The after-hell (PoemTalk #129)

Sylvia Plath, 'The Stones'

From left: Susan Schultz, Sally Van Doren, Huda Fakhreddine

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Susan Schultz, Sally Van Doren, and Huda Fakhreddine joined Al Filreis to talk about Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Stones.” It was written in October or early November of 1959 and appears as the seventh poem in a seven-part sequence called “Poem for a Birthday.” The recording the group hears at the start of the conversation comes from a studio performance Plath did for BBC Records between 1960 and 1962 (and this particular performance probably dates from 1962). The most readily accessible copy of the audio has been posted at YouTube.

Really doing contemporaneity

David Buuck on 'Tripwire,' poetics, and politics

Covers from 'Tripwire' 8–10.

Note: Tripwire is a journal of radical poetics and politics founded in 1998 by Yedda Morrison and David Buuck. After it halted publication in 2002 (a brief supplement appeared in 2004), the journal was relaunched by Buuck in 2014.

Writing trauma in silence and stillness

A review of 'Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of Leningrad'

This sign on a Leningrad blockade reads: “During air-raids this side of the street is more dangerous.” Photo by Ninaras, via Wikimedia Commons.

From September 1941 to January 1944, as Nazi forces brutally besieged the Russian city of Leningrad, five writers tried to make sense of the chaos swirling around them while they remained trapped in their own city. The works of these Russian writers — Gennady Gor, Dmitry Maksimov, Sergey Rudakov, Vladimir Sterligov, and Pavel Zaltsman — make up the collection Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of LeningradWritten in the Dark is, in its simplest form, a work of siege poetry: it grapples with the questions that forced stagnation demands.

From September 1941 to January 1944, as Nazi forces brutally besieged the Russian city of Leningrad, five writers tried to make sense of the chaos swirling around them while they remained trapped in their own city. The works of these Russian writers — Gennady Gor, Dmitry Maksimov, Sergey Rudakov, Vladimir Sterligov, and Pavel Zaltsman — make up the collection Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of Leningrad.

Making the invisible visible

Jennifer Scappettone and Tonya Foster in conversation, 2010

Editorial note: The following conversation has been adapted from an Emergency Reading Series event hosted by Julia Bloch and Sarah Dowling on January 21, 2010, at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It was transcribed by Michael Nardone and edited for publication; additional commentary by the speakers is included below in brackets. The conversation, between Jennifer Scappettone and Tonya Foster, explores topics ranging from Disneyfication to the Greek chorus.

Editorial note: The following conversation has been adapted from an Emergency Reading Series event hosted by Julia Bloch and Sarah Dowling on January 21, 2010, at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It was transcribed by Michael Nardone and edited for publication; additional commentary by the speakers is included below in brackets.

Shots fired

Image at left courtesy of Mike Lala.

What if Chekhov’s gun were a poem? We have Emily Dickinson’s “life,” for starters, standing as a loaded gun, charged, as in the sense of the French charger, purposeful and pregnant, but whose meaning comes in its execution.

If in Act 1 you have a pistol hanging from the wall, then it must fire in the last act. — Anton Chekhov[1

'The earth angel, sorting time'

A review of Carrie Hunter's 'Orphan Machines'

Photo of Carrie Hunter (left) by Steffi Drewes, taken March 2016 at the Featherboard Writing Series in Oakland, CA.

In her second full-length collection, Orphan Machines, Carrie Hunter invites readers to share her preoccupations with philosophy, sexuality, and music. Incited by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari — riffing off their “theory of no leaders” philosophy in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia — Hunter collages their ideological text, using it as palimpsest and backdrop for her own original poems. As in her first collection, The Incompossible, Hunter effortlessly blends private dialogue with public testimony orchestrated in a variety of forms. Orphan Machines drones a bittersweet urban lyric, and by the end readers may also be asking themselves in public, “Should / I fake normalcy or be real?” (79). 

In her second full-length collection, Orphan Machines, Carrie Hunter invites readers to share her preoccupations with philosophy, sexuality, and music.

Begin again

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“Many knew that no matter what they did, if they moved through a public space, it would have to be deliberate, and their bodies would be read as a statement.” Above: image of a public square in Florence by Samuli Lintula, via Wikimedia Commons.

Think back to the last time you marched — when you moved deliberately through a public space, when you used your body not just to get from one place to another but to be a statement, when you had to be keenly aware of the larger body you moved within and the body you moved against. If you’ve never marched before, go out now and try it. Now think back. Begin again. 

Think back to the last time you marched — when you moved deliberately through a public space, when you used your body not just to get from one place to another but to be a statement, when you had to be keenly aware of the larger body you moved within and the body you moved against. If you’ve never marched before, go out now and try it. Now think back. Begin again. Be aware of your body in this public space. Are you cold? Are you hungry? Do you carry a sign? Is it heavy? Does it block the view of the people behind you? Are you walking?

'The Emptiness You Seek Also Takes Time'

'Go On' by Ethel Rackin

Jueds: “[T]he emptiness you seek also takes time,”[1] the speaker of Ethel Rackin’s strange, magical, and luminous second book tells us at the end of the title poem. The poems in Go On are mostly small — the briefest a single line — and yet they do take time, deep, mysterious, and wide-ranging as they are, to truly enter: they are enormous within their brevity. And, following from Rackin’s Buddhist sensibility, the poems do seek some sort of “emptiness,” which could also be defined as spirit or holiness or divinity. Rooted in the tactile and quotidian, they leap from their contemplation of birds, trees, and tract houses to the deep interior world of the speaker which, at the same time, reaches through and beyond to an enormous otherness.

Jueds: “[T]he emptiness you seek also takes time,”[1] the speaker of Ethel Rackin’s strange, magical, and luminous second book tells us at the end of the title poem. The poems in Go On are mostly small — the briefest a single line — and yet they do take time, deep, mysterious, and wide-ranging as they are, to truly enter: they are enormous within their brevity. And, following from Rackin’s Buddhist sensibility, the poems do seek some sort of “emptiness,” which could also be defined as spirit or holiness or divinity.

Heller's 'Dianoia'

A briefing

“The sequence shows glimpses of the scoured alpine landscape outside the hotel’s windows: “the distant plume / of a snowslide / on glacial slopes,” but the would-be Tibetan mountainscapes are only backdrop to the poet’s back-and-forth on ego and emptiness.” Above: Photo of the Canadian Rockies by David Whelan, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sam Johnson’s line on the Metaphysicals — that in their work “heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together”[1] — is one example among many in Anglo-American letters of how a term of reproach, given some time, becomes a term of praise. Since Eliot in 1921 pardoned the Metaphysicals for all that violent yoking, applauded them for their immunity to the dissociated sensibility of his contemporaries, readers of poetry in English have been taught to admire poets who “ransack,” as Johnson said, art and nature for conceits that are misaligned or unevenly yoked.

Sam Johnson’s line on the Metaphysicals — that in their work “heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together”[1] — is one example among many in Anglo-American letters of how a term of reproach, given some time, becomes a term of praise. Since Eliot in 1921 pardoned the Metaphysicals for all that violent yoking, applauded them for their immunity to the dissociated sensibility of his contemporaries, readers of poetry in English have been taught to admire poets who “ransack,” as Johnson said, art and nature for conceits that are misaligned or unevenly yoked.