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.
Our poem is Kit Robinson’s “Return on Word,” collected in Robinson’s 2002 book, The Crave, which was published by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz at Atelos Press.
Rae Armantrout was in from San Diego and joined Linh Dinh, Tom Devaney and host Al Filreis for our conversation this time. At turns the group interprets the poem as a satirization of the referentially super-confident language of marking; as a critique of Language poetry (an aesthetic gathering with which Robinson has long been identified); as an expression of skepticism about the monetization and militarization of American rhetoric. Linh wishes Robinson had pushed the poem’s anti-marketing tendencies a bit further. Rae, who is a fan of Mad Men and herself knows a thing or two about poetically torquing flattened idiomatic speech, admires the way “all we need is a few good words” plays upon military linguistic merchandizing. Tom is positively devastated by the notion that thought might take “a contract out on” words.
Finally, the group agreed that the poem is about words’ value, seen through the dystopia of their devaluation at the hands of economic sectors in which referential certainty is guaranteed to get carried away – in which a good (profitable) year is anticipated by, maybe even determined by, the right people in the room thinking up just the right dead language for the moment.