpired; where communication happens electronically and instantaneously -- often concurrently -- yet retains a semblance of community and continuity, even warmth and intimacy. What the electronic classroom does is give us new ways of being together. I often tell my students that they are smarter with a laptop connected to the internet than they are without one. And after seeing what the results of this are, I am more convinced that I can never go back to a traditional classroom pedagogy. The role of the professor now is part party host, part traffic cop, full time enabler.

slowly the particulars get scattered

Earlier I wrote briefly about Rachel Blau DuPlessis' new installment of her long poem Drafts; the new volume is Torques. A few weeks ago, on February 5, we celebrated Torques and Rachel read all of drafts 64 and 88, and portions of 74 and 85. Of course these pieces and the whole reading are available as a sound recording on Rachel's PennSound page. That night, though, I also had my little Nikon with me and took some rough video which Mike Van Helder has edited. Click here and watch Jessica Lowenthal offering some opening remarks, Bob Perelman introducing Rachel, and Rachel reading 88 and 85. Draft 85 is called "Hard Copy."
Slowly the particulars
get scattered to the wind

and one is left
with what is under the surface
trying to come to light
what has not yet
been found nor
been found

Monday, February 25, 2008

Al/Art mediated

Many photos of our Art Spiegelman visit are here, courtesy John Carroll. For more, see this earlier entry.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I'll miss Bill

You can listen to a podcast version of this entry.

Bill Owen was gentle and effective. In his day he was a major university administrative player. In retirement he was a genial presence - knew what needed to happen but never raised his voice about it. He was on the Board of Penn's Class of 1942 when I met him in my days as "Class of 1942 Professor." He and I quickly decided that together we would induce the class to make a donation to enable the renovation of the garden outside the Kelly Writers House on Penn's campus. It worked.We completely redid the garden - beautiful stones, a William Carlos Williams poem engraved along a path, new flower beds of locally native flowers, shrubs, and trees, and a great watering system. The spring there is gorgeous.

Bill died recently. He was not just a Penn friend of mine, but, as it happens, the father of my son's fourth-grade teacher at a local Quaker school. So through that doubled connection I got a chance to teach Williams' poetry to 10 year olds! ("Joy,joy!" as WCW might have said without a trace of irony.)

I didn't know Bill Owen well but I sense the loss of his presence. Universities tend to forget even very efficacious administrators, but I'll try not to. Bill ran the whole development effort here, was in Admissions for some years, and served as the University's "secretary" (managing trustees and overseers, etc.).

Please look at this obituary and try to read between the lines: see if you can the kind of person that makes so much of what we do possible.

Here's the Williams poem in the garden. Today it's for Bill:

The Quality of Heaven
William Carlos Williams

Without other cost than breath
and the poor soul,
carried in the cage of the ribs,
chirping shrilly

I walked in the garden. The
garden smelled of roses.
The lilies' green throats opened
to yellow trumpets

that craved no sound and the rain
was fresh in my face,
the air a sweet breath.

the heat was oppressive

dust clogged the leaves' green
and bees from
the near hive, parched, drank,
overeager, at

the birdbath and were drowned there.
Others replaced them
from which the birds were

--the fleece-light air!

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audio from my new book

Audio recordings of my recent reading from Counter-Revolution of the Word, along with several very nice introductions to me and it, are now available here: LINK.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

being real

The Poetry Foundation web site hosts a blog called "Harriet" (named of course after Poetry founder Harriet Monroe). Currently Christian Bök, Stephen Burt, Rigoberto González, Major Jackson, Ange Mlinko, and A.E. Stallings are the poets writing entries. The cast of bloggy characters rotates. Last summer Kenneth Goldsmith was among them. On July 26, 2007, Kenny's entry incited a number of responses, many of them negative. Here is link to the full entry and the responses, and here is the first paragraph of Kenny's comment:

I recently gave a lecture recently to a group of poetry MFAs on uncreative writing, appropriation, information management and unoriginality. During the Q&A, a student declaimed, "C'mon, man, be real. Drop all that stuff and be real, you know, artist to artist." To which I responded, "If you can give me a definition of what real is then I can be real with you." I thought to myself, wow, writing is so far behind other art forms in this regard. Could you imagine after a lecture someone say to Jeff Koons, "Hey, Jeff, drop all that stuff and be real." Never. No one expects Jeff Koons to "be real." Jeff Koons has made a career out of being "unreal." Likewise, during a pop concert -- say, a Madonna concert -- it's hard to imagine someone shouting out to Madonna to be real. No one expects Madonna to really sing, rather they revel in the image of her while listening to a pre-recorded vocal track. Would the "real" Madonna please stand up? For the past two decades, "realness" has ceased to be an issue in music, art and fashion. But in writing we're still expected to "be real." Twenty five years after Baudrillard, these poetry students were still prioritizing Romantic notions of authenticity -- "truth", "individuality" and "honesty" -- over any other form of expression. My god! Is it a case of naivety, amnesia or just plain ignorance?

Image above: Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and soap bubbles (1988).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

singing disharmony with Ignatz

Here is a recording of the hour-long interview / conversation with Art Spiegelman I conducted yesterday. You'll have a choice here: you can watch a video recording; or you can download or stream an audio-only mp3. Spiegelman was here as a Writers House Fellow. Art spent three hours with the 20 undergraduates in my Writers House Fellows Seminar, then gave a public presentation ("Comix 101") to about 120 people jammed into the KWH Arts Cafe, then joined a small group of us (including the comix genius Charles Burns) for home-cooked dinner in the Writers House dining room, then came back the next morning for the discussion you will see and/or hear when you click on the link above. Do, please, and let me know what you think. Spiegelman's new book, Breakdowns, will be published in October 2008.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

cause without a rebel

Jim Backus seems silly - ridiculously weak and indecisive father, henpecked, trying to dole out manly advice to his "rebellious" teenaged son while wearing a frilly kitchen apron...but in the end, Backus is right and the teens are wrong to rebel. It's all about family problems - mommy and daddy problems - and not about anything larger wrong with society and culture. So get over it, and let me put my arm around you...and come on back home.

Yes, in my view Rebel without a Cause is among the few greatest anti-political film in American cinema - I mean "great" in the sense of powerful and influential. Perhaps everyone was so busy taking style (leaning, laconic, mumbling) cues from James Dean, a counterforce that almost but not quite undoes the film's relentless p.o.v. against the idea of the efficacy positions one might take against conformity, against the quietistic politics of a generation of parents, against American assumptions about home life and love. The parents are anti-ideal and in the end, waging psychological (psychoanalytic) war, their anti-idealism must be accepted.

Here are some of my favorite lines - along these lines - from the film:

Judy: "Yes. No. I don't know. He doesn't mean it, but he acts like he does."

Plato: "Nobody can help me." Mrs. Crawford "doesn't believe in psychiatrists," whom Plato calls "head-shrinkers."

Jim about his father: "He always wants to be my pal. If he had the guts to knock mom cold, then she's be happy and she wouldn't bother him."

Ray: "Go ahead. Hit the desk. You'll feel better ... It's easier sometimes than talking to your folks."

Frank Stark: "Well, you just get it off your chest, son." Jim: "That's not the point!" Frank: "You can't be idealistic all your life, son."

The scientist: "The universe will be little moved by our demise. We will disappear, destroyed as we began in a burst of gas and fire. In all the immensity of the gallaxy and beyond the earth will not be missed. The problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed, and man, existing alone, seems himself a thing of little consequence."

Jim's father, seeing Jim at the landing: "Hi Jim. You thought I was mom."

Judy's father: "It's just the age."

Frank Stark: "I wouldn't make a hasty decision. Nobody can make a snap decision. We've got to consider the pros and cons, make a list, get advice .... Have I ever stopped you from doing anything?"

Plato: "If only you coulda been my dad. We could have breakfast in the morning.

"What about children?" "We don I t encourage them. So noisy." "Nobody talks to children."

Jim, father-like: "He needs me." Judy, mother-like: "He needs you, but so do I, Jim."

The screenplay was written by Stewart Stern. And here's some good "Rebel" gossip.

Friday, February 15, 2008

book party

The people of the Writers House helped me launch my new book this past Monday (February 11). John Carroll took some great photos, including this one (above) of the marvelous cake made at Isgro's in South Philly, reproducing the jacket design, which was the fantastic creation of a talented book designer, Laura Palese of Clarkson Potter. (Many, upon seeing the book first with its jacket, say, "Gee, I think I know what the book is about from the jacket!" That's a good thing, trust me.)

a valentine from Marianne

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

howl my valentine

The March 1956 recording of Ginsberg reading Howl in Berkeley, it turns out, was not the first tape of it made. A month earlier AG and Gary Snyder had hitched up to Reed College (Snyder has grown up in Portland and attended Reed) where Snyder had arranged for some readings. Only recently did some folks at Reed find a box with a reel-to-reel tape marked "Snyder Ginsberg 1956," played it and heard a decent-quality 35-minute recording.

The date of the reading, at a student hostel called "the Anna Mann Cottage," is February 14 - Valentine's Day 52 years ago.
Here's an article about the find.

post-9/11 podcast

Today we're releasing a new Kelly Writers House podcast - number 14 in our series. This one is a brief excerpt from "Finding the Words," talks and readings about (somehow) Marianne Moore in connection with 9/11. I've written about this event here earlier; the podcast is really an audio version of that entry, and it includes the recording of my own piece, "Mending the Break in Time." Here's the mp3 file.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

beat novel written by Karl Marx

Mike Hennessey was browsing used books and came across John Clellon Holmes' 1952 novel - sometimes said to be the "first Beat novel" - Go, opened it up and found graffiti scrawled by someone - presumably a young man - named Brian Zimmerman. Perhaps Brian was required to read Go in high school? "What Would Patton Say?" he asks (rhetorically) in one outburst. At right is a close-up; below, at left, you can see the title page as Brian, incensed by the obviously communist propaganda, has written over and through it.

Unlike Brian, the novel says: "I actually yearn for life to be easy, magic, full of love."

And elsewhere: "You know what I just dreamed? I dreamed about everybody I know.... I honestly never realized how many people I know. Too many goddamn people. You know what I mean?"

O Brian, dream such a dream.

It was to Holmes that Kerouac once said, "You know, this is really a beat generation." Jack in turn had gotten the term from Herbert Huncke.

In 1958 Holmes published The Horn, which is considered by many to be the definitive jazz novel of the beats.

I've written about Holmes here before.

en familie

A new PennSound podcast features Robert Creeley talking with me and others in April 2000. He was, that spring, a Kelly Writers House Fellow. During the conversation we talk about his love poetry; Bob Perelman asks him why if in his early writing he wanted to "Make It New" he seemed now to want to make it old; Stuart Curran asks about content as an extension of form*; Marjorie Perloff calls in from California; he plays a recording of his voice-recognition robot reciting his poems; etc. The event was originally webcast live.

* In "Projective Verse" Charles Olson quotes Creeley's remark that "Form is never more than an extension of content."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

it's here now, and it will come

John Cayley can be called a a digital poet or an artist-programmatologist. He sometimes calls himself "a literal artist." I like that. His remarkable site is titled "P=R=O=G=R=A=M=M=A=T=O=L=O=G=Y." He was born in Ottawa and spent years in London before moving to Brown University. He published a book of poems (and translations), Ink Bamboo (1996), and he's published translations of a Chinese fantasy novel (he's a sinologist in addition to everything else). But mostly in recent years his work is all done online - indeed it's not really printable. His most exciting work, to me, is ambient time-based poetics. In such works, there's a stable text underlying a continuously changing display (seen on the computer screen, I should add) and this text occasionally rises to the surface of normal legibility in its entirety. Sometimes the rising text is randomly managed by you - by move of the cursor. For the work called Overboard we have this description further: "It does this by running a program of simple but carefully designed algorithms which allow letters to be replaced by other letters that are in some way similar to the those of the original text. Word shapes, for example, are largely preserved. In fact, except when 'drowning,' the text is always legible to a reader who is prepared to take time and recover its principles. A willing reader is able to preserve or 'save' the text's legibility."

If you go to Cayley's site and scroll down on the left frame until you see "recent works," you'll come upon one I really like - Circulars. The image above is a screenshot I caught while I was "reading"/playing Circulars.

Cayley has said: “What will or will not emerge as a widely recognized genre of writing from all the ephemeral new forms and experiments that proliferate across the Net and on the screens of our electronic familiars? How will all this change our notion of what writing is and how writing is made? Writing in and for a 3-D virtual world? It’s here now, and it will come.”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

the revolutionist stops for orangeade

photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Splashnews

Yes, here's Patti Smith reading the recent Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens. The photograph was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald, who just happened to see this and marvel at the apt juxtaposition.

I've got an essay in that collection, right around where Patti has the book opened. I like to think she's reading me.

There aren't a lot of Stevensean lines in Patti Smith - nor his tone or sensibility (to be sure!) - but I am thinking of these:

"The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea..."

"There's a little place, a place called space..."

"...undulating in the lewd impostered night..."

Courtesy John Serio. The title of this entry is that of an early poem by Stevens.

Friday, February 08, 2008

no ideas but on the walls of a country home

Brice Brown and Trevor Winkfield edit The Sienese Shredder, an irregular series/journal printed on medium-gloss thick-stock paper in Verona Italy for Sienese Shredder Editions on West 23rd Street in NYC. I am holding #2 in my hands. Absolutely gorgeous. "Submissions by invitation only." Short essays, poems, a few pieces of art history with fabulous reproductions, photographs, a CD of Charles North's poems in a sleeve, and - a real treat - Brice Brown's own short piece on John Ashbery's upstate home. Among the contributors: Francis Naumann (on Florine Stettheimer), Raphael Rubinstein, Simon Cutts, Ron Padgett, William Corbett (who should be the poet laureate of Boston), Jasper Johns, James Schuyler, Tom Devaney ("The Empty House"), and Naomi Savage (her photographs called "Toilet Rolls").

Simon Cutts: his work here is collected under the title "Household Poems - installed in Tipperary." And there's Cutts, in cap and sunglasses, painting words on the side of a house. A photo shows another cream-colored stucco wall of this country house, ivy growing up over words painted which read (but you can barely see this) "the ivory veins of ivy." And a photo of the garden and big wooden garden table in the sun seen through an open window from inside the house, and just below the sill on the inside you can read this: "only a table is the right height". And also this (see below), the piece called "no ideas but in things," a neon installation dated 1999 and 2002, mounted on a wall of what looks to be a study or workroom.

get your headlines in musical poetry

"Before the days of television and mass media, the folksinger was often a traveling newspaper spreading tales through music. There is an urgent need for Americans to look deeply into themselves and their actions, and musical poetry is perhaps the most effective mirror available. Every newspaper headline is a potential song."

That's Phil Ochs, introducing to "The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo" on Phil Ochs in Concert and There But for Fortune.

photo dated 1966

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Duncan opens the field


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

China/North America: poetry & poetics

Here is an announcement we sent around today:

The Chinese/American Association for Poetry and Poetics (CAAP), initiated by Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, and Nie Zhenzhao, was established in January 2008 with its headquarters at Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW), University of Pennsylvania, USA.

This is an international academic organization devoted to the study of poetry and poetics, focusing on the scholarship and translation of international poetry, with special emphasis on the study and translation of North American poetry in China and Chinese poetry in North America, but also with a commitment to see North American poetry and Chinese poetry in a global context. The association will endeavor to introduce American and Western poetry and poetics to China so as to produce new energy for Chinese poetry and its study, and to introduce Chinese poetry and poetics to America and the world. Attention will also be paid to the scholarship and translation of philosophical approaches to poetry and translation so as to promote the study of poetry and poetics in the context of literary studies.

A non-profit organization, CAAP is composed of scholars and poets of America, China and other parts of the world. It is chaired by Marjorie Perloff, professor emerita at Stanford University and former president of the Modern Language Association of America and American Association of Comparative Literature. Charles Bernstein, professor of University of Pennsylvania and fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Nie Zhenzhao, professor of Central China Normal University, vice president of the China National Association of Foreign Literature and chief editor of Foreign Literature Studies (FLS), an AHCI source journal, serve as vice presidents. The current association board is composed of the American and Chinese scholars and poets (See below).

CAAP will sponsor academic activities such as scholarly conferences, exchanges of scholars, translation, and publication. All scholars and poets who share the interests of this Association are warmly welcome to join. The email address is

President: Marjorie Perloff
Vice Presidents: Charles Bernstein
Nie Zhenzhao
Executive director: Luo Lianggong

Members of CAAP Board:
Dong, Hongchuan Sichuan International Studies University, China
Er, Zhang Evergreen College, USA
Filreis, Al University of Pennsylvania, USA
Hu, Sishe Xi’an International Studies University, China
Huang, Yunte University of California at Santa Barbara, USA
Jiang, Hongxin Hunan Normal University, China
Li, Zhimin Guangzhou University, China
Lin, Tan New Jersey City University, USA
Liu, Jianjun Northeast Normal University, China
Luo, Lianggong Wuhan University of Technology, China
Luo, Yimin Southwest Normal University, China
Ma, Ming-Qian State University of New York at Buffalo, USA
Ning, Yizhong Beijing Language and Culture University, China
Ou, Hong Sun Yat-sen University, China
Qian, Zhaoming University of New Orleans, USA
Saussy, Haun Yale University, USA
Schwartz, Leonard Evergreen College, USA
Slaymaker, Doug University of Kentucky, USA
Sun, Jian Fudan University, China
Twitchell, Jeff Overseas Family College, Singapore
Yang, Jincai Nanjing University, China
Yeh, Michelle University of California at Davis, USA
Yin, Qiping Zhejiang University, China
Yu, Tim University of Toronto, Canada

60-second lecture on the end of the lecture

Here is my one-minute lecture on the end of the lecture. I gave it on a spring day in 1999. (Thanks, belatedly, to Val Ross for inviting me to participate the "60-Second Lecture Series" she created.)

I've written here several times - perhaps several times too many - on this topic. Here's an instance. And here's another.

Buster Crabbe & John Glenn are the same person

I'm taken by what's been called "pop surrealism." This is recent (post-2000), mostly southern-California and Detroit-area stuff, but its visual basis seems often to combine 1950s-era kitsch advertisement and space-race era forms, modernist design (and coloring), 1960s TV characters, and skeletal or monstrous deformations and grotesques (cute kittens in a basket, but they have three eyes; a monkey with a clown head carrying a trophy and a dented Arthurian sword across a Hudson School landscape).

There's Charles Kraft's carefully made porcelain figure, with hand-painted underglaze: a rabbit with a dagger stuck in its back, 12" tall - called Sal Mineo Bunny (2000).

Larry Reid's essay on pop surrealism says it combines "mid-century dementia" with "bad-ass low brow." He observes about the 1950s what has been said many times before: "Beneath the thin crust of conformity that characterized mid-century America lay a bubbling caldron of weirdness." Well now, in the first decade of the 21st century, mostly young painters have founded an underground art that looks back at the 50s as non-witnesses who see, or try to see, only the surface (and not the psychological or political depth) of that weirdness - who see the 50s through the pop culture of the 60s and don't show any loyalty to the experience of either.

It's a steady diet of drive-in monster movies, Rat Pack playboys, prehistoric fantasy Flinestones immediately following the futurism of the Jetsons, cathode characters, the anti-Comics hysteria, the mayhem of a 1960-era Los Angeles hot-rod emporium - all combined and gone awry.

Tim Biskup's The Demon Painter (2001 - above) is not actually typical of the group, given what I've said above. Yet then again, it is - in a more specifically painterly way. It nods toward the figure-drawing end of the depictive spectrum modernist Paul Klee painted, pushing it toward cartoonishness, adding a little beatnik straggliness, and creates a dark yet comic vision of the artist's position. I've inserted a few figures from Klee here for comparison, "Dancing Girl" and "The Drummer Boy" (both from the
Chicago Institute).

Isabel Samaras (like Biskup, she's from L.A.) does oil on wood - more straightforward remakings of 60s TV. Batman and Robin sharing a French kiss in Secrets of the Batcave part 2 (2002). A Madonna and Child panel in medieval style - except that they are Hollywood-kitch chimps from Planet of the Apes (Behold My Heart of 2003). Then there's the Botticellian Birth of Ginger of 2002 (below). (It takes off, of course, from the 60s TV show, Gilligan's Island, which is a child, in a way, of the boob-tube version of the Beat revolution, via the Maynard G. Krebs-Gilligan equation.)

Robert Williams, one of the artists included in Pop Surrealism, ed. Kirsten Anderson (Ignition Publishing/Last Gasp, 2004), embraces the category "low brow art," offers topsy-turvey phrases such as "dumbing down to DaVinci," describes his California aesthetic origins in comic book art, carnival-show banners from the 1880s through the 1950s, music posters, hot rod and biker art, pin-up art, graffiti and beach-bum graphics and believes that, visually and more generally culturally speaking, Buster Crabbe as Buck Rogers and John Glenn are the same person.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

...and coming soon

Yes, Charles Bernstein sings Ginsberg singing Blake on the next installment of PoemTalk.

PoemTalk on Oppen released

PoemTalk's third episode - on George Oppen's "Ballad" - is just out. Please have a listen and let me know what you think. As always, I'm at afilreis [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu.

Friday, February 01, 2008

o, words' sleepy family habits - awake!

Thinking about Stein (again) - I mean, probably: how to teach Stein. Those in my life who don't read Stein - can't "get" her - invariably ask, when I push, if there's an easy way in. There isn't, probably, but I do store up a bunch of quickie critical comments that seem (at least me) alluring as touchstone first approaches. I'll feature these occasionally in this blog. Here are two for today:

1) Long ago Edith Sitwell wrote, in her Poetry and Criticism, that Gertrude Stein "bring[s] back life to our language by what appears, at first, to be an anarchic process. First she breaks down the predestined groups of words, their sleepy family habits; then she rebrightens them, examines their texture, and builds them into new and vital shapes."

2) In his essay on Tender Buttons for The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, Robert Grenier wrote that Stein was concerned with language not "as object-in-itself" but as "composition functioning in the composition of the world."

I don't think the Sitwell idea holds up, but it's helpful for starters, and I love the word "family" there.

from Robert Grenier, "Tender Buttons," in The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein (1984), p. 206