Captions without images

On Robert Fitterman’s ‘Holocaust Museum’

Rob Fitterman reads at the Poetic Research Bureau, Los Angeles, 2008.

As Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag amongst others have told us, when it comes to photographs, the caption is essential in relation to what we think we see: if the contextualizing text is changed, the meaning of the work as such will change significantly. In this light, it might be interesting to ask: what happens to the caption when there is no longer a photograph to contextualize? When the caption is isolated, it now refers to a referent that is no longer there.

'Absolutely temporary'

Spicer, Burgess, and the ephemerality of coterie

Jack Spicer.
Jack Spicer.

In an unpublished letter to Robin Blaser and Jim Felts from the mid–1950s, Jack Spicer cautions his addressees against preserving their correspondence for posterity. “This will become a literary document,” he warns, “if you don’t burn it.”[1] Similarly, in a list outlining “What to do with the Boston News Letter” scrawled in one of Spicer’s notebooks, he advises readers of the poetry pamphlet to “[p]ost whatever pages of it you think well of in the most public place you can find — i.e. an art gallery, a bohemian bar, or a lavatory frequented by poets,” and to “[b]urn or give away the pages you do not want to make public. Do not keep them.”

The antidotal approach

An interview with Andy Fitch

This interview between Zach Savich and Andy Fitch centers around Fitch’s Sixty Morning Talks, published in 2014 by Ugly Duckling Presse, a volume of sixty transcribed interviews with poets who released books in 2012.

Time-lapse poemography

Ron Silliman’s poetry of accretion

Two poems in Ron Silliman’s poetry collection The Alphabet, “Jones” and “Skies,” are yearlong projects. For “Jones,” as Silliman writes in his notes, “Every day for a year I looked at the ground,”[1] and similarly for “Skies,” “Every day for one year I looked at the sky & noted what I saw” (1060).

On Lawrence Giffin's 'Christian Name'

Lawrence Giffin’s Christian Name is a tricky book because it’s the kind of book that seems to do one thing and then actually does another. On the one hand, it’s a collection of poems explicitly about a topic: the “feral-child” Genie, who was kept in isolation by her family until age thirteen and then submitted to years of experiments and study and exploitation by researchers looking for clues to language development.

Spatial motion

On Leslie Scalapino’s ‘How Phenomena Appear to Unfold/the Hind’

It is difficult to conceive of a literary work spun out of “spatial motion.” To read and consider a poem that defies iconographic metaphor and symbolic interpretation, a poem intrstead composed out of language’s own phenomenal play, is to butt up against traditional values about poetry that still slide toward the pictorially descriptive.

Cutting through its own knife

Brandon Downing’s Mellow Actions is the latest installment in a body of work notable for its batsoid consistency across realms as diverse as film, collage, and verse. It’s the wish of this reviewer to induce in the reader a sort of psychical readiness to enjoy this book, much like Iannis Xenakis’s miniature zoom-crackle composition “Concret PH” was designed to gird the nerves of picnicking spectators in preparation for Edgard Varèse’s “Poème Électronique” at the 1958 Phillips Pavilion.

There it was (PoemTalk #83)

Wallace Stevens, 'The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain'

Left to right: Susan Howe, Dee Morris, Nancy Kuhl

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Among the last things Wallace Stevens wrote was a metapoem, a poem in which a man — a reader and presumably a poet too — does not write a poem but picks his way among the aspects of an old poem, the poem that had once helped him by standing in for a mountain. He composes (or rather “recompos[s]”) the objects and perspectives of the way or path up the mountain. It had been a “direction.” Was it now again?

On reading & teaching the modern long poem, with reference to Williams's 'Paterson' & two passages from Eliot's 'The Waste Land'

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Eric Alan Weinstein and Al Filreis spent some time in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House talking about the problematics of the modern long poem.