Monday, May 31, 2010

we're in Betty Friedan country here

Dean of Penn's College for Women in 1960. Oh, the problems of separatism. Click here for more.

Friday, May 28, 2010

the baseball fan (3)

William Carlos Williams’ “The crowd at the ball game,” a piece of the famous Spring and All sequence, bothers not at all to observe the game being played. Its power as art derives from “the power of their faces,” and it watches fans watching the game and calls the precision with which they do so beautiful. “The crowd at the ball game / is moved uniformly / by a spirit of uselessness.” There is no meaning or purpose to “the exciting detail / of the chase / and the escape, the error / the flash of genius.” These are “all to no end save beauty.” Williams both fears and loves the convergence of unity and diversity at a baseball game. The potential classlessness of the fans makes the crowd far more progressive than the game itself, thus justifying a poem about baseball that only glancingly mentions what happens on the field. Spring and All generally promulgates aspects of democratic culture apt for the modernist keen to observe fragmentation, cultural breakdown, disarray, and the reversal of traditional subject-object relations (observing the seers seeing rather than simply reporting the seen). The modernist’s fan-centered game bore out Jane Addams’ more overtly political question: Did not baseball belong to “the undoubted power of public recreation to bring together all classes of a community in the modern city unhappily so full of devices for keeping men apart?”

Levertov here and there

We don't have any recordings of Denise Levertov yet in PennSound, but Levertov appears, one way or another, here and there throughout our archive. Robert Creeley talks about her (with me at the Writers House). Ken Irby reads one of her poems. John Weiners in 1965 at Berkeley reads a poem dedicated to her. Albert Gelpi talks with Leonard Schwartz about the letters of Duncan and Levertov. And a letter Duncan wrote Levertov as he was finishing the poem "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow" is discussed in passing in our Duncan PoemTalk episode.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the page is like a score

PennSound's Maggie O'Sullivan page includes a recording of a discussion with Penn students in Charles Bernstein's "studio 111" seminar. Michael Nardone has transcribed the session now and here is a portion:

Thank you for your close reading, Ms. O’Sullivan. I was wondering if you could describe the relationship between performing your work and writing it.

Well, it depends on, every situation is different. Performing it is another opportunity to re-engage with the text at different levels, and another opportunity to negotiate the text on the page.

As you’ve probably heard, I often find my work is quite difficult for me to read from the page. Writing it, I hear the sounds often in my ear. But having to perform it, all the difficulties emerge. There’s lots of disconnectiveness and disjunctiveness that is kind of working against how I sort of, how sometimes it seems it may be read.

Would you consider, sort of, maybe, performing it to be more body intensive than, I guess, writing it.

Well, writing is a body-intensive activity, totally. Absolutely, totally. The whole body is engaged in the act of writing. Whether it’s on the computer, with using a pen in the hands. The breath is involved in all activities. But with the performing, there are others that you have to connect with, and the place of performing also figures on it.

A number of your poems integrate different languages, musical notes, pictures, and streaks, and they push the possibilities of poetic forms on the page. I was wondering whether this is supposed to conflict with the words, compliment them, or maybe even both.

The words working as part of all this kind of radical shifting—

Right. Other forms on the page that would not be considered part of the traditional poetic form.

Well, it’s all material on the page. The page is like a score. Like a place for painting, or drawing, or word making, whatever. I am seeking to extend the range of poetic, what is traditionally regarded as poetic material.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Charlesfest reviewed

Nicole Peyrafitte has written a review of our celebratory event for Charles Bernstein (marking his 60th and the publication of his selected poems).

the territorio libre of baseball

Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, reading Ezra Pound. Lawrence Ferlinghetti wants an Hispanic or African American [not "Chicano" per se] member of the San Francisco Giants to hit a hole through the Anglo-Saxon epic. He sees Willie Mays flee around the bases as if being chased by the United Fruit Company. The entire panoply of political consequences of his love of the American Other are played out in front of him on the diamond, the nation's traditional (and Irish coplike ump-dominated) game. It's a schticky performance, as so many Ferlinghetti's performances are, but the "revolution round the loaded white bases, / in this last of the great Anglo-Saxon epics, / in the territorio libre of Baseball," is certainly affecting.

Here is a recording of Ferlinghetti reading that poem: "Baseball Canto."

- -

I was pleased to receive a response to this blog post from Steve Fama, who reminded me that it's certainly worth pondering what Ferlinghetti means when he uses words to describe Caribbean, Central American and South American--and African American--baseball players and fans. "Chicano" won't work as a descriptor for the alternative to traditional baseball he means. See above, where I've noted that in square brackets.

Juan Marichal came to the MLB from the Dominican Republic. Tito Fuentes is Cuban. I think Steve and others who have commented on this poem are right when they say that the use of the term "Chicano" to describe the fans at Candlestick is reductive. This reduction is no help to Ferlinghetti's political position against the incursions of the United Fruit Company. The poem is schticky and imprecise.

Monday, May 24, 2010

the 32nd PoemTalk

From left to right: Marcella Durand, Jessica Lowenthal, Jennifer Scappettone. They're in my office at the Writers House, having just finished discussing Susan Howe's reading of Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun." It's the 32nd episode of the PoemTalk podcast. Please have a listen.

Ted Berrigan, as witty as one can in the face of the Holocaust

August 11, 1978. On the radio program, "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," Lyn Hejinian and Kit Robinson are our hosts, and the guest is Ted Berrigan. A PennSound recording of the show is available, and here--thanks to the work of Michael Nardone--is part of the transcription:

- - -

We’re going to continue on now with our guest Ted Berrigan. This is "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets."

Ted, you have a sequence of poems?

Yeah, I’ll read three poems from a book, which I just completed, I completed it three or four months ago, it’s called Easter Monday, and it’s fifty poems. And they’re all, most of them are close to the same size, which is about, well, my favorite size, which is about 14 lines. Well, they are sonnets, in fact, but they don’t really work at that too much. Not all of them are. Some are longer. None are shorter, but some are quite long, quite a bit longer, because they just got longer sometimes, and when they did I just let them be longer.

These fifty poems are, fifty was an arbitrary number I decided upon ahead of time based on a theory that if you do two or three works that are fairly similar, and that you liked them, even if you just do one, you do one work and you like it and do another one that’s similar to it, there’s no particular reason to do the next one, a second one, and there’s no particular reason not to do it. But if you feel you have a number then there, you can set yourself this arbitrary number and just decide, well, I’ll do fifty of these. Then you’re sort of clear as to what you’ll be doing for a while. I got this idea from a painter friend of mine.

So, I did fifty of these, and it took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I said that I would do fifty. It’s called Easter Monday because it’s really about second life, life beginning about the age of 40. And since it is personal, I mean it is the second half of one’s life, it’s about being young, a young older person. I was involved in a second marriage, second family, but even if I hadn’t been, it still could have been the same thing.

Consequently, it is like Easter Monday. Easter Friday you die. Easter Sunday you rise again from the dead and that’s really glorious and wonderful, but then Easter Monday you have to get this job and support yourself for the rest of your life.

The poems were all written in two or three or four years from the time I was 38 until last year when I was 42. So they are not all about one’s whole second life, but rather about being aware of coming into that.

When I say they are about something, I mean, I strictly mean “about”. I don’t know what each poem is about particularly. I could study them and tell you what each one is about, but that’s not what I’m willing to do.

Each poem is a very separate poem. They are not like my work The Sonnets where, although every poem can stand on its own, they were sequential and serial in a certain way. There is some repetition of things, but it’s really like fifty separate works which were done knowing I was going to do fifty, and therefore they relate that way. Now, I knew what the themes were, though I didn’t work at them too hard. I just knew what they were.

This is the first three. The first one is called “Chicago Morning.” It’s dedicated to the painter Phil Gustin simply because I was looking at a painting of his while I was writing because it was hanging on the wall over the typewriter, and so I actually used some things in his painting to refer to when I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

[Reads “Chicago Morning”]

The second one is called “New Town.” New Town is a section of Chicago.

[Reads “New Town”]

“The End.” This is the third one. And these are the first three actually that were written, and it was after writing these three that I then decided I would go on and write 47 more. “The End.” Which is why I call this “The End” because I, you know, I wanted to get the end out of the way right away.

[Reads “The End”]

I’m going to read one more of those. Since my voice started to click in about the middle of the third one.

This is one that came later, maybe about the thirtieth one. This is a made work, and it was made from a master list in a psychology textbook. The title of it is “From A List Of Delusions Of The Insane, What They Are Afraid Of.” And this is a fairly classical sonnet of 14 lines, which works, in fact, in three fours and a two.

[Reads “From A List Of Delusions Of The Insane, What They Are Afraid Of.”

What a list.

Yeah, well, the children are burning. And we are those children. And they are those children too. And they are not insane.

All those things are very true. I mean, evil chemicals are in the air.

And they are poor.

And we are in the control of another power. We have stolen something, namely those lines.

I mean one has to be as witty as one can in the face of the holocaust.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

gave up making choices

"It was at Harvard not quite forty years ago that I went into an anechoic [totally silent] chamber not expecting in that silent room to hear two sounds: one high, my nervous system in operation, one low, my blood in circulation. The reason I did not expect to hear those two sounds was that they were set into vibration without any intention on my part. That experience gave my life direction, the exploration of nonintention. No one else was doing that. I would do it for us. I did not know immediately what I was doing, nor, after all these years, have I found out much. I compose music. Yes, but how? I gave up making choices. In their place I put the asking of questions. The answers come from the mechanism, not the wisdom of the I Ching, the most ancient of all books: tossing three coins six times yielding numbers between 1 and 64." --John Cage, 1990

Saturday, May 22, 2010

when I sleep = when I don't tweet

Some automated app gimic scans your tweets and then tells you when you typically sleep. It also assumes that when you sleep you don't tweet. I assume that's a fair assumption in 2010, but I doubt such for 2015. Anyway, of course it also presupposes that when you are awake you are tweeting. Quite a premise, no doubt self-serving.

What's frightening here is not that they assume wrongly that I go to bed at 11 pm, but that I am up at 5. I am, typically, but does that mean I'm using Twitter that early? There's a thought. Overall my response is: no thanks.

A note on grammar: "more likely to sleep..." More likely than what or whom? More likely than otherwise?

the book disappears

disappearing book no. 1 from disappearing books on Vimeo.

Facebook privacy peeve

This week the "Slate Culture Gabest" (a podcast I always listen to) did a segment on Facebook privacy. I hadn't realize the extent of anxieties out there. True, one doesn't want the entire world ("everyone," in Facebook parlance; or "friends of friends," which for me is almost everyone) seeing your photos, very much at all of your "bio" information, your status updates. So what's the big deal? Click "Account" at the top right, then click "Privacy Settings," and generally select "Friends only" for everything. You're done. Below is a screenshot of what people other than my approved "Friends" can see of me. Now do it or stop complaining or delete your Facebook account. I don't like Facebook's top-down tell-us-afterwards style of management, but there are a lot of things I don't like about Web 2.0. So I adjust or decline. Opt out is the phrase.

Giorno's first one-person show

John Giorno at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery at 526 W. 26th St. Giorno presented his exhibition, "Black Painting and Drawings." He performed "Lorca, please help me!" and other poems. The show runs from until June 12. ArtSlant says:

For his first one-person show in New York, John Giorno will exhibit paintings and drawings that reveal the evolution of the poem painting. Filling the walls of the gallery are twelve stenciled poems; over these hang black paintings at close proximity. The installation echoes the artist’s statement in a recent Artforum interview: “From emptiness, form arises.” Giorno’s poem paintings serve as one more aspect of his role as a poet and artist—connecting words and images in unexpected yet elegant ways. A video of Giorno performing the poem THANX 4 NOTHING will be on display in the gallery’s project room.

The Black Paintings and Drawings represent the visual aspect of John Giorno’s commitment to confronting audiences with poetry in different contexts—inviting us to rethink how we perceive words and images. As with many downtown artists in the 1960s rebelling against Abstract Impressionism and inspired by Duchamp, Giorno sought alternative ways of writing and presenting his poetry: using the telephone (Dial-A-Poem), recordings (Giorno Poetry Systems) and multiples (poem prints). As he said in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, given the influence of Warhol, Rauschenberg and Johns, he began to see “the possibilities of found images through words. The way I found and used the material, . . . became a poetic form.” The first Poem Prints were part of a Dial-A-Poem installation in the 1970 exhibition Information at the Museum of Modern Art.

Photographs by Lawrence Schwartzwald. For more about Lawrence's work, click on the tag below.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

down the line from Williams and Pound

The Pennsylvania Current is now running a story about the legacy of poetry at Penn: "Penn’s rich poetry legacy," by Tanya Barrientos. It features a nice mention of the Kelly Writers House and of PennSound.

an assemblage of paradoxes in one body

Listen to a brief audio biography of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven.

Here is a blurb I wrote for Irene Gammel's biogrpahy of the Baroness: "The Baroness cut the most compelling modernist figure. She literally wore New York dada, thus inventing it as a pattern of aesthetic costume to be worn so tight that it was her skin, her self. She was, as Irene Gammel puts it in this remarkable biographical study, an 'assemblage of paradoxes embodied in one body.' That the Baroness knew and inspired or inspiringly repelled nearly everyone associated with the rise of modernist practice in New York has been already part of the story, but it has never been so richly detailed. In Gammel's presentation the Baroness emerges as far more than an ingenue. She became a mature, self-conscious dynamic artistic force--and remarkably productive in her own right, not despite but because she exhausted herself up from the inside out."

a book launch event in which the book was re-published

Back on April 21, Danny Snelson, Tan Lin and others spread themselves across the entire first floor of the Writers House to produce an on-the-spot re-publication event around Tan's Seven Controlled Vocabularies (Wesleyan, 2010).

"Edit: Performing Networked Publishing," organized by Danny, focused on editorial strategies and textual conditions in contemporary writing. It was a roving events series exploring innovative performances, critical archiving, and live editing toward an exploration of editorial activity in contemporary writing and the arts. Featuring a team of poet-editors including Chris Alexander, Alejandro Crawford, Kareem Estefan, J. Gordon Faylor, Kristen Gallagher, Lawrence Giffin, Diana Hamilton, Eddie Hopely, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Patrick Lovelace, Jeremy Thompson, Sara Wintz, and Al Filreis accompanying Tan Lin in the re-publishing of SCV on the spot in a variety of formats. The event began at 1pm, with a reception and Q&A that happened at 6pm. The works to be published include "Handmade book, PDF,, Appendix, Powerpoint, Kanban Board/Post-Its, Blurbs, Dual Language (Chinese/English) Edition, micro lecture, Selectric II interview, wine/cheese reception, Q&A (xerox) and a film.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

goodbye Arlen, hello Ike

You like Ike. I like Ike. Everybody likes Ike. Ike for President, Ike for President. We'll take Ike to Washington. Hang out the banners, beat the drum, we'll take Ike to Washington. You like Ike. I like Ike. Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their country. Ike for President, Ike for President, Ike for President, Ike for President....

It's a gem. A thirty-second television ad from the 1952 campaign. Yesterday, arriving home after voting against Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary election, I thought it might be apt to honor mindlessly for a few minutes the candidate who didn't know what party he belonged to until not long before he declared his candidacy for the presidency, whose centrism was real, whose legislative record had been nil, and whose campaign (quite aside from his Vice Prez choice) was innocent to the point of silliness. Then I washed my hands, cleaned out the hallway closet, and breathed the cool late-spring air. Ready to have my political lungs filled up again with the usual soot.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Anthony, Nate, Greg

From left to right: Anthony DeCurtis, Nate Chinen, and Greg Djanikian. Nate, my (and Greg's) former student and later a Kelly Writers House staffer, is now a regular music critic for the New York Times. See his NYT pieces.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"altogether now" altogether

Just a few hours ago today at the Writers House, with me from left to right: Alice Eliot Dark, Moira Moody, Beth Kephart. Alice and Beth read beautifully from their work. I was ready to explain the interlocking connections of these four, and planned to link from here to Beth's blog, which I read regularly. So naturally I went to Beth's blog to pick up the URL for the link and, lo and behold, Beth had driven home and had already written out the convergence. So I need only refer to you her blog, which I do so happily. Let me just add that I've been a pleased and moved reader of Alice's "In the Gloaming" for years and was gratified that she chose to read from that very story this afternoon at KWH. Pretty soon we'll have a recording available and you can listen too.

Friday, May 14, 2010

a question for Milch

Thursday, May 13, 2010

holiday trilogy

I'm proud to have helped fund this play: "The third in [Cecilia] Corrigan’s holiday trilogy, Memorial Day combines live performance with video 'news reports' and carefully culled quotations on the subject of patriotism and nationhood. Corrigan describes this as a 'collage of influences,' noting that the play features words from Ann Coulter alongside those of Ralph Waldo Emerson." For more, go here.

Philly the day I arrived 25 years ago

Twenty-five years ago to the day I arrived in Philadelphia, having been hired as an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. As I flew in a Piedmont Airlines jet over the city, I looked below me and saw huge plumes of black smoke rising up from a neighborhood west of the west bank of the Schuylkill River. What the hell is going on? What is this city I've come to? The mayor and police had firebombed the MOVE house on Osage Avenue. Welcome to Philly, Al. Now, a quarter century later, I live on Osage Avenue.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

proletarian's table, no top

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

poetry on & off the page

In January 2000, Lingua Franca asked me to write very, very briefly in praise of a then-recent book. I chose Marjorie Perloff's Poetry On & Off the Page and here is what I wrote:

This fine collection of occasional essays is concerned with the way supposedly ordinary language becomes poetic. From The Poetics of Indeterminacy (1981) forward, Perloff has confidently, helpfully mapped contemporary poetics during a period of almost constant change. (She herself is one of the few constant features on that landscape.) Wary, as always, of holistic paradigms for the literary history of poetry, in POETRY ON & OFF THE PAGE she describes not the replacement of hip canon for square canon, "political" for "formal" poetries. Rather she shows shifts within (usually coinciding with the growth of) aesthetic movements that range across interests, forms and social formulations. Although a number of the essays have less to say about poetry per se than about, for example, Johanna Ducker's bookworks, the video art of Bill Viola, the photographs of Eugene Atget, and Christian Boltanski's simulated documentaries, I cannot think of a better introduction to contemporary poetry and poetics. Such commendation tells much about the special mode of Perloff's writings as well as the dynamic, interactive condition of experimental poetry today.

Stevens, China, wine

Edward Ragg is a poet, an expert on the poetry of Wallace Stevens, a resident of China, and a writer about wine. With Fongyee Walker, Edward blogs about wine at "Dragon Phoenix." His new book, "Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction," is due out from Cambridge this summer. Stevens' love of wine is naturally part of the book:

"Stevens was something of a wine lover, especially of the wines of Burgundy and one of the book’s chapters is entitled ‘Food, Wine and the Idealist ‘I” (the ‘I’ is a special case of the first person speaker in several of Stevens’ 1940s poems). The book proffers a long reading of perhaps Stevens’ most baffling gastronomic poem ‘Montrachet-Le-Jardin’, a text whose relationship with Burgundy and with Occupied France of 1942 is both ingenious and has previously remained tough for Stevens scholarship to decipher. Part of the book’s argument is that Stevens’ embrace of an abstract aesthetic was not confined merely to poetic or artistic concerns, but involved his everyday imagination, interests and needs, including a love of the finer things in life, with wine being no exception...."

Monday, May 10, 2010

summertime & 2010-11

Audio announcement about summertime at the Writers House and a glimpse at our 2010-11 program year: mp3.

art: clothing in piles

Christina Boltanski's artwork/installation, "No Man's Land": a huge crane and a 25-foot-high mound of salvaged clothing rising from the floor of the Park Avenue Armory’s big drill hall. Every few minutes the crane’s giant claw will pluck a random assortment of shirts, pants and dresses from the mound and then release them to flap back down randomly. Visitors can watch the action — set to a ceaseless, reverberating soundtrack of thousands of human heartbeats — from ground level, standing amid dozens of 15-by-23-foot plots of discarded jackets that extend in all directions from the mound and that may - should - evoke refugee or death camps.

"No Man's Land" is described in today's New York Times: here.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

the PennSound mothers

For Mother's Day selections from the PennSound archive and a whole lot more, follow PennSound on twitter. Click here.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

the ghostly presence of New England in Robert Grenier

Back in mid-March, I traveled to Manhattan and met Charles Bernstein and Robert Grenier at the East Side apartment of Michael Waltuch, Grenier's old friend and collaborator. We recorded part 2 of what is now a long 2-part interview with Grenier about his early years. Part 1 focused on 1959-64, with a bit of a look back to Grenier's high-school years just before that period. Part 2 goes back a bit into the early 60s but then moves forward, covering 1965 to the early and mid 1970s. If last time the central topic was Harvard, this time the central topic, as it emerged, was New England: New England in the specific biographical sense (Bob G.'s wanderings there, especially on trips shooting outward from Harvard) but also in the meta-geographical sense--New England as a haunt, a crucial (it would seem now, in Grenier's way of thinking) ghostly presence in his thinking and in his writerly development.

We are pleased to release this second interview through PennSound - available, along with part 1 and many other Grenier recordings, on PennSound's Robert Grenier author page. It's a long recording (2 hours and 11 minutes) but I hope you'll find listening to it rewarding.

Friday, May 07, 2010

short film about Second Life

Some innovative IT colleagues of mine here at Penn have made a short film about our use of the virtual world "Second Life" here. They interviewed me for it, but I'm not nearly the most lucid proponent of experimenting in SL. Watch for others.

Creeley on prosody and pacing

Back in 2000 I interviewed Robert Creeley in front of a live audience of 80 people or so at the Writers House. The recording (video and audio both) of the interview have long been available, but recently Michael Nardone has begun to draft a transcription. Note that it's not by any means finalized yet. Toward the beginning of the discussion Creeley brought out a small laptop which had loaded in it a software program called "Libretto." It was a primitive version of the much better voice transcription programs or voice recognition programs now available. In this early version a rudimentary avatar would speak a piece of text fed into it. Creeley was experimenting with prosody and wanted to dehumanize (for instance) the ballad stanza, to hear the words performed without subjectivity--as a machine would sound them. In this part of the transcript we find Creeley struggling a bit with the machine. Once it works, we hear the ballad (but it is by now unrecognizable so we've left out the verse itself in the transcript) and then Creeley discusses. (Here is a link to the audio segment transcribed.)

It will come. I still have to get the appropriate file. I just took two verses from actually a very — it doesn’t use the syncopation quite at all very much, but I am also interested in pacing, what the intervals apparent are. Again, as I say this voice is in no way expressive or interpretive. I was visiting in a pleasant school, masters school, in just Dobb’s Ferry in New York and one pleasant teacher there, a Chinese-American, said “Sounds just like my uncle.” So here we go.

Wait a minute.



Wait a minute I’m sorry. Let’s start again.

In the room, if Aaron does some—-

Let me just stop this. Abort.

I haven’t got the speaker turned on.

I’m an old man. I’m totally confused.

He’s an old man with a libretto playing a voice synthesizer.

Be that as it may.

A cool old man, Bob.

Come on, speak. Why do you never speak?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s tired.

That ended that argument once and for all.

Wait a minute, we’ll try again. Come on, I want to get it louder.

Louder, louder.

As loud as it can go.

Patience. Resume.


[Computer reads poem.]

That was monotonous Robert Creeley.

This program also allows you to slow down the tape and shift the pitch. It’s rudimentary. This is noted as a US English male H.L.



H.L. Mencken or something.

Okay, that’s enough.

All those lines are end-stops?



Whenever you don’t want Bill Gates, he appears.

So your sense of the line, your sense of rhythm at the level of the line. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about William Carlos Williams. Was that In the American Grain that voice?

Yeah, I wanted something that would not, I wanted something that would not express or read into the language overly. I didn’t want it to be necessarily a drab voice, but I wanted it to be a saying of the words that would be dependent upon their pattern than my interpretation of it.

To me one of the problems in poetry, at least one that my particular company spent a great deal of time on, was the question of the register of the text and how that might be used as an information for the person reading it, presuming he or she would be hearing it in his or her head or reading it aloud.

Olson, for example, spends a lot of time on this problem. Duncan, literally toward the end of his life, acquires what’s then a state-of-the-art word processor so he can actually set his text and have it actually reproduced as the text of the published book. Groundwork, it seems to me, it was not In the Dark, but Before the War is thus composed. Denise Levertov has the same concerns. Paul Blackburn, et cetera.

I don’t why it became such a remarkable question for us. But it really is a difference between our company and that just previous. The Objectivists, for example, seem to have these concerns but do not particularly involve them in their own recital or their own reading of their own work.

Yesterday you said that for a long while, at the beginning, you were using a typewriter, and a particular typewriter that you needed. And then you mentioned that Allen Ginsberg had genially advised you to get rid of the typewriter so you’d be maybe more mobile. Did, at first, the acquisition of the typewriter as the means of writing have anything to do with Williams, for instance, who was addicted to his typewriter?

I guess the second question is: what was it like when you got rid of the typewriter?

Well the typewriter, initially, was a great way of freeing oneself from the personalism of one’s own handwriting. I was distracted by the way I wrote. Not that I wrote incompetently but I began to be, you know, obsessed with the nature of my handwriting, which was certainly not the point of what I was doing.

I wanted something that would instantly, so to speak, objectify these words I was putting in strings. I wanted to have something, again, that would not be informed by my personal disposition in handwriting. I wanted the words to be objectified, to be actualized so to speak by being generally characterized as typewriter fonts permit, and be there on the paper as something apart from my head or my personal, physical touch. I wanted them to exist in that sense by themselves. Nothing particularly vatic or mystic. I wanted to be able to look at them the way I would look at them on a page of print, let’s say.

So what happened when you got rid of the typewriter?

I think by that time, let’s see that’s ’63 or so, by that time I had been writing more or less—I began writing, particularly, let’s say, in the late ‘40s, so it had certainly been fifteen years of habit. At that point, what was far more useful to me was a means of collecting and/or composing in any kind of physical circumstance.

You know, if you have suddenly an impulse or some inquiry of some way of wanting to get something done and you have to go look for the typewriter, it’s awkward. So that this ability to use quick handwriting, that was very, very useful.

new recordings

My own PennSound page is being updated with recent recordings--interviews, introductions and discussions. Soon I hope to add the recording of the talk on Henry Rago and the Chicago Poetry scene 1955-60, delivered in Chicago in mid-April.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

life isn't beautiful

Some weeks ago Cynthia Ozick published a short essay in Newsweek bearing the brash subtitle "Not all Holocaust art is authentic. In fact, much of it is fraudulent." While I don't agree with all her judgments here, I like the gist - the hardness, the high standard, the fussiness about the problem of representing the holocaust. Here is a link to the whole piece. And here is a telling excerpt:

Consider a handful of movies that profess to render the Holocaust. Life Is Beautiful, a naive, well-intentioned, preposterous, painfully absurd, and ignorant lie. Inglourious Basterds, a defamation, a canard—what Frederic Raphael, writing in Commentary, calls "doing the Jews a favor by showing that they, too, given the chance, coulda/woulda behaved like mindless monsters," even as he compares it to Jew Süss, the notorious Goebbels film. The Reader, like the novel it derives from, no better than Nazi porn, and drawn from the self-serving notion that the then most literate and cultivated nation in Europe may be exculpated from mass murder by the claim of illiteracy. As for Schindler's List, its most honest moment, after its parade of fake-looking victims, comes at the very close of the film, and in documentary mode, when the living survivors appear on screen.

So where can the truth be found? In Anne Frank's diary? Yes, but the diary, intended as a report, as a document, can tell only a partial and preliminary truth, since the remarkable child was writing in a shelter—precarious, threatened, and temporary; nevertheless a protected space. Anne Frank did not, could not, record the atrocity she endured while tormented by lice, clothed in a rag, and dying of typhus in Bergen-Belsen. For what we call "truth" we must go into the bottom-most interior of that hell. And as Primo Levi admonishes, only the dead went down to the Nazi hell's lowest rung.

Along the way, Ozick reserves high praise for Paul Celan's great poem "Todesfuge" ("Death is a master out of Germany"); Elie Wiesel's outcry in Night; Dan Pagis's stunted, smothered lyric; Primo Levi's sober taxonomy of brutishness. I admire these judgments (excepting that for Night - a case where I out-Ozick Ozick in deeming it too novelistic, too narratively facile).

Monday, May 03, 2010

H.D.'s desk

Lately I've been reading the blog of the Beinecke Library, called "Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities." I took special note of a recent gift made to the Beinecke: H.D.'s writing desk. Its provenance seems significant, but no one knows for sure. H.D. biographer Barbara Guest: "Said to be Christina Rosetti’s, it may originally have belonged to Empress Eugenie, who spent several years in exile in England. Bryher bought the desk for H. D. at the estate sale of Violet Hunt” (Herself Defined, 56). In the photo of the desk, in its new place in New Haven, we see a portrait H.D.'s friend and literary executor (and longtime Yale English faculty member) Norman Holmes Pearson.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


The current issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette includes a story about our apprenticeships program. Here are a few paragraphs:

The apprenticeship program began taking shape in 2002, when faculty member and novelist Max Apple approached Al Filreis, the director of the Kelly Writer’s House. Apple had been at work on a short-story collection, and was looking for a fresh reader who could offer some perspective on how to organize it. “I thought, we’ll call this an apprenticeship, and we’ll put the word out about it,” says Filreis.

Then he went one step further. He decided to form a new program, and found two other faculty members working on their own projects who could use some help. As soon as word got out, “the students applied in droves,” he recalls. “They wanted this.”

After all, this sort of real world “lab experience” is already available to students in the hard sciences. “Typically, the physics student realizes that his own professor is actually working on some very important, cutting-edge research,” he says, and from that point there’s a well-defined path for the student trying to get from the classroom to doing advanced research in a working lab. The apprenticeship model provides the missing link for a writing student trying to make the leap from an undergrad workshop class to the professional craft. “I think with this program we’ve proved … there is such a thing as advanced research experiences in the world of writing,” he says.

By establishing the Bassini Apprenticeships under the umbrella of CPCW, these courses could become credit bearing, says Filreis. The center is devoted to pedagogy that “really works” for the education of young writers, including experiences that might not necessarily take place inside a traditional classroom. “We believe very firmly that students learn best when they are essentially getting a one-on-one experience,” Filreis says, a philosophy that he compares to the intimate size of the Kelly Writer’s House. The largest room can barely hold a few dozen audience members, and “more often it’s one person talking to five people,” he says. “Narrow that down to its extreme, it’s one person talking to one person.”