Commentaries - October 2007

I recommend J.I recommend J. Henry Chunko's October 6th John Cage wrap-up, which begins with his apt admiration for Cage's 1977 performance of Empty Words. He calls it "this jaw droppingly incredible recording." (He's pointing to this.) And then he just enthuses across other links and references. Along the way he mentions my Cage stuff in English 88.

The new book, The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, was reviewed yesterday by the Chicago music journalist Marc Geelhoed on his "Deceptively Simple" blog. Lots of John Cage there too.

Lately I've been reading Scott Rettberg's blog. Scott, a Chicagoan who lives in Norway, writes about electronic poetry and new media. He's associate prof of humanistic informatics at the University of Bergen. His Kind of Blue is a serial novel for email. One of his current projects is called "Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature." From what I can tell, Scott has worked with Nick Montfort and Brian Kim Stefans, both of whom I admire. Good nexus.

As these things go: I ran into Scott's blog while I was googling myself in order to find an old photo that I knew was tagged near my name. Up came an entry about my English 88:

I'm teaching my first hybrid distance learning course next summer (Books into Movies), and I'm participating in a committee at Stockton that addresses distance ed. I ran across Al Filreis' course at Penn, English 88V, and think it's a great model for a web distance course — lots of online resources, short video clips, position papers, and synchronous and asynchoronous discussion. I especially like their short guide to position papers and the realvideo lecture that accompanies it. I might even send my New Media Students over there — the type of position paper they describe is exactly the type of work I look for NMS students to write in their reading journals.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, poet, teacher, critic, editor: her newest book of poems is Torques: Drafts 58-76, out from Salt Modern Poets since September. Drafts is an ongoing long poem (Rachel calls it her "endless poem") written in canto-like sections, and Torques is the third collection of these to appear since 2001 (she's been writing the drafts since '85).

Rachel has prepared a grid that helps to organized the whole project so far (well, at least as of March 2007). So, for instance, draft 59 is "flash back" and 62 is "gap" and 69 is "sentences" and 85 is "hard copy."

The new book stops at 76, but of course Rachel continues to create drafts of this endless poems, and I've been reading "Draft 85: Hard Copy" lately and here are some of my favorite passages:

Even the simplest things
Their provenance —
a shoe, a prosthetic
post-war leg
reminding you of
silent doubles
unfinished, imperfect,
imperfect, shadowy.

Slowly the particulars
get scattered to the wind ...


Chickens come Home.
And Us Chickens.
Two old sayings.
High crimes and low cunning,
One must refuse. Easy, so far.

Yet a clutch of events
hatches in the world at large
leaving a rash, a stain, an infection, a pandemic.

And here is all of section 18:

Stet atrocity
Stet astonishing events fast come ordinary
Stet particular Presidents

Stet plum of smoke
Stet people burn

With an increase of allusions and referents.

Draft 85 is "mapped loosely on, thinks about, and responds to" George Oppen's masterful 1968 work, "Of Being Numerous." There are citations (marked as quotations from Oppen) and allusions to Oppen and variations around keywords in Oppen's sections.

[] Rachel's PennSound page.

[] Rachel on Virginia Woolf at the October 2000 "nine contemporary poets read themselves through modernism" event.

Last March Jamaica Kincaid visited for three days as a Writers House Fellow. She was a marvelous presence and we got along extremely well. Here you'll find links to video recordings of her reading and also the interview/conversation I conducted the next morning — as well as photos taken during the visit. Today Andy White finished editing a 16-minute excerpt from the interview, and it is now part of a Writers House podcast. Listen to it here. Anna Levett, a student in the Fellows seminar, wrote this:


That Ms. Kincaid so values youth — that she so values newness — is reflected in her work. Before meeting her, we spoke often of the deceptive simplicity, almost childlike, of her writing. Al told us that his favorite line in all of her work came from My Garden (Book), where she writes, "I shall speak of it as if no one has ever heard of it before. I shall speak of it as if it is just new."

Lisa Tauber, a student in our class, wrote, "One of the things I really love about her writing is the seemingly simple choice of metaphors and descriptions, so that it appears the world is being viewed by a child. I remember when we went to lunch, one of the first things she did was tell us some little anecdote, and then she said, 'It was as clear to me as this glass of water.' I was struck by the use of her writing style in her everyday speech. It was a nice moment where I felt I saw her artistic sensibility outside of her work."

Indeed this may be the best thing about Writers House Fellows — the chance to see from where, from who, the words on the page arise. It's nice to be reminded that even famous writers are real people.

Though she doesn't refrain from criticism (particularly when it's political), Ms. Kincaid herself likes to remember that we are all human. As our Fellows class discussion came to an end on Monday afternoon, she encouraged us to be bold, to go at the world with the same directness as a beam of light.

"That's the thing about being young," she said. "You should say all sorts of things — because you have to have something that you should be forgiven for when you're old."