[N.B. : My dear editors have pointed out a problem with my using this image for the commentary's header, which is to say that the black background obscures my name and the column's title. As someone who has lived with an obscure name lo these many years, I would have been willing to chance it, but in the interests of consistency of style across our Jackets I have replaced the banner with another. The image lives on here, however, hovering over all that shall soon follow.]
I’m going to start simply by telling the story of this image.
Anna Everett was a young woman from Washington, D.C., who moved to Buffalo, N.Y., in the early 1970s to live with relatives while finishing her high school education. As a new student, she was sent to Lafayette High School, which was only then being integrated. If you’ve read about the integration and bussing battles of that era, you can well imagine the challenges she faced. There weren't attacks on school buses by angry mobs as in Boston, but there were groups of white parents picketing the approach to the school and making it abundantly clear to the small group of black students that they were not welcomed by all. With all deliberate speed, Everett set about making her mark at Lafayette.
A WORD OR TWO ON JOSEF KAPLAN’S EXTRAORDINARY INTRODUCTIONS TO SEGUE SERIES POETRY READINGS by Robert Fitterman
In David Joselit’s new critical book, After Art, he adopts the term “image fundamentalism” to describe a relationship to art that aims to be rooted to a “specific place.” He writes: “Religious fundamentalism is defined by adherence to doctrine, as laid down in sacred texts. Image fundamentalism asserts that a visual artifact belong exclusively to a specific site (its place of origin).” What, then, would literary fundamentalism look like? My point here is that Kaplan’s introductions are unchained to their origins, and, as such, they are the polar opposites of literary fundamentalism. Following Joselit’s premise, Kaplan lets the work of the writer he is about to introduce dictate a slippery procession, where the reader gets to traverse the unknown (and in this case the reader is the presenter). In exchange for a tired list of accomplishments, publications, and insights, Kaplan aims for another possibility: one reader’s world intersecting one writer’s world. Of course it is the seriousness, hilarity, courage, and thoughtfulness that makes us, the audience, interested in the performance of this intersection... an intersection, by the way, that overlaps the actual author’s work by as little as, say, 10%. But it doesn’t matter: this isn’t about being respectful or authentic or informative (can we say Google at home?), this is about actually caring enough to take the work—and a reader’s response to the work — somewhere else, not rooted to the original meaning or author’s intention or biography, but elsewhere.
If you haven't attended the December-January Segue events these past two years, you have missed something. Josef Kaplan's introductions. Most weeks, as they unfold, you can observe something come over the room. Some weeks it's like a wave of something between shock and glee. Other weeks it's just lots of audience reaction, hysterical laughter, conversations erupting, the occasional person turning away in discomfort. These introductions have been described as uproarious, sweet, insulting, naive, hilarious, and courageous. Many seem to agree he's exploding the form.
Rumor has it Ugly Duckling is planning to make a chapbook of a select few.
When asked if anything seemed special about what's happening here, James Sherry, who has been steering Segue for over thirty years, says, "Josef breaks the tradition of laudatory introductions with confrontational framing such as saying that he doesn’t understand the poet’s work." Sherry points to Kaplan's Michael Gottlieb intro, describing it as, "psychological rhetoric layered on satiric imitation creating an uproarious surface" that "exposed Michael’s social critique as a personal complaint." But what's equally extraordinary is how funny and loving it all seemed when it was happening. Michael laughed harder than anyone. Steve Zultanski, Segue co-curator with Kaplan for two years, described it as, "confusing and borderline insulting, but in the sweetest way."