Commentaries - May 2008
Charles Bernstein has published an essay on second-wave modernism defined in such a way as to include song lyrics from blues to Tin Pan Alley: "Objectivist Blues: Scoring Speech in Second-Wave Modernist Poetry and Lyrics," American Literary History (Spring 2008). The key sentence is this: "We might be able to consider, under the sign of sound poetry,... Cab Calloway's scat 'Hi-De-Ho' as an ideolectical descendent of Velimir Khlebnikov's zaum, Kurt Schwitters's 'Ur Sonata,' and Hugo Ball's Dadaist 'Karawane.'"
Bob Holman spent a few hours away from the at-times paradisal Bowery Poetry Club to help us (PoemTalk regulars Jessica Lowenthal and Randall Couch) figure out what sort of beloved community Jerome Rothenberg had in mind when he wrote his possibly programmatic poem, "A Paradise of Poets". He published this short poem in a volume called Seedings and only then, a little later, published the book called A Paradise of Poets (which lacks the title poem). Confused? Please don't be. The poem is a working out of the major preoccupying themes of the book that followed.
And what a book it is! In A Paradise of Poets we re-visit Paradise...err, sorry....Paris, where the ghosts of JR's modernist forebearers (the generation of 1910, he says) appear to him in the guise of Left Bank street people, well dressed but destitute. He anticipates his own demise; he is lonely yet surrounded by the voices of poets he admires. And he realizes that a paradise of poets is only possible when one poet's line stops just as the next poet's line continues, a "line" indeed, as in lineage.
Bob, Jessica and Randall agree in our discussion that this is a heartfelt conclusion and that it must come in stages, beginning with the sort of poetic narcissism under the spell of which the poet believes that no one else can write his poem, even as he is writing over (literally on top of) that of his predecessor.
The world will not end when he does.
Asserting the centrality of such connectedness, Jerome Rothenberg, it was said by Allen Ginsberg, saved us all twenty years. Or, as Bob Holman put it, "He was Google before there was Google."
Here is the text of the poem. And here is the recording of the poem (mp3), and here is a link to PennSound's ample Rothenberg page. Of course JR is widely admired as one of the great performers of his and others' poetry.
Our poem was recorded for the Radio Readings Project on April 24, 1999. PoemTalk's director, engineer and editor for this episode was Steve McLaughlin.
Two days ago (May 20) Chris Matthews on his nightly TV show Hardball likened Ted Kennedy to the "man in the poem" - the poem being Wallace Stevens's "The Emperor of Ice Cream." Click here and listen to a brief excerpt of the show. For Chris, the poem is about the life-force, the one guy who's completely alive in the atmosphere of death. Maybe he's put his finger on the poem's essential antic quality. Well, maybe not. But it's certainly an illuminating way to think about this particular Kennedy. Death all around, so there's got to be someone whom we can call who will constantly remind us of life's ongoing fecundity, the wenches dawdling in their usual dresses; the boys, oogling; the creamy messes prepared in the kitchen; as many drinking joking jaunts in one's boat in the bay as one has time left for.
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
"I always joke," Barack Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg for Goldberg's new piece in the Atlantic, "that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility...."
Philip Roth helped shape Barack Obama's sensibility.
In yesterday's Slate Cultural Gabfest the three hyper-articulate gabbers noted, half-jokingly, that if Bill Clinton was our first black president, perhaps Barack Obama will be our first Jewish president.
Goldberg has written this: "Obama told me that his sensibility was partially shaped by the books of Philip Roth. This obviously has profound implications for American foreign policy, and for shiksas, as well. And so, a reader contest. In a couple of pithy sentences, tell us what the first 100 days of a Roth-influenced Obama presidency would look like."
Andrew Sullivan in "The Daily Dish" blog creates an entry called "The Obama-Roth Presidency."
Back in February here's what Roth had to say about Obama:
Roth: I’m interested in the fact that he’s black. I feel the race issue in this country is more important than the feminist issue. I think that the importance to blacks would be tremendous. He’s an attractive man, he’s smart, he happens to be tremendously articulate. His position in the Democratic Party is more or less okay with me. And I think it would be important to American blacks if he became president.
SPIEGEL: Is Barack Obama black enough?
Roth: I know this discussion goes on, but I think it will disappear if he gets the nomination. The reality of his running will wash that away. Anybody who’s half white and half black is considered black anyway. That’s one drop of blood.