In Richard P. Feynman’s book, A Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton University Press, 1985), collecting his lectures on quantum electrodynamics, an agreement between quantum mechanics and relativity is attempted by describing interactions between light (photons) and matter (electrons), which are thought to travel to and from anywhere in the universe at any time. Like other quantum field theories of physics such as string theory, quantum electrodynamics proposes that spacetime cannot be defined by the Newtonian, Euclidian, and Aristotelian laws that once conceived of time as though it was an arrow moving through a distinct past, present, and future. Space is no longer conceived of as though its points could be connected by lines that do not exist in the natural world. A Strange Theory of Light and Matter is one of the foundational texts assigned in Rae Armantrout and Brian Keating’s breakthrough course, Poetry for Physicists, currently underway at the University of California at San Diego.
David Caplan’s first reading of Rae Armantrout’s poem “Spin” is the fourth of five we will publish in this new series. Others by Jennifer Ashton, Katie Price, and Dee Morris are available at the First Readings series page. The next set of first readings will describe encounters with NourbeSe Philips’s Zong #6. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis
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When first reading a poem, I focus on particularly evocative or puzzling moments — a phrase or two, some technical gestures, a flourish, a stylistic oddity, an apparent redundancy. I am searching for points of orientation and disorientation. I also often consider the poem’s structure; I want to know how it organizes language. My questions are rudimentary. Like Auden, I ask of the poem, “How does it work?”
Katie Price’s short essay on Rae Armantrout’s “Spin” is the second of five first readings of that poem we will publish in this new series. Jennifer Ashton’s was the first. The series page can be found here. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis
We are pleased to publish the first of five first readings of Rae Armantrout’s poem “Spin,” collected in Money Shot(Wesleyan, 2011). The text of the poem appears below. It happens that Armantrout’s PennSound page includes a recording of her performing the poem: here is that recording. Jennifer Ashton teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of From Modernism to Postmodernism: American Poetry and Theory in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 2005) and edited The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry since 1945 (Cambridge, 2013). Her most recent article, “Poetry and the Price of Milk,” on the politics of contemporary poetry, can be found on nonsite.org, where she is a founding member of the board. She is currently at work on a new book, “Labor and the Lyric.” — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis
A couple of weeks ago, I was translating a poem-text coaxed out of Montréal poet Steve Savage, for the San Francisco based journal Eleven Eleven(if they like it, or for someone else if they don’t!). I knew on receiving “Miettes de Pam” that Steve had deftly slipped me a bit of, or an arrangement of, part of his own translation from English into French of NY poet Mina Pam Dick’s (who is also Traver Pam Dick and others) Delinquent. In effect, I was going to translate Steve’s translation of Pam into English as Steve’s French poem. So I looked at it as Steve’s poem. He, after all, wrote all the words before my eyes! I didn’t take Delinquent off the shelf beside me but accepted Steve’s delinquency as emblematic of Pam’s shape-shifting. So I translated, creating a work in my words in English, a faithful—but commented—translation of Steve’s words in French which started as a translation of Pam’s.
Steve said when he read my translation, “Bits of Pam”: I see you, Erín, with Pam lurking behind you! Mina Pam Dick was of course contacted too, and delinquently allows my perverse versions of Steve’s translation to lurk in front of her, as she lurks behind.
All in all, it was a delight with three laughters, one of those signal gestures that passes between the USA and Quebec, between English and French and back again at times. Poetry changes languages among friends and people who admire each other’s work.
When Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein founded PennSound in 2003, one of their impetuses was purely pedagogical. They wanted to make a digital audio archive of free, downloadable files of poets reading their own work and of discussions about poetics available to teachers and learners looking to parse out poetic lineages and differences.
As Al Filreis explains in this 2007 podcast, PennSound is an archive for those seeking to make aesthetic connections between different poetic trends: a site of convergence for the reader (in this case, listener) and the poetic tradition. This makes PennSound a particularly useful resourse for teachers who are looking to demonstrate to their students the relationships between contemporary poetry and earlier poetic movements.