Commentaries - November 2010
Cid Corman's poem beginning "It isn't for want" haunts me. It's the urgent quality of Cid's voice, recorded there over the telephone. And the way he so pressingly emphasizes any word adjacent to the word "you," as in "Something to tell you" or "To detain you." The phrases of the poem go round in my mind. So much so that I decided to remix the poem, almost as a way of getting it out of my head. As if to Stein-ize it would relieve it of its longing to have us listen. The remix also has the virtue, I think, of instructing us in Corman's use of breath as a formal unit. Anyway, I'm certain this will sound annoying to some, but here you go.
Comes to PennSound
Gary Barwin traveled from Hamilton, Ontario, to spend the day at the Writers House the other day. Gary is a poet, fiction writer, composer, and performer, whose many books of poetry include The Porcupinity of the Stars (newly published), Outside the Hat and Raising Eyebrows (all from Coach House), and whose music has been performed by, among other groups, The Vancouver Chamber Choir, The Bach-Elgar Choir, and by the Windtunnel Saxaphone Quartet. Along with Danny Snelson and Ammiel Alcalay, we recorded a session of PoemTalk on a poem by John Wieners. Then I induced Gary into an hour-long recording session for PennSound. And now, already, lo and behold, we have a new Gary Barwin author page at PennSound: here. I had first met Gary at Banff a year ago and enjoyed his company a great deal.
Gary is also the Serif of Nottingblog - which is to say, runs a blog going under that title. He blogs on average once every other day. I recommend it as a digital destination.
Gary is Jewish, and the family's path runs like this: Lithuania, South Africa, Ottawa. His Lithuanian family fled the holocaust. His great-uncle Isaak Grazutis is a holocaust survivor, and also, now, a painter. "In 1941, at the age of eleven, Isaak was forced to flee his native village in advance of Nazi occupation. After his parents were taken away by the invading forces, he was brought to live in an orphanage in Ural, and later, Moscow where he spent his formative years." Here is much more from Gary's blog. At right you see one of Isaak's oil paintings.
As a Writers House Fellow
Tony Kushner, near the beginning of our interview/discussion in the spring of 2001 when he visited as a Writers House Fellow: "To return all of the outrageous compliments, I've really been impressed with the faculty and students I've met here. This has really been, in many, many years of dong this, the nicest two days I've spent on the road. So it's really been a great and wonderful thing. And I learned a new word, profusity, that I absolutely intent to use and I'm absolutely impressed that somebody got those lines of Esperanto. I think that that is really a testimonial to the acuity of the students and also to the fact that Zamenhof was right and it is the world's language." Needless to say, we cherish this great praise.
Jena Osman, "Dropping Leaflets"
For an event held at the Writers House on November 7, 2001, Jena Osman composed a new poem--one might say thus that it's an occasional poem. The occasion was given the overall title "Finding the Words" (as in: how can writers find words to bespeak a response to 9/11?) and Osman's poem was "Dropping Leaflets."
Here is verbatim what Osman said as she introduced the poem at the Writers House: "The title of this program is 'Finding the Words.' Every day I look in the newspapers. I keep sensing the presence of what's not being told... 'Help me come up with a strategy to get through this white noise.' I don't have that strategy, except to call attention to components of that white noise so we can hear it for what it is. In the spirit of Marianne Moore, who often incorporated what she was reading into her poems, I'm going to read a piece made of words I found when I read transcripts of press conferences given by Bush, Ridge, Rumsfeld, and Cheney in the last few days. I read the transcripts, printed them out, I tore them up, and then I stood on a chair, and then I bombed my office floor with them as if they were leaflets and the leaflets told me what to do. So this piece is called 'Dropping Leaflets.'"
The text of the poem is given here. It was published subsequently in a book, An Essay in Asterisks (Roof Books, 2004). The recording made on November 7, 2001, is available on Osman's PennSound author page and linked here.
Al Filreis convened Mark Nowak, Emily Abendroth and Jessica Lowenthal to talk about this poem and more generally some aspects of documentary poetics. They considered, among other things, what happens to such a historically specific writing when some of the context fades as a memory - and whether the aesthetic qualities of the poem become a primary impression. And yet the poem's rhetoric--if that's the right term for a poem constructed of found phrases--speaks to the very question of how we can make ourselves heard in all the centralizing, nationalistic white noise at such a moment.
This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by James LaMarre and edited by Steve McLaughlin.