Commentaries - November 2008

Mike Hennessey, PennSound’s Managing Editor, daily composes your PennSound daily. That’s Mike, looking at us on the right. Just go to the main PennSound page and you’ll read Mike’s thoughts on selected new recordings. You can subscribe using your favorite RSS reader.

In the latest daily, Mike turned his attention to the new episode of PoemTalk — the one on Pound’s early poem, “Cantico del Sole.” Here’s what he says:

Listeners eagerly awaiting the latest installment of the PoemTalk podcast series need wait no longer — host Al Filreis is back with a new episode, the twelfth in the series. Joining Filreis this time, for a discussion of Ezra Pound’s “Cantico del Sole,” are his PennSound codirector, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Levitsky (this year’s CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice), and Joshua Schuster (a longtime member of the UPenn community and an architect of the Kelly Writers House).

Bernstein begins by citing the differences in tone between the two recordings presented in the program — while the 1939 version is introspective, the 1958 rendition plays up the poem’s satirical edge — a distinction Levitsky elides to depict the speaker’s ambivalence. Filreis recalls that Pound studied the classics at UPenn, and that the poet translated Francis of Assisi’s “Hymn of the Sun,” which gives Pound’s poem its name, as part of his masters thesis. This fact, taken together with a contemporary legal decision that the classics should be exempted from obscenity laws, since (as Pound reprints in the essay originally accompanying the poem) they “usually appeal to a comparatively limited number of readers,” forms the context for the poem as both a lament for America’s disinterest in classical (or any serious) literature, and also a glimpse towards a society in which the opposite were true.

Schuster is quick to point out that it’s not a staid pedagogy rooted solely in the past that Pound is aiming for, but rather the “twenty-four-hour experimental poet world that the classics kinda suggest were in existence back then.” Indeed, a society as receptive to the classics would be equally receptive to the contemporary avant-garde, and Schuster notes that, in Pound’s time, certain notions of the avant-garde were precisely tied to revisiting the classics (H.D., for example).

Bernstein makes another connection, to the Canticle of Simeon (a devout Jew who was promised he’d live to see the coming savior), which raises the issue of the poem’s sacrilegious tone as well as Pound’s later anti-Semitism, and how one navigates that facet of his history in light of his work overall. He also points out how incompletely the allusions to both Assisi and Simeon are integrated within the multi-vocal palimpsest, which adds to both the poem’s tensions — including the contradictions between its anti-Phillistine and elitist voices.

Filreis brings the conversation to a close by introducing the writings of Peter Wilson, who discusses the differences between the avant-garde’s relation to mainstream society in the contemporary era (in which poets can more easily find an audience) versus Pound’s time (where the Modernist ideal trended towards isolation and exclusivity). Schuster expands this notion to consider implications of medium and availability, suggesting that in the present, the avant-garde is not rereading the classics, but rather fully embracing and exploiting technological means to develop and share new ideas, a rubric into which sites such as this one neatly fit (and be sure to listen through to the end, where Bernstein parodies Pound’s parody, by sharing how “the thought of what America would be like if PennSound had a wide circulation” troubles his sleep).

PoemTalk’s next episode will see the show go on the road, to New York City, where Filreis, along with Bernstein, Nada Gordon and Lawrence Joseph will discuss a late poem by Wallace Stevens. In the meantime, be sure to visit PoemTalk’s homepage, where you can download the first dozen episodes and find more information about the poems and panelists, along with listener comments.

For a time, about two years ago, I so thought that my students were mainly the ones putting so somewhat randomly in front of verbs — between subject and verb — but now as an addicted listener to news and culture podcasts I realize that everyone is so doing it. It’s an intensifer for the most part. Inserting “very much” in the same spot would have done it fifty–seventy-five years ago. I very much want you to come visit me. And sometimes “so very much.” So I’m not against so, since it’s succinct and even dramatic. The stronger the verb the better the effect. Weak verbs, and to-be verbs make me less a fan. I am so against that. And negatives, in the same grammar: I am so not with you on that point. Now find a two-word subject pronoun (“We all,” which is a rarely used first-person plural form of “you all”) and stick “so” between them and one of those weak verbs (“have”) and you’ve got a sign Linh Dinh saw recently and snapped for his blog. All I can say is, they’d so better be friendly.

Last year, the folks at went out to Northport, Long Island, where Jack Kerouac lived from 1958 through 1964. In a five-minute video, one of the two poetryvlog producers, George Harris, takes us on a tour of the town, which was in the midst of a community celebration at the time. A general holiday it was, into which honor due Jack fits as a small part in the municipal unconscious. (Ah, Long Island.) Here’s your link to the the video and here’s the link to the blog entry.

An opening for TAPEWORM
a collaborative exhibition based on Darren Wershler-Henry’s
The Tapeworm Foundry (and/or the dangerous prevalence of imagination)

Thursday, 11/20 at 7PM
Kelly Writers House | 3805 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104

This event will be webcast live: find out more by clicking here.

is a collaboration of art projects radiating from a writing piece by Canadian artist Darren Wershler-Henry, The Tapeworm Foundry (andor the dangerous prevalence of imagination). The text is available on UbuWeb. The Tapeworm Foundry is an intriguing instance of conceptual writing, faithfully formulaic but also unusually compelling in its fruition: a single rambling, unpunctuated sequence of possible projects, ranging from quirky to absurd to highly ambiguous and all largely allusive of the twentieth century avant-garde. The potential ‘instructions’ that comprise Tapeworm, linked by the pulsating conjunction ‘andor,’ are themselves mini-premises for a thousand other projects, making the fifty-page list the ultimate conceptual catalyst.

This exhibition challenges a group of young contemporary artists and writers at Penn to realize some of Wershler-Henry’s hypothetical instructions. The Penn students and graduates participating in the exhibition include: Grace Ambrose, Joyce Lee, Ned Eisenberg, Vladimir Zykov, Kimberly Eisler, Artie Vierkant, John Carroll, Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Arielle Brousse, Manya Scheps, Brooke Palmieri, Nick Salvatore, Robin McDowell, Sofie Hodara, Cecilia Corrigan, and Thomson Guster, with assistance from James La Marre and Trisha Low. Curated by Kaegan Sparks. There will be a limited quantity of complimentary exhibition catalogues available at the opening. Please email for more information.

A short but sweet review of my recent book appeared yesterday on Tom Devaney’s blog, here. Upon which one reader commented: “On my holiday list!” (Yes, go ahead, shop this depressed season!)

At the North Carolina Press site you can buy your copy easily.