Charles Bernstein

Transcript of Zukofsky PoemTalk

PoemTalk episode 22 was a discussion of the twelfth poem in Louis Zukofsky's Anew series. Recently Michael Nardone made a first-pass transcript of the discussion and here is a piece of that (a draft). We pick up just after we've heard a recording (dated 1960) of Zukofsky reading our poem. And then:

FILREIS:
Peter Quartermain, who has written a close reading of this poem, says about the beginning that is sounds almost like doggerel. And he was on his way to praise the rhythms, very striking rhythms. Anybody want to say something about how the poem sounds, of course, now that we’ve heard Zukofsky reading it. What does it sound like at the beginning there?

PERELMAN:
Well, I remember the first time I read this poem, and being delightfully bollixed by the first line, thinking, now wait a minute, what did I just read? And it was because of the punning, and yet it’s about seeing and thinking, but clearly sound is in play as well, and the interplay between all the senses and the trans-sensual waves that he is talking about are all there in a nutshell in that opening line.

Charles Bernstein

"Charlesfest" reviewed

Nicole Peyrafitte has written a review of our celebratory event for Charles Bernstein (marking his 60th and the publication of his selected poems).

a happy 60th



Last night at the Zinc Bar in Manhattan: a celebration of Charles Bernstein's 60th birthday and the publication of his selected poems. Photographs by Lawrence Schwartzwald.

The poem is remembering me (PoemTalk #30)

William Carlos Wiliams

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Two tried-and-trues among the short poems of William Carlos Williams, as chosen for our 30th PoemTalk by Robert Grenier, who has been thinking about his WCW for many decades. First the metaphorical anti-metaphor of ocean and plant in “Flowers by the Sea”:

When over the flowery, sharp pasture's
edge, unseen, the salt ocean

lifts its form—chicory and daisies
tied, released, seem hardly flowers alone

but color and the movement—or the shape
perhaps—of restlessness, whereas

the sea is circled and sways
peacefully upon its plantlike stem

And then, seemingly quite different but just as classic an instance of early modern condensation, “so much depends” (“The Red Wheelbarrow”):

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman (Grenier once taught the latter poet at Berkeley, by the way) joined Al Filreis to speak with Robert Grenier about why and how he is always in the act of remembering these poems – or, as he puts it near the start of our talk, how the poems are remembering him. “Those words return,” says Grenier.

Al asks Bob P. and Charles to comment on the poetic relationship(s) between Grenier and Williams. Bob P. remembers Bob G. on Williams as fundamentally as Bob G. remembers his WCW. Grenier has always dwelled on the short vowel sounds emanating outward from “chickens.” It’s about farming and the social aesthetic and other big topics, but it’s also, says Bob P., about the patterning of words’ sounds. This was what Grenier had already taught us, years ago.

The group, prompted by Al, discusses the autotelism of “Flowers by the Sea,” and, for Charles, both poems have a “specific autonomy.” When Charles admiringly isolates the line “edge, unseen, the salt ocean,” he is put in mind of a Larry Eigner and of a possible lineage running through WCW to Eigner. He is implying there a place for Robert Grenier in that line, of course, since Grenier, at the time this session was recorded, was just then anticipating the publication of his four-volume edition of Eigner’s poems.

We discuss what WCW meant when he said of the more famous of our two poems that it was “the same as a thing of beauty.” The red wheelbarrow as locating a rewriting of Keats’ “Endymion”! “It an injunction,” says Grenier, “to pay attention to something because of its moral value. And it directs you to what is in the fact an image, in itself, as an image…. Words being composed as letters, as a composition of successive shapes. It only happens because of the conjured quality of the form.”

The poem is remembering me (PoemTalk #30)

William Carlos Williams

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Two tried-and-trues among the short poems of William Carlos Williams, as chosen for our 30th PoemTalk by Robert Grenier, who has been thinking about his WCW for many decades. First the metaphorical anti-metaphor of ocean and plant in “Flowers by the Sea”:

When over the flowery, sharp pasture's
edge, unseen, the salt ocean

lifts its form—chicory and daisies
tied, released, seem hardly flowers alone

but color and the movement—or the shape
perhaps—of restlessness, whereas

the sea is circled and sways
peacefully upon its plantlike stem

And then, seemingly quite different but just as classic an instance of early modern condensation, “so much depends” (“The Red Wheelbarrow”):

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman (Grenier once taught the latter poet at Berkeley, by the way) joined Al Filreis to speak with Robert Grenier about why and how he is always in the act of remembering these poems – or, as he puts it near the start of our talk, how the poems are remembering him. “Those words return,” says Grenier.

Al asks Bob P. and Charles to comment on the poetic relationship(s) between Grenier and Williams. Bob P. remembers Bob G. on Williams as fundamentally as Bob G. remembers his WCW. Grenier has always dwelled on the short vowel sounds emanating outward from “chickens.” It’s about farming and the social aesthetic and other big topics, but it’s also, says Bob P., about the patterning of words’ sounds. This was what Grenier had already taught us, years ago.

The group, prompted by Al, discusses the autotelism of “Flowers by the Sea,” and, for Charles, both poems have a “specific autonomy.” When Charles admiringly isolates the line “edge, unseen, the salt ocean,” he is put in mind of a Larry Eigner and of a possible lineage running through WCW to Eigner. He is implying there a place for Robert Grenier in that line, of course, since Grenier, at the time this session was recorded, was just then anticipating the publication of his four-volume edition of Eigner’s poems.

We discuss what WCW meant when he said of the more famous of our two poems that it was “the same as a thing of beauty.” The red wheelbarrow as locating a rewriting of Keats’ “Endymion”! “It an injunction,” says Grenier, “to pay attention to something because of its moral value. And it directs you to what is in the fact an image, in itself, as an image…. Words being composed as letters, as a composition of successive shapes. It only happens because of the conjured quality of the form.”

New writing practices at Banff

I'm in Banff, Alberta, attending a long-weekend-long conference called "interventions"--focused on new writing practices.I'm in Banff, Alberta, attending a long-weekend-long conference called "interventions"--focused on new writing practices. The best thing about it is that most of the presenters are practicing artists. This morning, for instance, Jen Bervin showed us several of her textile/weaving projects--one a brilliant weaving of Emily Dickinson's fascicles. Lance Olsen (an old graduate school chum) and Steve Tomasula on various forms of digital/hypermedia fiction. Fred Wah starts a talk about collaboration by talking about using tea mold for a mealtime art project. I'm meeting many Canadian writers whom I'd not known before. Erin Moure and J.R. Carpenter among them. Maria Damon riffs on connections between schmata and schema-ta, a raggy poetics, in response to the matter of the state of the sentence. Craig Dworkin (best paper, to my mind, of the conference) starts with the Poundian/imagist compression of the sentence and does exemplary literary history in a short paper. There's a ton there.  I moderated a panel on the state of reading today and tomorrow I will present a manifesto in 6 minutes. Hearing tales of the Wah-bash (the celebration of Fred Wah's retirement from active teaching near here in Calgary). Finally, after all these years, met Derek Beaulieu--a treat. Kenny Goldsmith found a moment to insert his stump speech about uncreative writing, and he chose the perfect moment. Charles Bernstein started his talk by being absent, then showed us some stunning slides of his collaborations with painters over the years. Met a young man, Mike, who lives in a cabin in northern Northwest Territory, has a satellite-enabled WiFi and uses PennSound recordings as a lifeline to the world of poetry in the provinces and states below. John Cayley yesterday used the (Brown University) "cave" (3D virtual textual environment) to draw the distinction between our seeing objects floating before us (not "on" a surface) and our seeing words in such a scene. We just can't see the words as things. Chris Funkhouser performed the other night, sheet over head, as a dancing bounding text reflector, and played a one-string instrument his mother had bought him years ago. He's finally found a use for it. Christian Bok unveiled his new project: infecting can't-be-killed microbial life with text so that it will survive the death of readers. Writing that really lasts. As someone observed, he's gotten so far past the traditionalist's lament about writing for the ages that he's back to it. Humanism rears its viral head.

Julia Bloch and Sarah Dowling are taking good notes on everything and intend to write an article. Steven Ross Smith, organizer, says he will get us recordings so that we can put a selection on PennSound.

Jacket2

"off the wall"

Screenshot of article about Jacket2 in the "Daily Pennsylvanian"

“[John] Tranter broke new ground in terms of serious criticism of poetry being spread all over the world,” [new editor Mike] Hennessey said.

Media Editor Steve McLauglin, a 2008 [Univ. of Pennsylvania] alumnus, is going on a two month bus trip this summer with his audio recorder to record poetry readings from all across the United States to use as podcasts for Jacket2.

“This project is an example of the kind of thing that doesn’t happen very often. Off-the-wall stuff happens at the Writers House,” McLaughlin said.

According to Charles Bernstein, American poet and Penn English professor, “the Web is the quickest and economically most efficient way to get poetry out there.”

Jacket is one of the most appealing and best edited of literary magazines that exists,” Bernstein said.

[more]

The made place (PoemTalk #27)

Robert Duncan, "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

To talk about Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” we at PoemTalk chose a day when an apt trio of poet-critics would be at the Kelly Writers House in Philly. It was, in fact, a celebration of the new Poems for the Millenium anthology, gathering together a new array of romanticism – a volume edited by Jeffrey Robinson (resides in Colorado) and Jerome Rothenberg (southern California). Charles Bernstein was on hand to help celebrate Jeffrey’s and Jerry’s great new volume, so we all took an hour aside and moved upward to PoemTalk’s garrett studio (which doubles as the office of Al Filreis) and got deeply and happily into this key poem by Duncan. First drafted in 1953, struggled over in the late 50s, and presented as the prologue poem to the important volume of 1960, The Opening of the Field, which in many ways, indeed, opened the field. Along the way, at various points in the discussion, we are privileged to hear of Jerry Rothenberg’s contemporaneous responses to the poem—he who after all published his own first book (of a very different kind) in that turning-point year. (Donald Allen’s gathering together of the somewhat newly emergent avant-garde, of various schools, in The New American Poetry, was published at the same time, as was Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems.)

As Charles points out during our talk, any of the several key words or phrases in the poem (“permission,” “field,” “return,” “made place,” “everlasting omen”) could have occupied us the entire session. It seemed mostly sufficient to wander around this poetic meadow for a while and then bow out as gracefully as we could. We note that Jerry’s interest in Duncan’s mode has increased over the years. We also note that none of us could quite agree with any of the others about the precise relationship between this poem and the Romantic tradition. Al tells of the recurring dream (from Duncan’s childhood) that animates and informs this “return” to the meadow. Charles remarks on the crucial major distinction between writing, on the one hand, and the state of being given permission to write, on the other. Jeffrey speaks helpfully about the possible connection, for Duncan, between “field” and “feel.” Jerry ends by talking briefly about how Duncan has influenced his own work.

The made place (PoemTalk #27)

Robert Duncan, 'Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

To talk about Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” we at PoemTalk chose a day when an apt trio of poet-critics would be at the Kelly Writers House in Philly. It was, in fact, a celebration of the new Poems for the Millenium anthology, gathering together a new array of romanticism – a volume edited by Jeffrey Robinson (resides in Colorado) and Jerome Rothenberg (southern California). Charles Bernstein was on hand to help celebrate Jeffrey’s and Jerry’s great new volume, so we all took an hour aside and moved upward to PoemTalk’s garrett studio (which doubles as the office of Al Filreis) and got deeply and happily into this key poem by Duncan. First drafted in 1953, struggled over in the late 50s, and presented as the prologue poem to the important volume of 1960, The Opening of the Field, which in many ways, indeed, opened the field. Along the way, at various points in the discussion, we are privileged to hear of Jerry Rothenberg’s contemporaneous responses to the poem—he who after all published his own first book (of a very different kind) in that turning-point year. (Donald Allen’s gathering together of the somewhat newly emergent avant-garde, of various schools, in The New American Poetry, was published at the same time, as was Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems.)

As Charles points out during our talk, any of the several key words or phrases in the poem (“permission,” “field,” “return,” “made place,” “everlasting omen”) could have occupied us the entire session. It seemed mostly sufficient to wander around this poetic meadow for a while and then bow out as gracefully as we could. We note that Jerry’s interest in Duncan’s mode has increased over the years. We also note that none of us could quite agree with any of the others about the precise relationship between this poem and the Romantic tradition. Al tells of the recurring dream (from Duncan’s childhood) that animates and informs this “return” to the meadow. Charles remarks on the crucial major distinction between writing, on the one hand, and the state of being given permission to write, on the other. Jeffrey speaks helpfully about the possible connection, for Duncan, between “field” and “feel.” Jerry ends by talking briefly about how Duncan has influenced his own work.

Noncanonical Congo (PoemTalk #26)

Vachel Lindsay, "The Congo"

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Many of us read Vachel Lindsay in school--at least until he was removed from the anthologies. Few of us have heard the recordings of Lindsay performing--not just reading, but truly performing--his poems, "The Congo" most (in)famously. So we PoemTalkers decided to try our hand at the first section of Lindsay's most well-known poem. Al suggests that readers and listeners must attempt to "get past" the obvious racism (even of the opening lines), but Aldon Nielsen takes exception to that formulation, and off we go, exploring the problem and possibilities of this poet's foray--Afrophilic but nonetheless stereotype-burdened--into African sound and, more generally, the performativity of a culture.

Charles Bernstein finds this "one of the most interesting poems to teach," and adds: "[Lindsay] felt there was something deeply wrong with white culture, that it was hung up, ... that it was disembodied, that it was too abstract." All the problems of the poem, Charles notes, remain present when one reads or hears it. It's all there. It's not a "bad example" of something; it makes its own way (or loses its way) in the modern poetic tradition, as it is.

What can Lindsay teach us today? Michelle Taransky is sure that young writers can learn from Lindsay's experiments, and not just in sound--but also in the way he uses marginal directions, which serve as performance (or production) cues. She commends Lindsay for making available to us the realization "that a poem doesn't have to be read in a monotone way....and that they [young poets today] can read a poem in a way that seems appropriate to them at that time."

Aldon doesn't want to "get past" the tension between Lindsay's desire to make a progressive statement and the racist content in the poem; as a whole, this work creates a tension that is "absolutely at the core of American culture." Aldon is hesitant to use the phrase "teachable moment" (which during 2009 has been a phrase that is dulled from facile overuse in the "ongoing conversation" about race) but that--teachability--is about the sum of it: to teach this poem is to gain access to a central American discussion.

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