Commentaries

Ammons on Rezi: 'slight artistic interest'

Ammons to the left; Reznikoff to the right

I've been writing about Charles Reznikoff’s Inscriptions, which collected 53 short post-holocaust poems written in the late 1940s to mid-1950s and published finally — self-published by Rezi, actually — in 1959. Reviewers got to it in 1960 and ’61. I came across A. R. Ammons's review in the April 1960 issue of Poetry. Ammons is reviewing Bob Brown's amazing, fabulously unusual 1450-1950, a book published by Jonathan Williams that consists of hand drawings, in a sense reversing the era of the book (marked by the dates of the title) — an avant-garde undoing. Ammons liked the book, although thought of it as a high modernist throwback: “a cool breeze from the Twenties for our hot, dry, thermonuclear times.” Most of the review is taken up by Ammons's assessment of Robert Duncan’s City Lights Selected Poems, and there’s nothing per se wrong with that. But Reznikoff’s Inscriptions deserves more than the 55 words it gets here.

Serge Pey: Three Poems from “Why I Crush Tomatoes”

Translated from French by Yasser Elhariry

[My first memory of Serge Pey was in Paris, sometime in the early 1980s, when he woke us up in the apartment off Saint Germain that my wife & I were then borrowing.  Our son had arrived a few hours before, traveling with a couple of friends across Europe and walking halfway across Paris on the morning of a Metro strike.  The three of them were sacked out on the floor, across the room from us, but didn’t hear Serge’s heavy knocking on the door.  We did and when we opened up for him he moved in quickly, holding with both hands a large, hollow, brightly painted rain stick, filled with beans or pebbles, which when upended made a gentle swooshing sound like rain or falling water.  He told us he had come to serenade us – Aztec style – & walked out to the center of the rather large room, where the ritual began.  

Bright arrogance #8

Intersemiotic Dante and Expanded Translation

Diagram of The Malebolge (from Alexandre Masseron's 1947 French translation of the Divine Comedy)

In the last column, I speculated that Mary Jo Bang’s translation of the Inferno was initially seduced by but ultimately rejected the more corrosive qualities of Flarf. However, in the baroque-brut line of Henrik Drescher’s accompanying illustrations, there seems to be a corrective, drawing us into visceral mess of hell’s innards, albeit with high artisanal flare.[1] These illustratings seem to outdo (or undo) Gustave Doré's engravings from his popular Dante volumes of the 19th century, in that they are at once more terrifying and more cuddly — open to being in an loose relation with the text they accompany. In contrast, Doré's engravings are so aesthetically overpowering that, existing in volumes that were kept around the house more as a marker of status than for reading, the illustrator’s name is more commonly associated with this Divine Comedy than that of its proper translator (Henry Francis Cary, who for the longest time, because of a C with an overgrown serif, I thought was merely “Gary” — like some anonymous Cher or Prince of a forgotten poetry scene).

A digital Library of Babel

A wall of a hexagonal chamber in the digital Library of Babel
A wall of a hexagonal chamber in the digital Library of Babel

In his 1941 short story "The Library of Babel," Jorges Luis Borges depicts a series of hexagonal rooms, their walls lined with bookshelves. These shelves contain books comprised of every possible combination of letters, spaces, commas, and periods. Some books are filled with nonsense but within the collection lies every literary text ever written, along with multiple permutations of each of these texts. The library's collection comprises all knowledge that is known or will be known.

PATTERNS / CONTEXTS / TIME: A Symposium on Contemporary Poetry, ed. Phillip Foss and Charles Bernstein (1990)

free pdf

Twenty-five years ago Phillip Foss and I edited this issues Tyuonyi (6/7 1990), now available from the EPC Digital Library as a free pdf.  (236pp.)  

Phil introduced the issue this way:
This issue of Tyuonyi, Patterns / Contexts / Time: A Symposium on Contemporary Poetry, exists because of collective desire. Ninety-seven poets from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, England, and Australia felt the desire to respond. Their responses were to a series of questions devised by Charles Bernstein and myself. The questions were designed to be inclusive enough to address the issues which engaged us, but vague enough not to restrict the potential responses of the respondents. We wanted to create a forum wherein the real issues that compelled poets could be addressed without a felt adherence to any presuppositions. The volume of response was very gratifying and the range of response far beyond my expectation. 

THE QUESTIONS:
•What patterns, if any, do you see developing that are presently influencing habits of reading or readership within poetry?
•What are the values or limitations of these developing, or undeveloped, patterns?
•What context, if any, do you see your work as part of?
•What context, if any, do you see for the work of those contemporary poets whom you find most interesting?
•What's the most disturbing (or irritating) thing associated with poetry or your work as a poet?
•What sources do you find most useful in keeping informed about contemporary poetry?
•Do universities play any role for you in terms of your work as a poet?
•Do you ever think about what you will be doing in ten years? What? etc etc.