Commentaries - April 2011

@ PennSound

Drucker by Bernstein
photo © 2006 Charles Bernstein

complete reading (28:41): MP3
complete conversation with Charles Bernstein(29:47):
Kelly Writers House, March 14, 2011

Michael Hennesey wrote up the Drucker Close Listening show on PennSound Daily; call it synergy, but here I go again.

Program One: Segmented Reading
Fragile, 1971, printed 1977 (2:22): MP3
Dark, 1972 (1:08): MP3 From A to Z, 1977 (1:02): MP3
Nederlands, How (so) Far, 1978 (0:50): MP3
Tongues, 1982 (1:34): MP3
Bookscape, 1988 (2:20): MP3
History of the/my Wor(ld), 1989-90 (2:03): MP3
“The Uselessness of Art in Management Situations,” Dark Decade, (written in the 1980s, published in 1995) (4:50): MP3
“Mutant Politics,” and “Genetic Knowledge,” from Deterring Discourse, 1993 (2:42): MP3
Narratology, 1993-4 (4:01): MP3
Damaged Spring, 2003 (2:17): MP3
Combo Meals, 2008 (3:23): MP3

  • also new on Drucker's PennSound page:
    "A Conversation about Aesthetics and Materiality"
    at the Kelly Wriers House, Penn, March 14, 2011
    audio of complete talk and discussion (1:06:09): MP3 

@ PennSound

Joan Retallack:  cover of How to Do Things with Words

Joan Retallack on Close Listening
February 26, 2011
reading  (27:04)   MP3
conversation with Charles Bernstein & Al Filreis (32:19)   MP3

Reading (segmented)

  1. Preface to "The Woman in the Chinese Room" (4:30): MP3
  2. "The Woman in the Chinese Room" from How To Do Things With Words (Sun & Moon Classics, 1998) (9:26): MP3
  3. from The Bosch Bookshelf, 1-6, (published in Qui Parle [At the Intersections of Ecocriticism], Vol.19, No.2, Spring 2011) (7:50): MP3
  4. from "Coimbra Poem of Poetry & Violence: Grief's Rubies," from Procedural Elegies / Western Civ Cont'd / (Roof Books, 2010) (5:15): MP3

Bernstein's Web Log now at Jacket2


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"Son of Chico Dusty" was created by Eric Linsker and Jeff Nagy or their slap media site.

Listening to letters

image by Noah Saterstrom
(image by Noah Saterstrom)

I’ll begin with a playlist of PennSound recordings having to do with letters. While listening to this playlist on repeat, I was interested in the ways the tracks expanded, derailed, parodied, critiqued, or otherwise complicated the idea of intimate address. The addressees include imagined ancestors, public figures, an owl, various abstractions and inanimate objects, as well as the workings of language itself. Recently I’ve been listening to this playlist on random and I keep noticing new connections and contrasts between tracks.

Ange Mlinko’s Classical Music begins by oscillating between several potential addressees and sites of address (“Dear Soho,” “Dear Orpheus,” “Dear Silenus,” “Dear Sappho,” etc.). Mlinko’s comments on John Wheelwright provide one window into the pleasures of listening to the weave of dictions, times, and figures simultaneously alive in the poem.

In Michael Gizzi’s Dear Double Jehovah I hear the line “absence finds a way of being there” speaking to the power of letters to conjure the missing, the impossible, or the previously unimagined. I’m also reminded by this line of how much Gizzi’s voice is missed by so many. His charged reading of the piece turns up the reverb and accentuates distortions and transformations of sound and image such as: “To write in French about the fluid gain of artists is to universalize the nostalgic tourist and bond proboscisly with the inverse music charts of the unfettered schnoz of Charles De Gauze.”

CA Conrad’s Dear Mister President there was Egg Shell under Your Desk Last Night in My Dream! imagines a sexual/political/spiritual transformation of George W. Bush  (“a man with little time for love.”) I hear a hint of Conrad’s more recent Somatic Poetry Exercises (which he describes as “poetry which investigates that seemingly infinite space between body and spirit by using nearly any possible THING around or of the body to channel the body out and/or in toward spirit with deliberate and sustained concentration.”) near the end of the poem, beginning with the lines: “Maybe we could go to the creek and paint secret mud symbols on our bodies like I used to do with my first boyfriend.” Attending one of Conrad’s Somatic Workshops should be mandatory for holding public office.

Laynie Browne’s introduction to Rebecca Letters describes the work as a series of “letters to an imaginary unknown ancestor” who appeared to her in a dream. Browne discovered that there was a real ancestor named Rebecca: “Rebecca was a musician who studied at London Conservatory. I never met her. The omission of Rebecca in family history I interpret as a lack of representation/documentation of women artists.” Listen to Rebecca Letters (pages 11-13) .

Julia Bloch’s selections from Letters to Kelly Clarkson play moments of interiority, spectacle, and desire against one another, with a keen awareness of “the big bank of cultural currency” always at work behind the scenes. The poems explore several connotations of “epic” and “lyric” in a time when “The audience is armed, waving their nude wrists, ready to eliminate someone tonight.”

Eugene Ostashevky’s Dear Owl begins grounded in the language of description but quickly questions its own linguistic and perceptual frameworks: “What is this forest of letters?” “I cannot see who I am, who you are.” “That’s all that remains of the language of language.” I think of the intense, insistent voicing of the poem as a force of friction, eating away at the solidity of the landscape at the same time it’s being rendered.

This recording of Nathaniel Mackey's comments about and reading from Will Alexander’s Letters to Rosa suggests multiple sites of correspondence: resonances between writers, imagined astronomical entities speaking to one another, rich constellations of sound/image patterns circulating and generating feedback. Mackey’s reading from his own epistolary novel Atet A.D.  is a tightly compressed yet open-ended narrative. The multiple dialogues going on (between band members, between band and audience, between music and language, between the sonic and the visual, between private thought and public address) make for a lively, polyvalent exchange.

Eileen Myles’s Dear Andrea poems are full of amazing fused and fragmentary moments. If I understand Myles’ comments between poems correctly, some of the language is being overheard from one-half of a phone conversation. I love the way the speech of the poem turns its attention in so many directions: “I’m not trying/to turn you/on Eileen I’m stretching/What time is it.”  

Stacy Doris’s Love Letter (Lament) appears in her book Paramour, which begins with a note to the reader that I’ll excerpt from: “It was written between 1995 and 2000 in the South of France and in North America by a willful female author who, nagged and baffled by questions of poetic form’s future, set out, as if she had all the time in the world on her hands, to catalogue, through strategies of parody and vivisection, an eclectic variety of Western Prosodic models. For subject matter the theme of love, certainly the most prevalent topic of poetic tradition, was readily selected.“

John Yau discusses some of the thinking and techniques behind his book Borrowed Love Poems (which includes Russian Letter) in this brief clip from a Close Listening conversation with Charles Bernstein.

Although there were no recordings of Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker on PennSound, I will end by linking to a 1991 reading from that influential work on the Kootenay School of Writing’s audio archive. A quick introduction to the project from Bellamy’s preliminary comments: “Mina Harker is the person in Dracula whose soul is being fought to be saved. She’s this borderline character between human and whatever. All the letters have been written to real people and mailed before anyone has seen them.” The reading is in two parts: Part A & Part B


Playlist (right-click on any link below for download options)

Ange Mlinko Classical Music

Michael Gizzi Dear Double Jehovah

CA Conrad Dear Mister President there was Egg Shell under Your Desk Last Night in My Dream!

Laynie Browne from Rebecca Letters (pages 11-13)  

Julia Bloch from Letters to Kelly Clarkson

Eugene Ostashevky Dear Owl

Nathaniel Mackey reading from Will Alexander’s Letters to Rosa

Nathaniel Mackey from Atet A.D. 

Eileen Myles Dear Andrea poems

Stacy Doris Love Letter (Lament)

John Yau Russian Letter

Dodie Bellamy from The Letters of Mina Harker Part A & Part B


More work by artist Noah Saterstrom here and here.

Also of Interest: Chain Magazine Issue #6: Letters

A preface from the publisher

Happily, we inaugurate Jacket2. For all the complexity of the work in poetry and poetics you’ll read on these screens, what we’re doing here is I think explained rather simply. We want to preserve what John Tranter has done with Jacket in its first forty issues, and to a significant extent — although in a somewhat new mode and a somewhat different context — continue and extend it. The new mode? A site pushing technically past what’s been called 2.0, with all the vaunted interoperabilities: collaborative editing and rostering of new articles; a rotation of three-months-each guest commentators, able themselves to post contemporaneous responses to various poetics scenes they “cover”; a means of laying out features that enables readers to see at once all diverse elements of materials and responses to a single poet or topic as gathered by a guest editor; an image gallery for uncluttered viewing of many images associated with an article or feature; podcast series (such as PoemTalk and Into the Field) both streamable right on the page and downloadable for free; video players both inline and linked; a Reissues department for making otherwise inaccessible archival material available in full digital facsimile; advanced searching through both new Jacket2 pieces and every single article, review, and announcement ever published in old Jacket; and seamless server-side linked cross-relations between critical responses written for J2 about readings and recordings on one hand and, on the other, all the digital audio (and video) stored in the vast archive known as PennSound. Even as we just get started, dig around and you’ll find a great deal here — and tons of potential.

Tranter’s Jacket was famously — and monumentally — a 1.0 project. From the beginning (1997), John did all the HTML markup himself. Those of us who published in Jacket know of John’s (and later Pam Brown’s) attentive, perspicacious editing. Those of us who have looked under the hood of this particular car driving fast down the Internet-sped poetics highway have seen the intricate, tangled but perfectly hand-wired cables. A labor of love all those years and perhaps too, in its way, as a whole, a work of art. Some people we admire (Loss Pequeño Glazer, Brian Kim Stefans among them) have argued that the programming code is part of the aesthetic — that, in short, coding is itself beautiful.Having worked with the thousands of pages John created, we’ve come — humbly, from our special vantage — to agree. So perhaps the best thing we will have done is what John Tranter asked us to do in our first conversations about preserving old Jacket here: we’ve moved every single Jacket page to our server and we retain them almost exactly as they are, adding only a link to Jacket2 at the top and a search engine that will pick up both the old work and the new. (At right: John Tranter.)

So here in Jacket2 you’ll still find Rachel Blau DuPlessis on Barbara Guest, Michael Basinski on the Jargon archive, Kristin Prevallet on Spicer’s Creeley, Terrence Diggory on Williams’s wheelbarrow gone global, Wystan Curnow’s sense of modern colors, Rod Mengham’s take on new Polish poetry, James Sherry on The Grand Piano project, Marjorie Perloff on normalizing John Ashbery, Ken Bolton on Eileen Myles’s travel writing, etc. It’s all there — all here rather — and in addition, there will be something new to read at J2 every day. We promise that if you look here daily you’ll find something you haven’t seen before. (Well, we might slow down during the Northern Hemisphere summers, but we’ll see about that.) John Tranter had already pushed the concept of the online “issue” to the point of breaking. Issue 40 is the equivalent of 1,200 printed pages. So our move to an issueless ongoing magazine hardly represents an acceleration of Jacket. But, we hope, readers will see that the extent of the lively multilateral collaboration we intend among our editors, guest commentators, special feature editors, and reviewers finds its apt formal expression in the 24/7 mode in which we’ve chosen to publish.

Above I claimed for J2, with respect to J1, a “new mode” (and then I described it), but I also used the phrase “new context.” The potential real advantages to be derived from such a particular editorial, archival, and institutional context was I think what attracted John Tranter to us in the first place. He hoped — and we fully intend — to put the critical and poetic work of Jacket in close relation to PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, and the activities enabled by the teaching and other resources at Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW). The Kelly Writers House is now J2’s home base. The connection to PennSound’s archive is, as I’ve already noted, both technical/digital and critical/theoretical. There will be moments when our readers will experience the writing published in J2 as a critical, audiographical, and historical response to recordings just then newly available in PennSound; and that would be the case because the two efforts were coordinated and simultaneous. Charles Bernstein, my cofounder and codirector at PennSound and a J2 commentator, conceives of PennSound as a site where poetry archivally “actually happens,” where it can be experienced and “‘learned’ (not ‘taught’).”And as director of CPCW and Jacket2’s publisher, I hope in the coming months and years to find a few really inventive ways to bring the heterodox, dispersed community of poets, critics, literary-political people and other artists published here in connection with the activities and projects of students, teachers, and emergent writers whose access has mostly been tentative, fleeting, and based on the luck of same-time/same-place convergence. Providing continuity for one of the first online magazines not just in poetry but of any sort, Jacket2 is surely an apt site for further explorations in intentional convergences of the dislocated community — a folksonomy that informs, updates, augments, invites learning, and sometimes surprises.

Al Filreis, Philadelphia, PA, USA, March 25, 2011


1. Loss Pequeño Glazier, Digital Poetics: Hypertext, Visual-Kinetic Text and Writing in Programmable Media (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002), passim. Brian Kim Stefans writes: “A line of javascript scans” (Fashionable Noise: On Digital Poetics [Berkeley: Atelos, 2003], 46).

2. I am not quoting Bernstein here but a 1975 dialogue on oral poetry that is crucial to both of us as creators of PennSound, an interview with Jerome Rothenberg conducted by William Spanos originally published in Boundary 2 3, no. 3 (Spring 1975). The phrase is quoted from the piece as it was reprinted in Rothenberg, Pre-Faces and Other Writings (New York: New Directions, 1981), 36.