While Auden famously wrote that “poetry makes nothing happen,” he offers a clarification: “it survives / A way of happening, a mouth.” It is one of the most basic questions in our field, and one that I often hear from students: does poetry matter, and, if so, how? Certainly poetry’s ability to “matter” does not rest on socio-political impact alone. Nevertheless, the question of poetry’s significance alludes to a long debate: is poetry always about poetry — l'art pour l'art — or does poetry serve a societal function. Put in Auden’s terms, what happens when we read or write poetry? — Katie L. Price
Poetry can have a sociopolitical impact through how it constitutes communities toward forms of struggle adequate to acting on historical conditions. Within historical conditions, the totality of poetry’s social networks breaks down into overlapping communities defined by common aesthetic and political values, an expression of struggles within and between communities over those values.
In 1970, Hannah Weiner exhibited a telegram in Oberlin College’s conceptual art survey Art in the Mind. After the “mail strike,” her letter to Virginian Dwan was delivered to the gallerist (page one and page two). In it Weiner complains that Vito Acconci’s telegram-piece should be exhibited in Language IV along with Walter DeMaria’s telegram, arguing that the medium was immaterial, and that the artwork, in either case, consists in its sphere of reference. So that there could be no redundancy involved. She cites her piece at Oberlin.
But she might have also claimed more significance for the telegram. A primitive speech-to-text technology, it is a phonic ticker, defamiliarizing the otherwise imperceptible but crucial transfiguration that takes place between sound-image and thought.
The visualization of the sound of Charles Bernstein’s recording of “1-100” (1969), which I presented in a recent commentary titled “Anti-ordination in the visualization of the poem's sound,” struck artist, poet, maker of books Stephen Vincent as interestingly relevant to “haptic” drawings he has made while listening to various poets reading their work in the Bay Area, and I agree. He has called this activity drawing by sound (rather than of). “I like comparing my ‘physio/digital’ responses to the digital electronic ones,” he has written to me.
PennSound podcast #39 is devoted to Ann Lauterbach — a nine-minute excerpt from a reading she gave at the Kelly Writers House in November of 2013. Allison Harris introduces and hosts. For a full video recording of the reading and/or a full audio recording, see the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry. Charles Bernstein introduced the event, and a few seconds of his remarks can be heard in the podcast.
Through ARLO (Adaptive Recognition with Layered Optimization), enabled by the HiPSTAS (High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship) project headquartered at the Information School of the University of Texas at Austin, I sought to visualize the later passages of Charles Bernstein's chanted/screamed list or counting poem, “1 to 100” (1969). Thanks to Chris Mustazza, Tanya Clement, David Tcheng, Tony Borries, Chris Martin, and others, I am finally learning how to use ARLO to some rudimentary effect. Every single PennSound recording is now available in a test space to which ARLO can be applied by researchers, including myself, associated with the project. We are just beginning. HiPSTAS has received two NEH grants to make all this possible, and PennSound is a founding archival partner.
Aaron Shurin (then just in from the Bay Area), John Tranter (visiting from Australia), and Charles Bernstein (coming in from New York) joined Al Filreis for this episode of PoemTalk to discuss a poem by Ray DiPalma, “It makes of nonsense.” The poem was written in 1976, and first performed, we think, in 1977. Our text of the poem comes from the poet, and is reproduced below. Our PennSound recording of the poem was segmented from a longer tape of a reading DiPalma gave, along with Michael Lally and Bruce Andrews (quite a threesome in those years), at the Ear Inn in New York City on November 10, 1977; the tape-recording itself was made by the aforementioned Charles Bernstein, one of this episode’s interlocutors.
[The following is the text of an introduction I gave before a reading by Charles Bernstein from his book Recalculating on April 16, 2013, at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia.]
In Recalculating (Chicago, 2013), Charles Bernstein follows every imperative invoked from the late Emma Bee Bernstein in its epigraph, among them “Pump up the radio,” “Retrace your route in reflection,” and — profoundly — “Race your future to the finish line.” For Bernstein, via Fernando Pessoa, poets are fakers whose faking is so real they even fake the pain they truly feel. Reversing effectiveness with an eye on redemption, he seeks to kill two stones with one bird. Recalculating Wallace Stevens’s “Loneliness in Jersey City,” he offers us “Loneliness in Linden,” where — as is not the case in Stevens — “Jews do Jewish things” with failed language: cobbling together the six million tunes of the never-heard-of-in-modernism dead.
In “Fold,” the poet makes a prose-poem list of sentences in which transitive verbs are identical to direct objects, facing faces, voiding voids, gulping gulps, fearing fear and hating hate. Re-addressing friends and poetic colleagues, he offers a poem in honor of Bob Perelman in which Bob is presented only by way of possessives: what he has, what he writes, not what he is. His numinous nominalism. His casual attire surrealism. His direct address to entropic homeopathic Jewishness. In “I Will Not Write Imitative Poetry,” Bernstein — teacherly — sends himself scolded to the blackboard, forcing himself to write sixteen times that he will not write imitative poetry, he really won’t, he won’t, he won’t, he promises he won’t. It’s a wash-your-mouth-out-with-soapistry, an ars poetica as bold as the poetic-pedagogical absolutism it opposes, a few don’ts for the post-imagist. Thus he recalculates – re-understands – innovative writing in the progressive socio-literary lineage, the “pen [being] tinier than the sword,” free verse being “not a type of poetry but an imperative to liberate verse from constraints no longer applicable for a new time and new circumstance.” He recalculates a pragmatic progressive politics of language, thinking aloud through Lakoffian reformist optimism: “All the signs say no passage; still, there must be a way.”