Here is a draft excerpt from Charles Bernstein's "Close Listening" discussion with Marjorie Perloff - which was recorded in November of 2009. Of course these are candid, drafty remarks and we'll need to edit them for Jacket when and if we publish "Close Listening" transcripts there. And here are some remarks Marjorie sent after seeing the excerpt below: "I’m just back from London from the TS Eliot Summer School and it was WONDERFUL and restored my faith in poetry. The students were exceptional—from all over including Beijing—and knew their Eliot inside out and so I was kept on my toes. And when all is said and done, Eliot is a GREAT and amazing poet; the students this time convinced me (almost) even to admire THE FOUR QUARTETS. Do I like E’s poetry better than Stevens’s? I’m afraid yes I do. But that should be neither here nor there."
- - -
BERNSTEIN: How about, let me shift it to Stein/Pound, who are so different, and yet you’ve obviously written a lot about and are a champion of both.
PERLOFF: Yeah, they are very different, and both wonderful in different ways. It’s certainly a different concept of what modernism is, but I do think, actually, modernism can cover them both very well, as opposed to other people, you know, for instance, now there’s this kind of Marianne Moore cult afoot. My feelings about Marianne Moore are she’s a, yes, of course, she’s a delightful poet. She always was admired, you know, it isn’t that she was neglected. Eliot loved her, Pound loved her, Williams loved her, et cetera. But she’s just, for me, not very interesting. So there are always two things. One is a kind of broad view that one can try to have and be objective, and another is, as one gets older and gets more subjective. You sort of feel that you don’t have to like everybody anymore, and, I mean, I’ve taught Marianne Moore, for instance, but—
BERNSTEIN: Was there some time in your life where you did feel like you had to like everybody. I can’t imagine that.
PERLOFF: Well, yes. Yes, certainly I did when I was a student. You had to write about whatever you were assigned to write about.
(1) I introduced Marjorie Perloff in 1999 by bringing together a number of things o(1) I introduced Marjorie Perloff in 1999 by bringing together a number of things others have said about her. I solicited these comments from others in the weeks preceding Marjorie's talk at the Writers House.
Susan Stewart: Marjorie, unlike other American intellectuals, thinks constantly about the future. This is why she is one of my favorite European intellectuals.
Bob Perelman: Didn't someone in some universe once say, "May the Force be with you"? Poets in the innovative universe say it this way when any new project is being launched: "May Marjorie be with you."
(2) And speaking of Marjorie, or speaking of Marjorie speaking: PennSound has just now added a recording of the 1989 "off-site" reading at the Modern Language Association conference that year. Marjorie read from her then-in-progress book, Radical Artifice. It was '89 and she was advocating that we get away from the term "language writing." Have a listen. And check out PennSound's off-site MLA reading page.
As in his long poems Ketjak and Tjanting, both written a few years earlier, "Albany" relies on parataxis, dislocation, and ellipsis (the very first sentence, for example, is a conditional clause, whose result clause is missing), as well as pun, paragram, and sound play to construct its larger paragraph unit. But it is not just a matter of missing pieces. The poet also avoids conventional "expressivity" by refusing to present us with a consistent "I," not specifying, for that matter, who the subject of a given sentence might be.
At the same time--and this has always been a Silliman trademark--indeterminacy of agent and referent does not preclude an obsessive attention to particular "realistic" detail. Despite repeated time and space shifts, the world of Albany, CA. is wholly recognizable. It is, to begin with, not the Bay Area of the affluent--the Marin County suburbanites, Russian Hill aesthetes, or Berkeley middle-class go-getters. The working-class motif is immediately established with the reference to "My father withheld child support, forcing my mother to live with her parents, my brother and I to be raised together in a small room." And this is the white working class: "Grandfather called them niggers." Later, when the narrator is living in a part of San Francisco where, on the contrary, many ethnicities are represented, we read that "They speak in Farsi at the corner store." The poet is a political activist: he participates in demonstrations and teach-ins, is briefly jailed, avoids the draft, and so on. There are many explanations of everyday things the activist must deal with: "The cops wear shields that serve as masks." But the paragraph is also filled with references to sexual love: couplings and uncouplings, rape, miscarriage, and abortion. And finally, there is the motif of poetry: "If it demonstrates form they can't read it." And readings: "It's not easy if your audience doesn't identify as readers." Writing poetry is always a subtext but one makes one's living elsewhere: "The want-ads," as the last sentence reminds us, "lie strewn on the table."
From her essay, "Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject." Here's the entire section of the essay devoted to "Albany."