Commentaries

Translating André Breton: Robert Duncan & David Antin

[Going through some old files recently I came across two translations by Robert Duncan of poems by the Surrealist overlord & master-poet André Breton.  That brought me back too to a series of translations from Breton that David Antin composed & that I published sometime in the 1960s.  An old theme of mine – & ours – that I still cherish is the relation of the second great wave of American experimental poetry to antecedents not only “in the American grain” – as then widely promulgated – but in a direct line from forerunners in other languages & cultures.  For myself, writing & living in the same late-twentieth-century America, there was a sense that all of us, as poets, shared a past & future with forerunners & contemporaries across a startling range of times & places.

John Yau talking to Penn students

photo: Charles Bernstein / PennSound

Just before his Kelly Writers House reading on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, John Yau spoke with the students in my New American Poetry class, English 288 at Penn. He spoke about a wide variety of topics, including discussion of Further Adventures in Monochrome  (first question) and other of his works, poetry and identity, white people playing Asians in Hollywood films, the allure of Humphrey Bogart, and  recent poetry convtroversies.

On the design of poetic mentorship

Trained as an engineer, Christine Rhein spent the first part of her adult life working in the auto industry, that boom and bust core of the Detroit economy.  She tells me that this background in mechanical design has shaped her poetry in a kind of dialectics of freedom and constraint.  On the one hand, she finds herself approaching a new poem as a puzzle to be solved, a design problem.  And yet the poem as problem doesn't lend itself to a purely mathematical or rational solution.  Instead, a kind of surprise haunts the poetic machine.

John Shea's 'Tales from Webster's'

I am pleased to present a glimpse at John Shea’s Tales from Webster’s project — a prefatory note about purpose and method, followed by one tale, which is a tale unto itself but also serves as a note to readers of the book of tales.

The “tales from Webster’s” are a new literary form invented by me.  What is a “tale from Webster’s” — a poem in prose, a short (very short) narrative, a verbal arrangement?  A combination of all of them?  There may be no conclusive answer. On the other hand, the structure of the “tale” is clear.  The bolded key words on the left of the page are consecutive entries in Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (World Publishing Company, 1970).  The text on the right is my connective tissue that links the key words into a kind of narrative, scene, or evocation of personality.  The tale is read the customary way, from left to right, beginning at the highest point — with the additional frisson of a leap across the white space after each dictionary entry.  There must be at least five key words; and the linking text is no more than three lines long. Get ready for some good, not-so-clean, intellectual fun. — John Shea

Forensic mapping

Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Forensic Architecture, and SITU Research, “Drone Strikes in Pakistan,” Where the Drones Strike, 2014

In our last post we briefly introduced three closely related terms: “deep-,” “thick-,” and “forensic-” mapping. Each of these concepts expresses the potential of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to produce maps with extensible, networked, and interactive strata of information.  In their combinatory potential, their dynamic interrelations, and their outward, investigatory ethos, these GIS maps offer a lively and potentially useful parallel with vital strains in contemporary poetry and poetics.