Articles

Defacing the monument

Rukeyser’s innovations in docupoetics

In 1936, just a year after winning the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize, the twenty-two-year-old Muriel Rukeyser arrived in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in United States history, to work on her next poetry project. That same year The Plow that Broke the Plains was introducing American moviegoers to the documentary film; actors and writers working for the federal Living Newspaper Project were performing documentary theater in the streets; John Steinbeck was finishing The Grapes of Wrath, inspired by a newspaper story he had written a few years before; and another winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, James Agee, was traveling through rural Alabama on assignment from Fortune magazine to begin a book on tenant farmers that would change the shape of documentary forever. Rukeyser, too, would leave her mark on documentary with her groundbreaking series of poems inspired by the events in Gauley Bridge, “The Book of the Dead.”

The time-presence prescience of Eleni Sikelianos's Pindar

'Palmier glorieux,' painting by Isabelle Pelissier.

An eloquent and intricate mythmaking propels the fame-seeking in the oh-so-precious collection from the classical world, full and rich in four books, of Victory Odes (sometimes known from the Greek as Epinikia) assigned to the Greek poet Pindar. Coming down to us from the fifth century BCE, this trove of wildly appealing poetry is self-celebrated in Pindar’s own person and, whether or not on cue, has been preserved for the modern reader more substantially than some other exemplars of pre-Hellenistic lyric.

Democracy

View from Montmartre hill, Paris, France. Photo by Bruno Monginoux.

The text of “Democracy” was delivered as a talk at Oxford University’s La Maison française, as part of the colloquium “Littérature, espace(s) public(s) et démocratie” — Literature, Public Space(s) and Democracy — held November 1–2, 2013. For me, it concerns raising a voice of resistance to the illusions of capitalist “democracy,” which is the air we breathe. And evoking an experimental poetic practice that contributes to the permanent invention of a truly democratic space.

Additional notes on Will Alexander's 'Compound Hibernation'

Erica Hunt sets this reading up by calling Alexander a metaphysician. One of her students said “like Jimi Hendrix.” Hunt says yes and also Aimé Césaire, Jayne Cortez. How are they all metaphysicians? What permutation of Black Magic is this political postmodern grimoire? What is it evoking?

Just before reading my bullet points and notes on Will Alexander’s poem, I read a story, saw a video that speculated on how Mars looked before it lost its atmosphere. There are speculations about how this happened, how it lost its magnetic poles, but it went from earthlike with seas and air and clouds to a rusty tomb, where our small land robots search for evidence of microfossils from billions of years ago. I thought about this kind of sifting from a whole to atomic, from the big bang’s busting to dust.

Stephen Ratcliffe's Hamlet

In the early 1990s, Phillip Foss and Charles Bernstein coedited a special double issue of Tyuonyi ostensibly addressing contemporary tendencies in late twentieth-century poetry.