Commentaries - May 2008
"His method is painstakingly thorough, and the sheer amount of research is stunning. His ability to put the period in context is remarkable, and he’s often able to show the way that what might look like a purely aesthetic disagreement is often grounded in a larger political conflict. The attention of the book is often minute in scope, tracing the smallest capillaries of the organs of attack, telling individual stories and slowly building up the story through a steady accretion of quotations. While most of the book presents archival research, Filreis takes sides when the modernist toolbox is under attack, and passionately defends the right of writers to work in non-traditional modes...."
"Discord when it's true has the conspiracy pinned." It surely does.
That's my favorite line in Lyn Hejinian's sequence called The Little Book of a Thousand Eyes. The chapbook itself is rare. It was published in Boulder by Smoke-Proof Press in 1996. The typescript of the book, presumably a draft, is already in her archive of papers at UCSD (here's the register for that growing collection). If you go to Amazon you'll find it "currently unavailable." Lyn herself has just one copy. And the Thousand Eyes poems haven't been collected elsewhere, although probably some of them were published individually in various places.
But in 2005, when Lyn Hejinian last read at the Writers House here, she read 19 of the little "eyes" from this work. Fantastic stuff. My favorite at the moment is a piece full of grammatical switches and misplacements, the first line of which is "Here in a sudden of this to Caesar." The line quoted at the top of this entry is from it. Click here and listen to the 41-second recording of this poem.
"Leonardo da Vinci,” sound poet Bob Cobbing liked to say, “asked the poet to give him something he might see and touch and not just something he could hear. Sound poetry seems to me to be achieving this aim." Seeing and even hearing we (teachers of modern and contemporary poetry) can manage, albeit the latter with special new effort. But touch? Enabling such an engagement is next to impossible in traditional poetry pedagogy. And although seeing a printed poem—really seeing it as a thing, in William Carlos Williams's sense (poems aren't beautiful statements; they're things)—is a feat we believe is effected in a close reading, yet looking at a poem, even staring hard at it, is of course not the same as comprehending it. All this strikes me as relatively easy to discuss in theory, but actually doing it, making out of poetics a consistent practice, is daunting.
But I'll say this: taking any next step in this necessitates accepting the distinction, first and foremost, between teaching and doing--between teaching poetry and doing poetry. I want, at least, to teach poetry in a place where it is being done, and to derive a practice from that doing.
During a recent visit to Orono, Maine, poet Robert Kelly recalled Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel tape recorder and his commitment to recording poetry's sound. Steven Evans's Lipstick of Noise in turn captured Kelly's remarks. Here is the link to Steve's site, and here is a link directly to the 5-minute recording of Kelly's reminiscence.
At right: Robert Kelly