Commentaries - October 2011
On March 15, 2011, we celebrated the potential of literatures through the Oulipolooza, a Kelly Writers House-style celebration of all things Oulipo. The OuLiPo, or “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle” (workshop of potential literature), is a group of experimental French poets founded in 1960, devoted to exploring the potential of literature, language and freedom through the lenses of different constraints. Oulipolooza included readings about the Oulipo by Jean-Michel Rabaté and Katie Price, a reception full of Oulipo-inspired foods, and the launch of "An Oulipolooza": a collection of oulipian texts.
We asked attendees to submit their Oulipo-inspired works to "An Oulipolooza": a collection of creative and critical texts to be published as adjunct to Oulipolooza. We read participants' experiments in constraint, got introduced to procedures you've invented. We asked for lipograms and N+7s, prisoner's restrictions! We called for these thusly: “Send beautiful outlaws and all exercises in style you have!”
The video excerpt above captures a moment when a member of the audience asked about failure in such writing — how does it occur, how do we discern it? The video recording of the entire program is available here. The audio recording of the program (a downloadable mp3 file) is here. The event was organized by Sarah Arkebauer, a Penn undergraduate affiliated of the Kelly Writers House.
Round Vienna is the title of a new chapbook from Vagabond by Kate Lilley, and reminds me that Vienna airport, (my only experience of Vienna) is round. As far as I know, it's the first solo poetry publication from Lilley since her 2002 Salt book, Versary. It is just 4 poems. Yet the elegant production aside - and the splendid (yet understated) sample of images by Melissa Hardie - it does not feel meagre. Titles are important: and if Vienna conjured Freud for you, the first poem title, 'Fraud's Dora' would confirm it. The title is in a sense a balancing of the intellectual weight of the poems: for we are in the realm of psychoanalytic assemblage. There is a similarity here to the poems of Emma Lew in that the lines seem drawn from disparate (if perhaps fictional) sources, yet they present a tonally structured verisimilitude rather than the feel of a field of fragments. Otherwise they are very much their own woman - distinct in terms of rhythm, sensibility and humour:
she did not scruple to appear
in the most frequented streets
she was in fact a feminist
Sidonie was a lesbian patient of Freud's, and there is a homoerotic coupling between the poem on the left and Hardie's image on the left. (These images are not just illustrations but poetically apposite in themselves, encouraging a reading of the book as visual poetry.) The hand of a woman gestures over the genital region with her right hand - the hand's gesturing also suggesting female genitals, as does a (further doubling) design on the cuff of the woman's sleeve (if such a truncated image should be referred to as a woman. Note: it is not the image featured above; but of the same family). Such an emphasis mocks Freud's reading of Sidonie the patient: that she 'had become a man'. 'Sidonie' might also be thought of as a pun on 'Sydney', where both Lilley and Vagabond Press are based; the line, 'the deeper heterosexual current/falls to the ground...', though paradoxical in terms of water, evokes to the absurdist Paul Hogan falling off the Harbour Bridge: at the sight of genitals - or of the thought of lesbians or Freud or poetry.
The explicit genitality of these poems, as expressed in wordplay: the prosaic
'vorhof' ['vestibulum'; literally 'forecourt'] -
an anatomical term for a particular
region of the female genitals
becomes, by book's end
It's enough to make you think that Vagabond should be pronounced with a hard 'g'. I haven't read anything like it since the wonderful experimental novel Kathleen Fallon, Working Hot (1989).
There's a langorous resourcefulness to these poems - as if their parts could just fall apart, but they don't. 'Anisotropy' is the title of the second poem; it is the property of being directionally dependent, which, I suppose these poems are, as well as psychoanalysis.
On being given a pencil she calls it a pen-knife
'it is what you write with'
No it is a door key
taste and charm
She says they are unalike
o with a piece cut out is e
With that scissoring isotropic move, Lilley makes one of my favourite rhymes of the year, up there with Example's 'You want me to come over I got an excuse/Might be holding your hand but i’m holding it loose'. But that's a world away from Round Vienna.
Jackson Mac Low, "Words nd Ends from Ez"
PoemTalk travelled to Bard College, where we gathered with Charles Bernstein, Pierre Joris, and Bard's own Joan Retallack to talk about Jackson Mac Low's Words nd Ends from Ez (1989). The project was composed in ten parts, one part each for sections (sometimes called “decades”) of Ezra Pound's lifework, The Cantos. We chose to discuss the penultimate part of Mac Low's diastic written-through work, a poem based on phrases, words, and letters drawn from — and in some sense about — Pound's near-final cantos, Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII. Mac Low’s constraint, for which he preferred the term “quasi-intentional” to the term “chance,” involved the letters forming the name E Z R A P O U N D. Words, phrases, and letters were extracted from the original cantos based on those letters and on their placement within words. Charles, Pierre, Joan, and Al Filreis explain this in detail, although we cannot quite agree as to whether Mac Low was being absolutely strict in the application of the diastic method. As Bernstein notes several times, this particular procedure is one of the more complex Mac Low used. Nonetheless, it’s the sense of the group that when semantic meaning seems to be created, it has about it, as Pierre Joris happily notes, the special pleasure of serendipity, and means all the more. Thus the poem’s commentary on Pound, its both aesthetic and ethical positioning with respect to Pound, is profounder than it might have been otherwise, had the poem been a "sincerely felt” subjective lyric response to the final Poundian ethos — an oscillation between stubborn repetition of earlier modes and mea culpa.
We couldn’t help thinking about John Cage’s writings through Pound in connection with this work. During this part of the discussion Joan Retallack said the following:
Mac Low admired Pound more than Cage did. One of the things that was, to me, so always intersting about the way Cage worked was that he thought out his procedures very carefully in advance, not so that he would know what was going to happen in the parts of the structure that would allow chance operations to choose the points, as he would put it, in the text, but because he knew the way you choose your procedure has a lot to do with extremely formal elements ultimately. He chose to let more of Pound in [more, that is, than Mac Low does based on his procedure in our poem] and this was ultimately more unpleasant for Cage because he didn't like the Pound. I think the reason to continue reading Pound and to continue the agonistic relationship we all have to have with Pound when we read [him] is that it is such a presentation of the complexities and the horrifying things that can happen to a mind that is going in directions that are passionate without empathy, without contact with others.
Notwithstanding the agonism, and a non-Freudian/non-Bloomian version of anxiety of influence, Pierre Joris takes us back to the great pleasure we derive from the performance of this poem, with its multilinguistic melodrama, its playfully exaggerated accents — perhaps part of the rejoinder to Pound as a matter of sense but perhaps, too, a result of the joy of bespeaking words extracted from the languages of The Cantos, mostly liberated from its topical tyrannies. “This is sound work that frees the poem from a heavy logos,” says Charles. “I think the important thing,” says Pierre, “is that it has to be heard first. And it has to be read aloud. ‘Hey read that. Get your mouth around it.’” And we agreed on the primacy of Mac Low’s performance as a somatic experience.
We are grateful to Joan Retallack and her colleagues at Bard College for arranging our recording session, and to the audience of some 40 students, faculty, and others who made up a positively responsive live audience for only the second time in PoemTalk’s run (the other was PoemTalk #10 on Stein). We also wish to thank James LaMarre, our longtime director-engineer, who travelled from Philadelphia to Annandale-on-Hudson to help us with the recording; and, as always, Steve McLaughlin, PoemTalk's original editor.
collaborations at Bowery Poetry Club
sometimes a bee’s just a bee
and a sting just a sting
and song just a song
and sorrow just sorrow
sometimes the blue just gets to you
and the black an instrument
of form’s indelible intransigence
October 28, 2011- January 3, 2012
Opening reception, October 28, 5:30 – 7:00 PM
Screening of Pinky’s Rule, Bernstein and Sillman’s 7-minute animated drawing, at 6:15 pm sharp
Bowery Poetry Club
310 Bowery, New York, NY
For the Art Wall project, Amy Sillman and Charles Bernstein have made a series of image/poem collaborations, “Duplexities,” and an animated movie, Pinky’s Rule.
Pinky’s Rule, a seven-minute animated drawing, will be premiered at the opening. The sound track features Sillman reading Bernstein’s poem. In making the work, the collaborators went back and forth, toggling from image to poem and poem to image, so that it is impossible to say which came first. All the images bounce off the poem and the poem is constantly grappling with and extending the graphics. Sillman made more than 2000 images for the film.
“Duplexities” is a series of over 100 works. For this exhibit, about one-third of the collaboration will be shown: 70 17″ x 25″ inkjet prints (half images and half poems). The images for the animated drawing and prints were originally created on an I-phone. They were printed by Nathan Baker for this project as inkjet on archival newsprint. While many of Bernstein’s poems were written as commentaries on Sillman’s pictures, many of Sillman’s pictures were made in response to Bernstein’s poems.
Pinky’s Rule and “Duplexities” offer a Moebius twist on illustration and ekphrasis: the poems do speak out of the images, but the images reply in turn, and vice versa. Bernstein & Sillman have created a large-scale serial work that is overlaid and interwoven: the words offer versions of the pictures and the pictures are transfigurations of the words. They call their process iconophrastic (both speaking picture and pictures speaking). In the animated drawiung, Pinky’s Rule, and in “Duplexities,” the associated image/poem collaboration, motifs and icons are constantly permuted, turned over and upside down, and oscillated for good measure. Figuration dissolves into abstraction and abstraction bursts into song.
Don’t ask, don’t tell.
As faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania, we wish to express our solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement now underway in our city and elsewhere.
This movement expresses widespread anger with the economic and political disenfranchisement of the great majority of the American people. Occupy Wall Street is protesting a system that provides increasingly few opportunities for the majority –– the 99% –– while generating vast profits for a tiny minority. Along with the demonstrators, we are demanding an end to the extreme inequalities that structure our society.
We share with many Americans acute anger at the government’s unconditional bailout of bankers and Wall Street firms that drove the economy to disaster. Our country urgently needs to address not the problems of Wall Street but the problems of the 99%: massive unemployment of the American people, the erosion of our social safety networks, our decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers’ wages, rights, and benefits. We oppose the undemocratic collusion of big business with government at all levels.
We join Occupy Wall Street in calling for urgent action to increase employment and to protect programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in part by requiring the wealthy, the investment bankers, and the large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. We also join the protesters in decrying the disastrous effects of the costly, unjustified wars that the United States has been conducting overseas since 2001. Only by identifying the complex interconnections between repressive economic, social, and political regimes can social and economic justice prevail in this country and around the globe. We applaud the efforts to keep the protests peaceful and democratic.
As teachers we express our conviction that without social justice, education is a shell game. And as scholars we celebrate the creative and intellectual work of Occupy Wall Street as an essential partner to our own efforts to facilitate the emergence of a better social order and a smarter commitment to its lively perpetuation.
We join our colleagues in the labor movement, especially teachers unions, and at other universities and colleges, in supporting this movement. We call on all members of the Penn community to lend their support to this peaceful and potentially transformative movement.
Ania Loomba, English
Suvir Kaul, English
Anne Norton, Political Science
Charles Bernstein, English
Toorjo Ghose, Social Policy and Practice
Robert Vitalis, Political Science
Zachary Lesser, English
Deborah Thomas, Anthropology
Max Cavitch, English
Andrea Goulet, French
Jed Esty, English
Timothy Corrigan, Cinema Studies, English, and History of Art
John Richetti, English Emeritus
Marcia Ferguson, Theater Arts
Chi-ming Yang, English
Nicola M. Gentili, Cinema Studies
Eve Troutt Powell, History and Africana Studies
Katie L. Price, English
Rita Barnard, English
Lisa Mitchell, South Asia Studies
Salamishah Tillet, English
Thadious Davis, English
Kathleen Hall, Graduate School of Education
Amy Kaplan, English
Herman Beavers, English
Jim English, English
Phyllis Rackin, English Emerita
Jean-Michel Rabaté, English
Heather Love, English
Marie Gottschalk, Political Science
Bob Perelman, English
Andrew Lamas, Urban Studies
Karen Beckman, History of Art and Cinema Studies
Nancy Bentley, English
Nancy J. Hirschmann, Political Science
Demie Kurtz, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Shannon Lundeen, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Michelle Taransky, English
David L. Eng, English
Michael Leja, History of Art and Visual Studies
Tsitsi Jaji, English
Yin-Ling Wong, Social Policy and Practice
Mark Stern, Social Policy and Practice
Dennis Culhane, Social Policy and Practice
Tukufu Zubeiri, Sociology
Nina Auerbach, English Emerita
David S. Roos, Biology
Tulia Falleti, Political Science
Projit Mukharji, History and Sociology of Science
E. Ann Matter, Religious Studies
Jamal Elias, Religious Studies
Toni Bowers, English.
Devan Patel, South Asian Studies
Julia Lynch, Political Science
Ezekiel Dixon-Roman, Social Policy and Practice
Roberta Iversen, Social Policy and Practice
Michèle Richman, French
David Kazanjian, English
Tamara J. Walker, History
Christopher Nichols, History
Andrea Doyle, Social Policy & Practice
Sharon Ravitch, Graduate School of Education
Cheikh Babou, History
James Ker, Classical Studies
Emily Wilson, Classical Studies
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, History of Art
Nuzhat Ahmad, Medicine
Bethany Wiggin, German
Josephine Parks, English
Steven Hahn, History
Devin Griffiths, English
Lydie Moudileno, French
Virginia Chang, Medicine
Margreta de Grazia, English
Emma Dillon, Music
Rahul Mangharam, of Electrical and Systems Engineering
Damon Freeman, Social Policy & Practice
Karin Rhodes, Social Policy & Practice
Paul K. Saint-Amour, English
Peter Stallybrass, English
Al Filreis, English
Betsy Rymes, Graduate School of Education
Deborah Burnham, English
Howard C. Stevenson, Graduate School of Education
Michael Weisberg, Philosophy
Lyndon K. Gill, Anthropology & Africana Studies
Joan Goodman, Graduate School of Education
Deborah Luepnitz, Department of Psychiatry
Danny Snelson, English/CPCW
as of Oct. 15. Will update over time.