“There is a certain curiosity in it that exceeds melancholy.” I took this quote out of a notebook of mine, my “Praha” Moleskine that has never seen Prague, for I translate a “Praha” out of wherever I am, going to Prague by simply writing always in the pages of Praha, even when I am elsewhere, knitting these elsewheres together into Prague or Praha. At times I even take out the map of the city and use it to find where I am, though I am nowhere near Prague.
What does Prague and a notebook I bought on The Danforth in Toronto (a reject)—and have no right to use—have to do with translation, you ask? Perhaps all translation has to do with curiosity and melancholy, I respond.
I open the notebook two pages further on and find a quote from Giorgio Agamben scribbled there, from page 340 of his Puissance de la pensée: “La facticité est la condition de ce qui demeure caché dans son ouverture, de ce qui est exposé par son retrait même.”
During a double reading with Robert Duncan at San Francisco State University in 1983, Michael McClure performed an ode to Jackson Pollock. The recording of the Duncan/McClure event is available, as of today, as segmented audio at PennSound (thanks to the precise work of Anna Zalokostas). Here is your link to McClure's "Ode to Jackson Pollock": MP3.
The Berkeley Poetry Conference occurred from July 12 to July 25, 1965, organized by Donald Allen, Richard Baker, Robert Duncan, and Thomas Parkinson. LeRoi Jones was scheduled on the highest tier of participation, to deliver a lecture, a seminar, and a reading, but declined to participate and was replaced by Ed Dorn. I will investigate the divergence of thought of Jones and the Conference behind the refusal, and what might be achieved in thinking them in conjunction, by examining a contemporaneous recording of Jones, introducing his piece as “ideas I have about theatre circa January 1965,” with recordings from the Conference. I have focused on the recordings of Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan for having the strongest social and political implications for this conjunction. The other available recordings are John Wieners, Reading, July 14; Charles Olson, Lecture, “Causal Mythology,” July 20; Robert Creeley, Reading, July 22; Creeley, Lecture, “Sense of Measure,” July 23; and Joanne Kyger, Reading, July 24. Wieners and Kyger are primarily concerned with imaginative musings of the self, Olson with socially disconnected myths, and Creeley with Williams’ aesthetics of measure and the interpersonal.
As those of you who read my first commentary know, I have sought out contemporary poets in order to discover how they might frame their own relationship to the epic form. The responses coming in have been fantastic. (For those of you who read commentary number one, I also cleaned my coffee maker with vinegar. The results? Similarly fantastic.)
The question (stripped of framing apparatus) that I posed to a wide variety of writers was this: “Which epics do you consider part of your own lineage (as a poet, performer, teacher, scholar, reader . . .) and why?” I purposely defined neither “epic” nor “lineage.” I wanted to see in what ways these terms were generative to contemporary poets, and what definitions were alive for them.
Given the epic’s role in nation making, through the retelling of nationalist history, I found Aaron Shurin’s response exciting, especially its own retelling of a period in poetic history.
This post explores the poem as index, bibliography, catalog, or otherwise arranged list. I want to consider the ways each piece overflows, suggesting threads that the listener might follow or complicating the idea of order under the guise of an ordering structure. I want to pay attention to the ways these recordings open up into the works of other writers and artists in addition to reflecting back upon the concerns of their respective authors.
These are the opening lines of “Quand le Grand Foyer Descend Dans les Eaux”' a section of Robert Duncan's anti-war Passages. In 1982 Duncan went to Buffalo to read poems mostly from the "Regulators" sequence of Passages, published in Ground Work II: In the Dark. Duncan began with a nearly 18-minute preamble: a talk about the imagination, nationhood, Christendom and Dante's Divine Comedy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, being a “poet of the spirit,” being a “Christian non-Christian,” language mysticism, and prayer. He ended with what he called a “sermon” (21 minutes).
The poems in Robert Duncan’s The Opening of the Field were written between 1956 and the beginning of 1959, the final two referring to events of 1958: the publication of Louis Zukofsky’s Barely & Widely and, on October 13, the US release of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
Nancy Kuhl and her colleagues at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, have been discussing with us at PennSound for many months the treasure trove of recordings that Lee Anderson had made and collected and eventually donated to Yale. First the Beinecke folks have begun to preserve the recordings by transferring them from old media to digital files. Then, happily, through a pilot project with PennSound, we are together making a selection of them available for everyone. The first of these readings is was given by Robert Duncan and recorded in 1952. Today for the first time, PennSound and the Beinecke together make available segmented files of 12 poems Duncan read that day. Here is your link to PennSound's Duncan page and this new recording.
To talk about Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” we at PoemTalk chose a day when an apt trio of poet-critics would be at the Kelly Writers House in Philly. It was, in fact, a celebration of the new Poems for the Millenium anthology, gathering together a new array of romanticism – a volume edited by Jeffrey Robinson (resides in Colorado) and Jerome Rothenberg (southern California). Charles Bernstein was on hand to help celebrate Jeffrey’s and Jerry’s great new volume, so we all took an hour aside and moved upward to PoemTalk’s garrett studio (which doubles as the office of Al Filreis) and got deeply and happily into this key poem by Duncan. First drafted in 1953, struggled over in the late 50s, and presented as the prologue poem to the important volume of 1960, The Opening of the Field, which in many ways, indeed, opened the field. Along the way, at various points in the discussion, we are privileged to hear of Jerry Rothenberg’s contemporaneous responses to the poem—he who after all published his own first book (of a very different kind) in that turning-point year. (Donald Allen’s gathering together of the somewhat newly emergent avant-garde, of various schools, in The New American Poetry, was published at the same time, as was Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems.)
As Charles points out during our talk, any of the several key words or phrases in the poem (“permission,” “field,” “return,” “made place,” “everlasting omen”) could have occupied us the entire session. It seemed mostly sufficient to wander around this poetic meadow for a while and then bow out as gracefully as we could. We note that Jerry’s interest in Duncan’s mode has increased over the years. We also note that none of us could quite agree with any of the others about the precise relationship between this poem and the Romantic tradition. Al tells of the recurring dream (from Duncan’s childhood) that animates and informs this “return” to the meadow. Charles remarks on the crucial major distinction between writing, on the one hand, and the state of being given permission to write, on the other. Jeffrey speaks helpfully about the possible connection, for Duncan, between “field” and “feel.” Jerry ends by talking briefly about how Duncan has influenced his own work.