The Little Review magazine published Dadaist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s poetry during the height of a dialectic phase in little magazine culture when conversations about the nature of literature and “the literary” were ubiquitous. In particular, readers contested the value of Dada poetry and “the Baroness” became coterminous with what some considered the worst of this experimental movement. In January 1922, for example, Harriet Monroe wrote in Poetry that “the Little Review […] is headed straight for Dada; but we could forgive even that if it would drop Else von Freytag-Loringhoven on the way.”Jane Heap, editor of The Little Review, responded in a brief piece entitled “Dada” that “[w]e do intend to drop the baroness — right into the middle of the history of American poetry,” for the very reason that “the Baroness,” whom Heap calls “the first American dada,” represents lived art: she is “the only one living anywhere who dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada.”
The Baroness has been the focus of much cultural study in the last decade by art historians and feminist scholars who wish to reclaim her place as an influential member of the New York Dada scene, but discussions about her poetry are few. With this Jacket2 feature, we further the work done by the editors and readers of The Little Review in the 1920s who sought to locate the Baroness’s poetry within experimental trends, but we also critique the narrative of American poetry history out of which the Baroness’s poetry has often been dropped. We locate and situate her poetry in previous and current literary trends by introducing three previously unpublished poems, new and groundbreaking biographical facts concerning the Baroness’s German poetry, a rereading of her Dadaist poetry that situates it within the frame of feminist performance art, and a contemporary poetic response to her work.
Gender, Politics and Play: The Baroness and The Little Review
True to Dada form, the Baroness’s poems sparked debate by representing and performing scandalous literary performances. For example, the January 1919 issue of The Little Review features the “Letrygonians” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the first episode to be officially censored by the postal authorities in New York because of passages that mock the King of England and detail Leopold Bloom’s memories of an amorous meeting with Molly. Published just a short time later, in May 1919, the Baroness’s poem “King Adam” contains a lacuna masking a bawdy reference to cunnilingus alongside the warning “donated to the censor”. In the context in which “King Adam” is written, the danger of censorship is more than potential: it is actual. The Baroness’s poem calls for censorship by being “vulgar,” enacts it by incorporating lacunae, and comments upon it by directly addressing the censor. The poem engenders the scenario but it also enacts it.
By including provocative pieces by the Baroness, the editors of The Little Review, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, placed their little magazine in the center of literary debate. “Holy Skirts,” which discusses sexuality in terms of the Catholic church, was printed in the July–August 1920 issue and represents a poem with an increasingly irreverent sense of play and obvious criticism for more traditional cultural institutions. It is also a poem that alludes to the most talked-about literary court case in history since the same issue also contains a section from the “Nausicaa” episode of Ulysses in which Leopold Bloom has an orgasm while looking up a young woman’s skirt as she leans back to look at a fireworks display. This was the last section of Ulysses to be printed by The Little Review before Heap and Anderson were taken to court and sued over the excerpts. Specifically, the presences of this irreverent poem as well as a photograph of a seminude Baroness on the frontispiece of the same issue in which Heap’s article “Art and the Law” appeared, helped foreground the editors’ belief that the Ulysses censorship trial was about “women’s issues” and “claiming sexual pleasure and agency for American women.” In thinking back on to why she started The Little Review, Margaret Anderson sees dialogue as central: “It was the moment. The epoch needed it. The thing I wanted — would die without — was conversation.” “King Adam” (May 1919) and “Holy Skirts” (July–August 1920) ask general, provocative questions about the role — the value — of women and sex in modernist society, but their presence also creates a space in the magazine in which Heap and Anderson could employ the Baroness’s poetry and presence to encourage, enact, and comment on the controversy surrounding excerpts of James Joyce’s Ulysses published in The Little Review in the 1920s.
Certainly, with Dadaism, the act of art is intricately tied with the artist’s ability to provoke a response from fellow Dadaists and the bourgeois culture. Heap addresses this aspect of the Baroness’s poetry in her 1922 piece “Dada” when she suggests that perhaps Monroe’s critique of the Baroness (described above) is really a defensive comment meant to uphold the more traditional notion of literature to which the magazine Poetry ascribes. Heap asserts that Monroe does not like the Baroness’s poetry because “dada laughs, jeers, grimaces, gibbers, denounces, explodes, introduces ridicule into a too churchly game.” By publishing poems that were, despite Heap’s comments, rejected by the magazine’s editors in the 1920s and by including more recent criticism in this collection, we are employing the Baroness’s poetics to critique the narrative of American poetry history from which the Baroness has often been dropped. The following provides a brief introduction to the three poems that are published here.
“Aphrodite to Mars”
Though the Baroness had written other poems meant to provoke the magazine’s readers, Anderson and Heap began to reject the Baroness’s poetry after the Ulysses trial. For instance, the editors rejected the Baroness’s poem “Aphrodite to Mars” (also called “Aphrodite Chants to Mars” in other versions). “Aphrodite” represents a period of the Baroness’s creative development in which she was deeply interested in gender politics but also interested in what she regarded as the false art of high modernists such as William Carlos Williams. as well as in the modernist trend to employ Greek and Roman mythologies. This poem points to the popular story of Aphrodite and Ares (or Venus and Mars) in which Aphrodite, the goddess of love who was born from the sea foam created by her father Uranus’s cast-off genitals, has an affair with Ares (Mars). Aphrodite and Ares are eventually trapped by Aphrodite’s husband Hephaestus, who creates a web around their bed (one possible reading of the “Flexible tenderness web” in “Aphrodite”) and keeps them ensnared in order to expose and disgrace them before all the gods. Zeus finally lets Mars go at the urging of Poseidon, and Aphrodite is, according to Homer’s Iliad, sent to the island of Kypros, where she is bathed by the Graces.
Though the gods play a significant role in “Aphrodite,” a more humanist perspective on gender and sexuality is emphasized over serious consideration for the myth. Signifying the poem’s irreverence for the myth’s origins as well as high Modernist literary culture, the Greek name “Aphrodite” is erroneously coupled with the Roman “Mars.” In addition, popular slang, including repeated references to Mars’s “blade” and its reception into the “Artistocratic fit” and the “elastic” “Suckdisks” associated with Aphrodite, emphasizes the sexual imagery that was, in the original telling, the plot of serious life-and-death drama. In contrast to the mythological telling, “Aphrodite” reads more as a baudy comedy, a humorous battle of the sexes (or genitals), with the strong “arm” of weapons that Mars brandishes pitted against the “receptive keenness” and “ecstatic elasticity” with which Aphrodite envelops him on the humorously described battle site or “Tournament dale” the “Mattress.” One may easily read Aphrodite’s stance as a recuperative “feminine” elasticity victorious over the pseudonymous “Victor” (Mars) just before the fast pace of this frolicking poem pauses and takes a breath in a beautiful stanza describing the calm seas of azure and the postcoital glow in which Mars lies asleep. Then, quite abruptly, the poetic voice announces “Aphrodite I hail!” as if she had taken both the reader and Mars unawares in this moment of peace. Here we see Aphrodite as victor in her gendered role as “Mistress — mother — / Master — mistress / To / Man” over Mars in his capacity as “Son / Father / Lover / Mate” and, ultimately, in his capacity as “Victor.” Even though its themes of irreverent play and literary commentary would have been familiar to readers who sought out the Baroness’s poetry, the explicit nature of this poem’s sexual metaphors in a time of increasing censorship were quite possibly too extreme for Heap and Anderson. Additionally, the poem’s irreverent take on Greek and Roman mythologies may have been too critical of what had become a deep-seated regard for the antiquities in the increasingly high culture represented by the magazine’s readership.
Dada, the Act of Nonsense, and “Astride”
Tension within the 1920s literary community around the value of Dada art is never more apparent than in the discourse that followed the 1919 publication of the Baroness’s poem “Mineself——Minesoul——and——Mine——Cast-Iron Lover.” The discussion ensued in The Little Review in December 1919 and January 1920 under the title “The Art of Madness” and included Heap, Maxwell Bodenheim, Evelyn Scott, and the Baroness, among others. It was sparked by Heap’s response in “The Reader Critic” — the section of the magazine reserved for reader comments — to readers who thought “Cast-Iron Lover” was written by someone who was in “a condition of disease and mania”. In response, Heap argues that the Baroness is merely “unhampered by sanity” and able to “work” insanity “to produce Art.” Heap calls her work “the Art of Madness,” asserting: “It wouldn’t be the art of madness if it were merely an insanity”: in fact, Heap writes, “Madness is her chosen state of consciousness.” In other words, Heap believed that there was method to and thoughtful craft behind the chaos of the Baroness’s Dada poems. Heap appreciated early what David Escoffery today calls the “rhetoric” of the Baroness’s poems. Escoffery argues that in Dada the “rhetoric of nonsense” is the “key factor determining the character of a performance event,” since it describes that which may be perceived as random or chaotic, as a tactic that persuades audiences to participate and collaborate in the Dada performance. By not making sense, Dada performance breaks through the “fourth wall” of theater, the “wall” that separates the play from the reality or the actors from the audience. By not making sense, Dada poetry and art requires audience participation.
In “Mineself——Minesoul——and——Mine——Cast-Iron Lover,” for example, the Baroness achieves what may be considered a “simultaneous poem” that evokes aspects of tonal poetry by synchronizing the multiple voices of “the self,” “the soul,” and “the body.” A Dada technique used frequently by Huelsenbeck, Tzara, Marcel Janco, Hans Arp and others, the simultaneous poem was traditionally a simultaneous recitation by multiple poets of multiple poems to a live audience. The goal was to create a bizarre effect that appeared nonsensical but ultimately made sense. As such, the simultaneous poem proved the fact “that an organic work of art has a will of its own, and also illustrates the decisive role played by accompaniment,” which represents the conscious will of the artists to structure and make meaningful the combined recitations.
Appearing in a prose-like format that comprises nine full pages of The Little Review, the overall, chaotic effect of “Cast-Iron Lover” is due in large part to its confusion of voices. For example, two of the voices are recognizable in the following lines as “mine soul” (who “touches” through the body’s eyes) and “mine body” (whose “sensual” eyes provide for the soul’s song):
MINE SOUL—MINE SOUL—thou maketh me shiver—thus it can it not be! dost thou
remember that song of his hair which made mine eyes thine fingers?
Thine eyes made mine song—mine body—thine eyes. TOUCH! guard thine eyes—mine
body—guard thine sensual eyes!
Sing thine sensual song—mine soul—thus it ran:
“HIS HAIR IS MOLTEN GOLD AND A RED PELT— […]”
Tonal poetry — which may be defined as three or more voices speaking at once to create a cacophony of bizarre or funny sounds — often employs words that when mixed sound nonsensical. As this poem progresses, the Baroness achieves the same tonal affect on an ontological level by blurring the differences between the “soul” voice and that of the “body” voice, thus creating an intermingled voice that represents an intermingled identity. The body cries “I am tired of wisdom!” The body thinks and is philosophical. The soul speaks and sings and has a “sensual” song and “fingers.” While these two voices are not overlaid on the page, their identities are certainly overlapping. The Baroness further mingles their voices and therefore their identities by punctuating each speech with referents to the direct object of the speech or the “listening” character, set off from the speech by dashes: “—mine soul—” or “mine body—”. While this structure functions to demarcate the speaker, it does not make the cacophony of second person references — “thou” — any less confusing; in fact it adds a ludicrous dimension of emphasis on the listener as the subject of each speech. Making the “you” the primary subject of each “I” statement emphasizes the overlay of identities. In order to understand who is speaking, the reader must pay particular attention to the subject and referent or object of each line:
Mine body—thou maketh me sad—thou VERILY hast made sad—thine soul—! Mine
body—alas!—I bid theee—GO!
Because the reader is forced to pay closer attention, to be an active reader who must order the subject and object of each speech, she becomes immersed in the intermingled identities and voices, thus experiencing the tonal aspect of the poetry.
Finally, though the piece is titled “MINESELF—MINESOUL,” “mineself” is never mentioned in the poem until the poem’s conclusion: “Upright we stand—slander we flare—thine body and thou—mine soul—hissing!— / thus—mine soul—is mine song to thee—thus its end!!” Here, “We” is the third voice — “mineself” — speaking to the referent of the speech “minesoul” and talking about “thine body” (the “minebody” that has been the referent of “minesoul” throughout the poem thus far). All become “We” as the speaker (the “self”) confirms that the poem has been the self’s song to the soul about its codependence with the body. Its form necessitates a performance or reading of the poem since understanding who is speaking is impossible without experiencing the pauses (the dashes and line breaks) that help to impose some order with which the reader may make sense of the chaos. Consequently, the performance of the poem, which relies on splitting the “self,” the “soul,” and the “body,” introduces a tension on the page and the work becomes a simultaneous poem that embodies the reconnection of these forces.
While “Mineself——Minesoul——and——Mine——Cast-Iron Lover” employs the rhetoric of nonsense through multiple, nonsensical voices, the poem “Astride” employs a rhetoric of nonsense through optophonetics. Optophonetic poetry provided a written form for the very popular “sound poetry” that Dadaists Tristan Tzara, Huelsenbeck, Janco, and others performed at the Cabaret Voltaire. In his desire to emphasize the abstract nature of language, Dadaist Raoul Hausman created optophonetics with annotations that used typographic variations to signal certain sound effects, much like musical notation. Kurt Schwitters followed behind, creating what he called Merz, a multigenre, multimedia poem that incorporated optophonetics with pictures, nails, and even sentences, often cut from the newspaper or a pamphlet. The Baroness (who was much enraged by Schwitters’s rising popularity with the editors of The Little Review during the years of her decline from their favor) nevertheless incorporates optophonetics into her own work in the Schwitters fashion. In “A Dozen Cocktails – Please,” she writes: “Serpentine aircurrents -- -- -- / Hhhhhphssssssss! The very word penetrates.” The word, with its low-slung “p” in the middle and its swerving queue of “s,” evokes the penetrating snake it mimics. In “Astride,” the Baroness similarly attempts the sound of a “Straddling/Neighing/Stallion”:
HEE HEE HEEEEEEAAA
The “straddling” appears to happen at the end of this section where the HÜ “bucks” from the line. Before this point, the “neighing” begins with softer “s” sounds, and, though the poem is written primarily in English, it includes German umlauts here as if the guttural sound of the “ü” were more precisely the sound she seeks to represent during the act of straddling. The poem concludes with the “shill” crickets indicating that a warning is spreading through the forest. The “HARK!” demands that the reader listen with some care to the stallion’s whinny but the fact that the whinny is in “thickets” invites the reader to revisit those characters on the page that represent the stallion’s neigh, those characters which can be found in a veritable “thicket” of letters — one cannot understand the poem without taking its visual manifestation into account. The poem employs the rhetoric of nonsense and draws in its audience much the same way that “Mineself——Minesoul——and——Mine——Cast-Iron Lover” does. That is, in order to navigate the potential meanings intended by the textual markings and their corresponding sounds, a reader must negotiate both the presentation of the text and the sounds these letters make together by performing these utterances.
Versioning, Transtextual Reading, and “Hell’s Wisdom”
Different versions of the Baroness’s manuscript poems reflect different moments in time rather than a sequence that points to the teleological evolution of a poem. Djuna Barnes once wrote that the Baroness’s manuscripts “are al [sic] sixes and sevens. She wrote very unevenly,” but Hans Richter calls this process of revision Dadaist and describes it as more dreamlike than fancy. “What is important,” he writes, “is the poem-work, the way in which the latent content of the poem undergoes transformation according to concealed mechanisms,” transformations “that work the way dream-work strategies operate — through condensation, displacement, and the submission of the whole of the text to secondary revision.” Certainly the different forms within her poetry and between versions were meaningful to the Baroness. “Hell’s Wisdom,” for instance, exists within alternatively titled versions of the unpublished poems “Purgatory Lilt” and “Statements on Circumstanced Me,” each comprising multiple versions written either as prose in paragraphs or structured into more traditional stanza-and-line formats. The Baroness writes in a note on a version of “Purgatory Lilt” she has included in a letter to Barnes that “This is not a poem but an essay-statement. Maybe — it were better not to print it in this cut form — perpendicular but in usual sentence line — horizontal?” On another occasion, the Baroness writes to Barnes about combining different versions of a poem into one reading by printing her poems “Firstling” and “He” on one printed page: “What is interesting about the 2 together,” she writes, “is their vast difference of emotion — time knowledge — pain. That is why they should be printed together. For they are 1 + 2 the same poem — person sentiment life stretch between one — divided — assembled — dissembled.” As these comments show, versioning for the Baroness was more than a method to arrive at some final, perfect poem. The process of creating different versions and the transtextual dialog that resulted between poems and versions of poems engaged the Baroness and became a method for expression that incorporated significant elements of time.
As a result, reading different poems such as “Mineself——Minesoul——and——Mine—— Cast-Iron Lover” or “Astride” or versions of the same poem in comparison is a useful method for entering into the poetic conversation of a Baroness poem. For instance, one can read the first lines of “Hell’s Wisdom” (“My ‘Derangement’ dwells in absence — as — under circumstances existing — normally — it should be present”) as a reflection of her opinion of Germany by noting that the first line of “Hell’s Wisdom” appears in the second half of “Statements by Circumstanced Me,” after what appears to be a version of “Purgatory Lilt.” This comparison is significant because “Purgatory Lilt” begins with Germany: “Germany’s remain is permeated by decay reek throughout. / Effect of brainstorming backslide —” and proceeds to describe the Baroness’s despondency or the cause of her “derangement” in terms of Germany’s postwar ruin.
Of equal importance is the fact that “Purgatory Lilt” concludes with the Baroness’s more hopeful perspective on America, which she has at the time of its writing left behind forever. Living in late 1920s Berlin, the Baroness often reflected on what she saw as her happier times in the States. Writing to Barnes about a collection she assumes Barnes will be editing, the Baroness encourages her to include “Hell’s Wisdom” because it is “just precisely printing out where I stand in the universe — and why — so precariously!” In her letter to Barnes, the Baroness explains her derangement as the result of her conflicting experience within German and American culture: while “Hell’s Wisdom” speaks of her derangement, “Purgatory Lilt” is “proving my devotion to America — and the rotting — you see — I am deranged — Djuna — temporarily.” Both the devotion and the sense of rotting are present in the concluding lines of “Purgatory Lilt,” which discuss the stifling air (“wheeze I”) the Baroness perceives in the atmosphere of postwar Germany. While Germany’s architecture and its “ghosts” or culture is decaying, the Baroness might take root and conceivably flourish in the “sweet soil” of America. In an undated letter to Barnes from Germany she writes of her love for America:
It is pluck! It is life! The German is not even capable of it! He is in tradition rotten
shrunken dignity a dapper grave — exhausted fool — who dies of “conviction” without
to know what about — he has become too comfortably dull — has forgotten to move —
fight — except in that mechanical war fashion with weapons
Reflecting the Dadaist contempt for stale tradition, the Baroness loves this idea of the United States as a culture that is not so mired in what she sees reflected in the destroyed Germany around her where “dull” and “rotten” traditions have lost their meaning. She perceives America as a culture of action, a trait she admires and to which she aspires. While “Purgatory Lilt” uses America as a trope for a hopeful future, “Hell’s Wisdom” points to the bittersweet hope that retrospective “wisdom” affords. It is ultimately between these two poles (and between these two versions) where the poem is located.
Reading different versions or entirely different poems helps us read a poem like “Hell’s Wisdom,” because in the Baroness’s poetry, a text is often a manifestation of experiments on a theme. This mode of experimentation means that one version’s relationship to another represents an instance of alternative choices rather than a system of rough drafts leading to final versions. For instance, for Dadaists and modernists alike, science and technology functions in opposition to the elements of chance that were associated with creative impulse and everyday lived life. Tristan Tzara writes that “Dada was born of a moral need, an implacable will to achieve a moral absolute, of a profound sentiment that man, at the center of all creations of the spirit, must affirm his primacy over notions emptied of all human substance, over dead objects and ill-gotten gains.”[xxiii]
The interplay among historical, personal, scientific, and creative forces in “Hell’s Wisdom” points to themes inspired by the Baroness’s fellow Dadaists, but it is difficult to decipher the abstract logic that the arithmetic in a poem like “Hell’s Wisdom” represents unless one also reads the Baroness’s short unpublished poem “Cosmic Arithmetic”:
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Cosmic Arithmetic, 1927. Djuna Barnes Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
1 = 2 = sex
2 = 1 = potency
1 = 3 = Holy Ghost
In both poems, antiteleological perspectives are coupled with traditional uses of science and technology to create striking contrasts. In “Cosmic Arithmetic,” we see some of the same elements that appear in “Hell’s Wisdom,” such as religion (“damnation” and “blood sacrificial”), the sexual potency of “star-shaped” female sexuality (“Lone I — enhanced shrouded earth — by own atmosphere mine self’s own self — out-of circumstance cosmic star - volve revolve — evolve — I do — by starshaped pride”), and the celestial elements of the cosmos (“star,” “moon,” and “sun”). In “Cosmic Arithmetic,” however, the moral absolute of the Trinity is represented in the conciseness that a number can convey—the number three. For instance, in “Hell’s Wisdom,” the same entity is engaged by the three interlaced x’s and the association with X-ray crystallography (“Matter at ever higher level put / Until cristal state —”), a scientific methodology that was discussed by artists in the nineteen-teens since “both cubism and X-ray crystallography rely on the analysis and juxtaposition of two-dimensional slices in order to examine the three-dimensional structure of common objects.” Numbers are similarly abstract representations, and by equating the same numerical combinations (2 + 1 = 3) with terms such as “sex” and “potency,” the Baroness interrogates the “absolute” morality that the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) represents, given the way the “father” and “son” relationship reflects religious patriarchal institutions in which cultural negotiations between power and gender are played out. In its mathematical articulation of culturally significant words such as “sex,” “potency,” and “Holy Ghost,” “Cosmic Arithmetic” reflects the Baroness’s desire to appeal to the modernist and Dadaist need to express abstract truths with concision. Reading the two-dimensional slices provided by “Cosmic Arithmetic” alongside the more fleshed out response in “Hell’s Wisdom” allows us perspective into the poem’s method for making meaning through abstract variables.
“Ostentatious; Westward:; Eastward:; Agog” (published in transition, June 1929) marks the last poem by the Baroness printed in a little magazine; it also marks a change in the philosophy that governed 1920s notions of experimental poetry. “In 1929 in Paris,” Margaret Anderson writes, “I decided that the time had come to end The Little Review. Our mission was accomplished; contemporary art had arrived; for a hundred years, perhaps, the literary world would produce only repetition.” Indeed the more provocative, informal, and public conversation about poetry between artists had been fading for years, and criticism was becoming formalized in magazine culture just as it would soon become formalized in the academy. Longer arguments about art in The Dial and The Egoist took the place of more conversation-like letters that comprised sections like “The Reader Critic” in The Little Review. In fact, the spring 1925 issue of The Little Review, which featured its last poem by the Baroness, was also the last issue that contained “The Reader Critic” section, the center point for discussion, debate, and responses from readers, editors, and artists. After The Little Review stopped publishing her work, the Baroness concluded that she was not appreciated in New York. She wrote to Barnes, “I have not become ‘known enough’ and so I am forgotten,” because “I had fame that kept me admired, jeered at, feared, and poor.” Finally, with a loan from William Carlos Williams, the Baroness returned to Germany only to discover that her father had disinherited her. Until 1926, she was despondent, selling newspapers on the street in Berlin until Barnes and others raised enough money to send her to Paris, where she subsequently died, in 1927, allegedly by suicide. This collection represents a reappraisal of the appreciation and thought and art that the poetry of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven inspired and inspires.
3. This scholarly trajectory begins with Robert Reiss’s “‘My Baroness’: Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,” Dada surrealism 14 (1985): 81–101; Amelia Jones’s Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004); and a handful of articles written by her biographer Irene Gammel: “The Baroness Elsa and the Politics of Transgressive Body Talk,” in American Modernism Across the Arts, ed. Jay Bochner and Justin Edwards (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), 73–96; “Breaking the Bonds of Discretion: Baroness Elsa and the Female Confession,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 14, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 149–66; “Limbswishing Dada in New York: Baroness Elsa’s Gender Performance,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 29, no. 1 (2002): 3–24; and “‘No Woman Lover’: Baroness Elsa’s Intimate Biography,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature (1994): 1–17. In addition, an exhibition titled Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York, curated by Francis Naumann with Beth Venn, was put up at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York in 1997. The Baroness’s poetry is examined somewhat in Gammel’s Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity—a Cultural Biography Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002) and more specifically in Gammel’s “She Strips Naked: The Poetry of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,” The Literary Review 46, no. 3 (Spring 2003): 468–80.
7. Gammel, “German Extravagance Confronts American Modernism: The Poetics of Baroness Else,” in Pioneering North America: Mediators of European Culture and Literature, ed. Klaus Martens (Würzburg: Königshausen and Neumann, 2000), 65.
13. David Escoffery, “Dada Performance and the Rhetoric of Nonsense: Tearing Down the Wall at the Cabaret Voltaire,” in Images and Imagery: Frames, Borders, Limits: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Corrado Federici, Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons, and Ernesto Virgulti (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 3.
15. It is evident from a letter from the Baroness to Djuna Barnes that she saw some of Schwitters’s collages in an exhibition held in New York at the Little Review Gallery. For no apparent reason other than jealousy, she calls his work “utterly mediocre” and “undistinguished vulgar bohemianism” (Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, emphasis in original).
24. Freytag-Loringhoven, “Cosmic Arithmetic,” in In Transition: Selected Poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, ed. Tanya Clement (College Park: University of Maryland Libraries, 2008).
Editorial note: Today, we’re very happy to unveil a new PennSound author page for author Harry Mathews. While the page contains one reading previously available on the site (a 2002 reading from the Lytle Shaw-curated Line Reading Series), the majority of these materials were gathered by PennSound senior editor Chris Funkhouser, and I’ve asked him to write about his experience discovering these recordings in Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. — Michael S. Hennessey
Teaching a course at University of Pennsylvania in fall 2010, I made weekly pilgrimages to the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Early on, I met John Pollack, public services specialist of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (housed at Van Pelt), who cordially welcomed me and facilitated my research in this archive throughout the term.
Since I am a scholar of modern and postmodern poetics, Pollack steered me toward the William Carlos Williams Research Collection — where I encountered some beautiful artifacts (including some unpublished poetry, sweet valentines, and wonderful letters from Pound to Flossie, which apart from other qualities illustrate how EP’s abbreviations are clear predecessors to SMS). The real prize for me, however, was when Pollack mentioned Penn’s acquisition of Harry Mathews’s “papers.” For many years a student and practitioner of Oulipian procedures, I knew exploring this aspect of the archive would be bountiful — and it was.
The library’s cataloguing of the Mathews materials is still in its early stages. As of last fall, Mathews’s letters — stored in twenty archival boxes, containing letters from about 925 individuals, groups, or publishers — have been sorted, logged, and organized into folders by correspondent; a twenty-two-page printed index is available. During my first two sessions with the Mathews collection, I reviewed seven of these boxes, including those containing missives pertaining to my own research interests: letters by Marc Adrian, John Ashbery, John Baldessari, Charles Bernstein, Ted Berrigan, John Cage, Augusto de Campos, Henri Chopin, Robert Coover, Ray Johnson, Alex Katz, Jacqueline Kennedy, Frank O’Hara, and Locus Solus and Oulipo group correspondences and publication proofs, to name just a few. The Ashbery letters, which he signs with dozens of playful pseudonyms, are particularly colorful, and, as of yet, I can only imagine how they were stirred by equally vibrant and gaudy letters by Mathews. The de Campos folder contains some early Brazilian Concrete poetry publications (e.g., 1964 works by Azeredo, Grunewald, and Pignitari), which differ in appearance and affect from their more commonly seen and accessible book-form iterations.
My interest in these letters, and Mathews’s work in general, led to a meeting with Nancy Shawcross (curator of manuscripts in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library), who gave me a tour of the behind-the-scenes holdings in mid-October, where, amidst dozens of large cartons, folders, and objets d'art (e.g., assorted sheet music, oversized creations and “ephemera” of all sorts), I noticed a small box labeled “Tapes + CDs.” As a senior editor at PennSound, almost immediately I realized the importance of finding a way to transfer, in digital form, the contents of whatever this package contained across campus — over to PennSound’s servers located at the other end of Locust Walk. Two weeks later Mathews’s “Tapes + CDs” were dispensed to the Rare Books reading room, and the process of archive-to-archive conversion began.
Another upshot from my initial meeting with Dr. Shawcross was her suggestion to make direct contact with Mathews, who she believed could help me locate materials pertaining to some specific research questions I had regarding the influence of computer technology (software or other) on Oulipian composition and process. She gave me his email address, and a few days later I struck up a correspondence: Mathews welcomed my inquiries and was willing to consider the possibility of sharing on the Web the recordings I’d found, but, reasonably, wanted to hear them before authorizing us to do so.
Harry Mathews. Photo by Anna Wasilewska.
Opening the coffer of Mathews’s recordings during the first of many review and work sessions, I was pleased to find a number of cassettes, a videotape, and a CD-ROM (as well as printed matter related to “Composing: Harry Mathews’ Words and Worlds,” a gallery installation of artifacts selected from the archive by Nick Montfort in 2004). The cassettes include Mathews’s 1998 appearance on KCRW’s Bookworm program (hosted by Michael Silverblatt), his February 1999 Friends of the Library reading at Penn (multiple copies), a fall 1999 reading at MIT, and Ashbery’s 1986 interview with Mathews. The CD-ROM contains Mathews family photos, and the videotape, titled “On n’attend que toi,” is a 2003 production by Daniela Franco (coincidentally a collaborator of mine at E-Poetry 2007), on which the audio features Mathews’s “Jack’s reminders to the King of Karactika” (read by Ian Monk). While I was somewhat surprised there were not more audio materials, what I found myself hearing was nothing short of brilliant.
However, with the exception of the professionally produced KCRW program, sound quality on the cassettes left a lot to be desired. The Ashbery interview is particularly difficult to hear, and once I discovered that the interview had already been transcribed, published in the Review of Contemporary Fiction (vol. 7, no. 3, fall 1987) and posted online, I decided that the effort to salvage the conversation’s audibility could wait since there was plenty else to do.
In early November — after reviewing, making notes on the recordings, informing other editors what I had uncovered (suggesting we find a way to add these to PennSound) — I inquired about obtaining digital copies of the cassettes. Shawcross and her assistants graciously and promptly responded, and in mid-November I picked up three CDs containing WAV files of the Bookworm, Friends of the Library, and MIT readings. Creating the MP3 files now included in PennSound’s archive, I proceeded to optimize their sonic properties, improving vocal quality and removing extraneous noise as best I could. In December, the MP3s were delivered to Mathews, who reviewed them over the winter and in March agreed to let PennSound produce an online archive based on the audio documentation of events I happened upon in the fall.
Indeed, Mathews has been completely helpful during the months of labor required to bring these recordings to PennSound, for which we are tremendously grateful. In fact it was his suggestion we add to the archive some of the recordings he produced for a CD included with first issue of the journal The Sienese Shredder (2007). This addition, supported by the editors of The Sienese Shredder (Brice Brown and Trevor Winkfield), marvelously rounds out our Mathews compendium. Mathews amiably provided the WAV files for this series of poems, written over the course of his literary career, which I then converted to MP3, boosting their amplitude for better online replay and making some needed surgical repairs.
Eventually someone would have transported these recordings from Penn’s library to PennSound; serendipity brought me the opportunity and privilege to tackle — and have all-around support for — this multitiered, intrainstitutional task. Seeing the procedural underpinnings, such as original sketches of Mathews’s algorithm (i.e., done in his own hand), diagrammatic poems, the foundational materials of books such as Tlooth and The Conversions, and corresponding with Mathews has been informative, to say the least. To have good reason to consume a plenitude of Mathews’s refined, inventive, creative procedures in notebooks, and to have them reverberating in ears and mind brought unanticipated stimulation and inspiration. My 2011 blog Freeholderville, which largely engages Oulipian procedures via computer algorithm, is but one of many tangible learning outcomes resulting from the experience. Hearing Mathews’s distinctive voice and meticulous reading style transports us through many worlds and cultures, introducing a range of linguistic prospects and extremities — “snowballs with irregularity” — from which everyone should benefit.
Editors’ note: This is a transcription of the discussion that immediately following the short presentations on December 6, 2010, at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. If you check these words against the video or audio recordings, you will notice that the participants have slightly corrected or otherwise revised their comments — for style and clarity, we would say on the whole, rather than substance. Those who wish to quote the Q&A in an article or other document may certainly use either version (recording or transcription); we only ask that the version be specified. Finally, we wish to thank Michael Nardone, one of J2’s editors and, we are pleased to say, an extremely able transcriber. Michael, who spends some months of his year near the Arctic Circle in Canada, was actually there in person for this program, in itself a delight. — Al Filreis & Gordon Faylor
AL FILREIS: I want to say that all these mics work, and I would like to invite anybody in this room, including the presenters, and the presenters will have plenty to say if others don’t, so I can guarantee that. What I’d like you to do is find a mic near you — they all work, right, James — and either say something, respond, you don’t have to ask a question. Even if you don’t ask a question I’m sure that the presenters will have something to say in response. And of course, I’m giving you a little time to think while I’m saying these things, but I would also urge you to say your name clearly so that Michael Nardone some day will be able to transcribe this accurately and get in touch with you. I remind you that there’s a mic right here and here, and anyone anywhere can wander up to a mic.
Conrad, I know you’re thinking of something, I invite you to please find your way to the mic, and say who you are and we’ll start.
CA CONRAD: I’m CA Conrad, and I know that Bob Perelman is the one who brought up the Donald Allen anthology, but I was wondering if any of the presenters wanted to speak to this: I’ve always hated that anthology because you have forty-four poets and there’s only four women. I’m glad that Michael Hennessey brought that up. That’s just scandalous. There were so many important women poets in the 1950s. I mean, right alongside Olson at Black Mountain you had Hilda Morley. You’ve got Rosalie Moore, who is the most fervent voice of the Bay area group The Activists. And you’ve got Merle Hoyleman, who James Laughlin published in New Directions, ’58 and ’59 in particular, including her long sequence titled “Letters to Christopher.” I just can’t believe his vision, I mean, if we’re the legacy of his vision, you need a prescription, I believe. I was wondering if somebody could address that.
RON SILLIMAN: Three of the four women were people whom were close to Duncan, in the most literal sense. Madeline Gleason, Helen Adam, whom he thought of as his protégé, and Denise Levertov, whose correspondence with Duncan was still ongoing and they were still good friends at that particular point in history. He certainly did a job, I think, of discounting not just the people you are referring to, but Joanne Kyger, Diane di Prima, Ruth Witt-Diamant, and other people who could have been brought into that frame at that point in time, and he was still doing that up until he felt he discovered what he thought of as a new voice for women’s writing in Lenore Kandel in The Love Book of 1967. That’s, I think, the largest single piece of evidence that Duncan was more than just an advisor to Donald Allen. I think there’s a great dissertation for somebody who can wade in and do it and really figure out what Donald Allen’s contribution in The New American Poetry actually is, because I think it’s substantial.
SPEAKER: Do you mean Duncan?
SILLIMAN: No, I mean Donald Allen.
SPEAKER: Oh, sorry, you’re working backwards.
SILLIMAN: And looking at that and Allen’s other publishing ventures both with Grove Press and Evergreen, and then later with Four Seasons Foundations. He’s somebody who has not been looked at as an intellectual figure in his own right, but there is this profoundly problematic element. The New American Poetry is also a book that only has LeRoi Jones, and Robert Duncan couldn’t go anywhere in those days without seeing Bob Kaufman. As Rod Smith’s new book [What’s the Deal?, New York: The Song Cave, 2010] says, what’s the deal with that?
FILREIS: Speaking of Rod Smith. I’m just going to give this to you, Rod.
ROD SMITH: Well, Creeley’s name has come up a number of times, and I’ve been working on his Selected Letters with Peter Baker and Kaplan Harris, so I just wanted to read the opening paragraph of a letter to Jonathan Williams. Creeley was then in Guatemala, he had gone there with Bobbie, then Creeley, now Bobbie Louise Hawkins, and their children the year before.
“January 5, 1960
Mr. Henry Rago suh of Po-et-ry is a-dunnin’ me for proper enclosures of yr olde self-address-ed stamp-ed envelope, etc. Wow. But the poor devil probably has to account for every stamp to the Ladies, etc. Anyhow can you please send me, for the enclosed dollar bill 6 15¢ air mail stamps. Wow again — but it would be a great help, since he has 5 poems in hock there, and want to keep him good-humored. He has taken 5 to date, for a new ‘group’ (the one shot a year club, I guess). Anyhow I sent him another po-em and said help was on the way. Ok.”
It goes on, but just a bit of Creeley’s voice.
FILREIS: Thank you, Rod. Great to have Creeley there. Frank Sherlock, anything on your mind? While you’re thinking, here’s Bob Perelman.
BOB PERELMAN: Actually, I’m going to ventriloquize what Frank is about to say.
First of all I want to acknowledge the very obvious, which I mentioned too fleetingly in about seventeen of my seven hundred and fifty words: that, of course, there’s a yawning lacunae in The New American Poetry in terms of women and race. And there’s no way around that, no recuperative reading. It’s a gap in the universe. I was really educated by Michael [Hennessey’s] piece on Daisy Aldan. What a loss for the future that she seemed to suffer a Mina Loy-like eclipse. Just like Mina Loy, she sounds like she was more present, and thus was ahead of most of her contemporaries. Another great thing Michael said, and I’ve never really thought it so clearly as when I heard it, was that the Allen anthology was canonizing, and how effectively self-canonizing it was. But granted that all this is very true, nevertheless what I tried to slip in in the last seventeen of my words was that I find a capaciousness in the Allen anthology, and what I take to be Allen’s vision: the very different levels of finish, of professionalism, the messiness of that anthology. I mean, in hindsight, Olson is the professor of the group, but then there’s somebody like Orlovsky talking about washing his underwear every thirty-three months, it’s amazing that that’s in there at the same time as Olson. Or that Schuyler and Ashbery and O’Hara’s savoir faire is there next to all sorts of absolutely rough and ready stuff. It’s that kind of non-aestheticized openness that I think we all today still really need to learn from. I think we live in a very balkanized time with a lot of aesthetic closure, and that The New American Poetry for all of its social wounds and amputations has a lot to teach us.
FILREIS: Thank you, Bob. Frank.
FRANK SHERLOCK: This question is for Charles, or anybody who wants to jump in on this. Given that Larry Eigner was not that cosmopolitan of a guy, what do you make of the cosmopolitanism in the poems and maybe where that comes from?
CHARLES BERNSTEIN: That’s the extraordinary space of the blank or the silence that he faced and actually his commitment to listening. One of the striking things about Eigner is the radicality of the work. I wouldn’t compare it for better or worse with his contemporaries, but I don’t think there’s anything that's more radical in terms of the calculus in the imagination of relations, and the force in which those come together. So, I think, there are a lot of ways or terms in the future through which Eigner’s work will be thought of. Certainly in terms of disability and Michael Davidson’s important reading, and in the wider sense of a queer existence, which, surely … There’s a poem in there about his mother that is just amazing, which reminds me of the Anacin commercial from the early ’60s: “Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself!” [one commercial from the ad series is up here], where Eigner says, I should quote this exactly, but, he says, “I can eat the food myself, just give me the time” [c. 1954, #g7, Collected I:143]. And you read this, and that’s amidst all this other stuff. So, maybe the microcosm of the social space for him is as macrocosmic as it is for everybody else. Maybe the problem that we have to think through is who these people are as they emerge. That’s why, and this is what I said in response to the ’50s issue, the poem I read about the future, that's an anti-apocalyptic poem. There’s a lot of issues around the apocalypse, the bomb, the extermination process of the Jews that certainly would have haunted a Jewish American family in Swampscott. And what he is saying is something about adhering to where you are and just doing the best you can with the moment that you’re in. It sounds a lot like a whole range of other things from the ’50s that I mentioned, and Eigner was able to come to that — he did read extensively, he was obviously a kind of genius, no question about that because how could he have done what he did — but at the same time he was able to have that consciousness just by being where he was when he was, thinking about it and thinking with every word that he articulated. Surely, Robert Creeley got a letter from him and wrote him back, and that is a kind of miracle.
SMITH: The Eigner-Creeley correspondence starts before the correspondence with Olson, actually. It’s nowhere near as voluminous, but it’s clearly important to both of them.
FILREIS: I just want to say, also, and I invite anybody to say more about Eigner, or to switch the subject, I just want to say that I felt confident until tonight, I felt confident doing era-related, historically contextual readings of all of these books. I mean, I’m not bragging, I think one can do that, and it was Eigner I thought I couldn’t because I had this stupid idea that Eigner is a bit out of time or out of context, and what you said in your remarks and what you just said now and the exchange you just had with Rod make me want to go back to Eigner and see how this really is a book of its times, these are poems of their time, ’53 to ’60.
BERNSTEIN: His work really comes together with Another Time in Fragments, the Eigner that most of us know, though there are these other poems in there. But Another Time in Fragments, like “calculus,” is a response to partly what we were talking about, which is difference and connection. Surely, Eigner was about as differently abled as anybody could possible be. He was in his own space; balkanization doesn’t cover it. He was completely in another time. When he says another time in fragments, he means that, but he also gets you to rethink what all of those terms mean. That fragments don’t separate us, but are able to link us together if we understand poetry as a calculus and social space as a calculus.
FILREIS: A footnote to that: I recently reread Ed Dorn’s — I guess it's The Newly Fallen, which is either ’59 or ’60? ’60 — and the expressions of apocalyptic feeling are in both, but very different. They come from very different places. So, it’s interesting to think of the two of them together. Rachel?
RACHEL BLAU DUPLESSIS: It’s a little hard to do the short course on feminist history in response to some of the comments that have been made, but I just want to tell you that the way it would have gone then, approximately, is that women were “just not good enough.” That’s a very familiar canard. It also applies to Blacks and other people. I was recently reminded of that by an anecdote that was told to me about, it’s a hearsay anecdote, so I think I will not say exactly who told me, but just why were there no African Americans on your reading list, Madame Professor, to somebody whose name we would recognize, and the question by a black male at this university. “They just are not good enough.” So, remember that.
SPEAKER: Was that a quote?
DUPLESSIS: That was a quote, yeah. It’s the pull quote. The money shot. So, just remember that you weren’t good enough. That’s the first layer of the vectors. Second of all, in the ’50s and out of the ’50s, you have a movement that is still going on worldwide for the decolonization of women, and of sexual minorities. De Beauvoir had just been published in English in a very inaccurate translation, but nonetheless, it was sort of like a beginning. It was an intellectual salvo of trying to identify females, at least females as a particular group, not, so to speak, under couverture intellectually, or coverture, which was an old theory about marriage, and I’m not so much under the opinion of the family wage, which was sort of a ’50s theory about women not having to work because they’ll take those jobs from men, and so on. So, women, for many, many years in these cultural realms were sort of damned if they did or damned if they didn’t. Whichever way they went, it wasn’t enough. Good enough or bad enough, however you want to view it. So, thinking of all of this, I think that the message to the future, so to speak, from somebody who was alive enough to have read the whole Pack-Simpson anthology, with Robert Pack as my teacher, I would add, it was the only truth at that point, except that luckily I got my hands, God knows how, on the Donald Allen anthology.
FILREIS: Was Pack at Columbia?
DUPLESSIS: This was at Barnard College. He was my teacher. And I recommended Erica Jong’s book, I think it’s Fear of Flying, but it might have been another one, which has a fairly accurate account, because she had a tape recorder in her head as far as I can tell, an account of Anatole Broyard, who had his own issues, you might say, together with Pack, and they actually said women can’t really write poetry because they don’t experience blood and guts at 3am. Okay, so, that was us and we were taking notes.
FILREIS: I’m sorry, what? What did you take that to mean?
SILLIMAN: Maybe men give birth.
FILREIS: Thank you, Ron.
DUPLESSIS: You are talking to someone who was lobotomized at that time, and I got my brain cells reattached a little later. So, here’s the thing. Just don’t go back there. Okay, that’s my only advice to the future.
FILREIS: Thank you, Rachel.
DUPLESSIS: There’s two more teeny points, and that is the theory that women are both coequal with everybody else, and coeval with everybody else. That is, we live in the same historical time as dominant culture. I think I’ll stop there.
FILREIS: Thank you, Rachel. I would like to invite someone to speak, or any one, many people maybe, to speak to what, after hearing this program, you take to be some advantage derived from a convergence of discussions of books published by different poets at different ages coming from different angles to one single year. Is there any advantage that you got from hearing about all these people working at the same time? Some people at the very beginning of their careers, some people further on, and so forth.
Vaclav, you were going to say something else? Would you speak to that, and then say whatever it is you were going to say any way?
VACLAV PARIS: I’ve been noticing a lot recently that nostalgia seems to be creeping in more and more in critical discourse and in contemporary art, and the very act of having a symposium on the 1960s is a sort of nostalgic act. I imagine twenty years ago you’d feel that that was a retrospective action, something that leads you back into a sort of academic mode of studying history rather than a poetic experimental mode of moving forwards. No? Rachel is saying no. Is that okay, Al?
FILREIS: Is your question aimed at the older people in the panel —
PARIS: I suppose not exclusively.
FILREIS: Because I’m tempted to take this portable mic, Vaclav, and give it to Danny Snelson or Erica Kaufman, the “younger people” on the panel, who might not feel a bit of nostalgia for 1960, technically not at all.
PARIS: I’m not sure it’s just 1960. I was reading a book today which was talking about the fall of postmodernism, the way we stopped using the term, as well as the rise of nostalgia in the place of postmodernism, going along with the rise in popularity of Benjamin and his theory of ruins in critical theory.
FILREIS: It’s a fair question and a good one. Danny first, then I think Ron might have something to say.
DANNY SNELSON: That’s sort of what I opened with too. I think there are a lot of ways that in looking at a year like 1960 you can open up new vectors that aren’t quite nostalgic. Like I said, most of the people in the audience have never even touched a cartridge, nor imagined its performance. When exploring this proto-electronic work, or, for example, when artists in cinema look to proto-cinematic forms beyond recognition to see where experimental cinema can go — everyone from Stan Brakhage to Ken Jacobs — the forerunners of experimental film looked to magic lanterns or proto-cinematic forms, which are ultimately more experimental than the works that we get once were used to the conventions of narrative film. A lot of these works in the ’60s like Cage and of course the Mac Low piece is rich in a similar way. And I think the arguments about the 1960 anthology speak to that too: there’s a different kind of richness to the experimentation there that has been codified or has become so much a part of the language it’s hard to recognize without returning to an unimagined past. These things have to return.
FILREIS: Before Ron speaks, can you restate where you heard nostalgia, and what it amounts to? Certainly not in what Rachel said recently?
PARIS: I suppose not, it was more of a question of having a symposium on the 1960s, to what extent is it a nostalgic act? And to what extent do you see this sort of meeting as linked to a turn to nostalgias.
SILLIMAN: I think if it were a reification of 1960, I think we would be guilty of that. But, in fact, I think it’s more of a deconstruction, although I feel it’s very partial. One of the things that was most useful in different discussions was hearing exactly where people were when they were working on different projects, Daisy Aldan being a good example. There were some others where it would have been very useful for people to have thought about, you know, Bill Berkson who was what, twenty-two, twenty-three in 1960, and his relationship with somebody who was old enough to be his father, Frank O’Hara, who was also gay where Bill is not, there’s a lot of dynamics going on there that could be fleshed out in a much broader format. I think that ethnic and gender discussion points at some of the fissures that are deep and need to be explored. One of the things we haven’t mentioned today, although I know Rachel I think can cite it, chapter and verse, is the section in A Quick Graph in which Robert Creeley asserts that women like to be raped, which did not make it into his Collected Essays because at a certain point in his life somebody must have talked to him and he revised it. But, in 1960, thereabouts, you could write that without people actually freaking out. I can’t imagine in the year 2010 an equivalent statement.
FILREIS: Kristen, I’m going to invite you to comment on what it was like to go back to the early Jones, because, really, it’s a precareer thing it seems to me.
KRISTEN GALLAGHER: Well, going back to Jones as a way of looking at ’60, I have no nostalgia whatsoever for 1960. It’s a tragic and painful thing. I felt devastated many times actually trying to deal with this, because what Jones wants, regardless of what the people who edited certain anthologies were like and what they thought in their minds about women or black power, I think what Bob’s trying to say is that open form poetry invites certain kinds of, that there’s flexibility there that invites others in, whether people like Duncan realized it or not. So, what Jones saw there was the work, and he wanted to be part of that. He wanted to be a New American Poet. He wanted to be a Beat. He wanted to be New York School. He wanted an aesthetic life, but social conditions did not allow that for him. And he wanted it bad. He did not want to be political at this particular moment. He was driven to it, forced, and it’s sad, because if you were white, that would just not be happening for you, and you would not be likely to even know it was happening for anybody else. So, no nostalgia for 1960 here.
FILREIS: Thank you. I’m going to look to see if there’s another question or comment, and yes, you have a mic right next to you.
JEFF BORUSZAK: My name is Jeff Boruszak. So, riding off what sounded like a criticism of the idea of the symposium, the idea that it’s very much stuck in nostalgia —
FILREIS: Vaclav is never critical of anything. He is completely innocent of criticism, but you can impute anything you want to him.
BORUSZAK: But despite Charles bringing up that Eigner’s work was written all throughout the ’50s, just published in the ’60s, this symposium seems to discount 1959 or 1961 as equally important years. So, I was just wondering if anybody wanted to, I guess, rescue another year, to say that it is as important as 1960?
FILREIS: Well, I mentioned Pound’s Thrones in ’59, and a great Marianne Moore book, O to Be a Dragon, and actually it makes me think that Bob and I need to have a debate, not here or recorded, as to whether that move on Pound’s part constituted something of a resurgence. Marcel Duchamp came back to New York. He was in New York and he was really active in helping to put together a bunch of Surrealism shows in New York. That was ’58 through ’60, or so. And there’s a lot of stuff in ’61. So, fetishizing 1960? Possibly. It really is pretty extraordinary if you put the list together of the books published in 1960, although we cheated in a couple of places, because some of them were only published later, and Eigner is ’53 to ’60, and Opening of the Field is obviously a ’50s project, which is really ’57 to —
SILLIMAN: ’56 to ’59.
FILREIS: And he is still revising at the last minute, but some of that stuff goes way back, and the dream that generates that very first poem goes back to at least ten years before that, or something like that. So, yes and no. Guilty, but also innocent. Charles.
BERNSTEIN: The nostalgia issue goes back to what I said initially, just listening to everybody else, what are our affectional relationships? One of the first things I did when I heard 1960 as a year, was, you know, where was I? And I made a list, which I didn’t get to, of the television shows that I would have been watching at the time, from The Jack Benny Program to Gunsmoke.
FILREIS: And, by the way, Charles Bernstein does a fabulous Jack Benny imitation, with the timing.
BERNSTEIN: [pause] Your money or your life, please.
But, nostos, if we’re going to talk about it, is going back home. And it isn’t a negative term necessarily. I think certainly there could be a nostalgia, but it would depend upon what it was for. Curiously, in Eigner, and one of the things that’s most attractive about his work, is the utter absence of nostalgia or sentimentality or victimization, which, surely, I project in whenever I read of him. I’m always reminded that he doesn’t have that. I guess he can’t really afford to.
The other thing I want to say, though, is that a historical study of 1960 for me, and I assume this as a kind of talking point with Al, that this has to do with the ’50s despite anything else. That’s what 1960 means to me: work that was done in the ’50s that might have been published in 1960. It’s a curious fact that Eigner’s first book was published then. I would say that if we talk about the 1950s, while it’s important to be as harshly critical as we can possibly be about all the things going on, and we ought to extend that: I don’t expect poets and poetry communities to be any better than their times. The deformations of the ’50s are very powerful as are the ways that people respond to those deformations. So, it isn't a shock to me. “I’m shocked, shocked that there is gambling [misogyny, racism] going on in this establishment!” That was the nature [of the times]. I would also want to say, thinking of Michael Davidson’s San Francisco Renaissance book [and Guys Like Us] for example, that in thinking about that particular moment in San Francisco, that that culture there was responding to some degree — they were white men — they were responding to enormous violence in their everyday lives that I never experienced, so I hear the criticisms, and it’s right, but also I’m not in a position to criticize. I mean, I am and I am not. But I think in the ’50s, in that context of what’s going on, one has to imagine what those communities were. And why they often became paranoid, isolated, and even misogynist. And Robert Creeley didn’t say exactly what Ron said, he said, thinking of [an exhibition of the work of Franz] Kline, that it was like being raped. Truly a comment that is offensive, and he was offended by it … In any case, [as Davidson has described so well in Guys Like Us] Creeley is as part of a male culture as Olson and so on that one has to understand within that frame. [And we need to read these poets, and ourselves, in terms of their social dysfunctions.] But as to whether we are better now, I don’t think so. I think there are some advantages, but when we look at the macroculture now of what’s going on, when we have a Congress now, a Republican Congress that refuses to respect the civil rights of gays or women… [And our own microcommunities are surely not without their problems, anyway mine have plenty.] So, I would say contextualize and historicize.
FILREIS:And I’m going to take just twenty seconds to disagree, and then I’m going to invite not all but some of our presenters to get in a final thought that they hadn’t had a chance to say. Not all but some, so be thinking of that.
I began by saying something different. I began speculating that there could be a time, not a moment, but a time, and 1960 might as well be it, when the thaw started to thaw, when people felt that they had come not back to ideology but to the end of the end of ideology. Which is to say, when the ’50s became the ’60s, I mean, there was a change. It may not, conveniently, have happened at the date in the year when there was a zero and a young man became president, because in fact he was maybe more of a Cold War era president than his predecessor, and things didn’t work out so well immediately, but there were all kinds of other things happening. That Stanley Kunitz could be able to say — without reading anything or looking around or being aware of these active communities — could say that this was a time of consolidation, and that there really wasn’t anything new happening, while in fact all this stuff that you heard tonight was happening, and was easily accessible — of course, the anthologies hadn’t come out, neither of them mentioned here tonight had come out when Kunitz made those remarks, but there was all kinds of stuff that was available — that he could say that was essentially his effort, conscious or unconscious, at reaffirming the pattern that had been going on through the late ’40s and ’50s in the so-called McCarthy era, that that was coming to an end as many of the people or the poets that you heard about tonight were finding ways to publication, were gathering together, or, in Eigner’s situation, isolated but approached by someone like, first, [Cid] Corman from the radio, and then Creeley by letter, things were starting to happen. Now, those who would be looking at a Beat-centric or Black Mountain-centric point of view would date this thaw earlier in small pockets, but it seems to be that 1960, while not any kind of turning point, is a good enough time to be experiencing the very diverse expressions of change— although yes, we have our choice, our lists, you know, let’s name a book of 1960 that's not on the list, anybody? [Philip] Larkin has a big book, but that’s in England. I will send you all a list of books that I didn’t invite people to talk about — so, yes there’s that, but there’s a fairly great range of activity going on here and someone like Kunitz would not have seen it, didn’t read it, wasn’t interested in it. This seems to me a good enough time to mark the beginning of something different. And it’s not simply The New American Poetry that does that, although it’s great to have that in context.
I would invite any of our presenters to say a final word in a few seconds starting with Danny.
SNELSON: I mean it is a really provocative question about nostalgia earlier, and I think that what I was trying to say earlier is the development of technology, which I was presenting on, coming out of the deep Cold War — in the ’60s the transistor was developed and electronics were being explored for the first time — I think if there is really any nostalgia for young scholars, there’s nostalgia for a medium and a mode of poetic production, which no longer exists. It’s interesting this is all before mimeograph, right? A major mode of distribution, and this is before it came into prominence, so in 1960 book publication is still the dominant mode of dissemination, and a poem means a very different thing than in the ’70s when Xeroxes and distribution are easy, and now when all writing is incredibly cheap and everywhere. So, I think there is a real nostalgia for that kind of production and the weight put into words on the printed page. And our hunting them down, these dusty yellowed copies of books that we all brought today, that would be my fetishistic ending.
HENNESSEY: Playing off of Danny’s comment and your comments, if there’s anything that maybe 1960 might be, it’s this sort of watershed moment, the pause before the deluge with the mimeographs, the moment of media saturation. Charles brings up Eigner hearing Corman on the radio. And the Beats who kind of take the lead because they’re the most conspicuous group in The New American Poetry, are on Steve Allen, are on the news, are on the radio. So, this notion of media, speaking for those of us who are at the little kids’ table. John Tranter wrote me and said, “Where were you in 1960,” and I said, “My mother was in the third grade.”
FILREIS: That can’t be true.
HENNESSEY: She’ll probably kill me for saying that. On the flipside, speaking to contemporary notions of how this works, for those of us who didn’t have the pleasure of interacting with Pack or Duncan directly, I’m moved by the received-ness of all this for better or for worse, but I think there’s something beautiful about the fact that an event like this is going out live over the web, and I really like how Rachel brought up materiality. For instance, what is your copy of Second Avenue worth? What is this worth on AbeBooks? In this era, those sorts of limits become less restricting because of the work that Ubu does or Eclipse or PennSound or Jacket and Jacket2, that because of those sorts of boundaries of access, one doesn't have to go — especially because of somebody like Danny — one doesn’t have to find the yellowed, brittle copy. One can find a beautiful PDF that they can read on their iPhone on their morning commute.
FILREIS: And with that who needs nostalgia? Erica, did you want to say something?
KAUFMAN: One tiny thought that Ron might be able to answer for me is when was Duncan’s Homosexual in American Society?
FILREIS: Early, very early.
DUPLESSIS: ’44, reprinted in Jimmy and Lucy’s House of K.
FILREIS: Published maybe in Politics first, or in Partisan Review?
SILLIMAN: Partisan Review.
KAUFMAN: So, it’s much earlier? Because that’s something that I —
DUPLESSIS: Way earlier.
BERNSTEIN: [Comments off-mic] The very fact that he published that essay at that time, and the consequences for him because he did that, made him, makes him, a hero. A great essay.
SILLIMAN: [Off-mic, something about Anaïs Nin]
SPEAKER: Was After Lorca published in 1960?
SMITH: A few names that didn’t come up just in terms of a larger context in moving toward some of the positive changes in the 1960s. Ornette Coleman. The Coltrane Quartet formed in 1960. I mean, the jazz world was at possibly its ultimate height. Armstrong was still going, Ellington was going, and then you had The New Thing coming in as well, and the hard bop scene completely alive as well. So, that, I’m nostalgic for that, actually.
SILLIMAN: Two quick thoughts, one on timing and one on a person. With regards to the mimeograph — the mimeograph existed throughout the 1950s, but like the very first stages of Web 2.0, video, YouTube stuff, it was high-end technology. You had to get a hold of it. There were an inordinate number of San Francisco poets who typed up the schedules at the Greyhound depot on Seventh Street in order to get access to its mimeograph machine, which J Press and Enkidu Surrogate and a whole slew of other materials came out of. I assume the same thing occurred in New York because the really early presses of people like LeRoi Jones were in fact mimeograph, and they were in the 1950s. That’s one. The other is a name that Rod mentioned in one of the letters he was quoting, which was Henry Rago. Henry Rago was the editor of Poetry from 1954 until he died of a heart attack in, I believe, 1966 or ’67.
SILLIMAN: Was it ’69? That late? Maybe that’s true, but for the first seven years of that tenure, the work he chose to publish was exactly like the Pack-Hall-Simpson anthology. After 1961, he starts publishing Duncan, Ashbery, Eigner, me, Zukofsky, a ton of other people.
FILREIS: He published [Melvin] Tolson early despite Karl Shapiro’s cruel effort to make that not happen. Footnote: Henry Rago was on sabbatical in 1960 and John Frederick Nim was the editor of Poetry that year.
SILLIMAN: And he died on sabbatical and was replaced by Daryl Hine, who was the one-year replacement, and who was a Canadian formalist poet who I believe is still around.
DUPLESSIS: My final thought is a little bit of a response to Charles. I don’t think that poets are necessarily better than their time, nor are intellectuals. On the other hand, one thing that happens is that people who are in that cadre, that sort of material cadre, might be articulating contradictions between things more fully than the run-of-the-mill person more saturated in direct doses of ideology. And it seems to me, and I’m sort of working on this without exculpating Creeley, Olson, Pound, and so on, that there is a lot of contradiction in their thinking at the time in relationship to the female of the species and sexual minorities. And those contradictions were generally solved by them after they endured them, in ways that we would consider retrograde. What interests me is the fact of these contradictions being articulated, which you can see in various ways, letters and essays and so on, and the fact that the solution to the contradictions was basically the hegemonic that we see. I think it’s very important to honor their thinking as contradictory and to resist their solutions, that is, the solution that we’ve seen and we’re criticizing.
FILREIS: Mel, and then Chris.
MEL NICHOLS: Just some various thoughts based on some of the things people have been talking about. Thinking about technology and nostalgias: that Darren Wershler book, The Iron Whim, is a look at the typewriter and nostalgia, I was thinking of as you were talking about that. And also one thing that hasn’t come up is that a number of the poets or people, or other poets that weren't mentioned but were sort of in the mix with the people we were talking about, served in World War II, and had those experiences that they were bringing with them into things. Also, thinking about the social situations, political situations, thinking of Biotherm, which is 1961, 1962. There’s this section where O’Hara says he gets on the train and somebody says, “speaking of faggots,” and “why am I always carrying something with me?” And then the final thing I wanted to say was related to the Donald Allen anthology and different aspects of it. I learned something recently which was that “Personism” was written for those poetics statements in the back, but that Donald Allen said no, you have to write something else, we can’t put that in there, which I thought was kind of a hoot, actually. Thank you.
FILREIS: Thank you, Mel. Chris?
FUNKHOUSER: One of my favorite takeaway samples from this evening came from Bob Perelman’s talk—was it “non-aesthetic closure”? Is that the phrase you used with regard to The New American Poetry? I’m nostalgic for that!
PERELMAN: It’s on the tape. I’m nostalgic for it myself.
FUNKHOUSER: Because there’s a potential openness in that — there was a bit of a free for all, right? The thing in reading Jackson’s book that surprised me — because I first read and got to know him when he was a fairly, dare I say, crotchety older guy and his poetry seems more rigid — is that these poems, they were so liberated and fun and funny and wild.
SPEAKER: He was still crotchety.
FUNKHOUSER: But I was surprised. Jackson certainly did not hide his affinity with the Beats: titles of poems in Stanzas for Iris Lezak have Burroughs and Ginsberg in them. He wrote about his connection with the Beats in an unpublished essay, and Dan Kane talks about Jackson being with the Beats in his book. But anyway, this idea, if we can learn something from that non-aesthetic closure, good for us. And I guess I’m suddenly realizing, in a way, the multimedia environment of the field I’m involved with [digital poetry], has a kind of openness, where there are no rules or expectations to have to conform to. We’re lucky to be able to do whatever we want; no one tells us to produce a poem or assemble a publication in a particular way. I like having that ability to be open, and bringing together discrepant or disparate elements in order to make a statement, so this non-aesthetic closure sounds good.
FILREIS: I have to say that your presentation had a clever thing about it, which was the desktop image of Jackson, which had to have been from the late ’60s or early ’70s, but it was a subliminal message that your thesis about his relationship to the Beats was right, because he looked so much like a beatnik there. It was clever, because that was later. I’m sure he was very clean cut in 1960. Bob?
PERELMAN: What to say? I think the notion of knowable chronology is actually quite a chimera. On the one hand the Allen anthology is so utterly obvious, and on the other hand I find some of the juxtapositions mysterious and to be something that we haven't quite even grokked yet. The future is still to come, but the present is still to come too.
FILREIS: Okay, can it be brief?
JACOB RUSSELL: I graduated from high school in 1960, and I was listening and there’s a few things that seem maybe not too literary that kept crossing my mind as a feeling of contradiction of what was so important in living at that time. For instance, coming from Kansas City, where there were black radio stations and white radio stations. From “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window” and “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake” to “Rock Around the Clock” and “Hound Dog,” where there was a convergence of popular sorts, popular culture, of influences that no longer could correspond to the kind of privileged things that we saw as influencing continuity. The way, historically, we look at the passing on of poetry, it’s like it comes through a tube, a kind of cannon. What happened in the ’60s is, in a way … We, unintentionally perhaps, listening here, we are redefining and recreating that tube and shoving that history back into it, and limiting all of this detritus, which really is maybe as important as any of the big things, the Holocaust, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement and so on, that what we live in now is a milieu where the canon has exploded and there is no way we can privilege particular kinds of influence. This is what I remember as being the most important part of coming out of the ’60s.
FILREIS: Beautifully put, and this is a recommendation of the work that, for instance, Danny Snelson does by finding the old materials, making them available so that people can just search the web, put in “1960” and get the high, the low, and the convergences that you described. And what is, in fact — since a couple of you mentioned the 1960 blog that I’ve been writing the last few years — what’s so fun about finding fairly random things with 1960, ranging from the goofy movies that were coming out but that are still relatively hard to find with Netflix, or the breakthrough Volkswagon advertising campaign, which was a ’59 to ’60 thing, you just immerse yourself in these things and you can get a slice. It is deep rather than wide, but it’s actually quite instructive. So, thank you for that comment.
I wanted to say just a few things and then I’m going to say the names of the presenters so that we can thank them and invite everybody to go hightail it into the dining room and stay around and interact with our presenters and also with each other and enjoy the Writers House. First, I want to say that if anyone who has been witness to the event would like to write a follow-up comment, commentary, or maybe offer your own retrospective review on something from 1960, I would invite you to do that or elaborate on a comment or question that you made, please get in touch with me. I’m going to be curating some kind of, quasi-curating, some kind of follow-up so that the symposium that's published in Jacket2 will include the presentations, some part of the transcript of the Q&A, and then lots of people responding, including those who are not here tonight. So, if you're interested in that, please let me know. And so, I want to make sure where I’ve got my list, because it’s a number of people, and I don’t want to leave anybody out. Let’s please, after I finish reminding you who they are, let’s please thank these people, some of whom came quite a distance: Danny Snelson, Erica Kaufman, Bob Perelman, Mel Nichols, Ron Silliman, Judith Goldman from Chicago by video, Chris Funkhouser, Kristen Gallagher, Mike Hennessey, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Charles Bernstein. Thank them, and thank you very much. That was terrific.
Kunitz and Guest in the KWH 1960 symposium
The 1960s Symposium at the Kelly Writers House happened last December and featured a varied list of speakers. Each one addressed the 1960s moment in American literary history, which could best be summed up by the books published around that time. It seemed like a fabulous event and I could certainly comment on every last minute of it. Below are just some of my thoughts on two parts: Al Filreis’s introduction and Erica Kaufman’s discussion of Barbara Guest’s book, The Location of Things.
The evening started with a short speech from the master of ceremonies — Al Filreis. Infused with his hallmark (and infectious) humor and charm, Filreis touched on some important ideas that served to frame the rest of the event. He mentioned Stanley Kunitz’s piece in Harper’s Magazine from late 1959, in which Kunitz said that there was no current “innovation in poetic technique […] it is rather a time in which the gains of past decades, particularly the 1920s, are being tested and consolidated.”  Filreis explained that Kunitz meant that the ’20s (as the peak of Modernism) was a time of aesthetic hijinks, but that the 1960s were simply going to be a time of modest consolidation. And it was Kunitz who set himself up not as an experimenter, but as a mature consolidator, praising poets like Robert Frost versus those like William Carlos Williams. Kunitz’s faulty ideas acted as foils for the rest of the talks; as Kunitz himself wrote, an experimentation of forms is a “resistance to forms is a longing versus a looking forward.” 
After listening to Filreis’s short talk, the entire event, and then Filreis’s talk again, I got a horrible, firey anger toward Kunitz. I tried to suppress it, but it came up again. Why? Because he was so bombastically shortsighted that it seems laughable in retrospect (and of course, this is the whole point of Filreis’s brilliant frame). Still, why did Kunitz say such things? Was it to put shame upon the experimentation of the ’60s? I continue to ponder and ponder his comment that a “resistence to forms is a longing” almost wholly because someone recently expressed to me a similar idea about craft and form that was equally bothersome. It was something to the effect that it is immature to write as if one is speaking, because then craft would not be evident. And what does that mean — what about Lunch Poems? Isn’t craft also supposed to be nonevident within forms? I am not sure. Some poets write in forms as if to say they did, while others are more nonchalant. And did Kunitz mean it is nostalgic to dream of risk? Are all new sound forms immature? No way! They are everything! And what of speech and the everyday meter, where meter comes from? Yes, the foil of Kunitz stoked a fire in the dragon that I am which will extend beyond this short commentary.
Another segment that interested me was Erica Kaufman’s discussion of Barbara Guest’s first book, The Location of Things, published in 1960. It is a gorgeous book and one of my favorites, too. In Kaufman’s discussion, she mentions that Guest reclaims gender through the act of writing, and so asserts that the act of writing is human and thus gendered. She also mentions that by redefining space in the book, Guest is also redefining the domestic.
Kaufman builds on this argument when she discusses Guests’ re-envisioning of the domestic space in the poems by using the definite (versus indefinite) article in her title. It is as if, Kaufman explains, Guest gains power over the house and writes “more than public speech,” but rather a series of poethical poems that create an alternative relationship between a woman’s voice and her relationship to things through a shifting persona.  In “The Hero Leaves His Ship,” she does become the all-knowing, trickstering, lyrical I, engaging with the history of poetry. As she writes, “I wonder if this new reality is going to destroy me. / There under the leaves a loaf […] Dear roots / Your slivers repair my throat when anguish / commences to heat and glow.” 
I am particularly interested in the arguments Kaufman makes, as I am forever thinking of the space a female poet occupies in a poem. If we think of the poets we often associate with this era (e.g. Plath and Sexton), there is a sense in which these poets are also trying to redefine their shifting relationships to both their lives and their poems. Female poets (like many others traditionally silenced in poetry) have a double duty: to craft language skillfully and beautifully while engaging the classic male voice, whether in concert with or against it. It seems that a way to do this is to create a shifting persona that can maneuver a multitude of voices and still have dominion over them. In The Location of Things, Guest does so. And in doing so, she does not become the modest consolidator of forms that Kunitz prophesizes for this era, but a historical compass for us all: a painter of text, who by engaging with her own relationships to language becomes a new creator of it.
Listening to the symposium, I have an overwhelming feeling of sadness to have missed it. The recordings give a sense that they document a room full of people who love poetry. And seriously, what could be better? During the talks, I kept thinking: Where was I? Why wasn’t I there? I was alive and in Philadelphia (and probably just three buildings away in December 2010), doing something likely less important. I should have been there with these amazing people. Thank goodness there are things like PennSound, so that it almost doesn’t matter. And that I can go into the space of these talks again and again, constantly reimagining their arguments and my own place within them.
 Stanley Kunitz, “American Poetry’s Silver Age,” Harper’s Magazine (October 1959): 173–79.
 Erica Kaufman, “On Barbara Guest’s The Location of Things,” December 6, 2010, Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania.
 Barbara Guest, Poems: The Location of Things, Archaics, The Open Skies (Garden City: Doubleday, 1962), 20–21.
Published in 1960 by Totem Press, Gary Snyder’s Myths & Texts (completed in 1956) gives the first indication that his career would be devoted to the long poem as well as the short poem. Anthologized as the author of lyrics like “Nooksack Valley,” “The Bath,” and “True Night,” Snyder also worked away for forty years on the 152-page long Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint, 1996). Myths & Texts initiates Snyder’s struggle with the great modernists, many of whom attempted poems of length as well, and each of whom also discovered, like Snyder, that beyond a hundred or so lines, anything calling itself a “poem” would usually prove to be a work of interconnected sections. The form of such a poem gestures less toward a completed unity than the possibility of endlessness (a friend once commented that Mountains and Rivers really was “endless”), of infinite, spiraling speculation and freeplay.
Dividing the poem into three parts — “Logging,” “Hunting,” “Burning” — Snyder then subdivides those parts into numbered sections averaging a page in length. By beginning with the activity of logging, he means to emphasize the human will to harvest the riches of the vegetable world, a process as common to ancient China as to the forests of his native Northwest. It is not a process from which he stands apart: Snyder’s typical stance is one of complicity, not judgment and distance, and he too cuts down trees in order to make a living. Everything goes, leaves, disappears — is in some way used. Besides, the kids may “grow up an go to college” and not “come back,” but the “little fir-trees do.” 
Similarly, in “Hunting,” Snyder begins by saying “a man’s got to eat.”  In order to justify or simply to live with the killing involved, cultures have invented stories asserting a continuity between the human and the animal world, between “man and beast.” And so we get the myth of the girl taken home by the bear who will give birth to slick dark children with sharp teeth. In retelling this story, Snyder glosses the meaning of the poem’s title. The sheer human need to eat is the “text,” the unassailable fact. The “myth” is the story we make up in order to rationalize the need.
For all the hard materiality of Snyder’s vision, with its generous attention to “diatoms, lava, and chipmunks,” he concludes his poem with “Burning,” with the awareness that all we see and eat and love is part of the “windy fire” of a creation always in flux and always passing away.  The “real-world flesh and stone” is in fact composed of energy caught up in “endless cycles / Forms within forms falling.”  As a metaphysical claim, “it’s all falling or burning” is perhaps true enough.  For Snyder, what mitigates the terror in the claim is human making: “Poetry a riprap on the slick rock of metaphysics.”  A riprap is a trail of stone laid down over smooth, slippery granite so as to make a walkable path. Snyder not only actually built ripraps, but he sees a poem as itself constructing what Blake called a limit of contraction, something upon which we can stand and rejoice.
The searching, recursive structure of Myths & Texts provides one such structure. The poem plays, it borrows, it crosses cultures, it proceeds by self-questioning. We can see this in its first and in its last line. “The morning star is not a star,” Snyder begins, in a somewhat pedantic correction of our habit of calling a planet (Venus) a star.  He begins, that is, by trying to be “true” to the mere text of things. He ends as follows: “The sun is but a morning star.”  Here he is not correcting, he is quoting. In appropriating the last sentence of Walden, Snyder acknowledges his indebtedness to an American precursor who also went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately. More importantly, he revises both the meaning and the spirit of his poem’s opening line. Here, at the end, Snyder lets go of fact-bound accuracy and opts instead for a liberating metaphor. The sun is hardly a morning star: as a natural fact is, it is growing old, burning itself out. As a human experience, however, the sun is what we awake to, even what we get up for. So, at the end, the abiding human capacity for awakening overrides all merely physical entropies and allows us to see the world anew insofar as we are able to say it anew. The myth survives the texts.
 Gary Snyder, Myths & Texts (New York: Totem Press, 1969), 6.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 44; Gary Snyder, The Back Country (New York: New Directions, 1971), 13.
 Myths & Texts, 34–5
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 43.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 48.