Saturday, April 24, 2004

 
If you are going to Molly's, I seriously recommend that you call ahead to confirm. Within the past couple of weeks, the dates for the Berrigan reading and Linh Dinh's reading have changed. A large group reading was announced for this coming Wednesday, then cancelled because of the conflict with the Rosenbach reading. You also need to RSVP in advance for the Rosenbach reading -- it's a big reading in a small venue.


 
The final calendar of this school year has now moved to May 9.


Friday, April 23, 2004

 

There was a time when the progressive poetry community in Philadelphia consisted entirely of Gil Ott, Rachel Blau DuPlessis & Toby Olson. DuPlessis has been a pioneer at everything she has done. Her ongoing long poem Drafts is proving to be one of the major poetic achievements of our time.

 

The Alphabet for Rosenbach: K

 

Kith and Kin

cattle and Kine

Milton’s hair

provokes Keats’ rhyme.

 

K will leap from lines like X.

One WunderKammer fetish boxed

in apparatuses of keep

will rocK your socKs, cue your sex,

hit the Keister, KicK the moon.

Yo! Kiss my wrinKled

Bonnie Doon.

 

Lips that marK a rosy barb

Kiss me into Kismet parK.

Greta’s Kiss on Miss M’s garb.

Kiss my stocKing, kiss my shoe.

Kiss my complete thing you do.

 

K is found in KnocK and Know.

though it’s hard to make it show.

K is for Potassium.

K comes from the hollow hand.

K the Kumquat that it holds.

Jot and tittle, dotty com.

KnicK-KnacKs elf museum shelf.

Click the Klaxon, KinK the molds.

CooK your Kohl to O your eye.

See whole alphabets pass by.

 

K will Couple you, K will Double you,

these manu-scraps from Kudzu hives.

This the primary pigment of primer;

this the Kissing cosine twining lives.

 

All Very Letters refract inside the sentence.

Scattered, scattering, Keyhole iotas

open abcdarium armoires.

And at the end, as linK, and blanK, and marK,

a pinK-red ticket discard

falls from the inexhaustible arK.

 

 

 

Dear Ron — amused by your Blog's careful description of the ambiance of the Rosenbach curio cabinet and by our task, as well as by your poem. I am enclosing mine. I found it interesting how this little task was so symbolic of the different ways people think of the nature of the poem; I suspect that is what will be visible in the reading. I mean, the process of accomplishing it, for me, was like a miniaturized version of the larger processes of writing my "real" works. First of all, I was fueled by resistance to my particular vitrine, and more attracted to 3 K's elsewhere — Keats with Milton's hair, the Kiss on the sock, and Knives (in the primer of street chants in your vitrine). Knives disappeared (becoming hives! i.e. a rhyme word). Kiss seemed to be part of what people did as couples and as kin. I began with twin words, but did not moralize this or point it out — kith and kin are the same concept in different English dialect words; same with cattle and kine. (that's where kissing cousin comes from — it is apparently really kith and cousin; I distort that as "kissing cosine"). I was VERY conscious of picking k words and also words with hard-c (pronounced K). Anyway, one of the oddities of "kin" as a rubric is that neither married couples nor gay couples (featured in my vitrine) are technically "kin." They both may become families that create kin. They are more like "twins" or doubles. But anyway, I was struck (in your poem too) at how chant or primer or a nursery rhyme was one of the immediate and provocative dictions or tones to assume. Of course then the call inside my practice to maximize sound, puns/wit, to intensify and enrich each word choice sort of vibrated between issues of sound and issues of rhythm/syntax while making a meaning (as it always does for me).

 

Intellectually, I was struck with 2 things — the absolute fetish-y nature of these museum objects, perhaps even including texts and manuscript (not to speak of the baseball). Thus, bec of fetish, focusing on that sock with kiss became necessary. And second, I was struck with the way any part of the alphabet calls to all other parts, once you isolate "a" letter as such. Hence, I wanted to do something like Ronald Johnson and maximize the number of allusions to other letters of the alphabet, visually (K looks like X) and in puns (put a circle around = O; See = C). Of course I was all over the dictionary with K, trying to get some odd K words to play with. I didn't have enough page/time to do this totally — either to maximize K words or to pun on other letters — this poem is already too long (and has a fuck you, too bad attitude to that fact), but/so I couldn't go on with it because it would be much too long. I typed this version out with capital K for each K, but I think it looks odd (and I think I missed a few, also!). See you,

 

Rachel



Thursday, April 22, 2004

 

I ran my contribution to the R as in Rosenbach (26 Letters, 26 Poets) project (culminating in a big group reading next Wednesday at 6 PM) last Friday. I want to run a few more of the contributions here just to give a flavor of the different approaches poets might take to the same project. Nathalie Anderson is the author of Following Fred Astaire & My Hand My Only Map. She teaches at Swarthmore, publishes a comprehensive email calendar of Philadelphia area poetry events and is the poet-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum.  

 

 

M

 

 

I.

 

Mm he says, like his mouth is full.  Mmm-mm
like his mouth is full of her.  Happiest
when she’s ripe, when she’s mellowed, well-seasoned –
peach for his sole plate, and every reason
to be grateful.  Kept, well-kept, kept dark, kept
in the dark: keeps her mouth well shut, and he – mm

keeps his mouth shut on her.  License, he says,
my roving hands, and then he says O my
America!  for my sake wear the Star.
I look at all your pictures at your dear Hair….
My dearest friend, he calls her.  Never Emma,
though Ever Ever More Than Ever hers.

He keeps his mouth shut on her.  Jealous and irked:
she’s the purse at his lips.  Wet through and cold:
she’s the tea for his tongue.  He’s willed her his cash,
absolutely your own, though morseled in trust.
What will he say when he’s called to the scaffold?
He’s blotted that page out.  He’s licked it with ink.

 

II.

 

When I was his mistress I stayed in all day
keeping the books, washing the sheets, writing
intelligent letters.  I wore the stars
in my hair, wore my own skin to bed, wore
only the rings my mother left me.  Spring
flares, and I flare.  Even at my age?

m.

 

 

 

 

Notes:

 

M Is For Mistress: this box contains:  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; Benjamin Franklin’s “Advice to a young man on the choice of a mistress,” in which Franklin suggests an older woman, because she’ll be grateful; a semi-suicide note by Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, who died mysteriously with one mistress and left money to a second; a 17th century commonplace book, in which John Donne’s “To His Mistress, Going to Bed” has been (in the words of the Rosenbach’s descriptive text) “heavily defaced with ink” and only with difficulty “recovered by the process of infrared reflectography”; and a letter of 6 March 1801 from Horatio, Lord Nelson to Emma Hamilton in which the following phrases appear: “The Star I have given you to wear for My Sake”; “I look at all your pictures at your dear Hair”; “My Dearest friend”; “wet through & cold”; “absolutely your own”; and “your dear kind friendly and intelligent letters.”  Nelson’s letter includes the jealous comment “Then I think you may see that fellow,” apparently referring to the Prince of Wales, but ends: “Ever Ever Ever / Your Your Your / More Than Ever / Yours Yours Your / Own Only Your / Nelson & Bronte.”



Wednesday, April 21, 2004

 

Here is the second question for the next batch of the 9 for 9 project:

 

You are granted access to put anything you want on a highway billboard thousands of commuters will see each day. What will you put up there?

 

Can I have an electronic billboard? If so it would read:

 

Who Dies as Bush Lies?

 

Beneath which would run a continuous loop identifying every American who has died in Iraq by name, age & home town.



Tuesday, April 20, 2004

 

Craig Allen Conrad’s 9 for 9 project is a collection of 9 questions for 9 poets and their answers – being done, I believe, in 9 sets. I’ve recently been added to the latest cluster & given my first two questions. Here is the first one:

 

Extraterrestrials have made friends with the director of your local community center. The director asks you to teach an introductory poetry class to the aliens. Give us a glimpse at how you’d conduct this introduction (assume they have just learned English, but assume there’s no writing on their planet comparable to our poetry on Earth).

 

Writing itself is that medium that enables one individual to communicate with him- or herself or another at a separate time or place. Whatever serves that function socially one might term writing, however it may be recorded. Poetry is the art form of the communicative function. Just as music is the art form of sound & of listening & the visual arts are the art forms the visual & of sight, poetry is the form that explores & exploits the ability to communicate. Communicating & communicating remotely, whether in time or space, aren’t precisely the same, but for most earthlings, they’re close enough so that one doesn’t note the difference, save for a few (e.g., David Antin) who insist on presence.

 

All symbolic action necessarily connects three different axes of possibility – they correspond to Jakobson’s six functions of language – address & addressee, contact & code, signifier & signified. What one does within these realms, how one orders them, to what one gives priority, is largely personal & historical. Often in my own mind I think of these like the six sides of a die – regardless of how it is thrown, there will always be one side that is up, another down, & one or two others that are facing the viewer. In poetry it is very much like that as well.

 

It’s easy enough to imagine teaching poetry to anyone – anything that uses sound as a system for communication with a graphic system for the representation of that sound system. This seems to me to replicate what I think of as the Star Trek problem – all the aliens look like guys in suits & makeup. It would be far more interesting to imagine what poetry might be in a world without sound, or one in which the “poets” communicated psychically. The former, I am certain, would be very different from our own poetry of the deaf which, as Michael Davidson has noted, already experiences the “scandal of voice.” The latter I can’t even imagine, save as the play of the phenomenal sensorium as tho it were a Theremin.

 

I would be far more interested to find out what their poetry was than to communicate my own.



Monday, April 19, 2004

 

Robert Creeley came to Villanova last week, the final reading in that school’s annual series curated by poet Lisa Sewell. Where Harryette Mullen, who appeared earlier in the series, had read in a largish classroom in the building that contains the English Department offices, Creeley found himself in a lounge upstairs in the student union, where the heavy plush couches & easy chairs — half of which faced away from the podium — virtually all had cards reading “please do not move the furniture.” This continued to confirm a theory I’m developing, that colleges never have genuinely decent reading spaces for poetry. Villanova is just sort of middlin’ in this regard — I can’t say that Temple or Penn or Berkeley or SF State are any better, for example, nor are they really all that much worse. For all of the energy & good vibes at the Kelly Writers House, you’d better not attract 50 people to a reading, because ten or twelve people will have to stand in the next room, their view occluded by heads, a wall, even a fireplace.

 

But Creeley drew twice that many, with people twisting on sofas or sitting crosswise over the arms the chair to get a view, although Creeley himself chose not to stand at the podium, noting that at 77 he knows better than to try & stand for an hour that late in the day. Krishna & I had arrived 20 minutes early for the reading — Tim Yu, take note — only to discover that all of the chairs facing in the right direction were already taken, save for one that was actually behind the podium itself. Which is where I ended up as the room filled to SRO conditions. Since Creeley was sitting on a table on the far side, with the podium mike twisted snakelike downward to catch his voice, I had sort of an odd sideways vantage for what followed. In actuality, tho, I spent much of the reading following the poems from If I were writing this that Creeley was reading.

 

For the most, Creeley read from the latter half of that book, from page 44 onward, skipping a few things, but then adding two other pieces at the end. By my notes, the poems he read from If I were writing this were as follows:

 

·         Clemente’s Images

·         For Anya

·         Memory

·         ”If I were writing this . . .”

·         Yesterdays

·         Ground Zero

·         John’s Song

·         Emptiness

·         Memory

 

As he read, I thought to myself that he was focusing on elegies, a concern that is sharply defined in the book’s latter half, whereas the first half seems to me centered around the extraordinary sequence “En Famille, but that’s an illusion. For one thing, “En Famille” is the first series in the book’s second part. There are three sections, tho I don’t feel or hear them as such. Further, one of the book’s most moving elegies, “’When I heard the learn’d astronomer…,’” for Allen Ginsberg, appears in the first section. That poem as well as elegies later for Kenneth Koch & for “Phil” (Whalen, I think, tho I guess Guston is possible also) were not read. Finally, it’s a stretch to hear “Clemente’s Images” or “For Anya” as elegiac.

 

And, as important, there was a second, more political tone implicit in Creeley’s reading. Not just in a poem with explicit political connotation such as “Ground Zero,” but in a piece the Creeley characterized as a tribute to John Taggart, “John’s Song,” that Creeley read twice, not pausing between readings, but sounding it again as if to invoke its particular urgency:

 

If ever there is
if ever, if ever
there is, if ever there is.

 

If ever there is
other than war, other
than where war was, if ever there is.

If ever there is
no war, no more war, no other than us
where war was, where it was.

No more war, dear brother,
no more, no more war
if ever there was.

 

But even here, intent as this poem is on a possibility that exists in language & dream only, a poem of desire that one feels as sadness — “if ever” — one senses that these are the concerns of a man Creeley’s age, like having two poems in the same book with the title “Memory.”

 

These same themes & emotions are foregrounded in the first of two poems that Creeley read that was not from his most recent book, nor even by his own hand — Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” Indeed, one can hear that poem in a very different or new way if one hears lines like

 

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in

 

with Creeley’s voice. Arnold’s “Where ignorant armies clash by night” comes across even more starkly not just in Creeley’s New England enunciation, which has softened over the decades, but with the knowledge that 137 years after Arnold penned those words, they are even more true than they were at the time.

 

Creeley closed with what he characterized as a song, “Help!” Written originally for Bruce Jackson’s Buffalo Report, the poem was republished online by Counterpunch, You can find it under that latter link. The piece’s Seuss-like rhythms —

 

Maybe just to be safe,

Maybe just to go home,

Maybe just to live

Not scared to the bone

 

— bespeak a desire to move toward optimism & action:

 

Use your head,

Don’t get scared,

Stand up straight,

Show what you’re made of.

 

Yet there is a brittleness here also that underscores exactly how far we might be from emotion recollected in tranquility:

 

America’s heaven,

Let’s keep it that way

Which means not killing,

Not running scared,

 

Not being a creep,

Not wanting to get “them.”

 

The desire not to be a creep is, while noble enough, hardly a positive vision. And the line “America’s heaven” won’t make it past the nearest reservation, barrio or ghetto without a predictable response. Rather, I hear them as indications very much like if ever there was of a longing for something not present, not available, something promised long ago never to have been delivered.

 

Creeley spoke between poems, especially preceding “For Anya,” a poem about “the outside” that is the existential extension of proprioception* — Creeley was, after all, Olson’s figure for it — about the perfectionism that haunted his youth, which he characterized as a mode of Yankee uptightness. “You can afford to write a bad poem, now,” he quoted Allen Ginsberg as advising, with the implication that this would be a good thing. Similarly, Creeley suggested that the famous “I Know a Man” was, like so much of his early work, written so as to be impregnable from outside assault. Not so much a perfect poem as a well defended one. He had not been able to break away from that, he said, until Pieces.

 

Now, however, one sees Creeley finding actual advantage in such works — there are kinds of statements one might make in an imperfect poem that would elude one in a less problematic text. The struggle & confusion one must confront at the far end of a lifespan amidst a world still much in turmoil makes great sense as such an occasion, here on the darkling plain.

 

 

 

 

* Proprioception, the absence within, is that knowledge of the body one gets kinesthetically from feeling one’s organs literally rubbing against one another, something that is possible only if there is something inside that is “not the body” through which they can move.



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