One October 11, 2012, I hosted a debate on Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Well, not quite a debate, but I knew that I, sitting in the middle of four poets, would be on the fence, as it were, with two on a side. The live webcast, hosted by the Kelly Writers House, was associated with the 36,000-person free online course "ModPo," and was viewed synchronously by dozens in the room with us and thousands watching digitally around the world. We made a recording immediately afterward, and have posted it to YouTube here (1 hour, 9 minutes). (And here is a recording of Frost performing the poem. We began our discussion by listening to it; the performance is certainly important to at least the beginning of the debate.)
The differences between the sides, two versus two, didn't really emerge until the end of a fascinating discussion, but they did indeed emerge, Rachel Blau DuPlessis first finally expressing concerns about the attitude of the poem’s speaker, then Bob Perelman joining the view, pointedly. To be sure, all four poets — Bob, Rachel, and John Timpane and Taije Silverman — spent much of the time assembling a full close formal (and meta-poetic) reading of the poem. Its thematics — and politics — derived, as is apt, from the poem's quality as itself an instance in form of the speaker's impulse to have and also to keep apart from the stilled human object of his beautiful but empty annual cultural rite. Later John Timpane thought some more about his own position on the poem’s speaker; I'm pleased that he has given me permission to publish his statement here.
This series promotes and pursues topicsin the burgeoning field of 20th and 21st century poetics. Critical and scholarly work on poetry and poetics of interestto the series includes social location in its relationships to subjectivity, to the construction of authorship, to oeuvres,and to careers; poetic reception and dissemination (groups, movements, formations, institutions); the intersection ofpoetry and theory; questions about language, poetic authority, and the goals of writing; claims in poetics, impacts ofsocial life, and the dynamics of the poetic career as these are staged and debated by poets and inside poems. Topicsthat are bibliographic, pedagogic, that concern the social field of poetry, and reflect on the history of poetry studiesare valued as well. This series will allow Palgrave to focus both on individual poets and texts and on larger movements,poetic institutions, and questions about poetic authority, social identifications, and aesthetics.
[»»] Introduction: by Alan Gilbert and Daron Mueller From the Introduction: The essays included in this Anne Waldman feature were selected from presentations given at a symposium honoring the University of Michigan Special Collections Library’s acquisition of Anne Waldman’s archive. Entitled “Makeup on Empty Space: A Celebration of Anne Waldman,” the symposium was held at the University of Michigan from March 13–15, 2002. It included over twenty poets, scholars, publishers, and artists participating in both panels and poetry readings. Andrei Codrescu’s “Who’s Afraid of Anne Waldman?” served as the keynote speech for the symposium. [»»] Maria Damon: Making the World Safe for Poetry (or, How Is Anne Waldman Different from Woodrow Wilson?) [»»] Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Anne Waldman: Standing Corporeally in One’s Time [»»] Alan Gilbert: Anne Waldman Changing the Frequency
In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.
It’s 1995. January 1. Ron Silliman, who had carefully planned this daily yearlong writing project, begins to write the first of what will be fifty-two sections of a series going under the title “You.” He worries about the war in Chechnya, and writes a sentence on that, and about acid rain, and that gets a sentence. He remembers his dreams. He overhears intellectual coffeeshop talk. It’s cold outside.
This would be the twenty-fifth book of The Alphabet; in the Alabama edition of that major assemblage, twenty-five years in the making, “You” begins on page 903, a long way in. Fifty-two sections, one for every week of 1995, each consisting of seven daily prose paragraphs, typically one, two, or three sentences each day. You write what you see, what you overhear, what news local (floods) or world (wars) occurs to you or impresses you, what you remember, what you know or think you know during these days. In one “You” is the diary in New Sentences of a year.
Here is a poem by Robert Penn Warren called “Tell Me a Story”:
Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard The great geese hoot northward.
I could not see them, there being no moon And the stars sparse. I heard them.
I did not know what was happening in my heart.
It was the season before the elderberry blooms, Therefore they were going north.
The sound was passing northward.
This poem, which was required reading somewhere along the line, always irked me and I never bothered to think about why. (By the way, I saw and heard Warren read in person in maybe 1979 or 1980, at the University of Virginia, although I don't think he read the irksome poem. He did read “Bearded Oaks” as an encore and received a prolonged standing ovation.) Why am I irked? I listened to a discussion of the evolution of Warren's racism (see below) and then I knew a little more about why. It’s the absolute way in which northward movement is naturalized. It happens, the young southerner doesn’t see it, can’t see it, won’t see it, and the logic (it’s a certain season and “therefore” they go north) is fixed. Sure, in the poem he's a young boy and so “I do not know what was happening in my heart” we ascribe to innocence and inexperience. And yet this is not the kind of northern migration that one will ever actually come to know by experience; it’s a priori true. There's a dishonesty here in the slight implication that later one will know what is in one's heart.
Later Robert Penn Warren, who had been a racist, thought of himself as a reformed racist.
In this episode of Close Listening, Rachel Blau DuPlessis discusses her long poem Drafts, the relation between poetry and politics, and the contemporary state of gender issues in writing with host Charles Bernstein, and reads a selection from Drafts.