Commentaries - July 2008

Before Hogan's Heroes started up its run of several years airing weekly on a TV network, a pre-debut radio ad for the show was heard widely - and quoted in Newsweek:

Question: "What are some of the amusing ingredients?" Answer: "German police dogs, machine guns, the Gestapo… shall we say, ‘If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hogan’s Heroes’"

The second voice was that of Bob Crane, the actor who played Hogan.

(The Newsweek piece was called "Fun with the Nazis." The show ran for 168 episodes from September 17, 1965, to March 28, 1971, on the CBS network)

Below is an excerpt from the texts of the Communist Control Act of 1954. Note that membership in the Communist party could be discerned from the accused person's having knowledge of the purpose of the evil organization. Juries were instructed by this act (it established guidelines as to what was criminal behavior) not to limit themselves to evidence such as a current membership card. Here we go:

"In determining membership or participation in the Communist party of in any other organization defined in this act, or knowledge of the purpose or objective of such party or organization, the jury, under instructions from the court, shall consider evidence, if presented, as to whether the accused person …

… 8. Has written, spoken, or in any other way communicated by signal, semaphore, sign, or in any other form of communication, orders, directives, or plans of the organization …

12. Has indicated by word, action, conduct, writing, or in any other way a willingness to carry out in any manner and to any degree the plans, designs, objectives, or purposes of the organization;

13. Has in any other way participated in the activities, planning, actions, objectives, or purposes of the organization."

Nada Gordon joined a conversation some of us were having yesterday in New York about the spare late poem of Wallace Stevens, "Not Ideas about the Thing But the Thing Itself." Nada, a proud flarfist, feels that poetry should include (rather than exclude) and would seem to love the fecund, richly imaginative Stevens of poems like the florid, overwritten "Comedian as the Letter C." But "Not Ideas" is sparse, thin, scrawny, barely there. In it, nonetheless, Nada finds here a beckoning to the (faded, past, almost gone) richness of the imagination. The poem's call for thing-only objectivity is not (at it were) real. Nada has written about all this on her blog today. She has also rewritten the poem and that seems to express perfectly well her overall response to it:

Not Ideas About the Bling But the Bling Itself

At the earliest antinomian disaster,
On Mars, a prawn-y guy from outside
Seemed like he had blown his mind.

He knew that he blown it,
A dry curd, under a fluorescent light,
In the early harsh of mellow.

The sun wore purple underwear,
No longer a buttered ganache above dandruff …
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast vacuum cleaner
Of creepy jaded poetics conferences …
The sun was wearing purple underwear inside out.

That brawny gay — It was
A chorine whose c preceded the bleach.
It was part of the giant lox,

Surrounded by its collar rings,
Still barbarous. It was like
A new knowledge of reality shows.

I love this old photograph of Rae Armantrout. Presumably she is reading her own poems from a temporarily bound typescript. To me she seems lost in the pages.

She recalls being read to her mother as a child, and in a poem called "The Way" brilliant reproduces the effect of that special kind of abandonment: the child, sent into story, follows Gretel-like into the pages' wood (Ron Silliman believes the mention of "paper" in "The Way" is a forest made of pages), gets horrifyingly lost, only to come into a clearing once again.

The 8th episode of PoemTalk is being released today. I gathered the abovementioned Ron Silliamn and also Charles Bernstein and Rachel Blau DuPlessis to talk with me about "The Way" for about twenty-five minutes. Here is your link; have a look and listen and please let me know (afilreis [at] gmail [dot] com) what you think.

Rae Armantrout, "The Way"


This time the PoemTalkers were Ron Silliman, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Charles Bernstein, and our poem was Rae Armantrout's "The Way." Charles had already spoken with Rae about this poem briefly during their interview in the Close Listening series, so we went into our convo knowing that Rae sees the poem as having two compositional parts--a first part consisting of found phrases, items from the poet's notebook of linguistic observations, a collage of voices, no fixed I. "I am here" is Jesus revealed to you in a pew, but I is also a poem's prospective speaker: someone saying something tautological. Where else would you be, at the moment, than here? The second half, again according to the poet--revealingly or not--is a quasi-personal recollection: being read to as a child, getting lost in a story and thus feeling "abandoned" by the mother who gave her the gift of books. Gretel-like, does she "come upon" these trees, this wood, each time diving into the wreck of each new now-nonnarrative venture? The most relevant of such ventures being...this poem itself? Who is lost in it? Have we lost the poem's speaker, only to come upon her again (and again)?

Charles chants lyrics from Grease: Grease is the way I am feeling. Rachel reminds us that "I am here" can also read as "Kilroy was here" does - a marker left by someone who came randomly before. Ron helps us focus on the ending: a grand vision expected, a definitive something, the light coming down through the trees, and what we get is..."again." The sort of thing that keeps happening over and over. "Once" (as in "once upon a time") in "once again" (the fairy tale's synchronicity).

Here is Armantrout's PennSound page, and here is the 27-second mp3 recording of "The Way."

PoemTalk #8 was recorded in studio 111 of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Our director and engineer was Steve McLaughlin.