Mind's not right (PoemTalk #102)

Robert Lowell, 'Skunk Hour'

PoemTalk #102 was recorded in the Woodberry Poetry Room, Lamont Library, Harvard University. From left to right: Lisa New, Rafael Campo, Christina Davis.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Al Filreis traveled to Harvard University and was hosted for this on-the-road episode of PoemTalk by the staff of the Woodberry Poetry Room (WPR) in Lamont Library, where Lisa New, Rafael Campo, and WPR Director Christina Davis joined him for a conversation about Robert Lowell’s poem “Skunk Hour.” Probably Lowell’s most well-known poem, it was placed last in Life Studies (1959) but had been written first — and can be said to have inaugurated Lowell’s “looser” style, associated with his so-called “confessional” mode. When Lowell began composing “Skunk Hour,” he later recalled, “I felt that most of what I knew about writing was a hindrance.” Our conversation is taken up by the many conflicting aspects of that perceived hindrance. And on top of those there are, of course, the hindrances put up by the new, allegedly freeing style itself.

Curiosity and rarity

A review of Cynthia Cruz's 'Wunderkammer'

Photo of Cynthia Cruz (right) by Steven Page.

In her latest collection of poetry, Wunderkammer, Cynthia Cruz sets the stage for her readers with the first poem, Nebenwelt. In German, this term translates literally to “world next to/beside.” Paul Celan is given credit for coining the adjective nebenweltlich in his writing, using it to describe “a level of experience beside that posited as ‘real,’ namely a world of metaphorical transformation, specifically that of poetic language.”

The brain, a kaleidoscopic disco[1]

In her latest collection of poetry, Wunderkammer, Cynthia Cruz sets the stage for her readers with the first poem, Nebenwelt. In German, this term translates literally to “world next to/beside.” Paul Celan is given credit for coining the adjective nebenweltlich in his writing, using it to describe “a level of experience beside that posited as ‘real,’ namely a world of metaphorical transformation, specifically that of poetic language.”[2] The title Nebenwelt appears five times throughout this collection, as if to remind us that these poems enact an otherworldly landscape and a kind of diving into the unknown. Through the multivalent forces of Cruz’s language and metaphor, these poems transcend reality.

José Kozer and what unfolds

Photo by Keyselim Montas.

“Where New York poets and others … tended to hear a ‘cool,’ abstract, even cerebral, poetry,” writes Peter Boyle in the translator’s essay accompanying this feature, “in Latin America a more emotional, threatening, and visceral ‘magic’ surrealism developed.” Boyle places Cuban poet José Kozer’s work in this surrealist camp: time and reality become warped and subjective in Kozer’s neobaroque poems.

Illness, lyric, and total contingency

Brian Teare in conversation with Jaime Shearn Coan

Photo of Brian Teare (right) by Ryan Collerd, courtesy of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

Note: What follows is an edited transcript of PennSound Podcast #53, an October 30, 2015, conversation between Brian Teare and Jaime Shearn Coan. Teare and Shearn Coan discuss Teare’s book The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, described by Shearn Coan as a collection that imagines “how to language what is un-languageable.” 

In his element

A review of 'The Astonishment Tapes'

Photo of Robin Blaser (left) courtesy of the Electronic Poetry Center.

Robin Blaser is in his element in these monologues in interview format — personable, pedagogic, and himself a “high-energy construct,” to not-quite-cite Charles Olson. By virtue of this book, the reader experiences Blaser as a unique force field of magnetic knowledge and charismatic charm. He is at home among the poets, themselves practitioners and friends, meeting in 1974 at someone’s house in Vancouver.

'Swims'

Body, ritual, and erasure

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, 'swims,' 2014. All images by Nick Burnett.

My current writing project, swims, exemplifies a kind of Conceptual writing that employs ritual and bodily practice to explore environmental activism. A long poem documenting wild swims across the UK, it starts and ends in Devon, my home county, taking in rivers through Somerset, Surrey, London, Kent, Herefordshire, and the Lake District. Each swim is conceived of as environmental action, which questions how (or whether) individuals can effect environmental change, while also foregrounding the importance of pleasure, leisure, and optimism in the undertaking.

Punkness and the inescapable self

A review of Rod Smith's 'Touché'

In Wave Books’s new Touché, Rod Smith is a tender, often hilarious skeptic. His brilliance as a poet is strongest performing the many voices of willful ignorance and hard-earned perspective, often confusing the two in poetry that merges personal doubts with public ones. Built on a negative capability, Touché’s “futility as figurative / extreme” (81) is strikingly analytical about uncertainties in private awareness, domestic American politics, and the malleable referentiality of language in relation to the author’s scatological, punny, and aesthetically “clumsy” organizations of it, much more punk rock in Smith’s DIY grammatics than actual idiocy.

Iterations and interstices

Endi Bogue Hartigan on fields and crowds and more

It was a brisk spring night when I went to hear Endi Bogue Hartigan read as part of the Loggernaut Reading Series in Portland. What struck me about her person was a quiet intensity; her work, with its eerie incantatory power, unsettled me.

Note: It was a brisk spring night when I went to hear Endi Bogue Hartigan read as part of the Loggernaut Reading Series in Portland. What struck me about her person was a quiet intensity; her work, with its eerie incantatory power, unsettled me. I admired this, found it refreshing in a time when a lot of poetry readings have a light or casual tone — with poets starting out with jokes or stories, or if they are from out of town, something they like about Portland. While I enjoy those readings, too, I was drawn to her work partly because the way she read aligned brilliantly with the collection’s strong aesthetics of muscular repetition and urgent complexity. I decided to approach her about an interview because I wanted to know more about how this collection came into being. What follows is an interview conducted over email, stringing out over several months as we slowly found an afternoon here, an evening there, to keep the conversation going. Eliza Rotterman

Catalog/cloud

Dreams of relation in Amish Trivedi's 'Sound/Chest'

Bonnie Roy reviews 'Sound/Chest'
Photo of Amish Trivedi by Jenn Trivedi.

Sound/Chest begins with a find and a flood. In the basement of the University of Iowa library in 2008, Amish Trivedi discovered an old card catalog and was arrested by its remnant labels. Severed from the content they once organized, the paired words and numbers of the catalog have become the titles of poems that attempt to reanimate lost relationships of sense. The speaker of Sound/Chest feels their way around a disaster whose personal blur sometimes sharpens in a collective phrase, and then simple terms rise, like the storm water that filled the library basement later that summer, with displacing force.

On Różewicz and contemporary Polish poetry

The way the poetry of Tadeusz Różewicz (1921–2014) is used by the school system in Poland shows how we disfigure some poets to make them palatable. The educational package has it that his was an attempt to rebuild the basic powers of language after the catastrophe of human slaughter in this part of the world during WWII.