Richard Hyland, Distinguished Professor, Rutgers Law School, Camden, New Jersey, has compiled the fullest account of the sources of a Charles Reznikoff poem, together with a detailed commentary on the Amelia Kirwan case and the poem Reznikoff wrote based on this case. Many of Reznikoff's poems, especially those in Testimony, are based on legal records. But there has been little research on the exact relationship between the legal record and the poem, with the general assumption that Reznikoff used only language from the legal records, cutting away but not adding any of his own words. The key to Reznikoff's aesthetic is his selection and condensation of the source materials.
Surely Reznikoff is a paradigmatic poet for all documentary and source-based poetry of the 20th century and exemplary for many of us who use appropriated or found material in our work.
It’s virtually the centennial of Vachel Lindsay’s The Congo (1912, published 1914). But the poem has gone through hard times. Despite its enormous initial popularity, Lindsay’s poem has become an embarrassment. Its overt racist imagery has put it under erasure: little taught and little anthologized. Still, a recitation of the poem appears, without any indication of the controversy, in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. And Lindsay is surely a precursor to a range of performance poetry. PennSound made available a recording of Lindsay reading the poem on our Lindsay page. The Library of America includes the poem in volume one of their great anthology of modernist American poetry (see my 2000 conversation with LOA editor Geoffrey O’Brien). Al Filreis recorded a Poem Talk on the poem — with A.L. Nielsen, Michelle Taransky, and me. Our interest is not to put a happy spin on the poem but rather to see what the poem can tell us about American racsim, including the racism of a poet of the left like Lindsay, who was far more supportive of the rigths of African-Americans than most of his contemporaries.
My fortieth college reunion is coming up next week. I will be in the Fall Convergence poetics conference in Bothell (near Seattle). Asylum's Press recently published my college senior thesis on Stein and Wittgenstein. The picture here is from Spring of my freshman year, during the occupation of Harvard's University Hall on April 9, 1969. Next to me is Richard Hyland.