Kristen Gallagher, Kerry Sherin Wright, and Joshua Schuster converged on Philadelphia to help us celebrate twenty years of the Kelly Writers House. Al Filreis took the opportunity of this reunion of KWH founders to convene a PoemTalk session on the work of a fourth founder — Michael Magee. This was Magee in his pre-Flarf days, the late 1990s. He was finishing a doctoral dissertation on Emerson, pragmatism, Ellison, and jazz; was beginning a relationship with the person, now his partner, who had created the Kensington Needle Exchange; and was taking long, daily morning Emersonian/Whitmanian constitutionals, walking the city incessantly described as the cradle of constitutional democracy. The book of poems resulting from these experiences was Morning Constitutional.
Thanks to PennSound staffer Hannah Judd, a November 2001 reading of Morning Constitutional Michael Magee gave at the Kelly Writers House — with Louis Cabri — has been segmented. Magee's book Morning Constitutional was published in 2001. Publisher's Weekly observed: “A breadcrumb trail of juiced urban monologues, phrasal runs somewhere between Dolphy and Sun Ra, rope-a-dope reports from a guarded ordering bordering on an underdog corner restoration and definitional clarity (a slush fund is dirty money) mark these ante-meridian outings, exercising our rights and outlining the space between our laws.” Magee walked Philadelphia in the mornings and these poems densely record his observations, debris-like.
Michael Magee's book Morning Constitutional was published in 2001. Publisher's Weekly observed: “A breadcrumb trail of juiced urban monologues, phrasal runs somewhere between Dolphy and Sun Ra, rope-a-dope reports from a guarded ordering bordering on an underdog corner restoration and definitional clarity (a slush fund is dirty money) mark these ante-meridian outings, exercising our rights and outlining the space between our laws.” Magee walked Philadelphia in the mornings and these poems densely record his observations, debris-like. The book is still available for purchase. Philip Metres wrote about it for Jacket in May 2003.
Now, thanks to PennSound staffer Hannah Judd, a November 2001 reading Magee gave at the Kelly Writers House — with Louis Cabri — has been segmented.
In Wave Books’s new Touché, Rod Smith is a tender, often hilarious skeptic. His brilliance as a poet is strongest performing the many voices of willful ignorance and hard-earned perspective, often confusing the two in poetry that merges personal doubts with public ones. Built on a negative capability, Touché’s “futility as figurative / extreme” (81) is strikingly analytical about uncertainties in private awareness, domestic American politics, and the malleable referentiality of language in relation to the author’s scatological, punny, and aesthetically “clumsy” organizations of it, much more punk rock in Smith’s DIY grammatics than actual idiocy.
In the last column, I speculated that Mary Jo Bang’s translation of the Inferno was initially seduced by but ultimately rejected the more corrosive qualities of Flarf. However, in the baroque-brut line of Henrik Drescher’s accompanying illustrations, there seems to be a corrective, drawing us into visceral mess of hell’s innards, albeit with high artisanal flare. These illustratings seem to outdo (or undo) Gustave Doré's engravings from his popular Dante volumes of the 19th century, in that they are at once more terrifying and more cuddly — open to being in an loose relation with the text they accompany. In contrast, Doré's engravings are so aesthetically overpowering that, existing in volumes that were kept around the house more as a marker of status than for reading, the illustrator’s name is more commonly associated with this Divine Comedy than that of its proper translator (Henry Francis Cary, who for the longest time, because of a C with an overgrown serif, I thought was merely “Gary” — like some anonymous Cher or Prince of a forgotten poetry scene).
“Hell is other people,” and that’s perhaps why Dante chose to write in the vernacular. Mary Jo Bang posits Dante’s choice of demotic Italian over more academic Latin as crucial to her more “pop” approach to the Inferno, as if Dante, in descending the circles of Hell, were literally playing out a necessary descent from the purities of high-culture into the noisy substrata of the low. But for a misreading of Benjamin, in which Bang posits his translational ethics as invested in “sharing what is common to all,” her approach partakes in Benjamin’s notion that, in the zombie “afterlife” of a text, one can only reanimate it through translation in ways that are impermanent and historical.
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is perhaps the closest thing canonical American literature has to a “sacred language.” In Robert Duncan’s lectures on Dickinson, we could say that he posits her as the ultimate untranslatable poet, even within her own language. In her poems she “bring[s] us to the line where everything is so fraught with meaning that we can’t find the meaning.”
The alternative space Ballroom Projects is located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, near where I live. Once a third floor ballroom that would have hosted family banquets in this working class area, it was later colonized by punks who put on hardcore shows. You have to walk up three flights of steep steps to reach its tall, cavernous space, which is surrounded on three sides by a mezzanine built out with bedrooms. Lovely banks of tall windows face south. It’s on Archer Street, backed up against Interstate 55, which one never ceases to hear through the cold, brown brick walls. It’s now informally linked to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; students and graduates of SAIC, where I teach, run it as a live-in project space. Robert Fitterman read there this spring, with Josef Kaplan, Holly Melgard, and Joey Yearous-Algozin. I read there one night in 2012. But it wasn’t a poetry reading. I was at one of many fascinating exhibits the space has hosted over recent years. And I was reading silently to myself, page by page from a stack of 8 ½ x 11 sheets set on the floor, one stack among several, something about or repeatedly extolling “true exposure.”
Note: I first met Tony Trigilio when we read together at the Sunday Salon, at Black Rock Pub in Chicago. The reading was held on a November evening after tornados had swept through the state. I bring this up because Trigilio’s WhiteNoise, a pseudo-Flarf response to DeLillo’s White Noise, transforms the language of search engines — like the kinds we were obsessively checking that afternoon for information about storm systems and tornados — into the language of poetry.
For readers of Gatza who have already come to expect the unexpected; for those fascinated with emerging innovation in book-structured polygraphies, then House of Forgetting is yet another contribution to what is becoming a prodigious oeuvre.