Tuesday, September 29, 2009

slogans as contrivances

From Tim Morris, Wallace Stevens: Poetry and Criticism, p. 173. Click on the image for a larger view.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

teaching the hard stuff

After teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the experience of teaching this material. (His approach was that of his book, The Survivor, which was being published around that time.) Here is a link to a PDF copy of the piece as it appeared in the Times. In my own course on representations of the Holocaust (I'm currently teaching it), we use Des Pres' book.

the fan (1)

Whitey Ford, quick-pitching at Yankee Stadium. Don't look down at your peanut.

The baseball fan. The most ridiculed of all crucial points of view. It seems to me that all the many books and films made of baseball assume the fan. The event--the thing itself--is one of those things, an X, where X = 0 unless it is being observed. Certainly it is true of retrospect (which is, after all, only what writing about baseball is): no description of, or memory of, a game makes a bit of sense unless it had been once observed in the present; it's a re-narration rather than a narration. There are a few writers about baseball who forget this, but just a few. Surely one who never forgets is Roger Angell, who has made an anti-theological creed of the fan's subjectivity. He might be going on and on about the similiarities and differences between the pitching pacing of Whitey Ford (Angell's favorite retired Yankee) and David Cone, writing for a moment--a paragraph or two--as if standing on Olympus, or in the press box, but then comes the crucial line in which we know that it is a fan, sitting where fans sit, who is saying this, who is responsible for these words. He's describing Ford's low pitch counts, his efficiency, comparing this with Cone, "prodigal with his pitch count." Then back to Whitey, who moved very quickly. "[W]ith Whitey you'd look up from your scorecard or peanut and find that the inning was already over."* Writing about baseball means not looking away from X, yes, but first and foremost it means that the fan is always the subject. Your scorecard. Your peanut. You'd look up.

* "Style," p. 280, Game Time.

that Aramaic chant

Comedian Lewis Black refers to the Kol Nidre in some of his shows, and in his first book, Nothing's Sacred, where he calls it the spookiest piece of music ever written, claiming that it may have been the piece to inspire all of Alfred Hitchcock's musical scores.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Curtis Fox does a weekly podcast show called "Poetry off the Shelf." One week, a program titled "Poetry 911," he featured our "dial-a-poem" service (215 746-POEM). Here's the audio. I spoke with him by phone and was winging it, but I think it came out okay, don't you? Of course Curtis sets up the context for this new phone service: John Giorno's "poetry systems". Go to Ubuweb for the best archive of the dial-a-poem poets.

poetry on the web! it's a revolution

Reading it now, the article seems a yawn - obvious, innocuous. Was it only nine years ago that the availability of poetry on the web was deemed innovative? (My own poetry site was created in '94. It's a grandpa.) Zoe Ingalls wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the Electronic Poetry Center, with glancing looks at the digital poetry archives of the Writers House (including webcasts) and my online poetry course materials at Penn, and several other repositories of the time. I found a copy of this article yesterday while rooting through old files, and am pleased to make it available here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

it doesn't represent...

Three students' response to Schindler's List:

Lily: Rather than acknowledge this and do something like direct his artistic vision to conveying th[e problem of] inefficacy [of representations of the Holocaust generally] by, for example, dizzying us with an overwhelming amount of images and scenes or using unconventional camera angles or resisting one story line, Spielberg ploughs through, wants to pass off his movie as an 'accurate' portrayal, and that's that.

Rachel: Schindler’s List is not only easy because it tells us what to feel. It is easy because it tells us to feel obvious and uncomplicated emotions. The terrible contradictions and the ambiguity of moral questions are largely forgotten in his film. Schindler’s List is a blockbuster, with some interesting characters; but I don't think it represents the experience of the Holocaust victim.

Sami: As I watch Schindler's List I can't help thinking that a movie representation of the Holocaust is the least effective way of getting us to understand the X. Whereas Levi and Wiesel struggle with bearing witness, Spielberg is thinking about how to make an intriguing, compelling story. How can you take the occurrences of the Holocaust and try to produce the story for an audience? How can you hire actors who cannot possibly understand the X to pretend they were part of the Holocaust? The more I think about these questions, the more I find the film offensive and presumptuous. That's just my initial reaction....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

no heart so hardened that Henri cannot breach it

Primo Levi's great book, Survival in Auschwitz, at one point depicts a range of four kinds of typical survivors - those who are in some way adaptable to the strange Babel of languages in the camp, to its bizarre and complex social and economic hierarchies, and its subtle constant rewriting of behaviorial rules, the breaking of which could lead to instant death. One guy whom Primo knew at the camp, a cunning, beautiful young man whose great talent was that he could create pity in others (even hardened criminal Kapos and even members of the SS), was someone Levi called "Henri." Later, after this mean survived the war, went on with his life, heard about Levi's mostly negative account of him, he showed himself and wrote his own account. His name, it turns out, is Paul Steinberg. His book appeared in 2000 (years after Primo killed himself). Speak You Also. In October 2000 Martin Arnold published a piece in the New York Times about it, and here is a link to it.

running after Eigner

This morning I went for a run just long enough to enable me to listen to Robert Grenier's introduction (written June 2009) to the forthcoming collected poems of Larry Eigner. In his essay Grenier does a more or less close reading of five poems. One of them is this:
                         July 26f 90   # 1 6 9 0



middle of the street

between trees


And here's Grenier's fabulous comment:

This is a real ‘moment’ (evoking the appearance and vanishment of all such into and out of existence, and time)—but ‘for the time-being’, accomplishing itself inside an interwoven ‘narrative-of-this-poem’—a very closely observed and ‘animated-in-the-poem’ skateboarder skateboarding down the middle of McGee Avenue in Berkeley—see how the trochaic accent emphases (“footwork”/“skateboard”/“middle”) get balanced by that iamb “between”, so as to evoke (for the reader) actual experience of two feet balancing on the board of that skateboarder (an interesting new word for LE)—and how would Larry Eigner know that, given his circumstance?—going down the middle of the poem (as if it actually were the “middle of the street”)—all this in lines which (seem to) ‘look like a skateboard’ (now that I think about it!) moving forward steadily (one space at a time) rightward from the left margin.

Indeed: "how would Larry Eigner know that, given his circumstance?" (disabled; bound by his body, to say the very least**). I should say now that I listened to this introduction because before I took off I quickly converted the text I found on the web (pre-dating publication of the book in December) into an automaton-voice-read sound file which I loaded onto my iPod, and off I went. I have choices - I chose a male avatar and set the voice-speed to low speed. The avatar does a pretty bad job of pronouncing the words. And perhaps because of a quirk in the way I block-copied the text into the text-to-voice program I use, he did not handle possessives well at all. Grenier likes to use "LE" for Larry Eigner and "LE's" I had to hear as "el - ee - ess." But I got used to it and began, especially in hearing the excerpts from the poems, a weird distended language spoken, something that made me have to listen hard. And then came this easeful perfectly balanced skateboard skateboarding down the middle of a poem, visually and metrically. Heart beating, faster running to the end, down the middle of Osage Avenue, I began again to understand, bodily this time, how to hear a poem as a sense.

** For one of many commentaries on Eigner's physical limitations, see this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bengali poetry/electro-magnetics guy

The Cincinnati-based engineer Aryanil Mukherjee has built a web site featuring translations of Bengali poetry. Aryanil listened to the recent PoemTalk episode on Zukofsky and responded as someone knowledgeable about electro-magnetics. Word from PennSound's Managing Editor Mike Hennessey is that we will soon have a Aryanil Mukherjee author page (readings of translations). So stay tuned.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

just 3 poems

Some readers will remember that a few months ago I was asked by George Lensing to chose just three poems by Wallace Stevens I would most urgently commend to others. A crazy task, but I did it (because I like George, for one thing). A short essay about these three poems will soon be published in the Wallace Stevens Journal. Here is a sneak preview.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

which side are you on?

Readers of this blog will know by now that one of my obsessions is the representation of the 1930s in the 1950s. I suppose you could say I collect these bits of (usually politicized) retrospectives. At right is an oil-and-charcoal painting by Robert Motherwell about the Spanish Civil War - done in 1958-60. Look over at my 1960 blog for more.

Friday, September 18, 2009

letterpress pleasure dome

A poem of mine, "Pleasure Dome," was published in a gorgeous letterpress production of The Common Press, of which the Kelly Writers House is a partner. The book is called Philacentrik and it's a catalogue of nine views of Philadelphia. It is also the first Common Book, an annual project by the Common Press, the letterpress studio at Penn; Common Books will be produced to showcase the integration of writing, printmaking and design at the press." Here is a scan of my poem and the illustration on the facing verso. The Writers House imprint within the Common Press collaborative is called "The 15th Room Press".

PoemTalk #22

Today we've released PoemTalk's 22nd episode - on Louis Zukofsky's Anew, the 12th poem in that series. Click here for the program notes and links to the audio recording.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

in the city's paper

2010 Writers House Fellows in the City Paper.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


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the sun came

New recordings at PennSound: Etheridge Knight's 1986 reading. Knight was introduced by Gwendolyn Brooks. If you listen to her introduction in combination with Knight's reading of his own poem "The Sun Came," you'll hear a dialogue between the two poets. So, please, listen to Brooks first (MP3) and then hear Knight's "The Sun Came" (MP3).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wormwood's return

Christa Malone, Marvin Malone's daughter, has taken up the cause of the Wormwood Review. She's created a new web site which features, among many other things, tributes to Marvin's editorship. My 1960 blog, a while back, took a look at Wormwood's founding in 1960.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

mad about folded cut-ups

The new issue of Private Circulation features Erica Baum's Dog Ear. The piece reproduced here is the one called "Mad." Baum's work, as always, is photography and it's also conceptual poetry. Private Circulation is a monthly PDF available only by email subscription.

Friday, September 11, 2009

literary practice at the edge (...in the snow)

Conference at Banff in February. Click on the image above for a better view.

those debilitating dreams

My dear friend John Giannotti, the noted sculptor, reminded me yesterday that Jean Shepherd once called for a "Dream Collection Day." Here's what Jean said:
John writes: "Although meant to show the utter uselessness of the creative spirit, it had exactly the opposite effect on me -- which Shepherd probably knew anyway."

9/11 at KWH

After 9/11 we at KWH organized a program called "Finding the Words." Believe it or not, readings and commentaries started with the WWII wartime/home-front experience of that seemingly nonpolitical poet, Marianne Moore. And yet the responsiveness to 9/11 was, for me, not oblique and completely interesting. LINKS: (1) earlier blog entry introducing the event; (2) link to podcast later made for the program.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dominick Dunne

Friends and family today buried Dominick Dunne, and of course Joan Didion was there. Stephen Sondheim was a pallbearer. Dunne died on August 26. Photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Splashnews.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

obsessed with details but oblivious

Our narrator is super-attentive to details but otherwise entirely oblivious. Yes, it's Heinrich Boll, one of his post-Holocaust stories about German society: "Across the Bridge". He works for a company whose business is suspect, but he doesn't inquire. He carries parcels and messages but doesn't know what they are. He relishes his routine trips, though, seeing in one house along the way the perfect rhythms of regularity: a woman keeps scrubbing windows, on schedule. The routine is an aesthetic, and it is associated with those first postwar months: he had crossed the bridge almost daily in those days, but then it was rickety and war-torn, and he remembers feeling that dread and emptiness. Would the train ever get across? Sometimes classic literary psychoanalytic readings work sufficiently. In this case, for sure. Let's call it - with the Mitscherlichs, who wrote on it about postwar Germans years ago - "the inability to mourn." By the way, I feel the same dread watching all those slow-moving Holocaust-related trains in Shoah and The Truce and elsewhere.

3 new PennSound Daily entries for your iPod

Here is an audio recording of the three most recent PennSound Daily entries on PennSound - on new materials in our archive by Abigail Child, Ken Jacobs, and Bruce Pearson. The recording was made using SpokenText and the voice you'll hear is that of an avatar, better than most. So download this and take your PennSound Dailies along with you today while you shop, wait in line at the DMV, wash the dishes.

PennSound Daily is written almost daily by our Managing Editor, Mike Hennessey.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


In Addis Ababa. Does the sign indicate the beer of beers? A beer the taste of which makes one think of beer-ness?

Thanks to Mara Gordon for the photo.

I wish I were an Oscar Wilde weiner

Apparently we at the Kelly Writers House have a new house band. That's what a hear. In any case, the group performed at the recent SRO inaugural 2009-10 "Speakeasy" (open mic night) in the KWH garden. The song is "I Wish I Were an Oscar Wilde Weiner."

lessons in hate

Jim Keegstra taught anti-Semitism in his high-school history class for 14 years in rural Alberta. He went way beyond--shall we just say--the curricular guidelines set out by the county, so there was little give in the decision county supervisors should have made to warn him first and then again and then fire him. But, again, it took fourteen years. He had tremendous local support and the school board (and others) were overwhelmed by the popular defense.

He taught that the American Civil War was a Jewish plot. He taught that World War II was caused by the Jews and that Hitler didn't kill any Jews. (Where did they go? "Hundreds of thousands went to Madagascar.") He made his students memorize the "fact" of the story of the Illuminati - a sect of Jews in colonial America who were given their instructions by the devil. He taught that John Wilkes Booth was Jewish. When a student wrote in a paper that Lenin and Trotsky were athiestic, he scrawled in the margin that that was incorrect--that they were Jewish, for the communist revolution in Russia was primarily a Jewish plot against the state. He says he most fears "that hard-core communist Jew, the financier, that hard-core rebel, that rabbinical Jew."

"The people who oppose me just do not know their history," says Keegstra.

A Canadian TV magazine - like 60 Minutes - ran a 20-minute segment on Keegstra. It was called "Lessons in Hate." I'm now making this segment available here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

only the ideology you hate indoctrinates the young

Per one Texas parent fearing the Prez' talk to schools: the "socialism" here is in the very fact that Barack Obama wants to "get to kids when they're young." In other words, socialism = indoctrination. Presumably this mom's ideology - whatever it is, but from the context (in an NBC Nightly News story aired last night) it would seem to be conservative Republicanism - is not one of those belief systems that, if exposed to the young, would constitute an effort to indoctrinate, but, rather, merely to teach. Hmmmm, well, this is the Culture Wars all over again.

Alex Katz in 1960

Click here for more.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

if it demonstrates form, they can't read it

Marjorie Perloff on Ron Silliman's "Albany":

As in his long poems Ketjak and Tjanting, both written a few years earlier, "Albany" relies on parataxis, dislocation, and ellipsis (the very first sentence, for example, is a conditional clause, whose result clause is missing), as well as pun, paragram, and sound play to construct its larger paragraph unit. But it is not just a matter of missing pieces. The poet also avoids conventional "expressivity" by refusing to present us with a consistent "I," not specifying, for that matter, who the subject of a given sentence might be.

At the same time--and this has always been a Silliman trademark--indeterminacy of agent and referent does not preclude an obsessive attention to particular "realistic" detail. Despite repeated time and space shifts, the world of Albany, CA. is wholly recognizable. It is, to begin with, not the Bay Area of the affluent--the Marin County suburbanites, Russian Hill aesthetes, or Berkeley middle-class go-getters. The working-class motif is immediately established with the reference to "My father withheld child support, forcing my mother to live with her parents, my brother and I to be raised together in a small room." And this is the white working class: "Grandfather called them niggers." Later, when the narrator is living in a part of San Francisco where, on the contrary, many ethnicities are represented, we read that "They speak in Farsi at the corner store." The poet is a political activist: he participates in demonstrations and teach-ins, is briefly jailed, avoids the draft, and so on. There are many explanations of everyday things the activist must deal with: "The cops wear shields that serve as masks." But the paragraph is also filled with references to sexual love: couplings and uncouplings, rape, miscarriage, and abortion. And finally, there is the motif of poetry: "If it demonstrates form they can't read it." And readings: "It's not easy if your audience doesn't identify as readers." Writing poetry is always a subtext but one makes one's living elsewhere: "The want-ads," as the last sentence reminds us, "lie strewn on the table."

From her essay, "Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject." Here's the entire section of the essay devoted to "Albany."