Commentaries - February 2008

Today we're releasing a new Kelly Writers House podcast — number 14 in our series. This one is a brief excerpt from "Finding the Words," talks and readings about (somehow) Marianne Moore in connection with 9/11. I've written about this event here earlier; the podcast is really an audio version of that entry, and it includes the recording of my own piece, "Mending the Break in Time." Here's the mp3 file.

Mike Hennessey was browsing used books and came across John Clellon Holmes' 1952 novel - sometimes said to be the "first Beat novel" - Go, opened it up and found graffiti scrawled by someone - presumably a young man - named Brian Zimmerman. Perhaps Brian was required to read Go in high school? "What Would Patton Say?" he asks (rhetorically) in one outburst. At right is a close-up; below, at left, you can see the title page as Brian, incensed by the obviously communist propaganda, has written over and through it.

Unlike Brian, the novel says: "I actually yearn for life to be easy, magic, full of love."

And elsewhere: "You know what I just dreamed? I dreamed about everybody I know ... I honestly never realized how many people I know. Too many goddamn people. You know what I mean?"

O Brian, dream such a dream.

It was to Holmes that Kerouac once said, "You know, this is really a beat generation." Jack in turn had gotten the term from Herbert Huncke.

In 1958 Holmes published The Horn, which is considered by many to be the definitive jazz novel of the beats.

I've written about Holmes here before.

A new PennSound podcast features Robert Creeley talking with me and others in April 2000. He was, that spring, a Kelly Writers House Fellow. During the conversation we talk about his love poetry; Bob Perelman asks him why if in his early writing he wanted to "Make It New" he seemed now to want to make it old; Stuart Curran asks about content as an extension of form*; Marjorie Perloff calls in from California; he plays a recording of his voice-recognition robot reciting his poems; etc. The event was originally webcast live.

* In "Projective Verse" Charles Olson quotes Creeley's remark that "Form is never more than an extension of content."

John Cayley can be called a a digital poet or an artist-programmatologist. He sometimes calls himself "a literal artist." I like that. His remarkable site is titled "P=R=O=G=R=A=M=M=A=T=O=L=O=G=Y." He was born in Ottawa and spent years in London before moving to Brown University. He published a book of poems (and translations), Ink Bamboo (1996), and he's published translations of a Chinese fantasy novel (he's a sinologist in addition to everything else). But mostly in recent years his work is all done online — indeed it's not really printable. His most exciting work, to me, is ambient time-based poetics. In such works, there's a stable text underlying a continuously changing display (seen on the computer screen, I should add) and this text occasionally rises to the surface of normal legibility in its entirety. Sometimes the rising text is randomly managed by you - by move of the cursor. For the work called Overboard we have this description further: "It does this by running a program of simple but carefully designed algorithms which allow letters to be replaced by other letters that are in some way similar to the those of the original text. Word shapes, for example, are largely preserved. In fact, except when 'drowning,' the text is always legible to a reader who is prepared to take time and recover its principles. A willing reader is able to preserve or 'save' the text's legibility."

If you go to Cayley's site and scroll down on the left frame until you see "recent works," you'll come upon one I really like — Circulars. The image above is a screenshot I caught while I was "reading"/playing Circulars.

Cayley has said: “What will or will not emerge as a widely recognized genre of writing from all the ephemeral new forms and experiments that proliferate across the Net and on the screens of our electronic familiars? How will all this change our notion of what writing is and how writing is made? Writing in and for a 3-D virtual world? It’s here now, and it will come.”

photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Splashnews
Yes, here's Patti Smith reading the recent Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens. The photograph was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald, who just happened to see this and marvel at the apt juxtaposition.

I've got an essay in that collection, right around where Patti has the book opened. I like to think she's reading me.

There aren't a lot of Stevensean lines in Patti Smith — nor his tone or sensibility (to be sure!) — but I am thinking of these:

"The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea ..."

"There's a little place, a place called space ..."

"... undulating in the lewd impostered night ..."

Courtesy John Serio. The title of this entry is that of an early poem by Stevens.