PoemTalk travelled to Bard College, where we gathered with Charles Bernstein, Pierre Joris, and Bard’s own Joan Retallack to talk about Jackson Mac Low's Words nd Ends from Ez (1989). The project was composed in ten parts, one part each for sections (sometimes called “decades”) of Ezra Pound’s lifework, The Cantos. We chose to discuss the penultimate part of Mac Low's diastic written-through work, a poem based on phrases, words, and letters drawn from — and in some sense about — Pound's near-final cantos, Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII. Mac Low’s constraint, for which he preferred the term “quasi-intentional” to the term “chance,” involved the letters forming the name E Z R A P O U N D. Words, phrases, and letters were extracted from the original cantos based on those letters and on their placement within words. Charles, Pierre, Joan, and Al Filreis explain this in detail, although we cannot quite agree as to whether Mac Low was being absolutely strict in the application of the diastic method. As Bernstein notes several times, this particular procedure is one of the more complex Mac Low used. Nonetheless, it’s the sense of the group that when semantic meaning seems to be created, it has about it, as Pierre Joris happily notes, the special pleasure of serendipity, and means all the more.
In June 1999 I and a hundred or so others (teachers, poets, poet-teachers) gathered at Bard College for a conference on the possible connection between experimental poetry and experimental pedagogy, hosted by Joan Retallack among others. There were six or seven of us from the Kelly Writers House at the conference, and on the last morning of the three-day confab (there on the slopes leading down to the eastern side of the Catskills-region Hudson River, it did at times feel like summer camp), we presented about the Writers House itself as an alternative learning community focused on poetics.
Conference done. Then we promised ourselves we’d do some kind of followup in Philadelphia, and indeed did so in early 2001. Joan Retallack came down from Bard, reading some of her own poetry that seemed relevant to the theme (alt-poetry, alt-pedagogy), and then Kerry Sherin, KWH’s director at the time, described a transition to the next and longer part of the program: a discussion, as a follow-up to Bard, about specific pedagogical issues and practices. There were about forty of us in the room there at the Writers House, in addition to about thirty who were tuning in by live webcast. Louis Cabri, for instance, was then in Calgary — and participated by posing some questions.
Not long ago Jenny Lesser converted the old RealVideo-format recordings into audio-only mp3, which of course these days is a much more usable, portable mode.
Here's Kerry Sherin setting up the discussion, by, in part, remembering the Bard conference. Here's 9 minutes or so on experiential learning. Here's a discussion of what makes it difficult to teach experimental writing. And here's a link to the whole 2-hour audio mp3, and, for your video fans and users, still, of the Real player, here's a link to the streaming video.
Inexpert investigation in poetry opens a space: what is left open is left open. “The highly rewarded entrepreneurial strategy of forging ahead with an air of mastery no-matter-what spawns impatience for the point or gist,” Joan Retallack writes in The Poethical Wager. What get lost are “values that encourage the necessarily inefficient, methodically haphazard inquiry characteristic of actually living with ideas” (51).
Enter inexpert investigation. A poet can bring fanciful fortitude to her investigation without commandeering it. After all, the poem need not serve as the final word, but rather, as an opening up for others to engage. A poet might be attuned to unlikely connections. Situational rhymes. An alchemy of juxtapositions.
This inexpertise involves responsibility—via responding. Listening.
In April, Joan Retallack visited Madison, Wisc., to give a lecture and a reading. The lecture was entitled “John Cage’s Anarchic Harmony: A Poethical Wager,” and the reading, introduced by Lynn Keller, included “Present Tensed,” “The Reinvention of Truth,” “Bosch Bookshelf,” and “The Woman in the Chinese Room.” We’ve made both lecture and reading available on PennSound, ready just yesterday.