Tuesday, July 04, 2006

 

I will be on the road for the next few weeks, mostly in the Bay Area, but with side excursions to Yosemite & San Diego. As always when I try to “vacate,” I’m leaving the laptop in the docking station. So while I may post & may even read my email once or twice, I can’t (and shan’t) make any promises as to where or when. In the meantime, I recommend that you check out some of the many fine blogs listed in the blogroll to the left.



Monday, July 03, 2006

 

Some last (and lasting) images of the Naropa Summer Writing Program:

Both Naropa and the program have grown up quite a bit since I was here last in 1994. Gone is the large canvas tent that was home to all of the major events back in the day. I ran into people, even on the Naropa staff, who seemed never to have heard of this fragile bit of infrastructure, so perfect for huddling together under during thunderstorms. In 1994, the tent was virtually the signature of the program. The program seems busier & far more efficient than it was 12 years ago.

Overall, my impression is that the quality of the students as writers has risen as well. The top-level students are about where they were then, but this time I didn’t come into contact with any folks who were there just because they were lost souls.

I had forgotten just how busy they keep the faculty. If I wasn’t teaching, I was preparing to teach pretty much the entire week. I only saw Keith Abbott once, at a dinner for faculty on Monday night – and really had only two moments during the whole week where I got to do something spontaneous because I had the time: sneak off after my student interviews on Wednesday to catch An Inconvenient Truth¹ at one of the funkiest theaters in the United Artists’ chain & take an impromptu trip to a coffee house with Elizabeth Willis, Alan Gilbert, Lisa & Jenn Jarnot on Saturday.

I had not realized that Lisa has a sister who is a terrific visual artist (see here).

Poet whose work I didn’t know at all before coming to Boulder whose reading opened my eyes: Max Regan. Writers whose work I knew, but whom I had never met before in person: Rebecca Brown, Thalia Field, Bim Ramke, Joe Amato, Barbara Barg, Kass Fleisher, Michael Friedman, Noah Eli Gordon, Laird Hunt, Donald Preziosi.

The acronym for the Summer Writing Program, SWP, is used also by the Socialist Workers Party & Sherwin Williams Paint. So far as I can tell, Naropa is the only one of the three not promising to “cover the earth in red.”

Infrastructure secret without which the SWP could not function: the Naropa Bookstore, the best “under 1,000 square feet” bookshop I’ve ever been in. Ralph, whose last name I never caught, works wonders. The place is full with many new items in stock virtually every single day.

Largest single problem I had: less than one-third of my students knew that there were books that were required reading before they got to the first class. The SWP seems not to do a good job communicating this prior to the program. Those who did know all seemed to feel that they’d figured this out by lucky accident.

Second largest problem: US Air & its random ways with luggage. On my way to Boulder, I arrived at 1:30 pm, my bags at 8:00 am the next morning. On my way back to Philadelphia, it took two hours to get the bags off the plane because of a thunderstorm.

Best laugh: Barbara Barg’s, when, halfway through dinner with myself, Chris Tysh & Maureen Owen, she realized who I was. She was part way through the sentence, “You should talk to Ron Silliman,” when this happened.

Statement you know you will live to regret the instant you say it: Richard Tuttle’s “I’m not an intellectual, I’m an artist. I don’t have to answer that.” Best response: Donald Preziosi’s “Yes, you do.”

Most well-read student: Army Sgt. Charles Roess. Teachers would compare notes on how impressed they were. Everything I said about the preparation of students in my note last Friday is not true of him. Further evidence that autodidacts have a big advantage in the world of poetry.

Roman Jacobson Day: Last Monday, when Preziosi & I both positioned Jacobson centrally in our talks on the philosophy & poetics panel, and I’m told that Elizabeth Willis also mentioned him in her workshop. By the end of the week, Roess had picked up a long-out-of-print copy of Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning.

Chris Tysh & I both taught Aaron Shurin’s Involuntary Lyrics.

Unexpected audio pleasure: Totally Yodelly, a two-volume compilation of the history of yodeling by Jack Collom & Sam Fuqua. It is otherworldly & fabulous.

 

¹ Everyone should see An Inconvenient Truth, even if you think you know all the arguments or can’t stand Al Gore. I still haven’t forgiven Gore for picking Joe Lieberman, elevating one of the worst politicians in the Democratic party to a “statesman, but what Gore is doing now is more important for the country – and the world – than being president.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

 

I told Anne Waldman earlier this week that I thought my best teaching at Naropa when I was here last in 1994 consisted simply of giving Mary Burger contact information for Kevin Killian & Dodie Bellamy. Mary was already so fully formed in her own sense of aesthetics that she was much more a force of nature than a mere “student.” I do think it’s not all that uncommon for a program like Naropa to attract young writers so advanced that any real distinction between them & the faculty here seems silly. One good example of this phenomenon this year is Michael Koshkin, whom you may already know from his blog, his press, Hot Whiskey (co-run with his partner Jennifer Rogers), and his poetry which has appeared in many venues.

One such venue that I just got hold of this week is Parad e  R ain, a gorgeous (two signatures, hand-stitched!) chapbook published by Big Game Books of Washington, DC. As the curious gaps in the title hint, Parad e R ain is an homage of sorts to the late Ronald Johnson (the “R.J.” of Koshkin’s dedication), the book having been composed along Johnsonian lines from Milton’s Paradise Regained. I say “of sorts” because Koshkin has a sense of play and wit about everything he does that Johnson himself was unable or unwilling to permit in his own poems, often fascinating constructions that always seem to remind you of their serious intent.

Parad e  R ain, as a result, reads closer to what you might expect had Johnson had a mind meld, that old Vulcan mode of cultural transmission, with Ron Padgett or Ted Berrigan. In addition to being fun to read – I devoured it aloud in a single sitting – the whole idea is a fascinating project, something that is hard, if not outright impossible, to attempt if you’re too close either to the poets in question or to their work. I feel reasonably sure that Koshkin never met either Berrigan or Johnson (& don’t know about Padgett), but recognize full well that, as slightly as I knew Johnson & Berrigan, I couldn’t envision attempting this sort of project with them, or, for that matter, with anyone younger than, say, Pound & Stein (imagine Stein revising “Cantico del Sole”!).

Projects like this hardly ever become one’s “real” writing. Instead, not unlike translation, it’s a method of examining the materials & practice of others, both the process and, in Johnson’s case, his sources as well. What I don’t have in front of me is Radi Os itself, but I certainly don’t recall the same sense of glee I find here. For some people, I’m sure that would be a negative, but I’m not in that camp. Johnson’s decision to hold his tone close to that of Milton’s is a decision, right for him no doubt but hardly the only choice possible under the same circumstances. Koshkin’s very different choice shows an ease toward found materials that the generation born in the 1930s (& not just Ron Johnson) never had. Koshkin, like Mary Burger in 1994, is the real deal. Keep your eyes open for his name. You’re going to be seeing it a lot.

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