Joined this time by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, the PoemTalkers wasted no time grappling with George Oppen's grappling with the real. The rock of the island he's visiting - its locatedness to be cherished - "outlived the classicists." Is this anti-academic? Yes, we agreed. On an island in Maine, he meets a lobsterman and his wife and finds them super-articulate and at the same time admirably, wonderfully halting in their speech (like Oppen himself here). Oppen: "Difficult to know what one means." The lobsterman's wife: "I don't know how to say." We are all in this real together. Jessica was just back from Vegas, Linh from Iceland, Rachel from teaching a class on the other side of town. Which instruments - archaic and etymologically historical or local, broken-toothed and ready-at-hand - are the tools that will help us understand where exactly we are? "Geo-positioning" seemed to be the word of the day.
When Adrienne Rich wrote the poem "Wait" she and many Americans and others were awaiting the start of what seemed an inevitable war in Iraq, in March 2003. The PoemTalk crew - Jessica Lowenthal, Linh Dinh, Randall Couch and your convener-host Al Filreis - couldn't wait (as it were) to get going on this terrestrial poem. Is it a personal is political poem? The soldier, after all, looks at his or her wedding ring and thinks about why s/he wasn't told...but not told what? Is it a make love, not war poem? Is it a political poem at all? The Iraqi desert is "no place for the little lyric." The gang variously wonders if the poem had something large to contend about lyric's talent for reminding us of reasons why war is inhuman? Randall thinks it isn't much of a war (or antiwar) poem; its strengths diminish as it gets more clearly into its political subject; in the end it closes off "with a click." Linh prefers a less formalistic approach. Jessica and Al riff on the 1930s-style "hobos in a breadline" genre: its reputation for conservative form carrying radical content. Is this a formally conservative poem? If so, there's an irony, for sure. The PoemTalkers can only agree that such a question is open, making the poem all the more interesting (and in that sense it's a meta-poem, a poem about the problems of political poems).
In paradise every the desert wind is rising third thought in hell there are no thoughts is of earth sand screams against your government issued tent hell's noise in your nostrils crawl into your ear-shell wrap yourself in no-thought wait no place for the little lyric wedding-ring glint the reason why on earth they never told you
PoemTalk #2 was recorded in Studio 111 at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, produced by Al Filreis and Mark Lindsay. Steve McLaughlin was our sound editor and we had help from that talented soundhead, Curtis Fox. We're grateful to Adrienne Rich who agreed, when she visited in '05, to recite "Wait," a favorite of the Writers House-affiliated students.
Can such a brief bit of writing - William Carlos Williams's "Between Walls" - be a "campaign poem," as host Al Filreis at one point in PoemTalk #1 suggests? Saigon-born poet Linh Dinh (Jam Alerts) insists that it is a garbage poem and prefers not to claim for it such large literary-political territory. Williams is "flirting" with the poetic, but never quite gets there. Teacher, editor, poet, translator, college administrator Randall Couch sees greater awareness of the poetic line in the poem as printed on the page than in the way Williams's read the poem at public readings. Linh and poet Jessica Lowenthal (As If In Turning) see and hear two different poems. Al keeps wondering if the poem can be negative (be about nothing) and yet at the same time produce something and point toward this bit of shining broken modern shard to discover, or re-discover, life. To Al and Jessica it's positive ("lie / cinders / in which shine") but Linh insists with pleasure that Williams is being neutral - just a snapshot of an urban scene. As such, the poem has had a huge influence on poetry and photography since its first publication in 1934. Yet can any artist today get away with so straightforward and seemingly objective a mere observation?