Commentaries - May 2010
Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood..." and Susan Howe's "My Emily Dickinson"
Jennifer Scappettone, Marcella Durand and Jessica Lowenthal joined Al Filreis for a discussion of Susan Howe's understanding of a crucial and extraordinarily complex poem by Emily Dickinson--the one that begins "My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun."
My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
In Corners--till a Day
The Owner passed--identified--
And carried Me away--
And now We roam in Sovereign Woods--
And now We hunt the Doe--
And every time I speak for Him--
The Mountains straight reply--
And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow--
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through--
And when at Night--Our good Day done--
I guard My Master's Head--
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow--to have shared--
To foe of His--I'm deadly foe--
None stir the second time--
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye--
Or an emphatic Thumb--
Though I than He--may longer live
He longer must--than I--
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--
Attempts to read and understand the poem form a central analytical narrative, or, one is tempted to say, a viscerum in and through Susan Howe's book My Emily Dickinson. Our group not only took a cue from Howe's sense of the poem's centrality; we used the recording of Howe's reading of the poem--and several passages from her book--as our basis and starting point. The recording comes from Charles Bernstein's interview with Howe for his LineBreak series; the entire series is available through PennSound.
Jen Scappettone's comments help us contemplate Howe's working out Dickinson's sense of the way war enters the details of domestic existence. Al presents the extended conceit (the woman is to the man as a gun is to its hunter-owner) and then the four proceed--immediately--to complicate it, aptly. The gendering, Marcella and Jessica remind us, is not at all straightforward. Among the many questions pondered here: How do we know for certain that the gun is gendered female?
Dickinson offered several variant words. One of these is "art," which might have replaced "power." "For 'art' you need an artist," Marcella notes, "the creative power. Can the gun be the artist? Do artists extend power? What was the role of the artist or writer in America?" We listen to Howe (reading from her book) say, "When I love a thing, I want it and I try to get it." Sounds to us, at least partly, like a predatory version of the subject-object dynamic. Jen adds: "Love brings the owner and the gun together, but also the predator and the prey." Jessica speaks surely for all of us at PoemTalk when she says, in her final word, that she's glad to return to this crucial poem over and over.
"It was at Harvard not quite forty years ago that I went into an anechoic [totally silent] chamber not expecting in that silent room to hear two sounds: one high, my nervous system in operation, one low, my blood in circulation. The reason I did not expect to hear those two sounds was that they were set into vibration without any intention on my part. That experience gave my life direction, the exploration of nonintention. No one else was doing that. I would do it for us. I did not know immediately what I was doing, nor, after all these years, have I found out much. I compose music. Yes, but how? I gave up making choices. In their place I put the asking of questions. The answers come from the mechanism, not the wisdom of the I Ching, the most ancient of all books: tossing three coins six times yielding numbers between 1 and 64." --John Cage, 1990
Some automated app gimic scans your tweets and then tells you when you typically sleep. It also assumes that when you sleep you don't tweet. I assume that's a fair assumption in 2010, but I doubt such for 2015. Anyway, of course it also presupposes that when you are awake you are tweeting. Quite a premise, no doubt self-serving.
What's frightening here is not that they assume wrongly that I go to bed at 11 pm, but that I am up at 5. I am, typically, but does that mean I'm using Twitter that early? There's a thought. Overall my response is: no thanks.
A note on grammar: "more likely to sleep..." More likely than what or whom? More likely than otherwise?
This week the "Slate Culture Gabest" (a podcast I always listen to) did a segment on Facebook privacy. I hadn't realize the extent of anxieties out there. True, one doesn't want the entire world ("everyone," in Facebook parlance; or "friends of friends," which for me is almost everyone) seeing your photos, very much at all of your "bio" information, your status updates. So what's the big deal? Click "Account" at the top right, then click "Privacy Settings," and generally select "Friends only" for everything. You're done. Below is a screenshot of what people other than my approved "Friends" can see of me. Now do it or stop complaining or delete your Facebook account. I don't like Facebook's top-down tell-us-afterwards style of management, but there are a lot of things I don't like about Web 2.0. So I adjust or decline. Opt out is the phrase.
John Giorno at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery at 526 W. 26th St. Giorno presented his exhibition, "Black Painting and Drawings." He performed "Lorca, please help me!" and other poems. The show runs from until June 12. ArtSlant says:
For his first one-person show in New York, John Giorno will exhibit paintings and drawings that reveal the evolution of the poem painting. Filling the walls of the gallery are twelve stenciled poems; over these hang black paintings at close proximity. The installation echoes the artist’s statement in a recent Artforum interview: “From emptiness, form arises.” Giorno’s poem paintings serve as one more aspect of his role as a poet and artist—connecting words and images in unexpected yet elegant ways. A video of Giorno performing the poem THANX 4 NOTHING will be on display in the gallery’s project room.
The Black Paintings and Drawings represent the visual aspect of John Giorno’s commitment to confronting audiences with poetry in different contexts—inviting us to rethink how we perceive words and images. As with many downtown artists in the 1960s rebelling against Abstract Impressionism and inspired by Duchamp, Giorno sought alternative ways of writing and presenting his poetry: using the telephone (Dial-A-Poem), recordings (Giorno Poetry Systems) and multiples (poem prints). As he said in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, given the influence of Warhol, Rauschenberg and Johns, he began to see “the possibilities of found images through words. The way I found and used the material, . . . became a poetic form.” The first Poem Prints were part of a Dial-A-Poem installation in the 1970 exhibition Information at the Museum of Modern Art.
Photographs by Lawrence Schwartzwald. For more about Lawrence's work, click on the tag below.