Commentaries - March 2008
A while back Bruce Andrews went on Bill O'Reilly's conservative TV talk/news show and went toe to toe with Bill. Mike Hennessey links the YouTube recording of the encounter and has a few good words to say about it.
After viewing this again I went to my bookshelf to pull down some Andrews and re-read, and I listened to several of his more overtly political poems on his deep PennSound author page. One of my favorites there is "You Made This World, We Didn't", which is the final section (of 100 sections) of I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism), a book published by Sun & Moon in 1992. Listen to this marvelous poem (Andrews reads well) and imagine how Bill O'Reilly would have--could have--responded had he asked Bruce to read a poem on the air and Bruce had read this. There's a politics in which one person tries to force another to speak the common already-corrupted language, a point at which we still believe the common language hasn't entirely broken down, although one has to deal with evasions and dodges on both sides; and then there's the politics of a Bruce Andrews poem, in which it becomes clear that the poet bespeaks the breakdown, which has already occurred before the poem began, and in which that breakdown is a sign of confidence and health, and an openness to other possibilities. Bruce is willing to talk in both worlds, thank goodness, so I am intrigued to hear him in both at once. What are the differences? Yes, but what are the similarities?
I read Grand Text Auto as often as I can. It's a "group blog about computer narrative, games, poetry and art." In a new entry, Nick Montfort satirizes Google by showing a black Google home page along with this note: "It warms my heart to see that a major Internet company has turned its Web page black, joining the protest against the Communications Decency Act only 4433 days late."
Charles Bernstein points me (and us) toward Google's blackle which Google claims has saved (at the moment I went there) 536,868.931 Watt hours. Given this rhetoric, I suppose Nick is wrong in thinking Google belatedly red or pink; they're trying to be green.
During the era since the emergence of digital media and, now or very soon, of ubiquitous connectivity—-and as the effect of these advents on the delivery of materials to the classroom but also their storage outside such a space becomes profound—-the irony of the classroom lecture on modernism has become more obvious than before and increasingly disabling.
I want to explore that irony and lament the disability.
I've written this here before, and I've noted that the main problem is not diagnosing the ill. It's easy to mock someone lecturing on modernism as a failure to admit any measure of the form of its innovation into the room. Which is to say: the problem will be to define or at least describe an alternative.
So I've turned to ideas about noise as a possible model - I mean, poetry as noise or what Bruce Andrews has called "athematic ‘informal music’”. Aligned with the spirit of this, I've been wondering here from time to time if the poetry classroom might be filled with such noise.
One working assumption is that the “use” of new technologies to abet the teaching of poetry is not going to make a bit of difference unless some sort of fundamental pedagogical change accompanies it.
Is it possible that quality of that changed environment might indeed sound something like Andrews’s athematic informal music? If it is true that “An onomatopoetic expression automatically entails the specification of what is being described,” then the teacher of that expression who wishes to describe specifically must to some extent reproduce sound-sense.
Because of the difficulty of effecting such reproduction, most advocates of an historically capacious modernism — I mean, the radical modernism that embraces archaic, pre-literate forms, the non-Eliotic mode that defies New Critical analysis — have argued that such poetry does not belong in the classroom. If one accepts such a contention, such as that put forward by Jerome Rothenberg in 1975 in his “Dialogue on Oral Poetry,” then one must either remove this poetics from the curriculum or rebuild the space and the role of the teacher. Rothenberg:
“As for poetry ‘belonging’ in the classroom, it’s like the way they taught us sex in those old hygiene classes: not performance but semiotics. If it I had taken Hygiene 71 seriously, I would have become a monk; & if I had taken college English seriously, I would have become an accountant.”
Yet Rothenberg did and does teach, and so admits to the realization that “the classroom becomes a substitute for those places (coffee shop or kiva) where poetry actually happens & where it can be ‘learned’ (not ‘taught’) in action.”
Twelve hours of reading aloud Lolita, to mark her 50th yesterday. The "program" prepared for the event (by Thomson Guster, Kaegan Sparks, and others) was a dossier of pages typewritten on a portable manual Olivetti slipped inside a clear plastic "evidence bag." Writers House staffers walked around all day in orange or green t-shirts emblazoned with alluring or boldly declarative ("HUMBERT HUMBERT") words.
This morning's Daily Pennsylvanian, in part:
Audience members were treated to a lunch taken straight from the pages of the novel, featuring treats like cherry pie, candy, ham and eggs, figs, bananas and ice cream sundaes. Each plate was accompanied by a bright pink slip of paper with a quote from the book related to the snack.
College sophomore Thomson Guster, who works at the Writers House, explained that sweet food is symbolic in the novel because the character of Lolita, a bratty little girl, can be bribed with candy and lollipops.
Food is "part of the whole seduction" of the book, said Jessica Lowenthal, director of KWH.
Here is the whole article.
The novelist and essayist Lynne Sharon Schwartz visited the Writers House recently as a "Writers House Fellow." She read from her 9/11 novel The Writing on the Wall on Monday evening; an mp3 is available, and so is streaming QuickTime video. The next morning she was back, and this time I interviewed her and led a discussion with an audience of about 50 people gathered at the House. This to can be heard and also viewed as video.
During the interview we talked in part about her essay called "Drive, She Said," which is a mostly implicit rejoinder to Robert Creeley's "I Know a Man":
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.
Lynne is somewhat afraid of driving recklessly or fast; her father was the master of the road and she wants his inheritance, but she drives cautiously and slow and cannot get over the fear that a cop will pull her over, ask her to roll down the window and will say, "You're not your father's daughter." She seeks counsel from her therapist, but she neglects to say the most important thing about her driving anxiety--that it's founded entirely on a fear of her father's driving and her incapacity at the thought of being disconnected from him as a timid driver. The therapist preaches the therapeutic gospel of a communalist road, where we share interests even while driving our separate ways. Lynne would like to believe that, but she can't. Nor can she end the essay. She is after all her father's daughter. She's more Creeley-like than not, in the end, because her essay-memoir talks on and on and meanders until finally she's driving the essay forward in the mode of which she thinks she's afraid. To me it constitutes an interesting feminist response to the Creeley of that early Guy Talk/On the Road poem.