Commentaries - November 2011

On September 15, 2011, I began my conversation with Susan Schultz by somewhat rudely/unfairly asking her a huge question: "Are you able to associate your interest in genocide [she'd been teaching about the Cambodian genocide] and your interest in dementia and memory loss?"

So Pat had access to a typesetting machine + layout facilities + there was an old offset press in the office where she worked. We scrounged the paper to do the book from offcuts or somewhere + asked a friend if he'd print it. So four of us went to occupied the office after hours with a flagon of wine + probably a few joints + printed, collated + stapled the book in a night. With that book there was no copyright - this was because of my wonderfully noble + idealistic anarchism — + the opening statement in the book read "if anyone wants these poem use them" + they were used - they turned up in magazines and so on. So the book cost very little, I think we spent about $20 + I also learned a bit about layout, printing + collating. So I had had the big light bulb go on for me, a highly illuminating experience + I loved the idea of publishing + the freedom of self-publishing where you could design + construct a book in any way you wished, you could say whatever you wanted to — NO LIMITS, no restriction.            

The next year Pat drove moved to Sydney, driving up from Melbourne with an offset press in her V.W. – with a few clothes, no furniture or other possessions – the press taking priority in the car. She moved into the our house + the offset press was set up in the front room until it became too chaotic + a space in an old ex barbershop in Glebe was found for it. this was the So that's part of the story of the beginning of Tomato Press.

(Pam Brown, notes from a talk on self-publishing, given at the Women & Arts festival, Sydney, 1982. 'Pat' refers to Pat Woolley, publisher with Tomato Press and later, Wild & Woolley. I transcribed these notes from a scan of Pam's handwriting that she was kind enough to send to me. Apologising for the roughness, she commented on pre-digital note-taking, when "PowerPoint was a nightmare up ahead somewhere." I've honoured the cross-outs and false-starts because they are perfect records of almost-instaneous edits. Note the shift from "went to" to "occupied.")


It feels quite lovely to be threading PB into this archive. She's been a mentor of mine for many years, though I'm not sure she even knows it. And, full disclosure: I have a review of a PB book forthcoming in this very magazine (a magazine whose first and long-running iteration as Jacket had PB as associate editor and was run out of rooms here in Sydney). Suffice to say, PB is in my orbit, critically and poetically and socially and intellectually. Part of my motivations for doing some fossicking around the Syd-po pockets here, in fact, was to uncover some of PB's mythical materials: screenprints, tape recordings of Clitoris Band (for which she was the bass player), chapbooks and zines, relics of the Coalcliff anti-poetry-poets and evidence of her various activisms. When I got in touch with PB, she told me that she'd recently donated boxes of ephemera to the NSW State Library. Before I delve into those findings (stay tuned!) I wanted to talk to Pam more generally about the 70s and 80s in Sydney. The photographs I have seen of her, more or less inventing insouciance in a doorframe with a rollie, are often accompanied by minimal text that suggest all the things that I want to know about: convergences of anarchism, DIY print, feminism and queer politics in Sydney.

(I should add here, by way of an aside: I've been reading a lot of Leibniz lately for my doctoral dissertation. And I am struck by the kinds of non-causal, expressive correspondences that Leibniz describes as monadic relations. I'm coming to imagine that the entries of an index are monads, with exactly these kinds of relations. Each entry is its own entity, and it might come into contact with, but will never enter into, another entity. The relations are expressive, and not penetrative or revelatory. We read the entities, and read their contact-relations, as contributing to a constellation from which we think. As I am composing this project as a kind of index, so too am I imagining each entry as its own index: in the case of PB, I perceive her work and her affiliations as monads. I won't try to crack them open or graft them onto each other. As Leibniz wonderfully says, (and this is a paraphrase), qualities don't just detach themselves from substances and stroll around solo ... we gotta deal with it all together. PB's poetics are substances, and my perception of them here are substances. I'll let you use this index as you choose.)

PB grew up in Queensland and Victoria, on military bases. She read poetry from a young age, via older relatives, and had an enduring interest that led her later through Beat flurries and into punk. She moved to Sydney and began to make things with people: I say this vaguely because she was, and is, a generous and industrious poet, who has collaborated on and constructed works in many different directions. In the 70s and 80s, Pam was "the poet" (or one of "the poets") in a group of people more or less organised via politics. So the communities were built around the desire for action, and action was engaged by making things, and people made things according to what they were into. PB was into poetry, so she made books and zines and papers and talks and screenprints and vis-po. She also played music and worked jobs and joined campaigns around feminist issues (to do with childcare, reproductive rights, etc.). I guess this kind of collective-oriented poetic praxis is a kind of poetry-as-method: as a poet, you approach the scene, the politics, the culture, the fuck-ups, the war, as someone interested in language and the conditions of its being-made and being-framed and being-enforced. 

In our discussion, we wondered how notions of collectivity had changed. These days, PB is a poet working within a de facto poetry community, a community that is most certainly not bound by political affiliation. It's a cultural shift: poetry, while still a wonderfully (and productively) negative economy, today has an odd professional aspiration that excites a lot of competiveness and antagonism. And it's not just at the level of fracasing for scant jobs and scant funds. It's also at the level of identification. (Of course, it's not just poetry that finds itself in this position, where politics has become a micromanagement of bureaucratic relations and desires.) I wonder whether now she's "the political" of the poets lumped into this broad community-category.

PB has talked a lot about anarchism, especially in the past (she had contact with the Jura Books crowd -- I asked her if they made and shared poetry, and apparently they did, especially chaps and zines--I saw a pamphlet on her shelf and found some tiny, minimalist anarcho lyrics) and she remains, I think, an exemplary anarchist (methodologically and poetically).

Anarchism, she told me, appealed to her for its emphases, apart from (but related to) the political aims of decentralised organisation. She was interested in an emphasis on making a good life; on finding ways that a decentralised, self-directed-yet-collectively-run, scene could make things and take pleasure in doing so. She's still like that now, when censorship isn't so much an issue, and DIY can be digital and lo-fi. Now, she works subtly but diligently against the centralising coagulants that rally for an official and sellable poetry.


Now for the delicate confessions:- and as that press went bankrupt or disa has (at least) now completely vanished from the face of the earth without a trace – now that it is just a flickering memory in the counter cultural department of the collective unconscious I can say that in order to cover costs we did or someone did, the a book bounty fiddle …. A prevalent temptation to petty crime was prevalent in small press the underground in the 1970’s + we could hint, just hint that it still goes on – so the book bounty fiddle is where you bump up the number of copies you’ve printed, you state that you’ve actually printed a couple of hundred more copies than you have + your printer collects a small subsidy for the book. I think we used to feel that this was a highly political thing to do and after all we all paid far too much tax + and this was one way of recuperating some of that + anyway as we all knew, money corrupts + big business was more corrupt than we were. Enough said.


Another of the 1970’s phenomena was the assembly book. In the mid-70’s a number of people, mostly male poets (this was all before I.W.Y. [International Women's Year, 1975]) began to experiment with self-publishing : Alexander Chaos in Adelaide was producing loose-leaf collections of poetry + drawings called “Mere Anarchy,” Richard Tipping, Rob Tillet also both in Adelaide, Ken Bolton was producing a beautiful gestetner + silk screen magazine called “Magic Sam” (which is still going strong) Rae Jones was doing “Your Friendly Fascist” + Nigel Roberts had one called “Free Poetry” – in 1974 Nigel approached me about doing an assembly book – we had seen one from the states which Richard Kostelanetz had done. So we formed a collective Nigel + 2 other men + me, the token woman. There were not editorial responsibilities, we the ‘artworkers collective’ sent off a printed letter asking contributors to print a thousand copies of one page, foolscap size of anything they wanted to (print) include, printed at their own expense. I’ll quote from that letter “The collaborative structure of such a production engineers a redistribution of risks + responsibilities. The world of writing + all publishing continues merrily in its old fashioned ways where writers write + editor-publishers rule. So the power structures of publishable art forms remains unchallenged” and “This is not a literary magazine or vanity press for poets, but breeding place and ground where all artists, writers, poets, silkscreeners can present their work, be responsible + have total control over it.”

"Saturday Review of Literature" cartoon reprinted in 1949

“No, he's not writing a book. He's holding up his end of a literary feud that began in 1903.” (Saturday Review of Literature, August 14, 1943, p. 13. Reprinted in 1949 during the Ezra Pound/Bollingen Prize controversy.)

The choice of year (1903!) seems intended to suggest both that the feud has something to do with the first shocks of the modern era — incited among critics by, for instance, Kandinsky's first exhibitions — and that the message seems in part to be, c'est la guerre. The scene at first seems settled, well-off, bourgeois and perhaps suburban, the home of the culturally mature. But the writer’s wife hints at the domestic dystopia of nonlyricism. The romantic heretical poet-figure has become the settled write-at-night critic-figure, the letter-to-editor writer, entrenched in back-'n-forth prose. Conservatives such as poet-critic Peter Viereck — darling of New Right intellectuals in the 1950s — were at the time explicit in associating prose with liberalism, poetry with conservatism, and hardly anything could irk an antimodernist more than the brazen way in which the communist poet ignored the distinction between the proper stations and functions of prose and poetry. CPUSA-affiiliated poet Eve Merriam for instance in a poem called “Said Prose to Verse”:

Listen, my insinuating poem,
stop poking your grinning face into every anywhere.
I have trouble enough keeping my house in order
without a free-loading moon-swigging boarder around
making like of solid ground.

For Viereck, conservatism “embodies” rather than “argues,” and whereas poetry in the 1930s argued exactly as if it were prose, conservatism could claim a closer connection to poetry than did the liberal left. The liberals of Viereck's time could have prose; poetry — real poetry that did not poke its face into every empirical anywhere — would best be realized by conservatives. Following Yeats’ distinction between embodying truth and knowing it, Viereck wrote, “Poetry tends to embody truth, prose to know it. Conservatism tends to embody truth, liberalism to know it.”

tr. Olivier Brossard & Ron Padgett

Méditations dans l'urgence 
collection américaine, editions joca seria
postface d'Olivier Brossard, notes d'Olivier Brossard et Ron Padgett
photo de couverture : Saul Leiter
144 pages  15 €

Poèmes déjeuner (1964), premier titre de la collection américaine des éditions joca seria (mars 2010), Frank O’Hara écrit :

Il est 12h10 à New York et je me demande
si j’aurai fini ceci à temps pour déjeuner avec Norman
ah, déjeuner ! je crois que je suis en train de devenir fou
entre ma gueule de bois carabinée et le week-end qui s’annonce
chez Kenneth Koch sujet à l’excitation
j’aimerais rester ici travailler à mes poèmes
dans le studio de Joan pour un livre à paraître chez Grove Press
qu’ils ne publieront sans doute pas 

« Adieu à Norman, Bonjour à Joan et Jean-Paul » 

Clin d’œil facétieux à son éditeur, Barney Rossett de Grove Press qui, en 1957, a fait paraître Meditations in an Emergency , premier livre du jeune poète publié par une maison d’édition : les deux titres précédents, A City Winter and Other Poems (1951) et Oranges, 12 Pastorals (1953), étaient des publications relativement confidentielles de la Tibor de Nagy Gallery , rapidement épuisées. 1957 est une date importante dans la carrière littéraire de Frank O’Hara, il faudra ensuite attendre 1964 pour qu’une autre maison d’édition, City Lights de San Francisco, publie un nouveau livre : les Poèmes déjeuner (Lunch Poems). Du vivant de l’auteur, seul ces deux livres sont publiés dans des tirages conséquents par des maisons d’édition jouissant d’une distribution nationale, ses autres titres (voir bibliographie ici ) étant des tirages d’art, des publications de galerie ou de petites structures éditoriales. Les autres poèmes seront publiés de façon posthume dans l’épais volume Poèmes complets . 

Après la publication en français des Poèmes déjeuner, les éditions joca seria publient donc le premier livre de Frank O’Hara. Il ne s’agit pas ici de poèmes écrits sur le pouce pendant la pause déjeuner du poète à Manhattan, bien que la ville ne soit pas pour autant absente, au contraire. Le livre naît de la rencontre du style post-surréaliste d’O’Hara avec la rapidité de la peinture des années cinquante (Expressionnisme abstrait) dans laquelle le poète « baigne », la vitesse désirée de la musique et la force irrésistible du cinéma. « Nerve » : du nerf, voilà ce qui pourrait résumer ces Méditations dans l’urgence qui s’accommodent du rythme trépidant de la vie moderne pour en transcrire l’intensité.
Avertissement au lecteur : Frank O’Hara ne s’arrête pas pour méditer. Les 
Méditations sont prises dans l’urgence, portées par l’instant, extension d’un présent qui déroule, de vers en vers. C’est un livre jeune, non un livre de jeunesse. Jeune car vigoureux, plein de l’élan qui va donner les chefs d’œuvre comme « À l’industrie cinématographique en crise », longue liste de stars de cinéma adorées, « Méditations dans l’urgence », « Pour James Dean », « Dormir au vol » et « Maïakovski », entre autres.

L’urgence n’enlève rien aux
Méditations ; au contraire, elle leur donne leur force. Et c’est une voix et une sensibilité qui émergent de ce livre, de ce remue-ménage de toiles, films, musiques et livres. Une personnalité se constitue de page en page, un « moi » qui nous parle et qui (se) tient parce qu’il va vite – immédiateté de l’urgence – et qu’au milieu de tout cela il trouve le temps, si infime soit-il, de réfléchir, de regarder son image se constituer. C’est le devenir qui importe, l’aventureuse traversée de soi à l’autre et de soi à soi qu’inaugure le premier poème « Au capitaine du port ». L’autre, c’est aussi le lecteur, invité à se chercher dans cette image qui se dessine – et parfois se défait – au fil des vers et des pages.

À la fin du deuxième épisode (saison II) de la série télévisée Madmen (réal. Matthew Weiner), le héros Don Draper (Jon Hamm) ouvre les Méditations dans l’urgence qui lui ont été recommandées par un voisin de table dans un pub, s’arrête sur la toute fin du livre et se met à lire la dernière strophe de « Maïakovski » . Les Méditations servent de fil directeur à l’intégralité de la deuxième saison puisque Don Draper envoie le livre à un destinataire inconnu dont on apprend l’existence dans l’avant-dernier épisode. Il s’agit de l’épouse de son camarade de combat, dont Draper a pris l’identité pendant la guerre après que les deux hommes ont été la cible d’une violente attaque : l’officier est mort, son corps difficilement identifiable, et la jeune recrue, blessée, a juste eu le temps d’échanger leurs plaques d’immatriculation militaire. Cette usurpation d’identité va hanter celui qui va devenir Don Draper, l’un des Madison Men, brillant publicitaire de l’agence Sterling Cooper. Son ancien nom, Dick Whitman, s’en ira avec la dépouille de son camarade, mort au champ de bataille. On comprend donc que les derniers vers de « Maïakovski » résonnent avec l’histoire personnelle du héros de la série télévisée au point de devenir le fil directeur de la deuxième saison, dont le dernier épisode s’intitule « Méditations dans l’urgence » :

J’attends maintenant calmement que
la catastrophe de ma personnalité
semble belle à nouveau,
et intéressante, et moderne.

Le pays est gris et
brun et blanc en arbres,
neiges et cieux de rire
toujours diminuant, moins drôles
pas seulement plus sombres, pas seulement gris.

C’est peut-être le jour le plus froid de
l’année, que pense-t-il
de ça? Je veux dire que pensé-je ? Et si je pense,
je suis peut-être moi-même à nouveau.

« Maïakovski »

Draper essaie constamment de répondre à la question « qui suis-je » et la sobre gravité de la fin de « Maïakovski » s’accorde parfaitement avec l’inquiétude et le sentiment de crise qui se dégagent de la deuxième saison de la série. « Être à nouveau soi-même » est l’enjeu de ces méditations qui, comme les Méditations en temps de crise de John Donne auxquelles elles empruntent leur titre, ne cessent d’être conscientes de « la catastrophe de la personnalité » qui se joue dans chaque poème.

Le promeneur qui, à Manhattan, longe l’Hudson non loin du World Trade Center peut retrouver quelques mots des Méditations de Frank O’Hara. « Nul besoin de sortir de New York pour avoir toute la verdure dont on rêve. » : cette phrase extraite du poème « Méditations dans l’urgence » est inscrite en lettres de bronze sur une balustrade d’acier qui borde la promenade de l’Hudson (artiste Siah Armajani, 1986). Les mots de Frank O’Hara ainsi que ceux de Walt Whitman qui leur tiennent compagnie ont survécu aux attentats du 11 septembre et surplombent toujours l’Hudson River.

Imagine a school where one learns how to be European in a changing Europe. Migration flows from East to West to East again. The EU is growing, yet doesn’t include every “European” country. It is getting more and more complicated to understand what European is and most importantly how to act European? In 1974 the sociologist Erving Goffman published his book Frame Analysis, which examined the way behaviour changes depending on the context. In a classroom we know how to act as teacher and student; can we extend this idea to Europe? When countries enter the frame of the EU do they become European?

The six lessons were inspired by Lewin’s Bulgarian Language lessons with Boris Angelov from the Mastylo school in Plovdiv. The lessons question who learns and who teaches and whether European identity exists for anyone but Americans? The work uses a mixed methodology of pre–written Socratic dialogues, bad acting, experimental visual techniques, educational television, obscure references and poetic news reading and covers concepts such as time, language, economics, flow and mobility, dog watching, and cultural presentation.

This project was made during a 3 month residency at InterSpace in Sofia, Bulgaria as part of the At Home in Europe Project. Please be warned that the lessons may now be past their sell by date.

To see more of Anya Lewin's work please visit her web site.

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