Commentaries - January 2012
Contained and/or not contained
Always a desire to un-bind the book. An early (in my work in poetry and books) exhibition created with others in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Elvehjem Museum, we titled Breaking the Bindings. One of the great early inspirations was an installation-size walk-climb-through book by Alison Knowles. When creating the book Wheel, by Gil Ott (a much-missed and most intriguing and graceful poet whose Collected Poems will soon be published), the text pages of the book are visible at top and bottom of the outer view of the book, because the cover, a sheet of handmade paper made by Tom Leech, was intended to be smaller than the text pages, so as not to entirely cover, and give the sense that the book did not end ("the wheels on the bus go round and round"). And perhaps most consistently over a two-decade period, collaborations with Anne Bunker & Chuck Koester's Orts Theatre of Dance (later re-named OTO Dance). Such works as St. Lucy/Oedipus, with a 20-page script I wrote for the dance, collaborating with the dancers, choreographer, composer, and the visual artist Margaret Bailey Doogan. Or Urban Gaits, again a multi-artist collaboration featuring my partner in life, the visual artist Cynthia Miller, as well as Nancy Solomon, Bunker, Koester, & a company of dancers. All of these works function to me as books, a term that often has nothing to do with paper and pages, and which requires a re-definition of what it means to "read."
And possibly the most successful such collaboration, with Miller, in an urban botanical garden, Aviary Corridor -- really her work of coexistence of colorful but non-insistent rings and placards and beads of color through a walkway, that one could either notice or not. But once one began to notice, the work was transformational, i.e. transforming one's relationship with space. And to me this is what the book might do, transform relationships with space and time, through words and more. Later Aviary Corridor became a small chapbook/pamphlet of words and art.
I think of this now as I begin a weekend of collaboration with Miller on a small piece of love and drawing and words. Yesterday I re-read an essay, "Wounded Joy," by Barbara Guest in which she writes that “the most important act of a poem is to reach further than the page so that we are aware of another aspect of the art. This will introduce us to its spiritual essence. This essence has no limits.” She calls this the “delimiting” power that she says all of the arts share, and it is what I would want a book to share with the world.
from Jacket #12 (July 2000)
Editors’ note: Preface to Against the Silences, by Paul Blackburn, published by The Permanent Press, London and New York, 1981. Reprinted with permission from The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989. — Jacket2
I’D LIKE TO SPEAK personally of this extraordinary poet, and take that license insofar as these poems are personal, often bitterly so. I wonder if any of us have escaped the painful, self-pitying and meager defenses of person so many of them invoke. What we had hoped might be, even in inept manner worked to accomplish, has come to nothing — and whose fault is that, we ask. Certainly not mine? Having known both of these dear people, and myself, I have to feel that there will never be a human answer, never one human enough.
When Paul Blackburn died in the fall of 1971, all of his company, young and old, felt a sickening, an impact of blank, gray loss. I don’t know what we hoped for, because the cancer which killed him was already irreversibly evident — and he knew it far more literally than we. But his life had finally come to a heartfelt peace, a wife and son so dear to him, that his death seemed so bitterly ironic.
Recalling now, it seems we must have first written to one another in the late forties, at the suggestion of Ezra Pound, then in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. We shared the same hopes for poetry, the same angers at what we considered its slack misuses. Paul was without question a far more accomplished craftsman than I and one day, hopefully, the evidence of his careful readings of the poems I sent him then will be common information. We finally met at his place in New York in the late spring of 1951, just prior to my moving with my family to France. He was the first poet of my generation and commitment I was to know, and we talked non-stop, literally. for two and a half days. I remember his showing me his edition of Yeats’ Collected Poems with his extraordinary marginal notes, tracking rhythms, patterns of sounds, in short the whole tonal construct of the writing. He had respect then for Auden, which I did not particularly share, just that he could use him also as an information of this same intensive concern. He was already well into his study of Provençal poetry, which he’d begun as a student in Wisconsin, following Pound’s direction and, equally, his insistence that we were responsible for our own education.
As it happened, we shared some roots in New England, Paul having lived there for a time with his mother’s relatives when young. But the Puritanism he had to suffer was far harsher than what I had known. For example, his grandmother seems to have been classically repressed (her husband, a railroad man, was away from home for long periods) and sublimated her tensions by repeated whippings of Paul. He told me of one such time, when he’d been sent to the store with the money put in his mitten, on returning he’d stopped out front and the change, a nickel, somehow slipped out into a snowdrift. And as he scrabbled with bare hands trying to find it, he realized his grandmother was watching him from behind the curtains in the front room — then beat him when he came in. Those bleak Vermont winters and world are rarely present directly in his poems, but the feelings often are, particularly in his imagination of the South and the generous permission of an unabashed sensuality.
At one point during his childhood, a new relationship of his mother’s took him out of all the gray bleakness to a veritable tropic isle off the coast of the Carolinas. I know that his mother, the poet Frances Frost, meant a great deal to him — and that her own painful vulnerabilities, the alcoholism, the obvious insecurities of bohemian existence in the Greenwich Village of her time, pervade the experience of his own sense of himself. His sister’s resolution was to become a nun.
Paul’s first marriage was finally a sad shock to me, just that I could never accept the fact of the person to whom he’d committed himself. She is the “lady he had known for years” in “The Decisions,” and one hopes she did find the “new life” that cost him so much. The antagonisms felt by her and my own wife provoked an awful physical battle between Paul and me one night, when we were all living in Mallorca (he was about to spend a year in Toulouse on a Fulbright), and for some years thereafter we didn’t see each other, although we had wit enough, thankfully, to keep the faith sufficient to let me publish Paul’s first book of poems, The Dissolving Fabric (1955).
During the sixties I was able to see Paul quite frequently, although he lived in New York and I was usually a very long way away. He and his wife, Sara, were good friends to us, providing refuge for our daughter Kirsten on her passages through the big city, and much else. Sara, characteristically, was able to get publication for another close friend’s writing (Fielding Dawson, An Emotional Memoir of Franz Kline, Pantheon, 1967), thanks to her job with its publisher. Elsewise Paul certainly did drink, did smoke those Gauloises and Picayunes, did work at exhausting editing and proofing jabs for Funk & Wagnalls, etc., etc. It’s a very real life.
The honor, then, is that one live it. And tell the old-time truth. Of course there will be human sides to it, but Paul would never argue that one wins. To make such paradoxic human music of despair is what makes us human to begin with. Or so one would hope.
Click here for the full article as it appeared in Jacket #12.
In early 2008 Jacket published two poets, Eugenia Ritz and Andrei Sen-Senkov translated from Russian by Peter Golub, and an interview with Dmitry Kuzmin that Peter conducted in Moscow in the summer of 2007. Dmitry Kuzmin is an editor, critic, poet and the creator of LitKarta, an online map of literary Russia.
Later that year Peter suggested that Jacket feature a selection of contemporary Russian poetry. This looked like a good proposal and we began work, building the feature from files as they arrived. It included work from sixty-seven poets, eighteen translators, several essays and an interview. It was one of the most extensive poetry features I worked on during my time with Jacket. I discovered much about new Russian poetry as I did so. The ideals, points of view and expectations of the group of “new” poets were distinctly different from those who published under the old Soviet Union regime. The writing was more candid and embraced innovation.
Peter Golub is a poet, translator, and scholar. He has published his work in various places including Circumference, PEN America, and Playboy. He has one book of poems published in Russia, My Imagined Funeral (ARGO-RISK, 2007). He's also the recipient of a PEN Translation Grant as well as a BILTC Fellowship. Peter is currently working toward his PhD at UC Berkeley and helps edit the St. Petersburg Review. He says:
"The 2008 New Russian Poetry feature was a remarkable feat. So many translators and scholars came together to produce a large collection of excellent translations, and the collection is still one of the best and most accessible in the world. I know of at least one Professor who used it in her poetry class, and there are probably more instances where the feature was an important text in a class. Some of the younger poets in the feature now have full length books in the U.S. for instance, Aleksander Skidan (Red Shifting), Dmitry Golynko (As It Turned Out), Andrei Sen-Senkov (Anatomical Theater), and Polina Barskova (The Lamentable City).
In Russia these poets are being regarded seriously by the literary establishment and are winning awards. The new poets have many champions. My job is to bring some of this energy to the English speaking world. I've now published a full length article, Vavilon and the Young Poets: A New Subfield of Russian Poetry, on the Vavilon (Babel) movement, exploring some of the reasons behind the young generation's desire to create a new space in the Russian literary field and outlining some of the ways in which they are different from those who preceded them.
I co-translated, with Ainsley Moore, Andrei Sen-Senkov's Anatomical Theater. I received the PEN Translation Grant for a book by Linor Goralik, which to my chagrin has yet to find a publisher. Of course, there is still much work to do and the New Russian Poetry feature plays an important role in helping people get to know Russian poetry as it is today."
Here is the link to the Young Post-Soviet Poets feature -
Laurie Anderson visited the Writers House in 2003. On the third day of her visit, I interviewed her for an hour or so, and here are segments of the recording:
- introduction by Al Filreis (3:19): MP3
- on the Nerve Bible and the body (4:06): MP3
- on the autobiographical nature of the Nerve Bible (1:57): MP3
- on time and responsibility (4:34): MP3
- on ending but not concluding performances (2:28): MP3
- on performing Statue of Liberty at the 2001 Town Hall performance (8:20): MP3
- on starting out as an artist and being in a commune (7:49): MP3
- on technology and media (8:57): MP3
- on Puppet Motel (2:52): MP3
- Anderson's favorite contemporary poets (6:37): MP3
- on the impossibility of technology being sensually subtle (6:27): MP3
- on Melville's bible and Songs and Stories from Moby Dick (8:33): MP3
- on whether or not people are getting better (3:51): MP3
P. Inman, "reception. theory." & "lac[e]y."
Michael Golston, Danny Snelson, and Sarah Dowling joined Al Filreis this time to talk about two short poems by P. Inman from his book at.least. (published by Krupskaya in 1999). The poems are “lac[e]y.” — dedicated to Tom Raworth — and “reception. theory.” — which is “for Diane Ward.” The text of the poems is available as a downloadable PDF, and the book is described and available here. Recordings of Inman reading the two poems, made in 2005, are available at Inman’s PennSound page and as follows:
Sarah and Al in particular found Inman’s presentation at PhillyTalks #14, curated by Louis Cabri and produced by Aaron Levy in November 1999, to be relevant to the at.least. poems. Inman’s paper, presented on that occasion (a double reading and talk pairing Inman and Dan Farrell), is called “Notes on Slow Writing.” The text is available, and here are several propositions from “Notes” that seemed to help us understand the “overpunctuation” of the poems:
Michael was fascinated with the title “lac[e]y.” — noticing, as Sarah also did, that it’s in part a reference to the saxophonist Steve Lacy (who has collaborated with Tom Raworth) and in part a way of describing the form of the poem: “almost like a lacing,” Michael says, “there’s a sense that you could visualize this as laced, the lines lace together and unlace, and so on.” Danny, interested as always in textual variants, identifies possible vertical readings. Yes, the poem can be read downward. “What’s nice about the poems,” says Danny, “is that they leave a space open for readers to read the poem as they would like.” That the poems, as printed, sit close to the gutter and “hang on the page” in a certain manner, “further destabilizes things.”
Steve McLaughlin is our editor, as always, and James LaMarre was the director and engineer for this forty-ninth episode. PoemTalk is a collaboration of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation. We are grateful to Michelle Taransky, Jessica Lowenthal, Mingo Reynolds, Chris Martin, Chris Mustazza, Stephanie Hlywak, and Catherine Halley.
Above, at right: P. Inman.