Charles Alexander

A space only you can build (PoemTalk #62)

Charles Alexander, "Near or Random Acts"

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Charles Alexander joined others in Philadelphia in the early autumn of 2001 to celebrate Gil Ott, poet and maker of many important books of poems through his Singing Horse Press. Alexander, whose Chax Press owes a good deal to Ott’s work and persevering spirit, simply had to be there, notwithstanding the hassle of cross-country air travel during those early post-9/11 days. He arrived a day or two early and gave a pre-celebration reading at the Writers House, trying out some very new poems that seemed, in part, inspired by responses to the September 11 attacks.

A space only you can build (PoemTalk #62)

Charles Alexander, "Near or Random Acts"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Charles Alexander joined others in Philadelphia in the early autumn of 2001 to celebrate Gil Ott, poet and maker of many important books of poems through his Singing Horse Press. Alexander, whose Chax Press owes a good deal to Ott’s work and persevering spirit, simply had to be there, notwithstanding the hassle of cross-country air travel during those early post-9/11 days. He arrived a day or two early and gave a pre-celebration reading at the Writers House, trying out some very new poems that seemed, in part, inspired by responses to the September 11 attacks. He had begun a long poem in many sections to honor his daughters, and these later became the book Near or Random Acts, published by — you guessed it — Singing Horse Press.

Gil Ott, Charles Alexander, post-9/11

On the near or random acts of love

On October 27, 2001, admirers of Gil Ott gathered at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia to celebrate his work. Several of them — Charles Alexander, Ammiel Alcalay, Linh Dinh, Kristen Gallagher (one of the organizers of the event, and editor of The Form of Our Uncertainty: A Tribute to Gil Ott, published by Chax), Craig Czury, Eli Goldblatt, and Chris McCreary — read from Gil’s work and their own. The program was recorded and is available on PennSound. Later, a 20-minute excerpt of the whole program was made available as a podcast.

When it was Charles Alexander’s turn at the podium that evening, he gave a 2.5-minute introduction and then read excerpts from his own then-new work, Near or Random Acts, a reinscription of N-O-R-A, his daughter's name. Some of the most recent sections of the poem are responses to the 9/11 attacks which had occured just six weeks before this event — thoughts of Nora, in part, and of her age and future.  The mostly implicit connection between and among love/writing/existential threat/family gets made astonishly well in the randomness of the near acts of the poem. I was moved then — and am still — by Alexander’s understanding of the convergence of two major occasions: celebrate Gil Ott and his family; do so six weeks after 9/11. The event, which had been previously scheduled, was much more than poetry’s “show must go on.”  The meanings unintentionally made (by the event, the communal reading) were of course not so random after all.  Kristen Gallagher, editor of the celebratory volume, wrote: “One thing has concerned him consistently: ‘the struggle to articulate.’ His acceptance of uncertainty and his history of stirring things up in status-quo-ville are the defining qualities of Gil Ott’s poetics. One thing Gil says he has often reacted against is the assumption that ‘people seek out order.’”  This disorder-seeking impulse toward social uncertainty Alexander blessed that day with a work Anne Waldman later called “an investigative blessing.”[1]

Poem going down the drain (PoemTalk #45)

Eileen Myles, "Snakes"

Eileen Myles in October 2008. Photo by Annemarie Poyo Furlong.

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Eileen Myles wrote “Snakes” just as she was assigning children in a friend’s Provincetown poetry workshop to write a poem with the following not-so-constraining-seeming constraint: “Be any age and go down the drain with it.” Her poem, then, is something of a pedagogical model, an exercise in teaching by participation. Or perhaps the assignment she gave the students simply felt so alluring to her — befit her own aesthetic so well — that she couldn’t help but try it herself, regardless of her role as young writers’ guide.  This was in 1997 or so. By January 1998 she was reading the poem at the Ear Inn in New York. It was published in The Massachusetts Review also in 1998.

Poem going down the drain (PoemTalk #45)

Eileen Myles, 'Snakes'

Eileen Myles in October 2008. Photo by Annemarie Poyo Furlong.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Eileen Myles wrote “Snakes” just as she was assigning children in a friend’s Provincetown poetry workshop to write a poem with the following not-so-constraining-seeming constraint: “Be any age and go down the drain with it.” Her poem, then, is something of a pedagogical model, an exercise in teaching by participation. Or perhaps the assignment she gave the students simply felt so alluring to her — befit her own aesthetic so well — that she couldn’t help but try it herself, regardless of her role as young writers’ guide.  This was in 1997 or so. By January 1998 she was reading the poem at the Ear Inn in New York. It was published in The Massachusetts Review also in 1998.<--break- />

Interview with Charles Alexander about letterpress publishing

Charles Alexander working at Chax PressAt left you see Charles Alexander and colleagues working on a publication of Chax Press, which Charles has been directing for the past 27 years. Charles was at the Writers House today, to give a reading and be part of a recording of an episode of PoemTalk. We took a few minutes to talk about letterpresses and other alternative presses--and some important twentieth-century figures in letterpress publishing. This discussion is episode #20 in the PennSound Podcast series.

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