Commentaries - December 2011

Listen to every Beatles song in one hour

What would it sound like if you compressed all the Beatles UK LPs into a single one-hour mp3? The compression rate would have to be 800%. Conceiving of this as sound art, Steve McLaughlin did just that a few years ago. It’s posted to the WFMU web site. So go here, settle in, and hear nearly everything the Beatles released in one hour. There's a certain strange hepped-up beauty to it, I have to say. It's like a super-fast running of my youth, an aural brain chute. Someone at WFMU then decided to un-compress several of the singles. So at the same site you can click on links to mp3s of “Julia,” “I Will,” and “Revolution” back at normal speed but eerily distorted from having been through the first compression.

Pinky's Rule

animated drawing by Amy Sillman & Charles Bernstein

The new issue of Bomb (#118 Winter 2012) features Pinky's Rule.

Pinky’s Rule is a seven-minute animated drawing. 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.

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Ill, Angelic Poetics (PoemTalk #48)

Edgar Allan Poe, "Dream-Land"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Read Edgar Allan Poe's “Dream-Land” even just once and discover that it’s not at all clear if this land of dreams is the place from which the speaker has come, or is, rather, his longed-for destination — or if indeed it is the very mode and means and route endured along the way. Subject and object, both; content and form likewise; it is the process that demonstrates the importance of desired ends. “Thule,” a northerly, arctic/Scandinavian sort of zone,[1] is apparently an origin "from" which the speaker has traveled, but it is also apparently “it” — a “wild clime” neither geographical nor temporal, Out of SPACE— out of TIME.”  And “it” is also a space through which one passes.

Thomas Devaney, John Timpane, and Jerome McGann greatly admire what Poe achieved here. For them it is a matter of a sort of wild control. The poem seems to go where it will (and that’s its point) but the speed — as matter of tongue, teeth and lips saying its words — is managed at the level of the line. The poem is intensely languaged, as is the selfhood of the “I” whose journey is always already the poem. And so this work, as an act of writing, far transcends its Gothic conventions.

Jerry McGann visited the Kelly Writers House to give a talk on Poe, decentered culture and critical method, and also to record a session of “Close Listening."  We at PoemTalk took advantage of his proximity to our studios, as well as of Philadelphia's Poe-centricity, and (unusually for PoemTalk) gave our fair city's visitor his choice of which Poe poem to feature. He selected — as he explains briefly during our talk — a typical but less well-known piece. Emerging from the urban corners of the Poe-known world were John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, where poetry actually continues to have something of a foothold among daily journalism, and, from further south and west, Tom Devaney, who ventured in from Haverford College where he teaches his share of Poe along with a great deal else. It should be noted here that Tom wasn’t always at the bucolic edge of William Penn's town. In 2004, for instance, he spent several afternoons at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (Poe's house, in other words) performing “The Empty House Tour” as part of the ICA’s series called “The Big Nothing.”[2]

Of course we have no recordings of Poe reading this poem, and we’re not even certain he ever performed it in public, although Jerry and Tom assure us that Poe did give readings and was even, for a time, avid about it. PoemTalk’s featured poems are always drawn from PennSound’s vast archive, but in this case, fortunately, we were able to make use of PennSound Classics, a page featuring links to guest performances of Blake, Chaucer, Wyatt, Spencer, Homer, Sappho, Langland, Milton, Pope, Swift, Dryden, Shakespeare, Whitman, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats, as well as from among archaic Greek poems and Scottish ballads. “Classics” also include Poe, as selected and performed by our own Jerome McGann. Here is his recording of “Dream-Land.”

Our director and engineer for this show was James LaMarre, and our editor this time, and indeed for all 48 shows, has been Steve McLaughlin. We note with pride that Steve is now also the Director of PennSound Radio. If you tune in you will occasionally hear Steve’s voice announcing the playlist, but know, in any case, that he's the DJ behind the selections.

“Dream-Land”

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE— out of TIME.

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters— lone and dead,—
Their still waters— still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily.

By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead,—
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily,—
By the mountains— near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—
By the grey woods,— by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp—
By the dismal tarns and pools
Where dwell the Ghouls,—
By each spot the most unholy—
In each nook most melancholy—
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past-—
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by—
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth— and Heaven.

For the heart whose woes are legion
'Tis a peaceful, soothing region—
For the spirit that walks in shadow
'Tis— oh, 'tis an Eldorado!
But the traveller, travelling through it,
May not— dare not openly view it!
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringed lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule.

Above, left to right: John Timpane, Jerome McGann, Thomas Devaney.

NOTES
1. The term “ultima Thule” in medieval geographies indicates any distant place located beyond the borders of the known world.
2. For links to essays, articles and more information about Devaney’s work on Poe, click here.

Return to the tapeworm foundry

A few years ago Darren Wershler-Henry visited us from Toronto. His book of 2000, The Tapeworm Foundry, was being celebrated by an exhibit in the KWH gallery ("KWH Arts," we called that ongoing project then — now The Brodsky Gallery). Kaegan Sparks commissioned a number of Writers House-affiliated people each to make art from an instruction of the sort that fills Darren's book. I wrote about this at the time of the exhibit.

One artist dipped her long hair into calligraphy ink and dragged it across long rolls of paper (this is actually a classic Fluxus piece). Another person created an inky footprint and then ran it through an OCR (text-recognition) program and printed the “language” that resulted and put the two up on the wall, side by side. Another pair of artists counted all the periods (at ends of sentences) in all the books on a Writers House bookshelf, then printed out the periods on 8.5 x 11" paper and wrapped the bookshelf in the paper.

While Darren was in the house, I gathered him, Kaegan and Kenny Goldsmith in my office, and the four of us talked about Darren's book and the exhibit, and about conceptual poetics/concrete poetry generally. This is the newest in the series of "PennSound podcasts", and please have a listen.

1. Links to works produced for the exhibit.
2. Video recording of the opening program.
3. Photos of the event.
4. Text of Tapeworm available at UbuWeb.

Fred Wah named Canadian laureate

(c) Lawrence Schwartzwald

We at Jacket2 happily take note of this news report — among others, of course — announcing the selection of Fred Wah as “parliamentary poet laureate” of Canada. The photograph here was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald.

Saskatchewan writer Fred Wah named parliamentary poet laureate
Winnipeg Free Press, December 21, 2011 

OTTAWA - Saskatchewan-born writer Fred Wah has been appointed as the new parliamentary poet laureate.

Wah is the fifth poet to hold the office.

He replaces Pierre DesRuisseaux, whose two-year term expired earlier this year.

The post was created in 2001, with a mandate to write poetry, especially for use in Parliament on important occasions, to sponsor poetry readings and advise the parliamentary library.

The poet is appointed by the Speaker of the Commons and Senate on the recommendation of a selection committee which included, among others, the commissioner of official languages and the head of the Canada Council.

Wah is a well-known poet who won a Governor General's Award in 1986 and is on the faculty of the Banff Centre for the Arts.

“As a distinguished poet, editor, and teacher Fred Wah is known across Canada for his interest in a range of subjects,” said Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella. “Mr. Wah brings forth a collaborative approach and unique perspective to his work inspiring younger poets, students and others both nationally and internationally with his reflections on Canadian culture.”

Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer said Wah's work is grounded in the country's political and social landscapes. “He has done much to encourage and promote the importance of literature, culture and language within Canadian society.”

In addition to being an award-winning poet, Wah is a professor emeritus of the University of Calgary and a past president of the Writers Union of Canada.

He said he is grateful for the opportunity offered by the laureate's post.

“My work as parliamentary poet laureate will continue to engage poetry as it represents our homes and migrations, our questions of history and identity,” he said in a release.

The job comes with an annual stipend of $20,000, plus up to $13,000 in travel expenses and a budget for programming, administrative expenses and translation.