Commentaries - August 2007

The New York Times reported the death of Moe Fishman recently. The obit began: "Moe Fishman, who as a 21-year-old from Astoria, Queens, fought Fascists in Spain with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was severely wounded, then led veterans of that unit in fighting efforts to brand them as Communist subversives, died on Aug. 6 in Manhattan. He was 92." And: "[Peter] Carroll said that about 40 of about 3,000 American veterans of the Spanish Civil War volunteers are living. It had been the job of Mr. Fishman, as executive secretary-treasurer of the veterans, to announce deaths. At times he was almost alone in keeping the group going, Mr. Carroll said, particularly during the long, ultimately successful legal battle to remove the group’s subversive label. Mr. Fishman put out a newsletter, kept scrupulous books, ran the office daily and spoke widely."

So there are 40 Lincolns left.

Jane and Ben and I saw Moe a few years back at one of the annual gatherings of the Lincolns in New York. Moe was, as always, the master of ceremonies. That afternoon the Lincolns were honoring Pete Seeger, who of course didn't fight in Spain but has taken a great interest in their songs and generally their legacy in all the years since.

The 1996 obit of Dwight MacDonald's wife Nancy is relevant and interesting in itself. So is this 1998 article about Joan Miro's art as it was shaped by his experience of the civil war. A piece in Miro's "Black and Red Series" (1938) is shown below. MOMA exhibited these in early 1999.

I'm a reader of Joe Milutis' blog called "New Jersey as an Impossible Object", which roughly works in and around William Carlos Williams's Paterson and his sense of the postindustrial city.I'm a reader of Joe Milutis' blog called "New Jersey as an Impossible Object", which roughly works in and around William Carlos Williams's Paterson and his sense of the postindustrial city. Visit Joe's blog. Meantime here's a sample of the text:

If you go to Paterson, you may now happen upon a secret shrine to William Carlos Williams' poem. Although, it might not be there anymore. Composed of trash the Education Department leaves in the abandoned Hinchliffe Stadium (e.g. busted file cabinets, waterlogged textbooks, wobbly bookcarts), the shrine is itself subject to the vagaries of what constitutes trash and what art . . . and what, for that matter, desirable furniture. After the first day, the "library" aspect of the shrine — a small bench facing a bookshelf under a tree sprouting from the concrete and stocked with English textbooks and xeroxes of Paterson in baggies — was disrupted when someone must have realized that the bookshelf was indeed still a good book shelf, and took it away (even though it may have been there for years.) It must have been a critic, because they also let their dog "have their way" in the shrine as well.

'gone is the word as word'

Bob Cobbing (1920–2002) was so cool that he embodied a post-word-as-such aesthetic, which enabled him to reach through language to sound and material (concreteness) and also an alphabeticality (the letter as letter). Ruth & Marvin Sackner's amazing archive in Miami includes a good deal of Cobbing's work, and our Matt Abess spent the summer of '06 and a good bit of time since then digitizing some of it and preparing for an exhibit that is opening now at the University of Pennsylvania library's gallery. This activity culminates in an event at the Kelly Writers House on October 11. For more: 1 2 3 4.

Below is an excerpt from a review Michael Coyle (author of Ezra Pound, Popular Genres, and the Discourse of Culture) wrote several years ago about my book Modernism from Right to Left.Below is an excerpt from a review Michael Coyle (author of Ezra Pound, Popular Genres, and the Discourse of Culture) wrote several years ago about my book Modernism from Right to Left. The full text of the review is here.

[Filreis] has secured an eminent place not only among the arbiters of Stevens's reputation, but also among historians of 20th century American culture.

Modernism from Right to Left will probably turn away casual browsers, but it authoritatively documents Stevens's full and particular involvement with the political troubles of Depression-era America. Filreis proceeds by taking on much of what we have always "known" to be true, and one of his chief staging grounds is a long poem Stevens published in 1936 called "Owl's Clover." "Owl's Clover," which is not even included in Stevens's Collected Poems, has long been thought either an anomaly in the poet's work or an aesthetic, reactionary rejection of the leftist politics that for many marked the '30s as the "red decade." In fact, "Owl's Clover" is, as Filreis documents, neither a rejection nor a straightforward acceptance of the left. As the title of his book indicates, Filreis charts a gradual shift in the poet's orientation. Stevens never became a "leftist" poet, but his poetry performs a conscientious self — examination that in its own terms perceptibly turns poetic response to responsibility.To follow the process by which Filreis develops the evidence for this kind of historical revisionism is to understand something important about literary study in our time. For a literary scholar, the ultimate evidence is always textual. But, because Filreis asks different kinds of questions than did his own teachers at Colgate, he contextualizes textual evidence, and regards individual poems not in isolation but in their contemporaneous relations to other poems, and other kinds of writing.

The research that informs Modernism from Right to Left is both impressive and impressively marshaled. The author ranges among the works of Stevens and his "modernist" cohorts, lesser known political poets of the period, and the historical records of the Hartford Insurance Company — in some ways proving that literary scholarship can still be dusty work. Of course, such contextualizing activity can be deadly if readers care nothing for context, and Filreis's project draws much of its vitality from the old-left writers whom he has exhaustively interviewed and studied. The cultural changes of our last half-century have occasioned the general dismissal of '30s radicals as being anti-art, and Filreis endeavors to save their place in a more broadly conceived American heritage.

Painstakingly careful while analyzing sometimes inflammatory issues, deeply committed to his subject, Professor Filreis offers new ways of conceiving one of our finest poets. When students in the next century look back on 20th century poetry, we can hope again that they will rediscover Stevens, but they're likely to do so in ways that develop from the work Professor Filreis has started here.

And here is the preface to the book itself (and a little more about the study generally).

University of Pennsylvania: PENNsound, and Kelly Writers House webcasts. A stellar project at Penn, PENNsound is “committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives.” Here you can listen to readings from 1950s to today and often find great extras and links to other exciting websites. You can also link through to the Kelly Writers House webcasts at and watch readings and craft talks with major contemporary poets and writers.

The above is from a course syllabus for a seminar on contemporary American poetry being offered this fall at SUNY Fredonia, taught by Natalie Gerber who is in her own right a wonderful scholar-critic of modern poetic prosody. (Here's a short bio.)