Commentaries - February 2010

Jacket moves

from the front page of Jacket #17 (2002)

Tonight John Tranter and I are sending out the following announcement:

Dear friends:

We are writing with news of a transition we both deem very exciting.

By the end of 2010, John Tranter and Pam Brown will have put out 40 issues of Jacket ( It began in what John recalls as "a rash moment" in 1997 - an early all-online magazine, one of the earliest in the world of poetry and poetics, and quite rare for its consistency over the years. "The design is beautiful, the contents awesomely voluminous, the slant international modernist and experimental." (So said _The Guardian_.)

After issue 40, John will retire from thirteen years of intense every-single-day involvement with Jacket, and the entire archive of thousands of web pages will move intact to servers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where it will of course be available on the internet to everyone, for free, as always. But the magazine is not ceasing publication: quite the opposite.

Starting with the first issue in 2011, Jacket will have a new home, extra staff and a vigorous future as Jacket2. Jacket and its continuation, Jacket2, will be hosted by the Kelly Writers House and PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania.

The connection with PennSound, a vast and growing archive of audio recordings of poetry performance, discussion and criticism, is seen as a valuable additional facet of the new magazine, as is the relationship with busy Kelly Writers House, a lively venue for day-to-day poetic interchange of all kinds. The synergy in this three-way relationship has great potential.

Al will become Publisher and Jessica Lowenthal, Director of the Writers House, will be Associate Publisher. The new Editors will be Michael S. Hennessey (currently Managing Editor of PennSound) and Julia Bloch. John will be available as Founding Editor, and Pam will continue as Associate Editor.More news about Jacket2 in the weeks and months to come. Meantime, the Jacket2 folks extend gratitude -- as many in the world of poetics do -- to John and to Pam Brown for the extraordinary work they've done. And John, for his part, is mightily pleased that Jacket will be preserved and will continue and grow in a somewhat new mode but with a continuous mission and approach.

set Howe to music

David Grubbs & Susan Howe |
Souls of the Labadie Tract | CD

Mad cartographer (PoemTalk #28)

Jack Spicer, "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy"


Julia Bloch, CA Conrad, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis joined Al Filreis to talk about Jack Spicer’s early poem of 1949, “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy.” Sections of the poem are framed by what is either meant to be an unironic prompt or a satirized annoyance: What are you thinking about? - What are you thinking?What are you thinking now? The speaker is the analysand and the poem is the means by which the analysand talks his way through to the poem. Is his major concern – the supposed problem for which the poem is a talking cure – that the poem “could go on forever”? The sexual longing, the pain and the dislocation of the California summer are all – together – topics “I would like to write a poem” about. Increasingly annoyed by the sameness of the analyst’s refrain (“Do you get me, Doctor?”), he pushes his sexual conceits to a hottest point, when summers are seen to “torture California,” when “the damned maps burn” and the “mad cartographer” (whom the PoemTalkers agree is the speaker himself)

Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.

What he has been hiding? The significance of his homosexuality? And why, by the way, might California in 1949 be just the spot, as it were, on the geohistorical map for the psychoanalytic mode of talking about what one is hiding about oneself? We explore a range of possible answers to that question, including biographical and ideological. Julia and Al note in particular that this was the time of anticommunist investigations into “disloyal” faculty teaching in the University of California system, especially at Berkeley – that jobs, but also identities (including secret identities) were at risk. (Spicer was among those who refused to sign the loyalty oath imposed on faculty by the state government.) Whereupon Conrad observes that the witch-hunts almost inexorably targeted gays both open and closeted. Rachel concludes with a cogent interpretation of the gendering in the poem and of the sexual hiding. What remains wide open is the question of whether, in the end, this poem says mockingly and happily goodbye to psychoanalysis as a mode of self-understanding, or affirms analysis as having done its job for the poet in particular. Does the realization that “a poem could go on forever” seem to affirm the talking-through process, the topical wandering, the going wherever thought goes? Or does that just add to the torture of this endless summer? Both, it would seem.

David Schine and Roy Cohen in Europe

junketeering gumshoes

David Schine and Roy Cohn - Joseph's McCarthy's henchmen - turned their attacks on overseas State Department-sponsored libraries.David Schine and Roy Cohn - Joseph's McCarthy's henchmen - turned their attacks on overseas State Department-sponsored libraries. The point of these was to provide war-torn European communities a place to go for otherwise hard-to-get books by American authors. Or, to be more specific, the point was to provide the sort of American books that would persuade postwar Europeans, otherwise susceptible to the wiles of communist criticism, that the American imagination was being nourished by the free and diverse cultural life in the U.S.

But McCarthy and his people decided that some of the books in these libraries had been written by disloyal people. Schine and Cohen went traveling (a classic boondoggle disguised as a national-security emergency), yanked books off shelves and ruined the careers of librarians and many other government workers in Europe whom Schine-Cohn said they suspected of radical pasts.

The pair spent forty hours in Paris, sixteen in Bonn, nineteen in Frankfurt, sixty in Munich, forty-one in Vienna, twenty-three in Belgrade, twenty-four in Athens, twenty in Rome, and six in London. What was it all about? After a time, it turned out to be about books in I.I.A. libraries, but the interest in books was probably minor at the start. The expedition had been set up only a few days in advance, and the purpose of it was so obscure that everywhere the travelers touched down they gave a different account of why they were traveling. In Paris, they said they were looking for inefficiency in government offices overseas. In Bonn, they said they were looking for subversives. Asked in Munich which it was, Cohn explained that it was both. "Efficiency," he said, "includes complete political reliability. If anyone is interested in the Communists, then he cannot be efficient." Back home, on "Meet the Press," he said he didn't consider himself competent to judge performances abroad and had gone only to look into "certain things."

Richard Rovere was there after the Cohn-Schine tornado had done its damage. Here is his description of what he found afterward:

I was working in Europe a few months after Cohn and Schine left, covering much the same territory they had covered, and I had a chance to see what they had wrought. Actually, not many people had been fired as a result of their trip. The most notable victim, probably, was Theodore Kaghan, who had been a Public Affairs Officer in the United States High Commission for Germany. A witness at the Voice of America hearings had called him a "pseudo-American," and it had come out that in the thirties he had shared an apartment in New York with a Communist. He might have survived these scandals if he had not described Cohn and Schine as "junketeering gumshoes" to a newspaperman during the tour, and he might have survived even this if the State Department had not been in such a panic to get rid of him. He was eased out speedily, and so were a few others, but what really damaged the whole American complex in Europe was the shame and anger of the government servants who had witnessed the whole affair. I must have talked with a hundred people in Bonn, Paris, Rome, and London who told me their resignations were written, signed, stamped, and ready for mailing or delivery. Some did not really want to resign; others planned to, and were simply waiting until they could find other jobs or make the necessary arrangements for getting their families out. No one, probably, could estimate the number of people whose departure could be traced to this affair, and surely no one could estimate its effect on morale. Morale sank very low so low, indeed, that I was surprised to note, among government people in Europe, a willingness to denounce McCarthy in extravagant language and to ridicule Cohn and Schine. This was most unlike Washington at the time, and the explanation I was given was that very few people cared any longer whether they held their jobs or not.