Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Echoes in the mind’s eye after the 2006 MLA:

Somebody – I think it may have been Dan Waterman of the University of Alabama press – telling me that this was the “all-poetry-all-the-time MLA.” Then hearing ten other people tell me the same thing over the next two days.

Seeing oodles of old friends, meeting some folks for the first time (hi, Kirby!). Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Howe, Hank Lazer, Brent Cunningham, Jonathan Mayhew, Carla Harryman, Ben Friedlander, Laura Hinton, George Hartley, Michael Davidson, Norma Cole, Tom Orange, Linh Dinh, Laura Moriarty, & Tim Yu were just the tip of the veritable iceberg.

Finally meeting Kenny Goldsmith. Being introduced to Tracie Morris, whom I know, over & over. Meeting Aaron Belz, seeing Aaron Kunin. Hard to believe that, before Thursday, the only poet I’d ever even seen named Aaron was Mr. Shurin.

Seeing a spiral-bound mockup of The Age of Huts (compleat) in the UC Press booth.

Seeing Norma Cole read, the first time I’ve seen her do that since her stroke.

Seeing 23 poets read for the very first time among the 55 readers at the off-site event.

Sensing three concentric circles on the Pound panel: Ben Friedlander focused in on Pound, what he did or didn’t do, and why (looking closely at the economic motivation by the radio broadcasts, and asking how they fit in with the motivations of the Italian fascist regime, which did not, for example, particularly share Pound’s anti-Semitism); Rachel Blau DuPlessis & Jennifer Scappetone looking at Pound as influence, Scappetone with regards to Jackson Mac Low, DuPlessis with regards to herself & other contemporary poets; then Barrett Watten looking at Pound as symptom, reading him through The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al.), both with respect to the 1940s & the work in the 50s that led to that Frankfort School project, but to the present moment as well.

Opening the Philadelphia Inquirer to see a poem by Charles Bernstein on the op-ed page.

Barrett Watten’s poem, ”Dream of a Post-Soviet MLA.”

Susan Schultz calling me “old fashioned” when she came up to the podium right after my little one-minute reading.

Realizing that this wasn’t just the “all-poetry-all-the-time MLA,” but rather was the “all-post-avant-poetry-all-the-time” MLA. I never have seen an MLA where I couldn’t get to every post-avant panel because there were three and four going on in every single slot. Realizing that this was really the “Marjorie Perloff MLA” & she’d pulled out all the stops. (See Barrett Watten’s more in-depth analysis of this here.)

Richard Sieburth delivering a passionate 15-minute talk in a panel on the role of sound in translation on the role of the & in a 16th-century poem and the history of that device in later editions & translations, becoming more & more emotional as he spoke.

Tyrone Williams' close reading of Taylor Brady’s Yesterday’s News in the panel on poetics and cultural studies.

___ ______ leaning over to me in the audience to whisper, “Who is Taylor Brady?”

People just walking up to me to thank me for this blog.

Marjorie Perloff telling me that “even in San Marcos, Texas,” people are asking her if she agrees with “what Silliman says in that blog.”

Poets talking about their own practice & influences were for me a consistently high point of the meetings: Rachel Blau DuPlessis in the Pound panel; Carla Harryman talking about her work in poets’ theater & Poets’ Theatre; everyone on the sound in translation panel – a revolutionary concept for this particular institution, tho the poets in the room appeared to think it was a perfectly obvious & reasonable thing to discuss (as, of course, it is).

The poetics and cultural studies panel – which went straight after cultural studies for its failure to use poetry as anything other than a symptom, not to mention its rather incompetent fixation with narrative – was the best panel I attended. Alas, there appeared to be no cultural studies folks there, but then there were very few of them at this MLA at all. Jeffrey Nealon’s deconstruction of Fred Jameson is a tour de force. When Watten posts the papers, I’m going to have to close read that one in particular.

Realizing that, in 40 years, nobody will remember cultural studies if we don’t refer to it in our poems.

Seeing Rachel Blau DuPlessis sitting at the U. of Alabama Press booth in the exhibit hall as I left the conference on Thursday. Seeing Rachel Blau DuPlessis sitting at the U. of Alabama Press booth in the exhibit hall first thing on arriving at the conference on Friday.

Tim Yu thanking Bob Perelman for not organizing the offsite reading alphabetically by last name.

Yunte Huang noting the irony of having his name – coming as it does from a non-alphabetic language – put into alphabetical order by first name for the offsite reading.

Patrick Durgin introducing himself as Charles Bernstein. Yunte Huang introducing himself as Walter Lew.

Leevi Lehto teaching people how to pronounce his name in Finnish – Lĕvē Lĕchto – then introducing himself at the offsite reading both in Finnish and in “American” (Lēvī Lāto).

Leevi Lehto giving a terrific reading of a sound poem in “barbaric Finnish

Craig Dworkin trying to ask me if he could put Tottels up on the Eclipse website while I was trying to ask him, simultaneously, the same question.

Seeing Kirby Olson & C.A. Conrad in the same room.

Steve Benson, dressed only in a shower curtain, looking very young in a video clip of Third Man from Carla Harryman’s presentation in the panel on poets’ theater.

Carla Harryman acknowledging the importance of the work of Nick Robinson & Eileen Corder in the evolution of poets’ theater in the Bay Area (and realizing that I never thought I would hear that at an MLA event).

Tracie Morris’ gospel-cum-sound poetry reading at the offsite.

Walter Lew diving across the grand piano at the Philadelphia Arts Alliance at the start of his reading, playing a few bars of Miles Davis, then reading from the index of an Aldon Nielsen book he’d just bought, then lunging at Aldon & literally cutting Nielsen’s tie in half.

The look on Aldon’s face.

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