1999 was a great year for Jacket poets, even if it was a bit of a wild year outside. Some sectors speculated that the Y2K bug would spell the end of the Internet — and the end of Jacket by default — but more than that, the last year of the millennium was a time for reflection. It evoked a sense of nostalgia and a near-obligatory need to look back at the figurative footsteps in the sand. Jacket published issues 6–9 that year (January, April, July, and October), so why not take a moment to look back at the poets who were likewise looking back?
1999 was a great year for Jacket poets, even if it was a bit of a wild year outside. Some sectors speculated that the Y2K bug would spell the end of the Internet — and the end of Jacket by default — but more than that, the last year of the millennium was a time for reflection. It evoked a sense of nostalgia and a near-obligatory need to look back at the figurative footsteps in the sand.
I took the pleasure recently of re-reading nearly everything published in the first 17 issues of Jacket magazine. Then I went back through quickly, identifying eight poet/critic-on-poet profiles that I found most impressive and memorable. Many of these I recalled from the first time I’d read them in the magazine. For what it's worth, here are — to me — the eight best essay-profiles published in the first five years of the magazine:
1. Eliot Weinberger on James Laughlin (#2; 1998) 2. Rob Wilson on Jack Spicer (#7; 1999) 3. Lytle Shaw on Frank O’Hara (#10; 1999) 4. Stephen Vincent on Joanne Kyger (#11; 2000) 5. Tom Orange on Clark Coolidge (#13; 2001) 6. Brian Kim Stefans on Ian Hamilton Finlay (#15, 2001) 7. Ann Waldman on Kenneth Koch (#15; 2001) 8. Catherine Daly on Marjorie Allen Seiffert (#17; 2002)
John Tranter recently visited the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. He participated in the recording of an episode of PoemTalk (about a poem by Ray DiPalma — to be released later), and then took time to record a conversation with Al Filreis about the founding of Jacket and various related topics.
This 11-page downloadable PDF file is available now on the website of JASAL at the Australian National Library. JASAL = the Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.
Australian poet John Tranter trained in all aspects of publishing, from hand-lettering to editing, from litho platemaking to screen printing, and developed an early familiarity with computers. The development of the Internet in the 1990s found him armed with a formidable array of skills. He published the first issue of the free international Internet-only magazine «Jacket» single-handed in 1997. «Jacket» quickly grew to become the most widely read and highly respected literary magazine ever published from Australia.
I first came across John Ashbery’s work in the late 1960s. It had a great influence on my own poetry. As I say in my 2009 doctoral thesis, “the three poets who have most influenced [my] work [are] Arthur Rimbaud, the Australian hoax poet ‘Ern Malley’, and the contemporary US poet John Ashbery.”
The connections are interesting. As a young man, Ashbery lived in France for a decade, and he has recently translated Rimbaud’s “Illuminations”. Ern Malley: back in 2002 John wrote a few poems in the “voice” of “Ern Malley”, whose writing inspired him as a young man at Harvard. Jacket number 17 publishes two of these poems, “Potsdam” and “Aenobarbus”, here.
I've recently published a long essay on the poetry of Bob Perelman. It's called "The President of This Sentence." It's about the convergence in Perelman's writing of two parallel and also, at times, convergent analyses--one of modernism's rise and fall; the other of the state of Cold War at the point of giving way to New Left and countercultural skepticism. Here is a link to the whole essay, and here is the opening paragraph:
In 2005, a seminar of Penn students and Charles Bernstein spoke with Christian Bok, making a recording that is now part of the "Close Listening" series hosted by Bernstein. Here is the recording and here is more information about the session. Now Michael Nardone has transcribed the interview for later publication in Jacket2 but we cannot resist offering a brief excerpt here:
PENN STUDENT: So, while we are talking about Eunoia, can we look forward to a consonant sequel?
BÖK: A consonant sequel? No, I’ve promised myself that I won’t ever write another constraint-based book again. The blood-pact I have with my peer group is that every book we write will be radically different from its predecessor, that the entire oeuvre should be completely heteroclite. So, the next project requires learning a whole new skill-set and re-training my brain, in effect, to learn something else. I probably would not have the endurance now or perseverance required to actually finish a constraint-based book.
PENN STUDENT: So, clearly, this is very constraint-based, and from what you’re saying, you’re probably going to set yourself a new set of rules every time you write something new. So, are you arguing for something, for going back to sort of the poetic formality that has existed forever, against the tide of free verse, or stream-of-consciousness?
BÖK: Well, actually, I have no problem with those poetic forms. I think my only complaint about those poetic forms you’ve cited is that they are not feeling much incentive to innovate and produce something new and reinvent themselves in a manner which is exciting and stimulating. And to me, it’s not so important that the work actually demonstrate some sort of formalistic character, so long as it has some kind of innovative rationale for its practice. So, I’m not making a case, I think, for a return to rigorous and strict formality. You know, I’m not that fascistic or school-marmish, I think, in my sensibilities. But I did this project thinking that it was a kind of experimental work. I didn’t know if it could be done, and I merely conducted the experiment to see what would happen. And to me, that’s really what writing poetry is about, it’s a kind of heuristic activity where you indulge in a completely exploratory adventure through language itself.
Tonight John Tranter and I are sending out the following announcement:
We are writing with news of a transition we both deem very exciting.
By the end of 2010, John Tranter and Pam Brown will have put out 40 issues of Jacket (jacketmagazine.com). It began in what John recalls as "a rash moment" in 1997 - an early all-online magazine, one of the earliest in the world of poetry and poetics, and quite rare for its consistency over the years. "The design is beautiful, the contents awesomely voluminous, the slant international modernist and experimental." (So said _The Guardian_.)
After issue 40, John will retire from thirteen years of intense every-single-day involvement with Jacket, and the entire archive of thousands of web pages will move intact to servers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where it will of course be available on the internet to everyone, for free, as always. But the magazine is not ceasing publication: quite the opposite.
Starting with the first issue in 2011, Jacket will have a new home, extra staff and a vigorous future as Jacket2. Jacket and its continuation, Jacket2, will be hosted by the Kelly Writers House and PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania.
The connection with PennSound, a vast and growing archive of audio recordings of poetry performance, discussion and criticism, is seen as a valuable additional facet of the new magazine, as is the relationship with busy Kelly Writers House, a lively venue for day-to-day poetic interchange of all kinds. The synergy in this three-way relationship has great potential.
Al will become Publisher and Jessica Lowenthal, Director of the Writers House, will be Associate Publisher. The new Editors will be Michael S. Hennessey (currently Managing Editor of PennSound) and Julia Bloch. John will be available as Founding Editor, and Pam will continue as Associate Editor.More news about Jacket2 in the weeks and months to come. Meantime, the Jacket2 folks extend gratitude -- as many in the world of poetics do -- to John and to Pam Brown for the extraordinary work they've done. And John, for his part, is mightily pleased that Jacket will be preserved and will continue and grow in a somewhat new mode but with a continuous mission and approach.