unvarnished truth exist? And, if so, does it intersect, even slightly, with
what one might call good? Those questions are at the core of Margarethe von
Trotta’s Hannah Arendt, a heady film that is
only superficially a biopic of the famed political thinker, “Martin Heidegger’s
favorite student” and one-time lover, the first woman hired to teach at Princeton.
Arendt has opened in New York &
Los Angeles, after having been nominated for & won a number of awards, in Middle & Eastern Europe, including two German
best actress nods for Barbara Sukowa as Arendt.
the film has flashbacks to Arendt’s days as a student in Marburg, von Trotta focuses
on the few short years of Arendt’s career in America after the capture of
Adolph Eichmann, whose trial she “covered” for The New Yorker, resulting in a series of articles published in book
form as Eichmann
in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The drama of the film itself occurs not in
capture of Eichmann, which happens in the first 30 seconds, nor in Arendt’s
relationship with Heidegger, nor even in the trial itself – though this may
well be the heart of the movie – but in the revulsion with which Arendt’s
reporting is met by her closest friends at Princeton, in New York, and
especially in Israel.
who fled to Paris as the Nazis came to power, was briefly interned in a French concentration
camp at Gurs near the Spanish border, from which she escaped and eventually
made her way to the US. Alluded to but not represented in the film itself
(which is more than can be said for much of her writing, her work with Karl
Jaspers, her friendship with Walter Benjamin, her first marriage, or her work
in Germany after the war), von Trotta presents Arendt as wanting to understand
this ultimate evil by staring it in the eye. Her friends among the US exiles
are wary of her trip to Jerusalem to report on the trial for a readership that
cannot be expected to comprehend their experiences of horror, a sharp contrast
to the almost boyish enthusiasm of New
Yorker editor William Shawn (portrayed by Nicholas Woodeson doing everything
he can to mimic Wallace Shawn, who might have been better cast to portray his
father). Her husband thinks the trial itself is a travesty of justice. In
Israel, her friends are frank about the political nature of the prosecution. Israel,
she is told, needs myths.
world of poetry is changing. This has consequences.
by the absolute number of poets, the omnibus poetry anthology has become
impossible in book form – examples can
be judged only by the degree to which they fail. It’s a form in which the best
intentions of editors simply prove embarrassing, a circumstance that is never
aided by the fact that the motives of publishers are far more venal than those
of hapless compilers. More sharply defined collections – Poems for the Millennium,
Vol. 4: The University of California Book of North African Poetry, Beauty is a Verb, The Reality Street Book of Sonnets – succeed to the degree that the best editors are rigorous in
their containment of a given territory and honest with their readers as to what
they do (and, more importantly, do not) address.
the omnibus anthology, such collections are inherently depictive: they
represent the poetry of a terrain, a social category, or a literary form. Their
virtue is to be found in their modesty of scope, their sharpness of focus and thus
the diligence of their editors. If they attempt any intervention into the
social fabric of poetry, it is primarily to indicate that X also is a part of
type of anthology raises the stakes by adding a second, argumentative
dimension, using the anthology form to make the
case for some new understanding of the poetic whole. The classic example
– for good reason – is Donald M Allen’s The New American Poetry:
1945 – 1960 (NAP) which sold over 100,000
copies and is credited with either opening mid-century poetry up to a wealth of
new possibilities, or, alternately, triggering the irremediable decline of
civilization. Allen’s anthology was not the first such venture in English – that
would have been Pound’s Des Imagistes, which
appeared as the February 1914 issue of The
Glebe, published by Alfred Kreymborg & Man Ray. But, while both Des Imagistes & Louis Zukofsky’s
1932 An ‘Objectivists’ Anthology would
have significant long-term implications for poetry¹, neither remotely
approached the impact of the Allen.
Neither did Daisy Aldan’s excellent A New Folder:
Americans: Poems and Drawings, which
appeared one year before the Allen anthology, covering much of the same
aesthetic terrain, but with some notable differences. I’m interested in why one
anthology becomes a transformative event for a generation of writers and
readers, while another, similar in scope, arguably comparable in quality and first
to market, essentially sinks out of sight. Less than a dozen copies remain
available in used book stores.
The differences are telling. As Michael Hennessey notes in his Jacket2 essay on the Aldan anthology,
the collection included over 30 visual artists. The Allen, by not including the
likes of Pollock, de Kooning, Mitchell, Kline, Rivers, Motherwell et al, presents
instead an unwavering target.
Ron Silliman was born in Pasco, Washington, although his parents stayed there just long enough for his mother to learn that one could step on field mice while walking barefoot through the snow to the outhouse, and for his father to walk away from a plane crash while smuggling alcohol into a dry county. Silliman has written and edited over 30 books, most recently Revelator from BookThug, and had his poetry and criticism translated into 14 languages. Silliman was a 2012 Kelly Writers House Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the 2010 recipient of the Levinson Prize,from the Poetry Foundation. His sculpture Poetry (Bury Neon) is permanently on display in the transit center of Bury, Lancashire, and he has a plaque in the walk dedicated to poetry in his home town of Berkeley, although he now lives in Chester County, PA. In 2015, Silliman taught at Haverford College & the University of Pennsylvania & was writer in residence at the Gloucester Writers Center.