Commentaries - May 2011
An interview by Manuel Brito
Manuel Brito, editor of Zasterle Press (Canary Islands) interviewed me for a special issue of Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses on "Small Press Publishing: Absorbing New Forms, Circulating New Ideas" (#62, April 2011). In his introduction, Brito writes: " . . . Bernstein was the cofounder of the emblematic L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine with Bruce Andrews. . . . I am very happy to have been involved in some of his work through my editorship of his The Absent Father in Dumbo (Zasterle, 1991). This led me to understand his poetry as a cultural force, and how he has participated in creating some of the most American avant-garde writing. . . . His experience as editor has not been limited to print publications— “American Poetry after 1975,” boundary 2 (2010); Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word (Oxford University Press, 1998); The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy (Roof Books, 1990); or “Language Sampler,” Paris Review 86 (1982) and “43 Poets (1984)” Boundary 2 (1986)—since he is the co-founder and co-editor, with Al Filreis, of PENNsound; and editor, and co-founder, with Loss Pequeño Glazier, of the Electronic Poetry Center; and has been host and co-producer of LINEbreak and Close Listening, two radio poetry series. This talk is part of a continuing discussion of the perspectives of editorship in these early decades of the 21st century. I hope it will be helpful to see the new perspectives, not only of creators, but also of means to produce culturally significant work.
MB: Would you explain your explicit purpose for editorship, if any, and how this tropes some acts of reading experience, discussion, etc.?
CB: I don’t know where editing ends and poetry begins, when teaching stops and essays start, when organizing is set aside and contemplation takes center stage. The relation of one to the other is rhythmic: an oscillating rhythm. Maybe it’s a derangement of personality; my inability to draw boundaries or adequately shore my borders against the waves of poetic energy I feel engulfed in and by, and which, by a kind of wind energy, powers what I do. Or maybe it’s a kind of textual weaving, warps and wefts, sparks and crests, cunning and conundrum. It’s all of a piece in any given day (and the days not given too, the rare days that are earned). It started early for me. I was the editor of my high school newspaper (Science Survey) and two literary magazines at college (the official freshman lit mag, The Harvard Yard Journal and an entirely ephemeral affair, Writing, when I was a senior). A small press editor, first with Asylum’s Press in the 1970s, where Susan Bee and I published ourselves, but also Peter Seaton, Ray DiPalma, and Ted Greenwald; then in the later ‘70s L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E with Bruce Andrews, which also had an out of print book xerox service, which morphed into the Segue Distributing service (with James Sherry), where we did a catalog of a dozen related small presses and magazines. This was all very intensive work, involving endless time in production and mailings. Jump to the present, where I edit, with Eduardo Espina, S/N: NewWorldPoetics, a print journal; with Régis Bonvincino, Sibila, a web magazine from Sao Paulo (formally print); with Al Filreis and Michael Hennessey, PennSound, a digital sound archive, and still the Electronic Poetry Center, with Loss Pequeño Glazier, a web site; as well as my own “web log.” And that leaves out quite a bit in between. It seems like much of my day is spent on one or another of these things: bringing disparate stands together, or, better to say, making an imaginary space for those works for which I’ve developed a great enthusiasm. The key thing with editing is the desire to bring things together, in the same place, that otherwise might not be; to make constellations; but also to archive, collect, display, acknowledge, appreciate. To mix all these metaphors: a way of weaving a context into being. Maybe that context was there and it’s just recognizing it, that’s probably the most reasonable way to put it, but it can feel like you are making the context by the force of the activity, the editing itself, and that is why it’s a kind of poetics; something like making poems via constellation. For me editing always has a fundamentally aesthetic dimension: not doing something already prescribed, but making it—well not “new” necessarily but making it happen, making it come into being.
MB: My first impression is that as editor you have painted a scene that located the poets in and around L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, which, as you mention, also had an out of print book xerox service: poets mobilizing both the concept of the text and social issues, sometimes even before your books came up for discussion . . . No group of contemporary American poets demands more sustained effort in figuring out what you have done, and why, than the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets over the last 40 years. Even though the group designation is controversial, most everyone agrees that many conceptual and formal elements were in common in these poets. How have you assumed the evidence of becoming more credible, marketable?
CB: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E was an editorial project: willing something into being more than mapping an already existing formation. Something of a fantasy, bien sur. That was the fun. In retrospect, it seems more fixed, more of a school or coterie, and it’s hard to find a gracious way to get out from under that, like the statue that replaces the damp air of the dawn. Resisting school and coterie (the dog and pony show of the avant-garde) was the inspiration, though I see from a recent memoir by one of our New York company that a fatuous sense of entitled boys club remained a viral presence in our midst, so that brings me back to the less than idealized reality that I helped to form. But that’s why for me subsequent editorial projects have been as much a swerve and as a continuation. The hard part is responding to present conditions. As I get older, I find myself stuck in the agonisms of youth. That partly serves me well, especially in terms of a kind of paranoid grounding in the Cold War and resistance to an Official Verse Culture of which I have long been a marquee name (though not top billing!); but it also can make it difficult to see emerging formations, which is why it’s best to let the current lead, to go with intuitions of the moment rather than received ideas, even my own!, from the past. And teaching offers the benefit of being around more young people than people of my own generation, younger people for whom what I have long taken for given is not a given. Though I do think I might be better off at the beach in Boca, getting the early bird special as the waiters come and go, talking of Art Basil.
MB: Editors and publishers cannot afford the increasingly difficulties involved in today’s economic crisis. Prestigious small publishers have disappeared or simply been taken over by larger companies. Is this a time for a promotion of new products, a new publishing ethos? How do you see the controversial issue of print culture vs. digital culture?
CB: Poetry in North America in the postwar years has remained remarkably mobile, entrepreneurial, ingenious. The social networks and publishing methodologies of the alternate, small press, poets are a valuable model, structurally, even apart from the aesthetic achievements of the poems. Radical small press poetry has been astonishingly versatile in sustaining small scale, unpopular/unprofitable cultural products; indeed, thriving in the face of their unpopularity/unprofitability. Talk about epaté la bourgeoisie. There has been an exquisite response to available publication technologies from mimeo to xerox to desktop to the web. Unfortunately, due to the fascist dictatorship in Spain, you were not be able to fully participate in this and that took a great toll, as it is not so easy to make up for this lost history. For the last fifteen years, innovative, small press poetry has been moving inexorably to the web, where production and distribution costs are minimal, compared to print and postage; the focus can be on editorial selection and distribution. Much of web space promotes the absence of selection as the democratic vista, everybody gets their say in unlimited comments’ fields. But everyone getting their say on a proscribed set of issues may effectively block dissent against the terms in which the “issues” are posed. And of course that “everyone” is in the comments boxes below the official content. I-pads and I-phones turn the computer revolution toward consumption rather than production. Yet poetry remains an extraordinary area on the web of independent, non-commercial production. And the number of readers/listeners is probably bigger than we ever had with the small press. Millions of mp3 downloads every year on PennSound.
MB: You have pointed out in your essay, “Provisional Institutions: Alternative Presses and Poetic Innovation” [from My Way: Speeches and Poems] that some difficulties derive from management, and especially the threatening standardization of literature for bulk-buying public.
CB: Homogenization of product! Even the forms of the unconventional get conventional. Lately I have been talking about the poetics of “pataque(e)rical”—the pata- from Alfred Jarry; trying to keep the querulous and query in queer. But the pataqueeronormative is always on the horizon; and I don’t mean just in others, I mean primarily in ourselves, in myself. There are so many formulaic products that are so appealing, so seductive. And the unformulaic, non-standard can seem so messy, chaotic, disturbing… Self-indulgent. And sometimes it is. So there is always a risk, and the odds are none too good. But, like the man, says, “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
MB: Within this context, is it important that poets understand that there is, after all, no money?
CB: Absolutely. I always say: don’t think about how much you will make but just not to lose too much. Stemming your losses: that’s the key. But there is cultural capital too, which is quite real. And the work you make, if outside of the capital economy, is part of a semiotic economy that is far more substantial and sustaining than those outside it realize; like the grey economy in some ways. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where so many mostly young women workers died in a sweatshop where the owners had chained the exits. So I think of James Oppenheim’s 1912 poem:
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too
MB: How do you understand editing, as a lonely activity, focused on becoming innovatively competitive? Generally speaking, I should say that my view on your role as editor is that of creating communities… am I too wrong?
CB: Communities is a vexed term: you can’t live with and you can’t do without. Literary communities are, at best, “uncommunities” in Jean-Luc Nancy’s sense: they are elective affinities. In your neighbourhood or school or precinct or political alliance, the community is given and present in a way that may underlie the concept of literary community but which is fundamentally different. You don’t choose your neighbours, while a literary community, at least one with aesthetic rather than regional or local commitments, is all about choosing. You might come together with like-minded people in a political alliance but, at least in a progressive context, the criteria for the community will be toward collective action or policy goals, such as forming a union or fighting environmental destruction. The beauty, if I can use that word here, of a poetry community is that it can be a constellation of unlikeminded individuals toward an amorphous aesthetic horizon. It is based on taste, on preference, not explicit goals or shared geographic/civic space. But I agree with you that these poetic constellations, so necessarily provisional, are indeed created, are syncretic. Poetry communities are speculative and imaginary; they form a kind of counter-reality to the actual communities and families and alliances that make up the fabric of our everyday life.
MB: Your own involvement as editor in the Electronic Poetry Center, founded in 1995, has served to see how practitioners have shared their creativity within a transnational and transcultural context. Was this Center modelled for both networked creativity and a forum for research? I mentioned the term “transnational” because you are editing the print journal, S/N: NewWorldPoetics, which is intended to re-open the dialogue between the South and the North. Once again you are focusing on interacting communities…
CB: Yes; and I’d add also an archival space. So much of the web imagines itself as transactive; at the EPC, as at PennSound, our first attention is to the archive. You are also quite right to note the transnational aspect, though I like to think of it as nonnational more than trans-. My work with Régis Bonvicino in Brazil (as in our magazine, Sibila), with Eduardo Espina, of Uruguay, in S/N: NewWorldPoetics (the Americas: everything translated from or to Spanish, English, or, to a lesser extent, Portuguese), or with Leevi Lehto in Finland is as much my poetics “neighbourhood” as those in New York and Philadelphia.
MB: I should also notice that the over 20-year existence of the electronic poetry centers in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and France has provided an allegorical dimension of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, that is, an international apparatus by interpretive circles subsuming your poetry and facilitating the critical gesture of the group. What do you think on this?
CB: You’re right to think of extensions of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, but where that early project is as much subsumed as subsuming. My key points of intersection also include the OEI group in Sweden and long-term connections with poets in Canada, the U.K, Russia, and Portugual (thought my affiliation with Graça Capinha in Coimbra). One of the problems is the tyranny of my own abysmal monolingualism, since so much of what I do takes place in English, so my conversational partners are bilingual while I am not. I see how much this limits what I do. But then English has become very common among poets in Europe. Still, I couldn’t have the close relationship I feel with Arkadii Dragomshchenko if he didn’t speak English. (When I said something like this to Marjorie Perloff, she said, then why don’t you learn Russian? The truth is probably as simple, and indefensible, as – because I don’t have to, so other things take priority.) I should mention also a strong connection over the last decade with China, including forming an association, with Marjorie and Nie Zhenzhao and Luo Lianggong for exchange between Chinese and American poetics and scholars, involving conferences, translations, and a stream of visiting scholars at Penn. And then out of the blue this Fall I was given a book of my essays translated in Burmese; totally unexpected. But when I contacted Zeyar Lynn by email, his reply was so totally current with developments in poetry here, well, I could have been writing to you or a friend in Los Angeles. So there is a kind of warped space going on here where poetic affiliations are bringing us together in ways that would have been difficult in the past. These are not networks or communities, exactly, but virtual constellations. We’ve cast our fate with the stars, as if our quest was for cosmology as much as communion, the cosmococcic as much as the heteroclite.
March 25, 2011
May 19, 2011
photo by © Cecilia Gronberg, Weld Gallery OEI reading, Stockholm, May 10, 2011
Organized by Bill Sherman, who writes: Bök started the evening with a performance of Hugo Ball's 'Seahorses and Flying Fish' from 1916. He then read excerpts from each of the chapters of his best-selling book Eunoia (in which each chapter uses only one of the five vowels), 'Flarf, Arf, Arf, Arf!' (his hilarious defence of conceptual writing), 'Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit' (from his book made of Lego), and 'Busted Sirens' (a cybernetic response to Ron Silliman's 'Sunset Debris') before singing a hymn in the artificial language he created for Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict. He finished with several texts related to his infamous new project, The Xenotext, in which he is encoding a poem into the DNA of a bacterium that will outlive humanity. Bök's concluding manifesto, 'The Extremophile,' paid tribute both to Deinococcus radiodurans (the virtually indestructible host for his ultimate poem) and to his enduring trust in the resiliency of language itself
Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009), by Linda Rodriguez, maps the various flights, destinations, arrivals, detours, and dangers of a woman’s life (as self, daughter, wife, lover, and mother). Rodriguez captures these migrations with a winged sense of narrative and a moth-light touch of confessionalism.
The first section of this book explores spirituality and writing through the figures of mythological women. Poems celebrate the fierce passion and power of Hecate, Persephone, Demeter, Arjuna, Eurydice, Eve, and Isis. Other poems speak to the influence of women’s writing, mentioning Emily Dickinson, Katherine Anne Porter, and Virginia Woolf. All these figures teach the author something about her spirituality, passion, and deep-rooted strength. These lessons are articulated in the poem “In the Dark of the Year”:
I have heard the brittle cry of the phoenix.
Though it leads me
into hidden depths
at every turn,
I have not seen it,
even from the corner of my eye, a flash
of night, deeper, darker,
more dazzling than the inky center of my self. (23)
The second section leads us away from the spiritual and “inky” depths to the more ordinary and intimate moments of the speaker’s life. The strongest poems revolve around romance and lovemaking—what Rodriguez calls “skin hunger.” These poems express a straightforward sensuality and disarming honesty. This confessional honesty is powerfully expressed in “Caveat Emptor”:
This is serious business.
I can’t pretend to you.
I discard window dressing,
displaying all of me before you.
Not trying to hide
or fix up flaws, from stretch marks to scars
of old loves.
Everything inside me—
from bones to dreams—
has been cracked and mended. (50)
The third section takes an interesting turn, as the first twelve poems adopt the figure of “Coyote,” with titles such as “Coyote in High School,” “Coyote at Your Wedding,” “Coyote Invades Your Dreams.” Coyote seems to embody certain “bad boy” emotions and desires: “Coyote takes you / where no one else can. / Coyote takes you / where you can’t admit you want to go” (72). These poems create an interesting depth of field alongside the confessional poems as they create a more distanced form of confession.
The final section of this book returns us to the theme of love and its burning passion in “the hidden language of skin to skin” (124). The title poem, “Heart’s Migration,” contours the journey of love through the metaphor of a butterfly’s migration. The poem begins: “Setting out to a destination, unknown / but desired and dreamed.” The speaker determines to follow “the pulse of passion, the true magnetic pull” (130):
So I wing my way across the cloud-tossed sky
toward a place I’m not even sure exists
except in my imagination and my heart—
unless my flight on faith alone is enough
to bring love’s sanctuary into being. (131)
The speaker emphasizes the dangers of love, connecting this danger to the fact that many monarch butterflies do not survive their long, difficult migration. The theme of survival is prevalent throughout this book: surviving divorce, surviving the threat of domestic abuse, surviving familial and romantic relationships. Despite the difficulties, the speaker shows that the strength of the heart will help you endure the necessary migrations of life. In the poem, “Be Strong of Heart,” Rodriguez writes: “Heart is the principal muscle of the body.” To the poet, the heart is not only an internal organ, but it is also “the darkest continent, unmapped and dangerous / in the interior, which is why we too often / stay on the surface, / safe from the wild center” (116). Rodriguez, in these poignant poems, takes us to the wild interiors of the heart’s unmapped terrains.
Translation is trade without commerce
Displacement. Chosen and unchosen migrations. Free and unfree trades. How displacement is also a kind of placement, an unfamiliar vantage point from which to renegotiate terms, terrains, parameters, possibilities. Translation is willing and willful displacement. In moving a word, phrase, line, sentence, stanza, paragraph, idea, framework from the space of one language to the space of another, something utterly transformed is created, and something that is still very deeply (though not essentially) the same as what it was to begin with (which was not immobile in the first place). Alchemy
In a conversation, Sesshu Foster recently referred to the space of translation as “no-man’s land.” I’d agree and also add the idea of “every person’s land,” in the sense that no one and everyone might belong there, or perhaps that the very concept of “belonging” no longer pertains—the question is one of moving through space, rather than claiming it. Of using the terms imposed upon us (as Adrián Esparza uses the typical Mexican blanket sold to tourists, for example) to subvert the intentions of their imposition. To unknit the weave that would bind us.
I often feel as if I haven’t truly read a text until I’ve translated it—that the perspective I gain from getting inside the language, structures, imagery and rhythms of the text is not accessible through any other process of reading. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought I wanted to get inside the text of the NAFTA document, given that my actual wish is that it not exist at all in its current form. Yet it is always useful—perhaps urgently so—to consider how language structures are deployed to enforce social and economic structures. The process of translating Hugo García Manríquez’s re/vision of that document has illuminated some of the nuances of this reality, while reminding me yet again how crucial it is to find ways to get inside the hollows or fissures between words and re-imagine how to use those spaces as sites of criticality and resistance.
Magda Sayeg, "Mexico City Bus Project"
I wonder if knitting fitted covers for structures illuminates a different or more nuanced understanding of those structures in a congruent way?
(Note to readers: In some browsers, it's not possible to scroll through Hugo's texts as I'd intended. Please click here to read Hugo's text in Spanish, and here to read my translation of Hugo's text in to English, and please pardon the disruption.)
At one point in the process of translating the text, Hugo and I had this brief exchange (I'm in blue; he's in black):
Parece que en español dice “libre” donde dice “extranjero” o “ajeno” en inglés... hm...
Extraña situación, verdad? Creo que esa zona libre esa unknown quantity flota libre (extranjera) en el documento. Al igual que muchas otras.
It seems that in Spanish it says “free” where it says “foreign” in English... hm...
A strange situation, right? I think that this free zone this unknown quantity floats free (foreign) in the document. Just like many others.
In a later post I’m planning to provide an alternate translation of Hugo’s NAFTA piece—either a more literal translation or a less literal one, depending on your perspective. More literal in the sense of attempting to recreate the meanings (denotative and connotative) and reverberating proximities in Hugo’s word choices, but less literal in not reproducing his process, or the actual language of the original document (which pre-exists my translation, of course). The act of translating Hugo’s process (the meaning of the acts) rather than his language (the meaning of the words) re-invigorates the question of what writing is, in any given instance (and it’s unlikely any two instances would reproduce the same answer to that question), and what is actually manifested by the deceptively simple term text. I’m also reminded of Patrick Greaney and Vincent Kling’s astonishing translation of Heimrad Bäcker’s wonderfully horrifying book transcript, culled entirely from Nazi administrative texts and a few excerpts from the Nuremberg trials. It’s fascinating to read transcript alongside Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust (some of which you can hear aloud here); the two books together are an amazing tool (teaching-wise or whatever-wise) for thinking about approaches to documentary poetics, how to address large-scale atrocity via meaningful artistic interventions, process-based writing, practices of appropriation, and writing as translation.
Meanwhile, the process of translating Hugo’s renegotiated NAFTA document led to the following conversation, where I’ll print Hugo’s comments in black and my own interjections in blue.
It’s interesting, the “decisions” behind each word I chose in Spanish don’t always get “translated”—they don’t manifest in English. Political re-magnetization, once the words are isolated in Spanish, isn’t present in the same passages in English, it seems to me. Undoubtedly it’s there in other moments.
In my experience, the “re-magnetization” that occurs in the transit between languages (which is also inherently a transit between cultures, and hence between distinct if not easily definable spaces of resonance and connotation) hardly ever (or never?) works the same way in one language as it does in another. It’s not that this newly-charged repositioning doesn’t manifest, it’s that it manifests differently. Which is precisely why I think translation is so necessary. A tangible manifestation of difference, evidence of the effects of re-positioning. And aren’t we all repositioning, in some way or another, all the time? Trans positions.
There’s an odd article, Article 2206, in all three versions of the NAFTA document, titled “Authentic Texts,” which reads: “The English, French and Spanish texts of this Agreement are equally authentic.”
I wonder what this means. (Me he preguntado qué quiere esto decir.) And it leaps out at me that in Spanish, as you’ll surely recall, we use the phrase “And what does that WANT to say?” (¿qué QUIERE esto decir?) when we ask about something we don’t understand, but especially when we seek an explanation of a word in another language. As if translation were merely a desire, an approach, but NOT the fulfillment of a term’s meaning.
Perhaps for “Authentic,” we might understand “Specific,” “Untransferrable,” “Irreplaceable”? The magnetization that envelops language and the history of that language and the history of the country in question (which should say, the questioned country), are untransferrable, untranslatable. Perhaps for this reason, the words that survive in Spanish float indifferently within the text in English, because they are merely an approach. And surely the case would be the same, fueran las cosas al revés...
Or perhaps the term “authentic” refers to an enforced sameness, such that no matter what the text actually says—the denotations or connotations of the words utilized to express the enforced difference a trade agreement of this sort represents (separate and UNequal)—the text is considered, officially, to be authentically the same as itself no matter what.
...strange expressions like “los zócalos submarinos” with such specific resonances for a city like D.F....
It becomes (translates to, though authenticity would deny that transfer): the submarine shelf. A rather surrealist image, in any case. With a certain fascination, but lacking in specificity.
The heart of a city under the sea... A beautiful, and in some way accurate, image, particularly when I consider Los Angeles, whose public face (botox-blotched and boob-job-blemished) is so very distinct from my bicycle-centric experience of the many cities that make up this city.
The zócalo is the central plaza in Mexico City—in a very real and at the same time utterly non-fixed sense, it is one of many hearts of civic life in the city (and is a place of many transformations, alchemical and otherwise). Many, many important activities take place there, from government meetings to large-scale protests, from religious services to archeological explorations, from museum visits to free outdoor concerts and salsa-dancing contests, from transit to loitering, from street vending to pawn-brokering. “The submarine shelf” hardly expresses these resonances in English; shelves are useful, to be sure, but hardly carry the cultural and political weight of a space like the zócalo. Every city and town in Mexico, by the way, has a zócalo—so while the term means something very specific in the context of Mexico City, it also resonates more widely within Mexican consciousness.
There’s really no way to translate this idea/reality and generality/specificity of the zócalo into English. There is no term that combines “Washington Mall” with “town square.” And this leads me to consider the oddness of the term “Mall” in the context of the capital in any case... or perhaps the resonance with consumerism isn’t odd at all, given the workings of capital in the capital and elsewhere.
From the beginning, I thought of the word Limbo for these spaces my project was opening, because it’s so close to Limbs (in English anyway—not so in Spanish, where “limbo” is a direct cognate but “limbs” (miembros) are more kin to members than in-between spaces)—and creates that idea of appendices or appendages (which occur throughout the Agreement, those unattached pieces, like a mutilated body).
In the notes accompanying my project with the NAFTA document, I added this, which I think is relevant:
Instead of writing “like a poet,” to read like one: creating hollows, pauses, holes, limbos
(“Limbo,” sonically bordering limbs, in English: “appendages” (apéndices), “extremities” (extremidades))
From within the hollows of reading itself, unintelligibility emerges by turns, from within that transit. That opacity isn’t a lack of meaning, but rather its compliment. “To mean is to fall.”
Regarding the last line of his letter, which was in quotes, I asked Hugo where the phrase originated. He wrote:
Thanks for noticing that! Here I’m reworking and appropriating something the Argentinean philosopher Óscar del Barco said in an interview. (By the way, del Barco is the Spanish-language translator of Derrida’s Of Grammatology).
Here’s a transcription of the fragment of the interview I included in my first book:
“Isn’t what you’re saying too poetic?”
“I don’t know any other way to say it.”
“Yes, but I don’t want to refer to individuals, but rather to experiences, to occurrences.”
“A body? What do you mean?”
“That everything should be allowed to fall: body, spirit, time, eternity, instant, being, god, transcendence.
“What do you mean by “fall”?
“Fall means fall.”
This last phrase is what I’ve reworked. If falling can only be explained in the very action of falling (i.e. only in falling do we understand what falling means), something similar might be said of meaning (only in meaning do we “understand” what meaning means). And contradictorily, there is a sort of “excess” in the act of writing poetry—an excess that can do nothing but allow itself to fall. I don’t know how to elaborate on this. Perhaps via a dream I had some time ago. In my dream, while I was talking with some other people, I proposed a comparison between Violence and Poetry, because both were “excesses”—one of power, the other of meaning. Both were an overtaking of something. In the dream I believed this to be true. And when I woke up, I felt I had understood something.
In my first book, No oscuro todavía (Not Dark Yet), I use an extraordinary quote from Óscar del Barco as an epigraph:
“What’s deceptive is the fixedness of language. The fact that in language floats our identity, continually, as a pole of all constitution prevents us from understanding that identity is a phantasm that chaos coagulates as language.”
Since then, that epigraph has been “company and measure,” in this new project as well, now that I think about it.
Company and measure, indeed. (Thanks, Creeley!) Perhaps that’s as accurate as any articulation of what translation might be.
from Jacket #25 (February 2004)
Donald Allen (1912–2004)
About 1982 Don Allen approached me to work with him as an editorial assistant for Grey Fox Press and Four Seasons Foundation. Had I met him before? I can’t remember, but probably so. My work-study job from New College was — get this! — to be Robert Duncan’s assistant (I had already known Robert well), but after two years or so that money ran out, and Don asked me to work for him. I wound up learning how to proof and copyedit, did some layout, some typing, and had the singular job of going through all of his correspondence in preparation of his papers going to San Diego. I was a pig in — well, gold: O’Hara, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Frechtman translating Genet, you know the list. They all passed through my hands before they settled down into the archives.
Don the editor: are there better books of poetry in the twentieth century than The New American Poetry (original version) or O’Hara’s Collected? Not for me. The world may have been smaller than, but even so what Don did was beyond remarkable. He was a champion of many, he had a foundational gay sensibility way before that term could be invented, he knew both the world and the underworld, somehow, and found a way to bridge them, and certainly how to bring the bottom up. I mean, in addition to all the poets we readily think about he was responsible for publishing Genet in the U.S.! As far as I know he really never stopped working: he was unstoppable.