Commentaries

Clayton Eshleman: From an interview by Irakli Qolbaia, the first and last questions

[What follows are two sections from a longer interview conducted by the Georgian poet and translator Irakli Qolbaia, in which Eshleman takes on two key words in his work — “origin” and “penetralia” — and ties them to his own emergence and development as a poet and major searcher for the origins of poetry and the imagination.

Coolitude hauntings

Sewdas Mohabir

Jane Wong, author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016), puts Asian American poetry into conversation with the sociological text by Avery Gordon. In her video “Going Toward the Ghost” she asks, how do these specters arise? She defines Poetics of Haunting as “where our history dwells in the strange liminal space of the past, present, and future combined.” She asks why she, the child of immigrants, feels the pains of her past so intensely when she herself did not undergo the horrors of her ancestors or parents.

Jane Wong, author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016), puts Asian American poetry into conversation with the sociological text by Avery Gordon. In her video “Going Toward the Ghost” she asks, how do these specters arise? She defines the poetics of haunting as “where our history dwells in the strange liminal space of the past, present, and future combined.” She asks why she, the child of immigrants, feels the pains of her past so intensely when she herself did not undergo the horrors of her ancestors or parents.

On Frank O'Hara’s Lunch Poems / queer / attention

In Michel De Certeau’s classic essay “Walking in the City,” he describes walking as composition and argues that walkers’ “bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.”[1] Frank O’Hara’s 1964 collection, Lunch Poems, produces a textual account of his speaker’s walking, an account that queerly articulates the city by means of the presences and absences of what he pays attention to and records. O’Hara’s city in the poems is a queer assemblage created by his speaker (who is commonly read as O’Hara), out of his quotidian procedures of moving through and “writing” the city by compiling what he sees into a gloss on what his city is. 

In Michel De Certeau’s classic essay “Walking in the City,” he describes walking as composition and argues that walkers’ “bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.”[1] Frank O’Hara’s 1964 collection, Lunch Poems, produces a textual account of his speaker’s walking, an account that queerly articulates the city by means of the presences and ab

The drift of it

Walt Whitman, New York, circa 1862. Photographer: Mathew Brady or Alexander Gardner. The Walt Whitman Archive.

Few poets have paid more attention to their audience than Walt Whitman. Matt Cohen’s book Whitman’s Drift: Imagining Literary Distribution, published earlier this year by the University of Iowa Press, explores the topic from the combined perspective of reception studies, media studies, and book history.

The “drift” in the title refers to the pattern of distribution of Whitman’s work in his lifetime and after — something not easy to capture empirically or to grasp conceptually. For Cohen, the word implies uncontrolled, unsystematic, but not entirely haphazard movement, “the nexus of the textual-formal and distributional form in his work, coupling a range of methods of dissemination with poetic technique and the physical design of books.” As his study shows, distribution as much as production was central to Whitman’s desire to connect with his readers.

From vocabularies of indenture to living grammars: A writing prompt

With these poets drawing from the pool of their collective unconscious, the haunting memory of a traumatic past from “passage to plantation,” something new emerges. It is the Coolitude of endurance, the transformation of a vocabulary into a grammar that depends upon inclusion in various national spaces. As seen in Torabully’s poetry, the history and weight words occupy when given different parts of speech, to the continuing negotiating of kalapani, and the power to topple patriarchal atavism with queer interventions — poets Coolie language.