Monday, August 31, 2009

visiting Wallace

I wrote the preface to a volume of poems inspired by the life and work of Wallace Stevens, edited by Dennis Barone and James Finnegan. Visiting Wallace has just been published and here is a PDF copy of that preface.

kids are game

Last spring I taught a series of workshops on contemporary poetry to high-school students. Great fun. Click on the image above for a readable view.

Friday, August 28, 2009

reading Emily not quite blithely

Readers of this blog will recall that Lawerence Schwartzwald often takes photographs of well-known people in the act of leading their literary lives. Dustin Hoffman reading Ginsberg. Patti Smith reading a book of criticism on Wallace Stevens. Here Blythe Danner, who was the voice of Elizabeth Bishop's poems in the Bishop Voices and Visions documentary, is seen yesterday in the Meat Packing District (just north of the West Village) reading Emily Dickinson and her Culture. By the way, Lawrence is (by avocation mostly, I think) what might be called a "literary photographer." Is this a unique category?

Credit: (c) Lawrence Schwartzwald 2009.

planning on seeing "Inglorious Basterds"?

"I don't believe in elitism. I don't think the audience is this dumb person lower than me. I am the audience." - Quentin Tarantino

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Creeley near the end

A beautiful late reading given by Robert Creeley, CUE Art Foundation, January 18, 2005. We at PennSound provide the video and also the audio-only recording of this event.

"When I think of where I come from....of what a life is, or was...," the first poem in the reading begins. Creeley died in March of '05, just a few months later.

1968 from another angle

Currently watching...the amazing documentary called Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, made by the same guy (Kevin Rafferty) who filmed The Atomic Cafe. Interviews with many players on the two teams spliced with video from the game. Yale was the much better team but Harvard came back to tie in the final few minutes. Meantime it's all about--of course--1968. Netflix users: this film is available to stream right to your computer. Factoids: The guy who was dating Meryl Streep was on one of the teams, as was Al Gore's roommate and several pals of George Bush. Above: the two-point conversion reception that tied the game in the final seconds.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

writing a community, as always

Click on the image for a closer view, and click here for more.

on the brink of fetish

Poetry is an art of constitution. Not only plastic "composition." But not a graceful maneuvering of representations or descriptions or stories or denotations, all of which teeter precariously on the brink of fetish. - Bruce Andrews, "Constitution/Writing" (1981)

It turns out that people can't hear words in isolation very well. - Bob Perelman in "Sense"

Andrews: Open Letter 5th ser. 1 (winter 1982): 154-165. Perelman: "Sense" in Writing/Talks, p. 76.

Monday, August 24, 2009

running and writing

Joyce Carol Oates (in an interview with Grace Waltman and Jessica McCort) talks about running and imagination.

JCO: Oh yes? Are you a runner?

GW: I am a runner, and I like to be in movement.

JCO: Just like me.

GW: So I was really struck by your experience, when you that you were in London, but you were dreaming of Detroit, even though all the while you were actually running in Hyde Park (in London, England). I was interested in how a person can envision one geographic location, even while they're in another one. And, so, my question is - for example, if you might be running - do you find yourself more aware of the surroundings you're envisioning, or [of] those that are actually around you? And, how might that function in your creative process?

JCO: Well, it's kind of a complex question because the act of running is a really a manifold. Sometimes you're working on a problem that's formal, and you're looking for language, or you're looking for a way into a text that hasn't been written yet. Sometimes when you're running, you're looking for a way to edit the text that's all finished. And so, these are kind of formal preoccupations. I find the act of running very meditative and almost trancelike. I don't like the treadmill nearly as much as running, but I can do the treadmill if it's really cold out. I almost go into a kind of trance, and it's very good for figuring things out spatially - the way the text itself is like a paragraph set that maybe could be reshuffled or eliminated, and that somehow is a very different sort of activity from running and envisioning a different land - or cityscape. And, I think, probably, I don't do that much of envisioning another landscape. I tend to be very interested in what I'm looking at and what I'm seeing, and I find landscape to have a spiritual, or psychological, or emotional value in the text, and that becomes like a character. So, my apprehension of, say, the city of Detroit, would probably not be somebody else's. You know, I'm looking at it as a landscape or a cityscape of heightened drama in which something's about to happen - as some of the backdrop. But we know that a landscape or a cityscape is basically an entity that has no animation in itself. You know, we're bringing to it, or we're projecting onto it. It's a very interesting question. I often feel that the solution to a formal problem will be found on a run, or at the end of a run, or coming back from a run, whereas if I stayed home at my desk, then I wouldn't get it. And sometimes when I travel - I'm getting off an airplane in a different city and walking very quickly along in an airport - I sort of feel that I'm coming to something, and sometimes I have these strange little revelations that help me with a knotty problem. And so I think, though I'm not a mystical person at all - I'm actually quite skeptical - so I think that if I had stayed home and hadn't come to St. Louis, you know, would I have figured out about how to end the story? Because I figured something out about an hour ago, and I felt as though it was kind of waiting for me here in St. Louis. But if I'd stayed home, then maybe I wouldn't have gotten it, maybe ever, or not so quickly.

event & sound in poetry

I just received a copy of English Studies in Canada volume 33, issue 4. (It's dated December 2007 and so I assume it's been delayed.) This is a special issue edited by Louis Cabri and Peter Quartermain, with a "digital sound editor" - namely PennSound's own Mike Hennessey. The issue is titled "On Discreteness: Event and Sound in Poetry." The table of contents is tantalizing, including: Bob Perelman on listening to WCW's "The Sea-Elephant," Brook Houglum on Kenneth Rexroth and radio reading, Brian Reed on Gertrude Stein speaking, Sarah Parry on the "LP era" in poetry, and Geoffrey Hlibchuk on the relationship between shortwave number stations and 20th-century poetry. Can't wait to read this stuff! And listen: comes with a CD of recordings edited by Hennessey.

restlessness in 25 minutes

See the PoemTalk blog for a description of and link to the newly released 21st episode of the PoemTalk podcast series - this one a discussion of a poem by Charles Bernstein. Above, from left to right: Marcella Durand, Hank Lazer, Eli Goldblatt, and myself, in my office at the Writers House which doubles as a recording studio.

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.” Thomas Edison said that.

last leader of the uprising

"The Ghetto Fights," by Marek Edelman, was published in a pamphlet called The Warsaw Ghetto: The 45th Anniversary of the Uprising by Interpress Publishers. Hard-to-find document I've made available through my Holocaust site. Marek Edelman (born December 31, 1922) is a Polish political and social activist, cardiologist, and last living leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. For more, go here.

daily Al back

Your daily Al is back after various summertime hiatuses. Get your daily Al daily. It's a Google gadget.

Friday, August 21, 2009

online advising

In 1999 I was interviewed for the local television news (Channel 6, an ABC affiliate in Philly) about the online pre-freshman advising course I was teaching. Here is the recording.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ride Manhattan

For 40 late-afternoon minutes yesterday I took a hot but otherwise lovely bike ride up and down the bike path and parkland along the Hudson River downtown. Down to Battery Park City and back up to the Intrepid at 44th and back down to the West Village. One of every ten bike was a fold-up bike (like my own). Nice to see!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

subjects ramble and so should you

"Any sentence is in itself an organization of experience.... Any subject naturally rambles around by itself and to keep to it one has to ramble around after it." - Gertrude Stein, in an interview. For the complete transcript of the interview, go here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

does a poem do any good?

I'm leading a session during Penn's Homecoming Weekend on whether a poem "does any good."

angry middle-aged editor meets Kerouac

James Wechsler's memoir is titled Reflections of an Angry Middle-Aged Editor. In one chapter, "The Age of Unthink," Wechsler recalls a frustrating encounter with Jack Kerouac during a symposium on "the Beat generation" at Hunter College in 1958. Here is the text of the entire chapter.

Here's the moment when Wechsler first encounters Kerouac:

As I walked a trifle uncomfortably down the center aisle to the stage, I got my first view of the leader of the Beat Generation. He was attired in a lumberjack shirt unadorned by tie, but there was nothing especially ostentatious about his lack of dress. A little more flabbergasting was the discovery that he was holding what proved to be a glass of brandy, and throughout the evening he made several trips to the wings for a refill. Kerouac acknowledged my arrival by observing, "You ruined my sentence," and then resumed a discourse which I am obliged to describe as a stream of semiconsciousness.

There it is: "You ruined my sentence." One writer's half-attentive opening remark to another.

see Jane run

Poster depicts a student fleeing a mounted policeman during an anti-war protest, c. 1970.

killing the language?

The August 4 entry on the blog, "A Poetic Matter," is called "On Metaphor," and takes Kenneth Goldsmith to task, as follows:

[Owen] Barfield asserts that language needs poetry because through poetry language and meaning grow. I agree with Barfield. The point? If we keep theorizing about poetry (langpo, flarf, conecptualism, quietude, blah, blah, blah) we lose sight of meaning. Now, to someone like Goldsmith, meaning doesn’t even mean anymore so why try. But I think it’s a cop out. I wonder if this is why there is such a disconnect between the p-a crowd and everybody else. To say there is no meaning but in words is ludicrous as Barfield points out, because words and meaning depend on experience. So I would say this whole idea of poetry existing only through theories leads to a dead language, where people like Goldsmith dwell. Take the experience out of poetry, and you’re left with flarf and other regurgitations rather than humanity and a growth of language.

A reader replied:

KG does not dwell in dead language even if he thinks he wants to, or pretends to want to. His way of being boring is very exciting, actually. As is flarf. As are many other … I don’t think you need worry about “dead language” because there’s no such thing. It’s not even possible.

To which the blogger replied:

I don’t think KG dwells in dead language, but rather that purposely avoiding meaning can kill language. And I wouldn’t say that flarf is boring at all–I’ve read many examples that I thought were truly engaging and exciting. Language builds meaning, but not without some sort of experience.

For the record (it hardly needs to be noted), Goldsmith never says language is without meaning, nor does he want it to be. On the contrary, language is so always already meaningful that attempts at original writing are unnecessary. The ambient language--words in the world--is plentifully sufficient.

Monday, August 10, 2009

honoring Gil

This photo was taken at the Writers House gathering in honor of Gil Ott. For more about this event, go here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

denied to those who only drive & surf

Speaking of the poetics of street life, and of blogs, over at Detainees, Linh Dinh's blog, Linh and Murat Nemet-Nejat are having a back-and-forthish exchange in response to Linh's photographs taken along Philadelphia's streets. At the end of which Linh has now said: "A tangent to this discussion is our shared interest in street life, how the body needs to regularly swim through a common space while being exposed to a multitude of mostly unknown others. This intercourse, both comforting and menacing, is denied to those who only drive and surf."

Linh's caption for the photo above at right: I wasn't trying to confuse him. He had asked for a smoke. "This ain't a dollar, man." "Yes, it is!"

what's next? hand-smashed avocado

I've been reading Beth Kwon at BK 2.0 probably longer than any other blogger. Simple daily observations, life in Brooklyn, smart person with camera and satirical sensibility--yet needy and loves to see. She's at her best when snapping a photograph, often on the street, and permitting herself a momentary snark in response. Captions, in essence. Her response to this sign: I can scarcely think of anything less appetizing than avocado that’s been man-handled by a food service worker in New York City. Yet that is not stopping Chipotle’s pathetic knock-off, Qdoba Mexican Grill, from using “hand-smashed guacamole” as a way to lure customers. By the way, BK 2.0 (as BK 1.0, I think) started as a hand-typewritten (yes) xeroxed newsletter mailed to subscribers - a zine. Started in the latest zenith of such zines: 1999. It made the transition to blogging already very much bloggy in its mode and style. Mundanely observational, unapologetically personal and yet widely appealing. That it was a blog before its time I find also appealing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sammy runs no more

Budd Schulberg died at 95 yesterday. He wrote the screenplay to On the Waterfront and, among many novels, the unforgettable exploration of anti-Semitism in Hollywood, What Makes Sammy Run. After a visit to the Soviet Union in '34 he became a communist. Later he named names before an anticommunist congressional committee. Here's the end of the Times obit:

His romance with Communism ended six years later, when he quit the party after feeling pressure to bend his writing to fit its doctrines.

Mr. Schulberg had been identified as a party member in testimony before the House committee. Called to testify, he publicly named eight other Hollywood figures as members, including the screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. and the director Herbert Biberman.

They were two among the Hollywood 10 — witnesses who said the First Amendment gave them the right to think as they pleased and keep their silence before the committee. All were blacklisted and convicted of contempt of Congress. Losing their livelihoods, Lardner served a year in prison and Biberman six months.

In the turmoil of the Red Scare, Mr. Schulberg’s testimony was seen as a betrayal by many, an act of principle by others. The liberal consensus in Hollywood was that Lardner had acquitted himself more gracefully before the committee when asked if he had been a Communist: “I could answer it, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.”

In the 2006 interview, Mr. Schulberg said that in hindsight he believed that the attacks against real and imagined Communists in the United States were a greater threat to the country than the Communist Party itself. But he said he had named names because the party represented a real threat to freedom of speech.

“They say that you testified against your friends, but once they supported the party against me, even though I did have some personal attachments, they were really no longer my friends,” he said. “And I felt that if they cared about real freedom of speech, they should have stood up for me when I was fighting the party.”

The Times web site has the video of a 2006 interview.

Mojave fingerprint

Christopher Overing took the fingerprint of his right index finger, blew up it hugely, and etched it into a dry lakebed in the Mojave desert--and photographed it. Chris was my student in the late 80s and 1990.

Monday, August 03, 2009

you daily Al for August 3

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

read the words

Anthony DeCurtis had a piece in the New York Times yesterday, called "Peace, Love and Charlie Manson"--Anthony's contemplation of 1969, partly written in response to Arlo Guthrie's recent assertion that other than Woodstock there wasn't really anything else to remember from that year. Because I've been on the road a lot, and knew I wouldn't be able to take time to read the piece on paper or on screen, I decided to use Read the Words to make a quick audio version of it - read by a one of the Read the Words avatars, "Tom." Tom misses his share of pronunciation but I'm at least going to hear the piece twice tomorrow when I'm on the road again. You can hear Tom read Anthony's piece here.