August 11, 1978. On the radio program, "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," Lyn Hejinian and Kit Robinson are our hosts, and the guest is Ted Berrigan. A PennSound recording of the show is available, and here--thanks to the work of Michael Nardone--is part of the transcription:
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HEJINIAN: We’re going to continue on now with our guest Ted Berrigan. This is "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets."
Ted, you have a sequence of poems?
BERRIGAN: Yeah, I’ll read three poems from a book, which I just completed, I completed it three or four months ago, it’s called Easter Monday, and it’s fifty poems. And they’re all, most of them are close to the same size, which is about, well, my favorite size, which is about 14 lines. Well, they are sonnets, in fact, but they don’t really work at that too much. Not all of them are. Some are longer. None are shorter, but some are quite long, quite a bit longer, because they just got longer sometimes, and when they did I just let them be longer.
These fifty poems are, fifty was an arbitrary number I decided upon ahead of time based on a theory that if you do two or three works that are fairly similar, and that you liked them, even if you just do one, you do one work and you like it and do another one that’s similar to it, there’s no particular reason to do the next one, a second one, and there’s no particular reason not to do it. But if you feel you have a number then there, you can set yourself this arbitrary number and just decide, well, I’ll do fifty of these. Then you’re sort of clear as to what you’ll be doing for a while. I got this idea from a painter friend of mine.
So, I did fifty of these, and it took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I said that I would do fifty. It’s called Easter Monday because it’s really about second life, life beginning about the age of 40. And since it is personal, I mean it is the second half of one’s life, it’s about being young, a young older person. I was involved in a second marriage, second family, but even if I hadn’t been, it still could have been the same thing.
Consequently, it is like Easter Monday. Easter Friday you die. Easter Sunday you rise again from the dead and that’s really glorious and wonderful, but then Easter Monday you have to get this job and support yourself for the rest of your life.
The poems were all written in two or three or four years from the time I was 38 until last year when I was 42. So they are not all about one’s whole second life, but rather about being aware of coming into that.
When I say they are about something, I mean, I strictly mean “about”. I don’t know what each poem is about particularly. I could study them and tell you what each one is about, but that’s not what I’m willing to do.
Each poem is a very separate poem. They are not like my work The Sonnets where, although every poem can stand on its own, they were sequential and serial in a certain way. There is some repetition of things, but it’s really like fifty separate works which were done knowing I was going to do fifty, and therefore they relate that way. Now, I knew what the themes were, though I didn’t work at them too hard. I just knew what they were.
This is the first three. The first one is called “Chicago Morning.” It’s dedicated to the painter Phil Gustin simply because I was looking at a painting of his while I was writing because it was hanging on the wall over the typewriter, and so I actually used some things in his painting to refer to when I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
From the Yad Vashem archives in Israel, here are names of some of the Filreis family who were killed by the Germans during World War II. Most of them were exterminated at Treblinka:
Filreiss, Benek Koldra, Lea, born 1881 Szejnfuks, Manja, born 1907 Akerman, Haya** Filreis, Genia, born 1915 Filries, Szimon, born 1915 Filries, Max, born 1900 Filries Tauba, born 1895 Filries, Khaia
All were from Warsaw, Poland. I’m guessing that “Filreiss” is a real alternative spelling and that “Filries” is a mistake in transcription at some point (these are just guesses). The names were submitted by Mrs. Idia Kcefner (I don’t know who she is) in 1957, by Mr. Moshe’ Koldra (ditto) in 1956, and by Zalman Akerman** in 1999. For more about Zalman Akerman’s story of survival, go here.
Teacher James Keegstra, of Alberta, was teaching in his "history" classes that Jews were historical devils, and their deviltry was no metaphor. This is for real. You've just got to watch this 20-minute video clip from a Canadian 60 Minutes-style TV news magazine. It's called "Lessons in Hate." Note the modest heroism of the two nosey moms. Among Keegstra's claims: "that John Wilkes Booth was of the Jewish religion."
Still thinking about the late Terrence Des Pres. When I first knew him (mid-70s) he was spending time with the political poet Carolyn Forche. He finished The Survivor (a struggle, to say the very, very least) and became well known for that book (deservedly, but there was always much more to Des Pres than that book). Later, through a poem by Forche (and in many other ways, of course), I came to learn more about what kind of struggle it was for him to write The Survivor. In the poem, "Ourselves or Nothing," Forche tells us of finding notes TDP had written to himself and, after an all-night attempt at writing, left for himself on his desk for the morning. "you will live and die / under the name of someone / who has actually died." And another message (although not one for which Forche was present): "Finish this or die." Here is a copy of that poem.
I have long been a sometimes unreasonable antagonist against Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. It's a film about the Holocaust with an ideologically ironic Master Narrative feel, and Oskar is presented as an I know/You don't, I am/You aren't, I have/you want relationship to Jews individually and collectively. The power dynamic gets sexualized (Oskar is physically attracted to a Jew's weakness in connection with his strength - although he knows the difference is merely a result of the era and will change later). The film uses Oskar relentlessly as a focalizer of our view, and so (despite what I take to be Spielberg's good intentions) this movie gives us the Holocaust of a German (indeed a member of the Nazi Party) when so many other perspectives are narratively possible. When we see the little girl in the red coat, we see her only and precisely from Oskar's point of view (which is to say Spielberg's) and there is no visual choice. We see what he wants us to see. In an otherwise black and white film (pseudo-documentary) her coat is painted red. Get it? Sure, we get it and how can we see anything else. It's a fascistic camera. No formal replication of the chaos, the utter chaos, the multiple views, the self-reflexivity, the varying degrees of complicity, the painful-to-watchness, the who-knows-what's-happening historiography of works like Maus or Shoah.
In '94 the Village Voice hosted a terrific symposium on the film. To me this is the finest way of understanding the issues the film raises about representations of the Holocaust.
Gertrude Koch, a panelist, says, "Who has the power? Who has the power to give life or death? That's what the film's about. I think the film is very friendly toward the concept of sovereignty, in the sense that Spielberg is always reproducing it."
Dated January 3, 2011 - a conservative's view of holocaust education - not very positive. "Genocide Studies has become an academic specialty and a fundraising bonanza, with professional organizations and prizes. Great books have been written and beautiful museums have been built—all in the conviction that they will prevent the production of future mass murderers and their willing executioners." But the conviction is hollow. We give students (starting quite young) ideas about preventing genocide but no sense of what to do. Further on you realize that the failure is largely owing to the left, because, in part, they are too much on guard against scholarly and other presentations of the equivalence of Stalin's regime and Hitlers, of communism and fascism. The issue becomes a matter of "minimizers" of communist mass murder. By this point we've come a long way from the quite reasonable concern that educators are teaching their students about the holocaust in the wrong place, the wrong site - the classroom. That's, for me at least, the value of these doubts. I don't know how to get past this very real irony.
Zalman was born in Warsaw in 1927 as the only child of Izaak and Haja Akerman. Before marrying Zalman's father, Haja's name as Haja Filreis. I believe that Haja was a sister of my father's father--my grandfather--Ben. That would make Zalman my father's first cousin. Ben and his brother left Warsaw to come to Brooklyn in the 1910s, so the family was permanently split up even before World War II.
He calls himself the only survivor of his family. But now, finally, he knows that other Filreises survived.
Zalman's father Izaak was a hat-maker who specialized mainly in leather hats. His mother Haja--formerly Haja Filreis--was a senior nurse in one of the hospitals of Warsaw. Zalman who was an only child studied at the Polish School on Ptasia Street.
As you will see, if you read on, Zalman is a survivor of the Holocaust. He was involved with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fairly far into that battle. The rest of his story is told through a web site called "Virtual Stetl," an attempt by some people in Israel to record the memories of Eastern European Jews who eventually found their way to the middle east.
"I had a happy childhood", says Zalman, yet he remembers very little from his childhood days and from his parents. "All what happened before the war was almost entirely erased, except for a few remembrances". For instance, Zalman remembers a colored painting of him when he was four, painted on canvas, which was hanging on the wall in their living room. From the house he remembers the opening sofa in the living room and the round table, which stood in the middle. The cooking stove in the kitchen, which was heated by fire-woods, and the portable stove from cast iron. One of the rooms served as a workshop for his father Izaak, including special models which Izaak sewed his hats on them.
In Primo Levi's magnificently modern book, The Periodic Table, the finest of the many fabulous sections is the chapter called "Chromium." Readers of this blog who haven't read "Chromium" should drop everything and read it now. Here's a crude PDF. Good enough. Please read.
Thanks to Sam Sharf, vigilant newspaper editor and former student of my course on the holocaust, for making me aware of this announcement:
University of Pennsylvania Students Participate in Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics Rachel Hadler, Jin Suk Kim, and Karen Revere Join Groundbreaking Program for Medical and Law Students