Wednesday, October 29, 2008

beat girl migrates to Venice

Howard K. Smith did a news report on "the Beat revolution" in 1960. Smith intended to be even-handed, although today his commentary and questions (in interviews) will strike us as amazingly condescending. These poor deluded children. Charming, but oh how misguided. My favorite moment in the report is a 56-second segment from what must have been a longer, perhaps much longer discussion with a teenaged girl - who had fled her square suburban parents and had migrated to Venice, CA. Listen to her. I'm entranced by her utterly sincere critique of American conformity, in the high sweet tone that anticipates the classic flower child of seven or eight years later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And then the Windows failed

Yes, speaking of Dickinson... The sculptor, maker of media art and film (and who specializes in public art) Lynn Tomlinson created a series of very short 35 mm films. One of these is an animation of the Dickinson poem, "I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –". Go here and click on the third-from-left little thumbnail below the main screen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

pixelate in possibililty

live video feed on KWH-TV
November 10, 7 PM
hosted by Al Filreis & Jessica Lowenthal
at the Kelly Writers House

Join us for a live interactive online discussion of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The discussion will be led by Al Filreis and Jessica Lowenthal on Monday, November 10, at 7 PM (eastern time). The session will last about an hour; we will discuss several poems in detail; participants will be able to pose questions and responses by email and phone.

To participate in this session, you'll connect to our KWH-TV live video feed:

No need to read or prepare in advance of the session. We will guide you through the poems during the program.

RSVP to Those who register will receive further instructions and guidelines before the event.

surely some revenue stamp is at hand

When she was at Brown University, poet Lee Ann Brown assigned her students to write according to a rule or constraint they chose from among a list of possible writing experiments she provided. She has learned the technique from Bernadette Mayer (who has always kept lists of such experiments). Lee Ann called this "Multiplicity Sisters" and I once excerpted a few of these for my own poetry class. My students took this up with interest, wanting to see if paradoxically constraint would free them from the typically trite things they were writing.

They found Mayer's lists (e.g. this one). "Write what cannot be written; for example, compose an index." "Write a work gazing into a mirror without using the pronoun I." "Attempt to speak for a day only in questions; write only in questions."

They especially liked the N+7 routine ("N + 7: Look up every noun in the piece and replace it with the 7th Noun down in the dictionary"). One of them rewrote Yeats' "The Second Coming" following the N+7 procedure and came up with this:

"The Second Comma Bacillus"

Turning and turning in the widening gyropilot,
The faldstool cannot hear the Falkirk.
The think pieces fall apart; the centerpiece cannot hold;
Mere anastomosis is loosed upon the World Series,
The blood-dimmed tiding is loosed, and everywhere
The cerite of innovation is drowned;
The bestiaries lack all convolution, while the worthless
Are full of passionate interactants.

Surely some revenue stamp is at hand;
Surely the Second Guess is at hand;
The Second Guess! Hardly are those wordings out
When a vast imaginariness out of *Spirit of Ammonia*
Troubles my sight-reading: somewhere in sandbars of the desexualization
A shard with lion bodyguard and the head doctor of a managed currency
A gazpacho blank and pitiless as the sun bonnet,
Is moving its slow thimblerig, while all about it
Reel Shadrachs of the indignant desert birdhouses.
The dark horse drops again, but now I know
That twenty cephalic indeces of stony sleeping sickness
Were vexed to nightshirt by a rocking crag,
And what rough beater, its house come round at last,
Slouches toward Betjeman to be born?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

southern peas in pod

Allen Tate called John Crowe Ransom "modern without knowing it." For more, click here.

execs deal with upside-down urinal

For about a decade I've been teaching in the executive education program of the Wharton School here. For three hours the execs--here for five weeks of intensive courses--and I talk about modern poetry. We do some Dickinson, some Williams, occasionally a little imagist Pound, often some McKay and Cullen, and Wallace Stevens' "Gray Room" (a poem about desire unperceived by the diffident poet-speaker). We also discuss Duchamp's "Fountain" (the readymade that is an turned-upside-down urinal). That's hilarious and, I think, edifying. Perhaps someday I'll write at length about my experience with these businesspeople, but for now I only want to point out that when the Wall Street Journal ran a round-up on unusual Executive Education Program pedagogy, I made the story. Quite astonishing, really. Here's a link to the article. (WSJ 9/30/08, p. R2.)

know what is happening in your heart

Here's a poem by Robert Penn Warren called "Tell Me a Story":

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse.I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.

This poem, which was required reading somewhere along the line, always irked me and I never bothered to think about why. (By the way, I saw and heard Warren read in person in maybe 1979 or 1980, at the University of Virginia, although I don't think he read the irksome poem. He did read "Bearded Oaks" as an encore and received a prolonged standing ovation.)

Why am I irked? Maybe it's the absolute way in which northward movement is naturalized. It happens, the young southerner doesn't see it, can't see it, won't see it, and the logic (it's a certain season and "therefore" they go north) is fixed. Sure, in the poem he's a young boy and so "I do not know what was happening in my heart" we ascribe to innocence and inexperience. And yet this is not the kind of northern migration that one will ever actually come to know by experience; it's a priori true. There's a dishonesty here in the slight implication that later one will know what is in one's heart.

Later Robert Penn Warren, who had been a racist, thought of himself as a reformed racist.

Starting in 1964, Warren conducted a series of taped interviews with major civil rights leaders and literary figures of the time, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar and Charles Evers, Ralph Bunche, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and others. Think about it: Robert Penn Warren and Malcolm X.

These interviews formed the basis of Warren's 1965 book, Who Speaks for the Negro?, an exploration of the Civil Rights movement from the point of view of a "reformed racist." After four years of negotiation with Yale's Beinecke Library, conducted mostly by Dan Traister and Ancil George and instigated by the research of Kristina Baumli, Penn's Van Pelt library acquired copies of these tapes which, so far as the Yale people knew, had not been heard by anyone. In April 2005 Kristina organized with the Writers House a panel discussion about these recordings, co-sponsored by CPCW and the library.

Here is the audio recording of the panel, which includes some excerpts from the old tapes themselves. Participants are Ancil George, Paul Hendrickson Kristina Baumli and Anthony Sczcesiul of U-Mass-Lowell.

I take poems seriously and about this one I feel a terrible implication. Why did I not bother to figure out why the little poem about the southern boy sensing northward migration disturbed me? I did not know, the boy in the poem did not know, and I did not bother even to know why I did not know. The poem is finally about reproducing ignorance, which is defined here as inexorable reason for not seeing major change occurring around you. First dark, last dark.

- - - -

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, a regular reader of this blog, wrote an edifying response to the above and here (with her kind permission) is what she wrote:

Dear Al—since I wasn’t irked but fascinated, I thought I’d write about Warren (whom I hardly have ever thought of...). Writing admiringly to you as usual. Chalk this one up to “not being able to participate in PoemTalk and missing it.” First, the division into stanzas mirrors an attenuation and sense of loss. 3 lines together, then 2 + 1 (twice). The one liners sort of match emotionally. Second, and I need to say: I liked this poem, innocently. I liked the off-rhymes of stanza 1. I liked the alliteration of great/geese and stars/sparse [that one fabulous] and even dirt/dark and the vowel assonance between dirt/heard (tho my accent might be different from his) as well as hoot/moon/blooms. It is a remarkable skilled poem - also the way the syntax moves from short phrases separated by commas whenever he talks about “I” (that is, in the first 5 lines of the 9 line poem) UNTIL the key line “I did not know what was happening in my heart.” At that line, the “I” is syntactically, not to say lyrically! integrated in a great sweeping, global line. From that point on “they” are the agent, and also “it.” “Logically” the poem reads: SINCE he does not know what is happening in his heart, THEREFORE they are escaping and going away. That is “if” he had known, then they would have stayed?? No—they are “geese” and not beholden to him. So the illogic of this mixed up sense of agency is part of the strangeness of the poem. Geese always fly north in the spring. His agency has nothing to do with it. Their migration is completely about nature. By the way—since “migration” is then one of the secret words, do we know whether when RPW wrote this poem (and when was that), the northward movement was called The Great Migration? A historical question. Anyway, in the Great Migration, and here you are dead on, Blacks were leaving (and were very beset AS they left as well as before, of course—cf. Jacob Lawrence’s series). The speaker’s agency in a very indirect way is responsible, but he is just a “boy.” If this is autobiographical, we can say RPW has no direct agency for (his and others’) racism and social/economic cruelty at that moment. Responsibility is already always “ELSEWHERE.” A space off the map of this poem “matches” the space off the map of this poem where the geese are going. "Kentucky" may be precise as a locale, but it is hardly up to matching those two other mysterious "elsewhere's." This is a poem about the loss of agency, a tremendously pained and nostalgic poem. It also somewhat confesses ….something. Something about desire, yearning—goodness only knows — certainly a desire for whatever is passing out of his life. Could he have been in love, connected to, cathected to someone who was leaving, and he remembers being troubled and aroused and upset by the loss, feelings which he had to suppress??? Since the birds will return, and one could have talked about that cycle of nature in the poem, part of the coiled contradiction in the poem is that he is mapping a human loss upon a natural cycle, claiming the loss to him of self-knowledge is just “natural.” So “what is happening in my heart” (and his inability to know what WAS happening) appears permanent (“the sound was passing northward” not “the geese were passing northward [and next winter would return]”). WHAT IS UNSPOKEN in this poem gives it its evocative quality. And this is doubly distanced by that bizarre title. After talking about ‘sound,” the title shifts to “story” as the naming of something. Story is solid; sound is more like Nate Mackey argues-—an emotional pipeline to a sense of orphic orphanhood. The title makes me ask: What story? Is he framing the poem as a “story”—just another tale? The title seems to contain and dry out the exposed yearning of the poem. Who is speaking this title? to whom? The title sounds like a child asking for a story from an adult. What child? What adult? THUS the detail word of condensation: “elderberry”—which is broken into components “older person / small fruit” is striking to me. I can’t go further with that, but it is acutely visible. The poem is a poem of mixed-up agency and mixed-up desire, and these two very buried things are mixed up with each other. How we are not certain...

Al to Rachel: I'm really really happy for and edified by your thoughts on that Warren poem. What you say about the title is really important (and only clinches my sense of its oddness/mystery). The northern migration the story tells of is not vague as a natural fact; what's vague is how he feels about it and thus I keep thinking it' s not "just" the geese.


You are so right that it's not "just" the geese. And therefore I really wonder about the date of the poem and how it does encode the Great Migration. I think yours is a wonderful "contrapuntal" reading in Said's sense--that which is off the map of the text is central to the text. Said says this about slavery and fortunes made with it in relation to an Austen novel--I think it's Persuasion. I liked your
reading a lot; I just also like the poem, too.

Now Kristina Baumli (who has read as much Warren as anyone) adds:

The poem "Tell me a story" is a section of a larger piece: "Audubon," which is an eight-poem cycle -- so it is out of context with the other poems in its group.

Warren is fascinated by birds, but in his ornithology (he has a poem that makes that taxonomy clear) geese are not an admirable species--with connotations of silliness, etc. And these are unseen geese-- mythic geese--heard but not seen. I think that it is making an ironic commentary on the values of the times--southern ideas are being replaced by northern ideas--or that's what people say, but they don't really do anything about it. The title undercuts the rest of the poem--Tell Me a Story--puts this shift in values as a fable, fiction, not fact..

In Who Speaks? Warren doesn't "know what is happening in his heart" when confronted with a lynching and he didn't know what was going on with his aesthetic when he "retracts" "The Briar Patch" on aesthetic not political grounds. And he never retracts the insane racism of "Pondy Woods." ("In fact, while writing it[The Briar Patch], I had experienced some vague discomfort." [WSFTN?, p. 11])

Warren hides behind ambivalence, irony, and damn fine poetry.

Friday, October 24, 2008

man in black on man in black

I've been keeping up with news of Steve Earle and lately, on Earle's main site, learned that the newest bio-documentary on Johnny Cash includes an interview with Earle about Cash. I'm DVR'ing the bio on Biography (cable) and will catch Earle talking influences--Earle who has been far more overtly political than Johnny C ever was but otherwise derives a great deal from this gone elder.

I also recommend this YouTube video clip - a contemporary montage of Cash's dark view.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

explanations offered to the exposition

Okay, quick. Take this SAT question. Answer. If you selected D, you were right and should consider re-taking the test after all these years. Do you even remember the damned things? I remember the pencil. It hurt to hold it so tightly for so long. I remember having a mantra that I would repeat to myself so that I would concentrate and do well. I remember having the mantra but I forget the mantra. (The thing about mantras.)

Yes, D is correct. I bring this to you from an email I receive every morning at 6 AM. Think about being greeting by such a thing in your inbox upon awaking. It's for my son who is in the SAT season and this is the extent of his prep: I print out "Your SAT question of the day" for him, along with the answer, and he does them at breakfast. Like a vitamin, one a day. Or an innoculation against incorrectness.

D is correct, they SAT folks tell you, because the words filling the blanks are supposed to be opposites. If explanations are one thing, it is unfair to treat them as the opposite. They are incidental and cannot be treated as the opposite of incidental, namely essential. Got it?

By the time I myself "took" the question, 4,459 others had tried their hand at answering. That's a lot for this early in the morning. I'm printing it out for my son and in order to get to the answer page, which I also print for him, I have to click on an answer (usually I choose randomly, just to get to the answer page and unconcerned about getting the right answer for myself!). On the answer page they show you a pie chart of the correct and incorrect answers so far. A whopping 56% got this one wrong.

I would opt for F if I had the opportunity. Leave the adjectives out. Here's the result:

Since the explanations offered are to the exposition, it would be unfair to treat them as parts of the studies under consideration.

Who needs this kind of lame opposition anyway? Frankly, I think the "correct" answer seems intended to make lawyers out of all our children. I'm being entirely serious. I'm putting my incorrect parental shoulder to the wheel!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

elegy for a city

Recently we took the recording of my February 14, 2006 interview with novelist Richard Ford and segmented it into short recordings on various topics, taking one question and response at a time, one topic at a time. Here's your link to the Ford page, where you can stream or download all this audio.

A few days after Katrina first hit New Orleans, Ford - who has lived in and around N.O. on and off for many years and in recent years, with his wife Kristina (a city planner), has owned a house there - wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times: an elegy for a city. When he visited us in February, a few months later, I asked him to read a passage from that piece, and he and we were surprised and moved by how difficult he found it. Click here to listen to that.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

the corporate veil

Recently I interviewed Gerald Stern, who wrote a book about the 1972 Buffalo Creek (West Virginia) mining disaster that has become assigned reading in many if not most law schools. The book has made several major contributions to the prosecution of larger owning entities, chief among them the principle and tactic of piercing the corporate veil. Jerry as an attorney was always a storyteller, and so writing a book seemed a natural follow-up to a case such as Buffalo Creek, where he prosecuted on behalf of hundreds of miners. His new book is Scotia Widows, about another mining case.

The interview and discussion were webcast live on KWH-TV and are now available as a video recording. Go here to view the recording, and here for more about Stern and the program at the Writers House.

writers, not possessive

Thanks to the hard and brilliant work of Mark Lindsay, Jessica Lowenthal, and Bill Sulit (and others), the Kelly Writers House has a newly designed and re-organized web site.

Back in the fall of '95 the founding gang (the "hub" they were and still are called) designed the original web site as in itself a planning mode. Really. It was surely the first of its kind at Penn. We created the idea of the Writers House through the collaborative making and non-hierarchical but categorical linking of web pages, which were merely instantly published documents that might otherwise have remained private, internal, committee-like, read by just a few instead of available to anyone. Down with private, internal, committee-like behind-scenes pondering! Up with accessible collaboration! We wrote the first manifesto-like constitution (mission statement) for the Writers House (non-possessive "Writers"--lots of discussion about that), and many other documents and concepts (including designs for rooms of the House, plans for writers' series, ideas for a fresh approach to a young writer's apprenticeship) collectively through a 100-message-per-day listserv, with text going rapidly from the layered/group-revised emails into the shared unix files in html format that would then quickly become part of the growing web page. Today no one would build a web site in such a crazily democratic manner. And having done it the way we did, I am sure we made the re-design of the site these past few months nearly impossible, painful. (In such cases, web re-designers are tempted to scrap the whole thing and start over. Because of our mission and our peculiar pedagogical origins, that was not an option.) Mark and Jessica had quite a job before them: save the old pages, figure out a natural array of buckets to put them in and yet retain a sense of the original feel of the site: deep, complex, almost insanely devoted to archiving the process by which diverse people did and do things at 3805 Locust.

To say again a main point here in a somewhat tech-wonky way: because the Writers House was created just at the moment (1994-95) when the world wide web's capacity for collaborative thinking-through-writing could be realized through linked visual realizations of stages (versions) of planning, our site took on and still discloses a communalist dynamism that is (to me at any rate) the key feature of a learning community, where how is as important as what and where the form of what is done is the only compelling reason for doing it.

Jessica and Mark and Bill are among my heroes of today. Some shout-outs too to those who taught me and us about the process-oriented power of the web as a planning device back in the mid-90s: Jack Lynch, Sam Choi, Carolyn Jacobson (Carolyn was a Writers House original too), Ira Winston (enabler of all such things), the late Jack Abercrombie, Dave Deifer, Jim O'Donnell (the first person I ever saw, in '92, have a face-to-face meeting with me while at the keyboard emailing with others), Mike Eleey, Meng Weng Wong, Jay Treat, Michael Nenashev, and Alex Edelstein (who was a student then and seemed to get his entire education while working with Deifer on our original web site - and who then went to Seattle to do web stuff for this young small venture that had ideas of selling books online). Here's to web 1.0!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama on the good sentence

"A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence."

Barack Obama actually said that. Here's my not well-documented source, with no date/place attribution. It really does sound like him. At first the idea exhilarates me, but then I begin to wonder about this moderate man's conception of legislation, especially if it's the case that he will be working with a significant congressional majority in both houses. Then again, that we might be electing a person who thinks about the way the world works in connection with the "good sentence" is heartening.

more primitive fantasies

Amazon has now made available almost the full text of Secretaries of the Moon: The Letters of Wallace Stevens and Jose Rodriguez Feo, which I edited in the mid-80s with Beverly Coyle at Duke University Press. Prior to Secretaries about 80% of the letters Stevens wrote to the Cuban poet-editor -- member of the literary movement called "Origenes" - had already been published in Holly Stevens's Letters (1966). But a number of Stevens's letters, including several of the more idiosyncratic he ever wrote, had not been published, and none of Rodriguez Feo's. Stevens's letters without the Cuban's, it turns out, are only readable in an abstract lit-crit sort of way -- in a way that left the question in one's mind: what the hell was this young Cuban saying to the great poet, after all?

So here is your link to Amazon's digital Secretaries of the Moon.

I've written here before about the gay Cuban literary culture Stevens was somewhat wittingly walking into when he struck up such an intense correspondence with Rodriguez Feo.

I have also written here, months back, about the primitive fantasies the letters with the young Cuban enabled.

Finally, there's this page I put up about the book some years ago.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Al out

Tomorrow morning early I leave for a week's true vacation. Unlikely to blog from the paradise we've chosen. Tennis, hiking, seafood, reading unassigned books more likely. Seeking such pleasure? Get in line. (Look again to this space on October 19 or 20.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yom Kippur 1945

What did it mean for survivors of the concentration camps to fast during the first Yom Kippur after the war - September '45? Some reporter for the Jerusalem Post in 2006 went around to survivors to interview them about that first post-genocide fast. "Edith Cohen recalls her hunger pangs in a sealed cattle car on the way to Auschwitz from her home in Hungary. When her food ran out she chewed on one piece of chicken skin for four days just to keep something in her mouth." So fasting a few months after liberation was easy. The article that resulted from this investigation is no great shakes (and indeed full of stupid puns - one survivor faster found fasting "easy as pie") but I find it fascinating nonetheless. If going without food was still the norm, what did fasting seem to mean to them? Did they momentarily thrive on the company of sufferers? Otherwise--as nearly every account and testimony suggests--these people felt extraordinarily alone.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


New at PennSound: Rae Armantrout's January 1983 talk on silence. The downloadable mp3 recording is divided into two parts. Have a listen.

Monday, October 06, 2008

you have to know something

In 1999 Marjorie Perloff came to Philadelphia to talk about--among other things--Gertrude Stein. We recorded her part of a conversation with me and Bob Perelman about Stein and recently I pulled this excerpt - which is about Stein's idea of verbal portraiture.

the voice of no

The newest episode of PoemTalk is being released today. Elizabeth Willis, Julia Bloch, Jessica Lowenthal and I talk for about 25 minutes about Erica Hunt's marvelous poem, "The Voice of No," from her mid-90s book Arcade.

Erica is the executive director of the 21st Century Foundation. "In recent years, 21CF has taken a leadership role in promoting new models of Black philanthropy that support donors who want to develop the skills, commitment and imagination to address pressing issues impacting Black communities."

The poem ends with a horrible flood, to which the response from "us" (all of us, including the poem's speaker) is insufficient. The drowner is handed a ladder to paddle. The poem was written a decade before Katrina but since Erica and her foundation have been very involved in that and similar recoveries, we couldn't help but talk about the politics of nature during our PoemTalk session.

Go here for more on this PoemTalk. There you'll see a link to the text of the poem, to a recording of Hunt reading the poem, and to the PoemTalk discussion, of course.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

issue made of issue

To the controversy caused by Issue #1 (about which I wrote the other day) there have been a flood of responses. Here are two: Amy King and Ron Silliman. Kenny Goldsmith put up a neutral announcement about this on Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog, and this was followed by scads of response. Rich Villar, among these, writes: "Howard Stern does shock value much more poetically. Yay, I'm not in it! Gonna go write a poem now, thanks." Daniel Nester: "This term -- "poetry community" -- that's an invention for the purposes of this exercise as well, yes?" And Philip Metres: "This is, of course, absolutely hilarious, and a telling expose of us poets who have our google alerts set to our names, thus dragged into the dragnet of this performance of frustrated narcissism. The joke's on us!"

Steve McLaughlin replies: LINK

announcing KWH-TV

Thanks to an anonymous gift that allowed us to acquire state-of-the-art video equipment, we can now easily webcast Writers House events, whatever's going on in the Arts Cafe: readings, seminars, recording sessions, happenings, the whole range. (We've produced webcasts since 1999 - - but with the new camera and specially configured computer, we've essentially automated the process.)

In other words, by simply logging in from home or work, you can see LIVE VIDEO of what's happening here. We hope you'll tune in.

The schedule of events we plan to webcast is below. Events at the Writers House generally start on time, or nearly so. We will, at least, be sure to turn on the camera at the appointed start time so that you'll know something will start soon.

To watch a reading or seminar, go to our webcast instructions page: here

If you have Quicktime already installed on your computer, you'll just click "Start webcast" from this page.

Please do let us know if you like what you see or if you have technical questions. You can email us at or call (215) 573-9748.

KWH-TV schedule (all times Eastern Time):

October 7, 3:30 PM
PoemTalk records episode #15: Lyn Hejinian's "constant change figures," with Al Filreis, Tom Mandel, Bob Perelman, and Rodrigo Toscano.

October 16, 6:00 PM
Music critics Tom Moon and Anthony DeCurtis discuss Moon's book, 1000 RECORDINGS TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE.

October 21, 6:00 PM
Novelist Jim Shepard reads from his work.

November 1, 4:30 PM
"Extreme Sportswriting," a discussion with Stefan Fatsis, Buzz Bissinger, & Jon Wertheim, moderated by Stephen Fried.

November 4, 1:30 PM
Listen in as Al Filreis and students of English 88 (modern and contemporary poetry) discuss the New York School: Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch and others.

November 10, 7:00 PM
This live, interactive "webinar" led by Al Filreis and Jessica Lowenthal will allow viewers to participate in a discussion of an Emily Dickinson poem via phone and internet. To participate, email
or call (215) 573-9748.

November 11, 6:00 PM
We'll celebrate the 125th birthday of William Carlos Williams with talks and readings by Sarah Dowling, erica kaufman, Pattie McCarthy, Jena Osman, and Elizabeth Scanlon.

November 12, 6:00 PM
Paul Hendrickson will lead a freewheeling conversation with journalists David Von Drehle and Gene Weingarten.

November 13, 1:30 PM
Listen in as Al Filreis and students of English 88 (modern and contemporary poetry) discuss the poetry of John Ashbery.

December 4, 6:00 PM
South African poet, painter, essayist, and activist Breyten Breytenbach will read from his work as part of the provost's Writers without Borders series.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Belladonna founder coming to Philly

I'm really pleased to announce that this year's CPCW Fellow in Poetics & Poetic Practice is Rachel Levitsky. She will teach a seminar called "Writing Practice of the Avant-Garde or: Avant-Garde Hybrid Writing" and at the Kelly Writers House will host the visits of several writers associated with the course.

Rachel Levitsky's first full-length volume, Under the Sun, was published by Futurepoem books in 2003. She is the author of five chapbooks of poetry, Dearly (a+bend), Dearly 356, Cartographies of Error (Leroy), The Adventures of Yaya and Grace (PotesPoets) and 2(1x1)Portraits (Baksun). Levitsky also writes poetry plays, three of which (one with Camille Roy) have been performed in New York and San Francisco. Levitsky's work has been published in magazines such as Sentence, Fence, The Brooklyn Rail, Global City, The Hat, Skanky Possum, Lungfull! and in the anthology, 19 Lines: A Drawing Center Writing Anthology. She founded Belladonna--an event and publication series for avant-garde poetics--in August 1999. A past fellow of The McDowell Colony and Lower Manhattan Community Council, she teaches at Pratt Institute and lives steps away from The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

Previous CPCW Fellows: Tracie Morris, Linh Dinh, Erica Hunt, and Kenneth Goldsmith.

For much more go here. And here's a Ceptuetics interview: AUDIO RECORDING

Below is a video recording of Rachel's reading at Berkeley as part of their lunchtime poets series:

yelpers yelp praise

"...a very hip little cottage..." Phrase found among the reviews of the Kelly Writers House currently posted to Yelp.

LINKS: 1 2

there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared

I send out thanks to Daniel Schwartz, who has pointed out two errors on a web page that I've had up for years - the text of Gertrude Stein's "Reflection on the Atom Bomb." The corrected version is here.

"They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting."

high terror on the blue website

I stand corrected. Earlier I snarkily noted that Stevens's "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" gets a disproportionate load of parodying, and wondered why other Great Mods didn't. The author of In My Mind I'm Going posts her own snarky riposte: what about WCW's "Red Wheelbarrow"? Of course. I suppose any modernist poem that can be taken as a ditty will get parodied. Yet, still, there's something about "13 Ways": trying one's hand at the perspectival variations. A guy who admits he's something of a drinker tries his hand, and the URL has the word "everypoet" in it (as in "everyone is..."):

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Keg

Among twenty restless students,
The only stoic thing
Was the base of the keg.

I was of three thirsts,
Like a cellar
In which there are three kegs...

Here's a parody of Pound:

Salutation to a Previous Generation

O Generation of the entirely snug
and entirely impenetrable,
I have seen poets versifying in the dark,
I have seen them with uneven lines,
I have seen their volumes full of gibberish
and heard unlikely theories.
And you are smarter than they were,
And I am smarter than you are;
And Hopkins lives in the anthologies
and cannot even write criticism.

And here of Williams:

Homeland Security Advisory System

nothing depends

a red seal

phrases of high

on the blue

And Dickinson:

General Advice to Miscreants

Split the hair - when you face the music -
Blow after blow - will roll aside -
Violence dealt to the batted belfry
Spent on your hair and not your hide.

Loose the flood - like a snake oil seller -
Gush after gush, and swear it's true -
Cro-Magnon creditors! Credulous cretins!
You'll escape yet from the peer review.

The three just above (Pound, WCW, Dickinson) are the work of Jay Scott, who writes (among other things) The Daily Whale, satires for every leaf of the calendar.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Andy Kaufman as muse

For Godot, subtitled "research in poetry," seems to announce "Issue 1," dated Fall 2008. If you go to their blog site you'll see that the "announcement" includes a list of authors in the hundreds. And there's a link to the issue's contents, a mere 3,785 pages of poems. So far as I know an email announcement was not sent around, so how do any of us find out about this For Godot? Well, poetry people seem to be a self-conscious, self-promoting bunch. Many have set up "Google Alerts" which by email daily report instances of, e.g., one's own name as it appears somewhere on the 'net.

Evan J. Peterson, whose blog is "Poemocracy", fell for For Godot's "culture jamming" when he saw a Google Alert for his name, followed it to its source and found himself among the many pages of the "issue." The same thing happened to me and presumably many others.For Godot, Peterson wrote, "is an obviously effective publicity stunt that lured some high-profile (unlike myself) self-interested (much like myself) people to the site."

At another blog, a commentator named Rob wrote: "It is a joke, surely! Some kind of social comment on the meaningless of .pdf e-publication? Something like that…" And Barbara added: "Maybe it is an arm of the International Library of Poetry and they will be sending all those writers a request for $39.95 so their winning poem can be entered in the 'contest.'"

Skip Fox wrote: "Andy Kaufman as muse?" And Nick Piombino: "There has been talk of a poetry bailout. Is this it?"

The creators of this instance of mock radical inclusivity are Vladimir Zykov, Steve McLaughlin, and Jim Carpenter.

theory in public

A key notion of radicals at the start of the sixties was that theorizing could be done in public, with and in the midst of the people.

There are numerous instances of this sense. Here's one. Tom Hayden, in a draft of the document that became The Port Huron Statement, tenets for the founding of SDS and more generally of the political side of 1960s student-led counterculture:

"The house of theory [is] not a monastery. I am proposing that the world is not too complex, our knowledge not too limited, our time not so short, as to prevent the orderly building of a house of theory, or at least its foundation, right out in public, in the middle of the neighborhood."

There are many ways to see this. I like to conceive of it as a pedagogy.

After all, the document was written by students. Weren't they thinking about the way they had been and were being taught? They wanted something different. Mainly two things different: 1) not so pragmatic, contingent; 2) not cloistered, but out there.

in my mind I'm going

I suppose I'm a bit stuck on Stevens this time of year--seeing him everywhere. Because it's the season of his birthday? (The day itself was yesterday, October 2.) The author of In My Mind I'm Going is (you guessed it) in North Carolina, where she's a "professor" (otherwise unidentified) and blogs about once per week on cooking and writing. The latest of these is "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Squid" and it begins this way:

Among snowy cephalopods
The only moving thing
Was the blade of my cleaver.

And here's the 12th:

The water is moving.
The kraken must be swimming.

There's an awful lot of bad Stevens out there. Do we do this to Pound or Williams or Stein? Well, yes--I think--Stein.

By the way, about section one ("Among twenty snowy mountains, / The only moving thing / Was the eye of the blackbird.") a fellow who goes by "Pseudo Intellectual" at the "everything2" site writes: "This is very likely a verse about necrophilia." Okay, I think I prefer the squidified version.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

epic monetary poets

At left: Ray Kroc, poet of the economy.

This is the first recession in the blog era, so we are getting a glimpse of all the rhetorical stretching that we must presume was there before but unseen. Now we see it. If I had a dollar for every time Wallace Stevens's "Money is a kind of poetry" has been quoted in this (loose) context, and invested them in stocks that are low (General Electric maybe), I might start to believe in the aphorism--to live off it.

There's a blog called "Culture11" run by Joe Carter (ex Lawrence Welk roadie) and his less-traveled friend David Kuo. They write on politics, economics and culture and it's usually fairly good.

Now they want to make a list of their favorite financial geniuses (Sam Walton, Ray Kroc and people like that) but, well, it's a blog and there must be a soft stretchy lead, a cute hook or gambit. So we have, once again, "Money is a kind of poetry." Then something that's not true: "As a Pulitizer Prize-winning poet and president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, Stevens was familiar with both free verse and the free market." Stevens was an insurance executive who (after his first years out in the field) did mostly administrative work at corporate HQ. He worked with surety bonds and constraining devices such as that - and believed in their efficacy. If anything, he expected the free market to fuck up pretty much continuously, and conceived of the insurer's mechanisms as the proper application of brakes on that freedom.

Untrue here too, in that phrase, in its implication of the positive relationship between "free verse" and "free market." Not by any stretch the same "free" there. So it's all bloggy b.s. aimed at getting us...where? To this point: "So if Stevens is correct, and money is a kind of poetry, then who are our epic monetary poets, the 'poets of the economy'?"

Thus Gates, Kroc, Tom Watson...these are the great economic poets. Their talent for creating just the right removals economic constraints on business is a kind of free verse, and so poetry is a kind of money.

Epic, man. Really epic.

It's still the case that smart people (the makers of Culture11 e.g.) assume that the businessman poet must be someone who would side with Ray Kroc and Sam Walton, thus that the poetic aura gets to include these latter gentlemen. (Stevens, for his part in particular, would have been appalled by them.)

Here finally is the moment where I get to express frustration and even occasional outrage at the way in which advocates of an unconstrained market are being permitted these days to switch sides, support constraints (regulation, moral hazard, etc.) and keep the same language about economics. Read statements made by congressmen who have been voting for the big bailout. Most who are free marketeers speak of this as the big exceptional moment where all that must go out the window (but how free is that?) and a few will talk about how this proves they've never really been "ideological" and that crossing over, when necessary, for the people, is okay. Yet when conditions improve "free" will once again be the poetic word of the day, and those great economic poets can take the field once again.