Articles - October 2011

Docupoetry and archive desire

Two pages from Mark Nowak’s Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press).

“I can see no reason for calling my work poetry except that there is no other category in which to put it.” — Marianne Moore[1]

In 2000, the poet Jena Osman created a lengthy list of “docupoetry” that included poems such as Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Adrienne Rich’s “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” and William Carlos William’s Paterson, as well as many works less familiar to American readers.[2] Nowadays, such a list could be twice as long — we are in the midst of something of a flourishing of documentary literary forms. Usually “docupoetry” designates poetry that (1) contains quotations from or reproductions of documents or statements not produced by the poet and (2) relates historical narratives, whether macro or micro, human or natural.

Reading 'sound'

Stephen Ratcliffe reading at the Marin Headlands, May 16, 2010.

Reading sound (shape-in-air) of poem as acoustic phenomena (in air, heard by ear), one hears the syllable, word, line (and line break), stanza unit, whole poem determined by the poem’s shape on the page, its physical presence (seen by eye) as letters written/composed/transcribed on the page into words, there to be perceived by the human (reader) when the poem is read aloud (or silently, thereby entering the mind’s ear as sound only imagined).

Words as 'things' ('actions'/'events')

Glass bowls used in live performance of Stephen Ratcliffe's Remarks on Color / Sound, Marin Headlands Center for the Arts, May 16, 2010.

The Greek thinkers speak of σωζειν τα φαινοηενος — “to save what appears”; that means to conserve and to preserve in unconcealedness what shows itself as what shows itself and in the way it shows itself — that is against the withdrawing into concealment and distortion. He who in this fashion saves (conserves and preserves) the appearing, saves it into the unconcealed, is himself saved for the unconcealed and conserved for it.

— Heidegger, Parmenides[1]


The view from performance

A report from the Marin Headlands

Stephen Ratcliffe and composer Edward Schocker perform Ratcliffe’s 1,000-page poem 'Remarks on Color / Sound' on May 16, 2010, at the Marin Headlands in Northern California. Left to right: Zachary Watkins on electronics, Dylan Bolles on winds, Stephen Ratcliffe, Suki O’Kane on drum, and Edward Schocker on glass bowls.

Maybe the mountain lion droppings on the hiking trails or the rocky splash shorelines make the Marin Headlands seem remote, but geographically, this place is a cuticle on the Golden Gate Bridge’s big toe. And here you can find Headlands Center for the Arts, which hosted Remarks on Color / Sound, in which Stephen Ratcliffe and composer Edward Schocker performed Ratcliffe’s 1,000-page poem on May 16, 2010, in the Gym Studio at the Center. Bay Areans who missed the performance could use the remote location as an excuse, but certainly not the time of the performance.

Only, document

Stephen Ratcliffe's 'REAL'

Stephen Ratcliffe reads Remarks on Color / Sound at Marin Headlands Center for the Arts, May 16, 2010.

Thinking about the practice of Stephen Ratcliffe’s REAL begins with wondering about the practice and duration of reading itself. How to stay alongside — faithful to — a writing that over hundreds of pages meticulously records its daily meeting with a continuously framed and framing world. Does reading accompany the quiet imperative of this attention, its repetition and observance, or find another route? Is it a process to inhabit slowly, keeping pace a day at a time, and how would that be possible, in translating what it makes present into an elsewhere?