Thursday, December 31, 2009

trippy west-coast surrealism in Chelsea

Walked up to Chelsea the other day to take a look at the Wallace Berman show at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery. Wonderful stuff. Most of the pieces date from 1962 or so to the late 60s, but there is one item dating from 1960 and several from the 70s. Berman edited the great Semina magazine, which published irregularly from the mid-50s through 1964; I've written about Semina, happily. Others have too. The gallery shows Berman's silent film Aleph. The day I was there (the gallery was technically closed) I didn't get to view it, but of course I knew to look at Ubuweb films, and, sure enough, there it was. The show closes January 9th, so get to 26th Street before it's too late.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

freedom of information

I've used the Freedom of Information Act to get access to previously classified government documents a number of times over the years. I started making such requests during the immediate post-Reagan era and in those days the FBI in particular was moderately cooperative in its correspondence with you but otherwise extremely slow to respond. I got the FBI surveillance files on the novelist Mike Gold (Jews without Money etc.) but it took about five years. You have to be patient and persistent.

Fortunately, by now some documents, once released to one scholar or journalist, are made unclassified and available on the web. It's not as difficult as it used to be. What you get is often disappointing, though: entire pages of my Mike Gold materials are blacked out.

Those interested in trying their hand at FOIA requests need to consult two terrific web sites: one hosted by The Reporters Committee of Freedom of the Press (link) and another by The National Freedom of Information Coalition (link).

Contrary to conventional wisdom, sunshine is not a natural state.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

cold-war poetry

At Franklin & Marshall's Writers House on March 10, 2010: A Lecture and Conversation: Al Filreis on "Some Poems of the Cold War: The Tranquilized 50s". "Come out from under your desks. In this hands-on session, Al Filreis will present several poems to explore together with participants within the milieu of the Cold War culture. Filreis is a Kelly Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, the founder and Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, and Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. Filreis is the author of 5 books on poetry, as well as numerous academic articles and essays. This event is free and open to the public." More...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Joyce the inverted nationalist

In 1944 the New York Times commissioned then widely read novelist James T. Farrell--an "ethnic proletarian" novelist who came of age in the radical context of the Depression, author of Studs Lonigan etc.--to make a commentary on James Joyce. Farrell wrote about his main topic: being Irish in the Irish diaspora. Below is the first paragraph of the essay Farrell wrote for the December 31, 1944 Times and here is a link to the whole piece.

"This race and this country and this life produced me," declares Stephen Dedalus--artistic image of James Joyce himself--in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." "A Portrait" is the story of how Stephen was produced, how he rejected that which produced him, how he discovered that his destiny was to become a lonely one of artistic creation. It is well to look into the life out of which Stephen came, to discuss the social and national background of this novel. In Ireland a major premise of any discussion of her culture and of her literature is an understanding of Irish nationalism. And it is at least arguable that Joyce was a kind of inverted nationalist--that the nationalism which he rejects runs through him like a central thread.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

your daily Al for December 27

Click on the image for a larger view. Get your daily Al daily.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bob Kaufman

An early photo of poet Bob Kaufman. More...

Friday, December 25, 2009

at the Ear Inn

Charles Bernstein standing in front of the Ear Inn. It was January 4, 1992, before or after a reading at 326 Spring Street, Manhattan. That day he read with Ann Lauterbach. [Photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald.]

Thursday, December 24, 2009

turn left in order to go right

From his book Turn Left in Order to Go Right, Here is a poem I greatly admire: "I'd Like to See It." The refrain--"I'd like to see it that way"--is offered every four or five lines. It seems to me the perfect meditative and yet arbitrary structure to frame an otherwise random series of hoped-for conditions, which range from intensely and obscurely personal to geo-political. "So I could relax, put on my enormous suit / And ring your doorbell holding my breath and flowers." And also: "For the good of the nation behind bars" and "In order to be able to end war..." The refrain itself, rather than closing off possibilities in the serial quality of the remarks and thoughts, doubles the meaning each time: (1) It would be nice if it were so; I would like to make it so; and (2) This is how I would like to see or perceive or understand this or that part of my world. There's both agency and fatedness.

We at PennSound have a recording of Fischer reading this poem aloud--beautifully. I urge readers of this blog to read the text while hearing Fischer's Zen-ish performance. Charles Bernstein describes Fischer as "incandescently tranquil" and I cannot think of a better example of this hard-to-achieve tone than this poem.

you could have just divided by 7

Americans on average read or hear 100,000 words per day. Anyone who has read Kenneth Goldsmith's Soliloquy can compare that figure against one talkative avant-gardist's one-way talk (just Kenny going out, leaving aside what's coming in and not including his reading) for a week; just divide by seven. Here is your source for the factoid. The media "reporting" of the study that produced this information implies that it's all a disaster and that it's qualitatively as well as quantitatively new.

Oh, yes, and despite all the doomsaying about the end of reading and writing: people are reading and writing more than they did in 1980. Reading somewhat more and writing a whole lot more.

thousands of poetic flowers blooming

Despite the corny romanticism that is its basis (wilting urban flower has a dream of sunlit wind-kissed wavy fields), there's an overwhelming consensus out there that Flower is, as co-creator Jenova Chen puts it, "video game poetry." Not just "poetic" in the sense meant by the phrase often repeated in gamers' reviews--"this poetic, romantic ideal," one of them writes--but poetic in its super-explicit aestheticism and anti-ambitious alterity. It's surely not the first video game that approaches abstraction and open, non-directed themes, but it's surely the first that will receive a wide response. If its promoters can get past the obvious transcendental language ("Flower makes your heart soar as you whip the controller up, sending your petal stream high above the landscape in a tornado of beautiful colours and roaring[ing] the blades of grass part..."), many competition-oriented gamers will discover for themselves something of the surprise of poetic experiment: What exactly was that I just experienced? I don't know what to call it. It's not that it's especially beautiful (certainly not to me); the visualities are not its innovation. What's different is that it's different--its unobvious motives, its impractical reason for being, its unintentionally deadened affect.***

To be sure, making body-oriented or body-connected poetry in digital environments such as Brown's "cave"** is not new. And Flower is retro compared to some of the work done by artists in the world of digital poetics. The difference with Flower, of course, is that it's coming through a mainstream pipe (PlayStation3) and is the work of young people not otherwise connected to the poetics community.

Your responses invited. Write me at afilreis [at] gmail [dot] com.

** For an example of visual/physical word flow in Brown's cave, click here.

*** I suppose it could be argued that this makes it a candidate for designation as kitsch.

"brilliant" okay in my book

Can't tell if the following paragraph was made by the publishers (in which case "brilliant" is a throw-away word) or is quoted from a reader or reviewer (in which case the term makes my day):

The poetry of Wallace Stevens has inspired generations of poets of every school. Here, for the first time, is assembled an astonishing variety of poems, by a full range of poets, inspired by Stevens' life and work. In its own way, each poem exhibits the torque and feel of his poetry, yet each also is deeply personal and conveys how meaningful Stevens was and remains for poets and poetry. Whether whimsical or serious, solemn or light, the poems in Dennis Barone and James Finnegan's "Visiting Wallace" are sure to inspire delight and thought. Alan Filreis' brilliant foreword asks us to consider whether there is another modern poet who means as much to contemporary verse as Stevens: "seventy-six poems giving us seventy-six distinct Stevenses to follow and succeed."

The book for which I wrote the foreword is Visiting Wallace, an anthology of poems written under the influence of Wallace Stevens. Below is the first page of the foreword (click for a larger view).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

poetry and jazz, 1957

Fabulous photograph taken by Life's photographer Nat Farbman. Kenneth Rexroth performs work from New Directions issue 15 at a poetry and jazz event in S.F., 1957. [Courtesy: the "Ordinary Finds" blog.]

Reznikoff reading "Holocaust"

From Charles Bernstein's blog today: "Abraham Ravett, a film maker and photographer who teaches at Hampshire, made a recording of Charles Reznkioff reading from Holocaust on December 21, 1975, almost exactly 35 years ago. He has sent the recording and photographs to PennSound and we will be making them available soon." More...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

he never had any why

Marcel Duchamp on painting: "I don't believe in the magic of the hand." Q. "Why did you retire from the world of art?" A. "I couldn't tell you why. I never had any why... Painting always bored me."

From a television interview conducted by Russell Connor on the occasion of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit of the work of Duchamp’s brother, Jacques Villon, 1964.

Here are the full details about the video:

Marcel Duchamp Interviewed by Russell Connor
Museum of Fine Arts Boston in association with WGBH-TV
1964, 29:02 min, b&w, sound

Russell Connor interviews Marcel Duchamp on the occasion of the Boston Museum of Fine Art's exhibition of the work of Duchamp's brother, "Impressionist-Cubist" Jacques Villon (formerly Gaston Duchamp). Connor first introduces paintings, etchings, sculpture and lithographs by Villon, and is then joined by Duchamp, who discusses Villon's work and contributes his thoughts on art in general. This fascinating document gives the viewer a rare opportunity to hear the legendary Dadaist as he reveals observations on the state of art in the 1960's.

Presented by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in association with WGBH-TV, Boston and the Livell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council. Director: Allan Hinderstein. Lighting Director: Linda Beth Hepler. Video: Al Potter. Audio: Will Morton. Recordist: Pat Kane. Associate Producer: Thalia Kennedy. Executive Producer: Patricea Barnard.

Buy it here: LINK.

black daisy chain of nuns

What is the word from Deberoux Babtiste
the Funambule I
Desnuelu (who's he?) to choke you
Duhamel and you
De brouille Graciously
Deberaux Take me by the throat
French logic
Black daisy chain of nuns
Nous sommes tous assasins
Keith's jumping old man in the waves
morning dance of delicacy
"I want you to pick me up
when I fall down"

That's part of a poem by Elise Cowan. Cowen, though dead more than a quarter century, is in many ways more present than many of the other so-called "Beat women." She is alive in the pages of Joyce Johnson's Minor Characters and in the memories of many of Beat survivors whom she deeply impressd with her generous friendship. Janine Pommy Vega, with whom Elise lived for a time, says, "I still think about her every day. She was the smartest person I knew." More...

At right: Allen Ginsberg and Elise Cowan.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

beware the doctor with the pencil mustache

One of my favorite archives is the New Deal photo library of the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). Thousands of photographs are organized in categories: Art, Civil Works Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, Conservation, Disaster Relief, Education, Farm Security Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Film, Health Care, Historical Projects, Housing, Issues and Events, Music, etc. Under "health care" there are hundreds of posters, including anti-quack warnings such as the one I've reproduced here. It is dated August 30, 1938. I'm glad to see that the good doctor was one who did not "demand advance payment." And don't you love the evil dark image of the monocled medico shown toward the right side of the poster? We should beware the pencil mustache too, I suppose.

The final tell-tale sign of the quack cancer doctor? That he advertises.

your daily Al for December 19

Click on the image above for a larger view. The snarky response on Auschwitz is here, and here are instructions for getting your daily Al daily.

recreational linguistics

I've blogged about this already a few years ago but can't help myself. It's such fun.

Nick Montfort decided to write by constraint, limiting himself to the use of the top row of his keyboard: q w e r t y u i o p, and no other letters. He wrote a poem and called it "Top Row Retort." It was published in 2000 in Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics.

- - - -

Top Row Retort

I tore out type ere I wrote, to type up top:
upper typewriter row, pert repertoire.

Reporter, I quote to you: To write, pop type out.
Retire typewriter row two. Your tri-row?

Rip it out, too. Tour your top row territory.
Queer tip, you retort? I worry your poor typewriter?

To torque it out -- typewriter terror?
You require row two, your tri-row prop?

You pout, try to quip. (Poor etiquette.) You titter.
(Poorer propriety.) You utter uppity output?

Quiet, you! Quit it! You purport to write.
I tire to peer to your rot, your petty writ,

to eye your wire report. You write pyrite,
terrier to torpor. I pity you, preppie yuppie.

I tutor you, tyro, to uproot your trite tree,
put type to pyre. Rupture type. Write to write.

I erupt. I riot. I prototype pure power
to write. I, upper typewriter requiter.

I outwit you, too. To perpetuity, I write poetry.
You, to put it true, putter out rote poop.

Friday, December 18, 2009

the Polish police have gone into Auschwitz looking for evidence of a crime

If someone tries to fence (as it were) this sign, please let us know. It's been stolen--yes, can you believe that?--from the gates of Auschwitz. This sort of thing is the occasion of journalistic writing in which every phrase pounds with irony. This, for instance: "Police have launched an intensive hunt, with criminal investigators and search dogs sent to the grounds of the vast former death camp, whose barracks, watchtowers and ruins of gas chambers still stand as testament to the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany on Jews, Gypsies, and others." There's a scene for you. The Polish police have finally gone into Auschwitz with full force--barking dogs, searchlights, etc.--looking for evidence of a crime. I wonder if they'll see any.

(Anyway, ponder this: Why--I mean, seriously--are they looking inside the camp? Aren't they as likely to find guilt in the Polish countryside?)

closed for good

Once you've closed down, what more is there? If you're coming back, does that mean you're unclosed, that closed has been cancelled? Unlikely. More like: closing gives way to closed for good. This is no longer about putting on a sale.

Linh Dinh is quickly becoming my favorite political photographer. I'm pretty sure Linh would brush aside auteur-centered praise, since--at any rate this seems to be so--he's doing precisely no more than just looking closely at what's around him. He gets to affirm his positions just by pointing his camera this way and then that, sensitive to both easy and hard ironies especially in the visualities of language along the rotted cityscape. His blogs are State of the Union and Detainees and there I'm always feeling detained, indeed. I'm reminded of Cid Corman's minimalist meta-text: I make my art in order to detain you, here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

feeling shoptimistic?

Lee Eisenberg over at Shoptimism links me with this headline: "Mutually Assured Consumption."

the very serious business of cold-war academics

At a conference on Totalitarianism held at the American Academcy of Arts and Sciences in 1953 (proceedings published in 1954, edited by Carl J. Friedrich), David Reisman (author of The Lonely Crowd and other books), who was one of the speakers at the conference, put forward his elaborate plan for a "nylon war" that would cater to the ordinary human appetites behind the Iron Curtain by bombarding the Russians with luscious consumer goods.

Ah, academic conferences in the 50s! Don't you wish the social sciences were into stuff like this now?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

happy birthday, Emily

Lucie Brock-Broido (left) and Alice Quinn discuss the letters of Emily Dickinson at the annual ED birthday tribute at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC last night. [Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald.]

Monday, December 14, 2009

hypermontage diary

With the increased ease of making and distributing short videos, and with the ubiquity of the Mac's camera mounted atop its screen, it's no surprise that many ordinary folks are organizing diary-like images of themselves across time - sped-up stills, one per day, of the human face, changing and unchanging. Go to YouTube and search under "photo himself (or herself) every day (or daily)". In the best of these personal/ordinary hypermontages, the expression remains the same--to me, the more the same, the better. The very best is Noah, who took a photo of himself in virtually the same position and context every day for six years. His mouth remains precisely the same while his eyes darken and his hair flows upward and downward like a tide between haircuts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

surreal collagist at home

Tosh Berman. More...

modernist lab

The Modernism Lab at Yale provides links and source materials and chronologies for the study of the early years of modernism. It seems to be set up to support a growing cluster of courses on modernism at Yale. It's not clear yet how much of interest and use it'll be to others, but at least there are a number of links to the full texts of modernist works of that period, and good (if so far partial) chronologies.

split in half in a recurring dream

I've long used the video archive of Holocaust testimony at Yale (housed in Sterling Library there in New Haven). For years a sampling of testimonies has been available for borrowing - first on VHS, then on DVD. Now the folks at Yale (Joanne Rudof and her staff) have made a selection of these testimonies available on YouTube. I urge readers of this blog to watch Paul D. - to hear about his recurring dream; and Helen K. to hear about her brother dying "in mein arms" on the train to Treblinka; and the remarkable Menachem S., who passed as a non-Jewish street waif for years and literally didn't recognize his parents when reunited with them in 1945.

Above at left: Paul D.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

open access update

I've happily joined a university-wide committee that will spent the next four months pondering how to promulgate a new policy guiding faculty as they publish articles and books: open access. The idea is simple: make scholarship and research widely and freely available to as many people as possible; don't restrict by protected access, fees, firewalls, subscription, limited physical circulation. Such a change is likely to upset the well settled ecosystem of professional societies, academic journals that depend on subscription, and university presses that depend on sales of their books to libraries that currently provide access to knowledge in these books only through the book itself. It might even augur major changes in the peer-review process.

The question for the committee will be a classic: how to put forth a unified policy for a huge faculty in diverse fields with varying and distinct practices. On the medical science side, there are already rules in place (such as those imposed by NIH and other government funders) that make the immediate wide and free release of new papers mandatory. Why would a government fund research, only to have the results readable by a small group who have access, and even then only six months after the paper is finished and edited (in a printed journal which publishes its issues slowly)? On the other hand, humanists who write and publish books feel no pressing need and might rather publish with a trade press; the latter is less likely to pay an advance if some or many or all chapters are made available, as finished, in a world-wide-readable web-based Scholarly Commons.

MIT faculty recently voted on a new open access policy. A number of other fairly complex universities have done so. But Penn, if and when we do it, is likely to be the most complex university yet to create a unified policy.

Readers of this blog will likely know where I stand. Open access. The wider and freer the better. In my field--poetry & poetics--most of us have wanted to get the stuff out quickly and without restraint, and the 'net has fortunately enabled this. This is in part the case because poetry has never been very remunerative, so less, it seems, is at stake in providing a shortcut in the process that has for centuries kept the writer from joining quickly and freely with readers.

Comments welcome at afilreis [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

salt o' earth Philly-style

I've long been a big fan of journalist Murray Dubin. No one knows more about Philly than Murray. He was recently at the Writers House and this link will take you to links to both audio and video recordings of the event. A Philadelphia native and Temple grad, Murray's publications include South Philadelphia: mummers, memories, and the Melrose Diner (1996, Temple University Press) and Living Under South Street : Photographs of South Philadelphia by Jonathan Elderfield (2003, Kehrer Verlag). Along with freelancing, he is currently co-authoring a book with Dan Biddle on America's "first" Civil Rights movement, the effort by free blacks in the North to secure true freedom for themselves in the 1800s by advocating ending discrimination in employment, transportation, education and on the baseball playing fields.

new How2

The newest issue of How2 has papers on Caroline Bergvall by Sophie Robinson, Nathan Brown, cris cheek, Laura Goldstein, and Majene Mafe. It also has a section on "Reading Carla Harryman" featuring papers by Laura Hinton, Christine Hume, J. Darling, Carla Billitteri, Renee Gladman, and Austin Publicover.

gorgeous katalogos

Alan Loney's book of poetry, Katalogos, printed & published by Scott King at Red Dragonfly Press in Minnesota, will be available next month, in January. Details: $110 -- printed in just 90 copies, of which 75 are for sale. This is, I'm certain, a gorgeous object: printed letterpress in Dante types on damped Nideggen paper on a proof press, with two illustrations from the 1912 catalog from which half of the poem is constructed. Signed by the author. To hear a fair chunk of the poem being read, see (hear!) Loney's PennSound page. How to order or inquire:; or

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

creative spirit

Jimmy DePreist (Penn undergrad, class of 1958) receives the first "Creative Spirit Award" to be given annually at Penn.

your daily Al

Get your daily Al every and any day. More...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

thank you, George

The Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan has posted on its web site a lecture by Dr. Tim Whitmarsh (Oxford) which celebrates the latest addition to the diachronic canon of Greek literature, the construction of the poetry of Ananios of Kleitor: "Fragments of Greek Desire" by Tim Whitmarsh, Fellow and Tutor, University Lecturer in Greek, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, was delivered on the Ann Arbor campus on November 23, 2009, and is available here. Scholar, critic, translator and poet George Economou has donated to Michigan's Papyrology Collection the archive of his ten-year labor that resulted in the edition of Ananios' Poems & Fragments and Their Reception from Antiquity to the Present (2008). Whitmarsh's lecture was part of the special occasion where Modern Greek, Papyrology, and Contexts for Classics honored Professor Economou for "his classical inventiveness" and for the donation of the archive.

with soul so dead, HUAC quotes Scott

Quotation from a poem by Sir Walter Scott printed on the final page of a report published by the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Review of the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace, arranged by the National Council of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, and held in New York City, March 25, 26, and 27, 1949 (Washington, D.C.: Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. House of Representatives, 1950 [originally released, April 19, 1949]), p. [62]:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd,
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,--
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

PoemTalk update

Who's counting? Well, but... Here are the most often listened-to PoemTalk episodes in the last two weeks: 1) W. C. Williams, 2) Robert Creeley, 3) Wallace Stevens, 4) Jaap Blonk, 5) Cid Corman, 6) Allen Ginsberg singing Blake, 7) Amiri Baraka, 8) Ezra Pound, 9) Barbara Guest. I'm not counting the new Vachel Lindsay show; it received the largest number of hits but was just released, so its traffic resulted in folks responding to a widespread announcement. We'll see next month if people are still listening to the Lindsay. I certainly hope so.

local milk & honey

Milk & Honey Market on Baltimore Avenue - not looking its best on a recent forlorn evening after closing time. But you get a sense of the location. Corner of a once very busy street here in West Philly. Every time someone attempts such a venture here, I feel the need to support them. Turns out, in this case, that the support is worthy: they've found fabulous organic suppliers and it's always a treat to go there. Here's a little review I put up on Yelp.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

to be mentally healthy, don't worry about current events

I own a battered paperback copy of an unusual book: The Story of my Psychoanalysis, published in 1950 and authored by "John Knight," a pseudonym. (Published in New York by McGraw-Hill, and was 225 pages in hardcover.)

The jacket is dramatic. There's John, arm crossed helplessly across forehead, lying down, apparently on his shrink's couch.

It's a tell-all book, and the mode of confession is the revelation of actual psychoanalysis. The work purports to reveal all the dark secrets of the sessions--and, thus, of course, this man's sins and desires. Here are a few choice excerpts:

I'm envious of my father...I also have a vivid image in my mind of my boss's beautiful estate...I visited it last fall...he even has an artificial lake for his private fishing parties...I dreamed last night about an invention...I invented the zipper but someone stole it from me...I sued for ten million dollars...

Doctor Maxwell discouraged too much concentration on current events. He would not discuss politics or world affairs, and encouraged me to disregard current issues unless they caused fairly intense emotional reactions. As he pointed out, it is very easy to try to escape the unpleasant, buried, ancient memories by discussing everyday matters....

There's something here I don't like...the color of your walls annoys me...I'm tense...I'd like to get out of here...Where was Moses when the lights went out?...I'm a Jew...

A longer excerpt from the book is part of my 1950s web site.

John's problems seem to have much to do with politics and culture--especially careerism in the context of social conformity and consensus--but it seems to be the job of the shrink, and of the book (John comes round to seeing that the shrink is right), to dissuade us from concluding that national issues, e.g. cold-war tensions, are helping to cause his ulcers (his original reason for seeking help) in any way.

Friday, December 04, 2009

modernist power couple

I'm listening to a 2-hour recording made of Kenneth Irby reading at the Ear Inn in New York, in May of 1984. At the time he was obsessed with the relatively unknown poetry of Mary Butts. And he began his reading by talking about Butts' writing career, and life, and by reading several of her poems.

Along the way Irby mentions that Butts was married to John Rodker. I hadn't known that. I've long been fascinated by Rodker. In the 80s, when I first started visiting archives and collecting odd bits of modernist literary history, I ran into Rodker's legacy. I believe I read his papers at the University of Maryland, but I could be wrong about that. Or maybe at the Ransom Center at UT Austen, which is where a smallish archive of his papers is housed today. Rodker was a correspondent of many modernist poets, including Wallace Stevens; he published some early Stevens. But no Rodker-Stevens letters are at Texas. I do see correspondences with Theodore Draper and Jessica (Decca) Mitford, which makes me think, on a hunch, that he had a radical/leftist phase, perhaps in the 40s. He was a good friend of Doris Lessing.

In 1919 he started the Ovid Press. It lasted about a year. In the 20s he was in Paris helping Joyce with a second edition of Ulysses. He got into occult publishing and, much later, into publishing pornography. A Collected Poems was published in 1930.

John Rodker and Stevens shared the pages of the October 1919 issue of Poetry. Rodker's poem "The Searchlight" is there, along with a dozen or so of Stevens' famous Harmonium poems.

For a while Rodker was a go-between for Stevens and painting. At one point Rodker, in Paris, was trying to get Stevens to buy a painting by Wyndham Lewis. Stevens never bought a Lewis, but did say this in a letter: "Fancy the swank of Wyndham Lewis."

Ken Irby's interest in the unknown poems of Mary Butts seems warranted - judging from the few poems I've read and, now, thanks to Irby, have heard read aloud. If I ever get the time I'd like to explore the aesthetic cross-influence of Butts and Rodker. This was the time of the formation of Anglo-American modernism in poetry and these two people were important but now almost indiscernible influences.

I haven't read the biography of Butts written by Nathalie Blondel, but that would certainly be a good next step.

Later, Danny Snelson affirms my interest in Rodker, thus: "I've also had a long-time fascination for the man. He was also the center piece, really the only recurring character, in Pound's short-lived Exile journal, wch published an incredible Rodker novel in pieces. Really fascinated by his work I was just reading the Ovid edition of Mauberley, wch is just fabulous. It wld be great to get hands on some of the occult / pornographic publications. Also the Imago editions of Freud. Totally wonderful trajectory!"

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Watson, Lindsay, what's the difference?

Speaking of Vachel Lindsay... Helen Sewell Johnson, one of the funniest and sharpest and kindest people I know, passes along a story of Lindsay, as follows:

Lindsay visited Agnes Scott College for a reading before I was there and I still remember one of my professor's description of the event. The college president at the time was a very small man, a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Gaines. He gave a flowery introduction to Lindsay and then pronounced, "and now, I present Mister Watson." Lindsay pounced up to the podium, shaded his eyes, assumed a semi-squatting position, peered from one side of the hall to the other and shouted, "Paging Sherlock Holmes." She further described his "lion's mane of yellow hair," which he flung about as he danced around the podium performing "The Congo." The audience, I gather, was transfixed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

modern art: unconcerned with beauty & truth

In January 1957, a man named Arthur B. McQuern, describing himself as a retired Iowa farmer then living in "this artist town on the west coast"--Laguna Beach, California--writes to express indignation against the modern art on display there. McQuern was especially incensed by a recent exhibit, which caused him to write an essay he mailed to anticommunist activist congressman George A. Dondero. Here is a small portion of that essay:

"...the essence of the 'modern' doctrine apparently is to believe in nothing...The idol adopted by the modernist writers is a twentieth-century hybrid character which is made to appear as being neither good nor bad...The ultra-modernist is unconcerned with beauty and truth...By a standard of ethics peculiar to the 'moderns' truth has no stability or positive purpose but to them is only a point of view shifting and drifting with the tide of sentiment...In both literature and art a contemptible disregard for reality...."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vachel Lindsay podcast

From left to right, Aldon Nielsen, Michelle Taransky, Charles Bernstein in my office recently for the recording of the 26th episode of PoemTalk. This is one is about Vachel Lindsay's "The Congo." Go to the PoemTalk page for much more and a link to the podcast audio.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

pioneer ID cards = poems

Poems Found in A Pioneer Museum, Susan Howe, 2009: 32 letterpress cards printed on Canaletto Liscio paper, in binders box 130 x 100. 300 copies. Susan Howe writes: "I copied these poems, almost verbatim, from typed identification cards placed beside items in display cases at Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Memorial Museum founded in 1901 by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The artifacts and memorabilia in their collection date from 1847 when Mormon settlers first entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake until the joining of the railroads at Promontory Point, Utah in 1869." More...

schticky Poetry?

Robin Williams reads Poetry magazine. Was he getting any good material from its pages? [Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald.]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

free performance at KWH on Tuesday

Ursula Rucker comes to KWH on Tuesday, December 1, at 6:30. Performance is free and open to the public - and that's because it's supported by the Caroline Rothstein Oral Poetry project, which has helped us at KWH produce three previous events. Last year's event featured the amazing Tracie Morris and her band.

were lost, now found

The Center for the Humanities invites you to celebrate the publication of The Amiri Baraka/Edward Dorn Correspondence; The Kenneth Koch/Frank O’Hara Letters: Selections; Muriel Rukeyser: Darwin & the Writers; Philip Whalen’s Journals: Selections: Robert Creeley: Contexts of Poetry, with selections from Daphne Marlatt’s Journals. These comprise the inaugural chapbook series in LOST & FOUND, the CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.

Tuesday December 8th, 2009
6:30 pm, Martin E. Segal Theatre
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street
New York City

Ammiel Alcalay

Readings and Presentations
Stefania Heim, Claudia Moreno Pisano, Josh Schneiderman, Brian Unger,
special guests David Henderson, Bill Berkson, and others

Lost & Found is a publication project emerging from archival and textual scholarship done by students at The Graduate Center, with the primary focus on writers falling under the rubric of the New American Poetry. Since accessibility to archival material proposes alternative, divergent and enriched versions of literary and cultural history, the Lost & Found initiative takes the New American rubric writ large, including the affiliated and unaffiliated, precursors and followers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wallace Stevens of the New York School

I've made an mp3 recording of a speech avatar reciting the lecture Wallace Stevens gave at MoMa in 1951, "Relations between Poetry and Painting." Stevens himself spoke in a low droning monotone so the avatar, minus the patrician accent, gets it about right. Stevens made more public visits to New York in 1951 than any other year. He read at the Poetry Center/92nd St Y, at MoMA, gave several short talks at various occasions, etc. Some of his letters read like I-do-this-I-do-that accounts of walking and looking along the avenues.

third most oft-visited blog entry

My diatribe against Schindler's List (which, I'll admit, risks accusations of elitism) is the third most-often visited entry in this entire blog, and it dates back to March of 2008--a while back--and is thus not all that easily viewable other than through web searches. It's not, by any means, that my criticism is well known or well linked, but rather, probably, that there's a nation full of high-school kids who are made to watch the movie in school and are being asked to write papers about it. I wonder if any of them, upon reading my concerns, absorb that into their analyses. (If you are such a student, please let me know by clicking the little envelope below this entry.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

love, Cid

From left to right: Cid Corman, Ed Baker, Ted Enslin, Chuck Sandy, at the Lorine Niedecker 100th, November 2003, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Ed Baker...well, taken with Ed's camera by John Martone. More photos here. And here are Cid's letters to Ed, the earliest dated 1972.

your daily Al

Here's how you can get your daily Al daily.