Friday, April 30, 2004

“How will I know what I thought until I read it in your blog?” – thus sayeth a friend, in jest I trust, shortly after the lightning-like presentation of the Rosenbach Alphabet Wednesday night in an upstairs gallery of Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum.


The event was noteworthy for several reasons – one being its display of primarily Philadelphia-area poetries of all manner. There was definitely a Noah’s ark feel to the event. Another, very Philadelphia aspect, was its Pew sponsorship & curatorial context – very much in a white-wine reception kind of setting, in a gallery that frankly couldn’t hold the number of people who attempted to get into the room (tho that number was probably no more than 100, more than a quarter of whom were “the poets”). Before the event itself a few of us took a tour of the museum, pausing in its third floor recreation of Marianne Moore’s Greenwich Village studio, or noting the curious juxtaposition of the Rosenbach’s Melville collection housed in a case in a room otherwise given over to a display of the work of Maurice Sendak (who, in addition to his own books, is both a serious Melville devotee and a Rosenbach board member). The current Sendak exhibit is of sketches for Alligators All Around, a book my sons read several hundred times a few years back.


Coming from California, I feel hyperconscious about the way a reading like this would be unlikely to occur in, say, San Francisco. First of all, arts organizations in the Bay Area have never created spaces like the Rosenbach, created from the home of two brothers, one a rare book dealer, who died just fifty years ago. Second, I can only think of a couple of events in San Francisco – a reception for Edmond Jabès at the French Consulate, say – that brought together anything like the range of poets one saw at the Rosenbach Wednesday.


One element that all the poets participating held in common was this was writing to order, under deadline. Need I suggest that this is not how most of us work? More than a couple of the pieces had only been written that morning. One poet read a second section to her piece that had occurred to her literally as she was leaving her job to come to the reading.


That means that the works that have appeared here – and the four others that will show up over the next several days – can’t really be seen as being in any sense “typical” of the writing of the poets involved. At the reading itself, a couple of people spoke of the alphabet itself as being a “great leveler,” but I’m not sure that leveling is what really went on Wednesday. Rather, I think that the artifice inherent in the project, the very nature of the “deadline poet” process, served instead as a liberating mechanism, permitting poets to write outside of themselves if they so chose. So, in a sense, what I see here instead is rather a writing beyond. How far & in what ways is what I find most compelling in the pieces thus far by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathalie Anderson, Linh Dinh, Daisy Fried & CA Conrad. In the next couple of days I’ll add works by Susan Stewart, Paul Muldoon, Bob Perelman & Mytili Jagannathan.


The Rosenbach Alphabet itself is going to be published in hard copy – what you’re getting here is really just a taste – when I get more details, I will post them.