Saturday, January 18, 2003
18, Saturday, : Alicia Askenase,
Molly’s Café & Books,
21, Tuesday, : Brenda Coultas, Deborah Richards, and Kathy Lou Schultz. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT
24, Friday, , Screen Words: Poets &
Poems on Video & Film. Cecilia Vicuña: What is Poetry to You?
25, Saturday, 7:30 PM, Mariana Ruiz-Firmat & Dennis Moritz, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
30, Thursday, , Erica Hunt. Author of
8, Saturday, , Mitchell Feldstein & Elizabeth Scanlon,
11, Tuesday, ,
12, Wednesday, : A launch party & reading for Issue #3 of Pom2 with a reception to follow. Hosted by editors Allison Cobb, Jen Coleman, Ethan Fugate and Susan Landers. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
20, Thursday, 8 PM, Eileen Myles, poet, novelist, former presidential candidate, author of Chelsea Girls, Skies, Not Me & other books, reads in the Temple Writers Series, Temple University Graduate Creative Writing Program, Temple Gallery, 45 North 2nd Street.
22, Saturday, 7:30 PM, Ixnay Reader Release Party- Frank Sherlock, Marcella Durand & Brett Evans, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
26, Wednesday, : The Poet & Painters series presents poet Ron Padgett. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
27, Thursday, , Ron Silliman will read in the Temple Writers Series, Temple University Graduate
Creative Writing Program, Temple Gallery,
5, Wednesday, , Johanna Drucker. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT. (There also may be a workshop at – check with Writers House re limited seat availability.)
19, Wednesday, , Dennis Barone. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
20, Thursday, Time TBA, Brad Leithauser. Kelly
Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn
campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT. (An event
in the evening from 6 until 9 will be held at
25, Tuesday, , Interview & webcast with Laurie Anderson. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT. RSVP's required to firstname.lastname@example.org.
27, Thursday, 8: Symposium on Blues, Jazz, and American Literature, with
Pew Fellows Sonia Sanchez (so many
books, including *Does Your House Have Lions?* and *Shake Loose My Skin: New
and Selected Poems*) and Major Jackson
(*Leaving Saturn*), with critics Robert O'Meally (Director of the Center for Jazz Studies at
Columbia University, editor of the anthology *The Jazz Cadence of American
Culture*, biographer of Billie Holiday etc) and Farah Griffin (*If You Can't Be Free, Be A Mystery: In Search of Billie
Holiday*). Scheuer Room Kohlberg Hall,
27, Thursday, Simon Pettet. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
3, Thursday, , Simon Ortiz. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
3, Thursday, : Arts Cafe - Al Filreis's preceptorial mini-course on "Three Contemporary Philadelphia Poets" presents a reading and discussion with poets Jessica Lowenthal, Tom Devaney, & Gil Ott. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
8, Tuesday, 7:30: Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott (*Omeros*, *Tiepolo's Hound*, *The Bounty*, *The Odyssey: A Stage Version*, *What the Twilight Says*), in a reading sponsored by the Marianne Moore Fund for the Study of Poetry, Thomas Great Hall, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr. For further information, contact Helene Studdy at the Bryn Mawr College Office for the Arts, 610-526-5210.
9, Wednesday, ,
15, Tuesday, , Anne Waldman. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
23, Wednesday, 7 PM: A reading featuring Futurepoem books with poets Garrett Kalleberg and Rachel Levitsky with introductions by Futurepoem books Publisher Dan Machlin with a reception to follow. Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, on the Penn campus. For more information, call 215-573-WRIT.
24, Thursday, Janet Zweig’s
Text Machines, with Jena Osman. Slought Gallery,
15, Thursday, Thalia Field, Jamie Jewett,
Alexander Devaron, collaborative
performance: Seven Veils: A Night of
Poetry in Moving Media. Slought
To make a copy of the Philadelphia Progressive Poetry Calendar using either Internet Explorer or Netscape, highlight the text in your browser, right click on your mouse & select “copy.” Then paste the copy into any word processing program, save the file & print out as needed.
Friday, January 17, 2003
After Berkeley, Robert Grenier taught at Tufts University, then moved on to Franconia College, an experimental school tucked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The move, as well as Grenier’s departure from the masthead of This, put him further outside of the scene, as such. At the same time, however, Grenier’s writing was developing rapidly. Gradually world filtered west of new poems that were being written not on pages, as such, but on cards. At one point there was a show of such cards, either at or near Franconia.
Grenier was hardly the only poet to be showing cards in a gallery setting during that period – Yoko Ono & Jim Rosenberg both had occasions to attach words to heavyweight paper to wall (& in Ono’s case ceiling) – but Grenier’s focus on language had expanded so dramatically during this period that poems like “WINTRY” & “a long walk” seem positively literary, in the old-fashioned sense of that word, by comparison.
This published a sampling of 30 cards in its fourth issue in the Spring of ’73. But it wasn’t until Michael Waltuch’s Whale Cloth Press published “the box,” Sentences, five full years later, that the scale & scope of Grenier’s work really came into view. It’s a project that I would suspect has had a profound impact on every reader who ever gave it serious attention.
I’ve written in the past about both Grenier (in Verdure 3&4) & Sentences per se (a review in the American Book Review in 1979) in the past & don’t feel the need to rehearse those arguments here, other than to underscore the degree to which Grenier saw things that nobody prior to him had envisioned as literature. In some ways, it is the very plainest of these poems that are the most truly radical:
twelve to twelve to one
A text like the one above is not only “about” found language, but presents a dance of symmetry at the level of syntax & asymmetry at the level of letters that will never settle into a balanced, stable whole. Like an optical illusion – such as a Necker cube – the poem will never resolve. There is more going on in these five words than in many books by normative “mainstream” poets.
Even the publication in a box-of-cards format was designed to unsettle any presumptions the reader might, literally, bring to the table. Michael Davidson used to tell a story about assigning Sentences to students at UC San Diego who would dutifully head up to the rare book archive, set it down on a table on begin reading through, only to have Davidson show up, come over to their table & begin shuffling the cards as the students struggled with their impulse to become hysterical.
Now the cut-up, regardless of whether you trace it back to Brion Gyson, Bob Cobbing or just Allen Ginsberg straightening up the papers on Bill Burroughs’ floor in Tangiers, likewise predates Sentences by some time. Grenier’s genius lies in specifically asking the reader to take on the consequent role of ordering the units. As such, each card thus must float free.
is not building towards
the sky flurries
any more than it is toward
or vice versa. By removing “before” & “after” from the book of poetry – or at least by rendering it visibly arbitrary – Grenier has in fact created “new sentences” in a way that had not been previously possible, let alone contemplated. Indeed, I’ve often felt as though I was given much more than my own share of credit for my talk, ”The New Sentence,” when something like Sentences demonstrates the degree to which I was merely stating the obvious, somewhat clumsily at that.
I’ve written with regard to the Objectivists that I’ve often thought that the poetry of the 1950s, from Ginsberg to Olson to the Ashbery of Tennis Court Oath, seemed much more revolutionary precisely because there had been a break in the historical record & that the moderating connection between the generation of Pound & Williams & these post-war poets was (temporarily) lost.* In something of a reverse dynamic, I sometimes think that language poetry has been integrated all too comfortably into the spectrum of post-New American poetries in part because its most revolutionary works, specifically Sentences, haven’t been more widely distributed. You cannot find it anywhere in Abebooks.com, nor even Grenier’s 1979 oversized (40” by 48”) poster – or, to be accurate, book in the form of a poster – from Tuumba Press, CAMBRIDGE M’ASS. Functionally, an entire generation of poets have come along who have only had occasion to see these works either second hand – in a library or someone else’s home – or excerpted in formats that cancel out at least some of the elements of the work, as in the 28 pieces contained in In the American Tree, the book freezing the order in spite of all otherwise good intentions**.
All of this hopefully is soon to change. What’s occasioned my thinking on Grenier this week has been a chance to beta test a still unannounced site that, when complete, will make Sentences available in a fully equivalent electronic version, a wonderful solution. At one level this approach seems “obvious,” albeit ironic insofar as Grenier – like Clark Coolidge – has been one of the last poets to resist the onset of computing.*** There are still some bugs to work through but, overall, I can already tell that the site is going to be wonderful – and accurate to the impulse of the work itself. For example, each time a reader proceeds through the deck, the cards will appear in a new & different order. When the site is fully up & running, I’ll be certain to make a note of it here. If you haven’t yet read Sentences, the opportunity will soon be at hand.
* Thus Oppen has been misread on occasion as being a far more conservative poet of the 1960s than ever was the case. In fact, he was a radical poet of the 1930s who was being viewed from a very different historical context. The more interesting (if unanswerable) question is whether Olson or Ginsberg could have been who they were in a world in which Objectivism had not been erased.
** This explains the otherwise awkward title, “A Sequence / 28 Separate Poems from Sentences,” used in the anthology.
*** The irony is compounded as even Grenier’s most recent “scrawl” texts have been most widely distributed via the web.
Labels: Robert Grenier
Thursday, January 16, 2003
If “a long walk” was not speech, Robert Grenier’s “WINTRY” certainly was:
Dagny Dagny calling
call me call me
lazy prairie icy
nicely nicely nicely Norwegians
vell I, well I
vell I, vell I
snowy vell I
vell I don’t know
oh vell I, oh well, I
well I don’t know
oh, vell, I don’t know
a sod hut
One can almost hear Frances
McDormand in the 1996 film Fargo speaking these last
three stanzas while chewing a hoagie, battling morning sickness &
extracting a leg from a wood chipper. Like the Coen
Brothers film, which I’ve sometimes thought of as being little more than an
extension of this poem by
In 1970, Grenier was quite
clear in stating the revolutionary nature of his intentions toward literature.
While his “I HATE SPEECH” comment from the first issue of This*, the journal that Grenier initially edited with
While Grenier was not the only person doing interesting new work in 1970 that was clearly already outside of – or beyond, if you prefer – the New American framework – Bernadette Mayer, Clark Coolidge & Jackson Mac Low are all cases in point – he was the one person actively arguing for the position’s revolutionary potential. This is why, in retrospect, it has always been easy to identify the “origin” of language poetry. Grenier let everyone know early on that to investigate new alternatives required a break with a past, even as his “recuperation” of Pieces into a version of Projectivism demonstrated that this new model in his head was in fact insistently loyal at least to the abstract principles, as Grenier saw them, of one particular version of the New American perspective.
It would be hard to overestimate the impact Grenier’s poetry & perspective had on the writers around him. In the thirty years since it was first written, I doubt that there has been a week in which I did not find myself reciting “WINTRY,” all or in part. If there is an “Ur-poem” somewhere deep in my imagination, a mantra for what poetry might be, that poem is it.
* Green Apple Books in
Labels: Robert Grenier
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Twenty five years ago, Whale Cloth Press published what at the time was the most radically innovative poetry project I’d ever seen, Robert Grenier’s Sentences. Rereading it today, Sentences still qualifies as the furthest anyone has pushed poetry & form in the investigation of the world:
The above is just one of 500 cards, 5 inches high, 8 inches wide, text typed (in “landscape” format) in Courier from an IBM Selectric typewriter, housed in a dark blue cloth covered folding box. You could shuffle the cards & there was a rumor that no two boxes had the works in the same order. This was, Whale Cloth & Grenier seemed to be insisting, a book.
It was as if nobody had ever
taken the time before Grenier to just simply look at the language. When his
work first began to telescope down from the mid-level lyrics that he was
composing as this one-time Robert Lowell protégé left Iowa City for a teaching
job at Berkeley – a job obtained in good part on the recommendation of James
Tate & Richard Tillinghast – it occurred in a climate in which the most
radical book anyone had ever seen or even imagined was
I first met Grenier when I
transferred to UC Berkeley for the Spring term in
1970. I had dropped out of
Because I didn’t have enough
units to transfer as a junior to
One of my clusters was a
group of short, Williams-esque poems, the core it
would later turn out of my first book Crow.
Both Melnick & Nameroff suggested that I should I submit that group to the
Joan Yee Lang Award contest, whose judge was Robert Grenier, somebody I’d never
heard of before. “He likes short poems,” Melnick insisted. This turned out to
be excellent advice, as I won the award before ever having met the judge. One
day later that Spring, however, Grenier introduced
himself to me at Serendipity Books, in those days a great poetry bookshop on
I didn’t really get to know
Grenier well until the following fall when I attempted to do a special study
course on Louis Zukofsky only to discover that almost nobody at
In 1970, it was evident to any of the young writers around Grenier that he was rethinking poetry from the ground up. If Creeley’s Pieces offered poetry as it might descend from Louis Zukofsky’s short poems by way of Ted Berrigan, Grenier was adding Stein into the mix as well as the Williams of Spring & All, which Harvey Brown had just published, suddenly demonstrating the good doctor not only to be the epitome of a speech-based poetics that everyone had recognized for the previous 20 years, but also the most consciously radical critic of poetry of the first half of the 20th century – which came as a total surprise of many. On top of this, Grenier wasn’t merely mixing influences in a new way – although he was doing that also – he was gradually insisting that anything, anything, looked at closely enough could become poetry. His works from that period – which make up the first two pages of In the American Tree, were working themselves down toward a new level of minimalism not seen before in American poetry:
a long walk
walk a long
walk a long
To poets raised on the writings of Duncan, Spicer, Olson, Creeley & Zukofsky – which is exactly where I was coming from – the sheer gait of this poem, with its deliberately limping prosody, was like an explosion in the face of everything I’d ever known. This was not speech.
Labels: Robert Grenier
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
NB: Monkey Puzzle would love you to know that they can be reached at email@example.com
Insurance Books will publish Knowledge Follows, a chapbook-length poem by David Perry, later this year. If the excerpt that appears in the first issue of Monkey Puzzle is any evidence, it already promises to be one of the best books of the new year.
At first glance, Knowledge Follows is a series of linked pieces, mostly (tho not entirely) in verse form. I wasn’t actually planning to read it, I was just thumbing through the issue, trying to get a sense of who & what were there, particularly given the unhelpful table of contents that lists contributors only by their first names, when I came across this:
for ourselves: shoe trees, the original
rack, truncheons, pestles, magazines
everywhere reflection spreads
the rumor we were there – in the nave,
shooting up the cemetery, cracking
on the plain, running
from the unpredicted ellipse . . .
as if the universe were the ultimate
with direct feeds to the head
Perry instantly lets the
reader know that he’s in total control of his medium. The directness of address
& level of detail invokes the genre of a top-notch page turner, even if the
details are not what one might anticipate. Or, more accurately, precisely because the details were not what one
might anticipate we are driven that much deeper into the
The ensuing section extends this initial thread, but that’s the exception here, not the rule. Rather, Knowledge Follows ranges in several directions, while pulling out themes, particularly around communication, that become familiar because elements have appeared previously:
. . . as if children were understood
neither heard nor seen.
Who’s to argue with not only
communication but understanding?
Our lifelong self-experiment with perspective
found itself up against the wall.
As the section above, quoted in its entirety, suggests, Perry offers a wry, dry wit, but is ultimately more serious in his approach than we are used to from poets associated with the NY School’s Gen XXXIX.
Between these rather well-architected fragments & the question of the excerpt from the reader’s perspective, it’s impossible to know just how much of the total book is included in Monkey Puzzle. I can’t tell from the six pages here if this might be half of the eventual chapbook or if it, in fact, might simply be the first installment in something far larger – certainly Perry’s control in these sections indicates that he’s capable of it.
While there have been projects associated with the NY School that have entered into that intermediary book-length poem space, from Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On to Ashbery’s Three Poems & Flow Chart – a deeply underappreciated work – to longer projects from Bernadette Mayer, Anne Waldman, Paul Violi & even David Lehman, there never has been a longpoem from this aesthetic tendency – not in the sense of taking at least a decade to compose the poem. This taste of Perry’s work makes me hungry for someone to explore that possibility.
One clue here may the degree
of finish in Perry’s sections or fragments. They are quite different than what,
say, Rachel Blau DuPlessis has characterized as the “debris” that she
incorporates into her own Drafts. The
result is that each section of Knowledge
Follows feels complete almost in the way of a lyric poem. One wonders how a
truly long poem of infinitely digestible bits could be accomplished – there’s
Another thing that is
interesting here is that I come away with a strong sense of David Perry’s skill
as a writer, but not one particularly of who he is as a person. He could 25 or he
could be 55, at least based on these pages. All I really know about him is that
he’s around the
Monday, January 13, 2003
My blog on film & poetry last Wednesday provoked a lot of thoughtful email. Murat Nemet-Nejat picks up the Godard thread:
Your connecting writing with Godard in the cinema is very acute. Godard analyzes (more than visually describes) the nature of writing, writing process itself in some of his movies. The movie which particularly comes to my mind is Les Carabiniers. It starts, I think, with quotes from The Communist Manifesto and is interspersed throughout with letters from the soldiers to their wives, all embodying a dialectics of war. The end of the movie reverses the process into a series of postcards from all over the world, the "fruits" of war as image.
More than any other director, I think, Godard deals with the relationship between words (language) and image, creating a synthesis – the movie essay. Though part of this fusion is Brechtian, it goes beyond that; creates a poetry of the word (as detached text)/the eye. What one experiences in Godard is a visual writing process.
As a poet I am very interested in this Godardian process, from the reversed angle: how to make poetry cinematic (something you believe poetry is not). My poem, "Steps," which will appear in the next issue of Mirage, focuses very much on this impossibility. Green Integers published three weeks ago my long essay, The Peripheral Space of Photography*, which also struggles with the same issues.
In the movie Frida Frida Kahlo comes out, in my opinion, as a bad painter**, exactly for the reason you suggested. In one place it focuses on one of her paintings where two bodies are joined by a heart or arteries or something like that, pointing to her painting "what is in the heart." The movie lives for me when it creates its own images, maybe as parallel images, for example, Frida burning in her bed or the amazing streetcar accident sequence.
* The book is Green Integer no. 76, but is not yet listed on the web site. An official announcement should be made this week.
** I don’t think that Murat is suggesting that Kahlo is a bad painter, only that the film presents her as one –consistent with my own earlier theme of misrepresentation. But, before I am flooded with email on this point, I want to be clear that I think Kahlo is one of the dozen or so great masters of the 20th century. As was her husband, the painter who has probably had the greatest impact on my own poetry.
Sunday, January 12, 2003
It’s rare for a poet to radically change the primary drive of their verse as they age. If anything, the very opposite is more apt to occur, for the poet to progressively stand more revealed, for the approach to the poem to move closer & closer to those first instincts toward writing that drove them to the poem, that ever so uneconomic pursuit, whether at age ten, 17 or perhaps 35.
I’ve always thought that this was because the largest impediment to writing was not lack of training or of skill, but rather the degree of cultural baggage that we – I’m including myself here as much as anyone – bring to the poem, the instant we go from thinking about writing, a condition of absolute desire, to the actual attempt to make literature, to get words onto paper. There is an enormous gap between that first state & the second, one that we all perpetually fill with all manner of extraneous crap, everything that we imagine that Literature (capital L) is supposed to be. When we’re just starting out – & I’m definitely speaking for myself here – it’s almost impossible to find the poem through the Literature.
Thus a good writing program would not only be one that introduced the fledgling poet to all the possible strains that are being explored (& have been, historically) in the poem, but one also that will help the poet to strip away whatever might prove inessential. So much of growing up as a poet has to do with unlearning as much (if not more) than it does learning.
I was ruminating over this
while reading Alan Davies’ admirable new chapbook, Book 2, published conjointly by Other Publications (Alan’s own
label) with Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs. The Alan Davies I first knew through
correspondence back in the early 1970s was an ardent & exceptionally
well-educated surrealist out of
Book 2 is a single 26-page poem – I don’t know if there is a Book 1 somewhere.* Stanzas alternate their orientation toward the margin & linebreaks:
And then the weepings
start to wail
all over the pale green bodices
A little bit of cadenced
envelops this compact hardness
and lets us feel that we have
less hard heart
Somewhere some hunger still lunges
The warm swallowed sallow sadness
that time micturates
settle like a nettle
in a warm breeze
Often throughout this work,
as in this passage, multiple things are going on at once. At one level, it is a
surrealist text, although surrealism of a late & particularly North
American kind, one that is as aware of
I’m intrigued, to say the least, at the idea of someone who can use a literary tendency lovingly, as Davies does here, while in the same moment ratcheting up its characteristic features into a text that is more than just a little over-the-top. In part, he does this by understanding the separateness of eye & ear in the poem & using them – simultaneously – to different ends. It’s not a question here of the bicameral mind so much as it is of the ability of a reader to multitask within the performance of the reading itself. It’s not an uncommon human experience – anyone who has eaten while driving or surfed the web while talking on the phone will have exercised similarly divergent skills – what’s remarkable is that Davies manages to set this up within the poem itself.
Davies has earned his reputation as an artist who is unafraid to try the outrageous, but a work like Book 2 demonstrates that he does so with a purpose. Underneath the dream syntax of surrealism has always lurked an idealized landscape, a certain tragic heroism visible, say, in the moonscapes of a Dali or Tanguy, and which comes across in poetry as an unspecified urgency. Davies pushes his imagery to the point of parody & uses sound to undercut any residual earnestness.
Davies goes further, letting the reader in on the process:
Waiting for the words
willing and waiting
Or should they then
up ended be
Or be up ended
unseen but heard
I try to imagine how Davies could have written this – it’s mysterious almost in the same way that Christian Bök’s ability to create parallel poems using the same letters in the same order, but with different words, is mysterious. It’s not just that every stanza, sometimes every line, undercuts the ones above, but that they often perform this process on themselves. Thus this “little gerbil fettered thing” is completely serious, for all of its flamboyant nonsense.
Davies has moved so far inside his original surrealist impulses as to have arrived at some new place altogether. An interesting point of contrast might be someone like Ashbery, whose surrealism is far softer, almost decorative, & whose wit is more consciously (& cautiously) subtle – in a place where subtlety is not necessarily a value. If Ashbery’s texts are perfect little luxury machines of language, Davies is mounting a far more serious argument with a far sillier façade. If you rip the language apart, what lies underneath?
Two also happens to be the title of a work by