In early 2006, Maged Zaher emailed me at Jacket and asked to have one of his poems considered for publication. As often happens, he forgot to attach the poem. A pithy correspondence ensued and it continued between us even after the poem, my software mission, was published in Jacket issue 29. At some stage in our email exchange Maged asked me if I’d be interested in writing a poem in collaboration with him. So began a project that continued over a year or so and resulted in twenty-one poems that can be read as a continuing long poem. Susan Schultz published the poems that we’d assembled and titled farout_library_software as a Tinfish Press chapbook in 2007.
Defining key aspects of the modern — can’t be done simply. But why not try? Here’s one. The modern poem isn’t about expression or expressiveness, something the poet has urgently wanted to say. It’s primarily neither topical nor personal in the accepted 20th-century sense of the person who has things “inside” that must be said, written, conveyed. The poem isn’t telling you you should or must know something. It doesn't cover or fill a gap, a need, a want. The poem is merely (oh that huge “merely” — but I don’t mean it trivially) a means of keeping a reader from going from it, a detention, a planning to stay, and then — in it — is a remnant of the poet, all we know of him or her at that moment, then (now, the time of coming upon the words) and here (in the poem itself, making an inside that's nowhere else but where it is).
To the extent that the above definition is apt and useful, then the modern verse mode derives largely from Emily Dickinson, who in more than half her poems makes the point I've made above the matter of the poem.
And Cid Corman, not otherwise deemed Dickinsonian, is surely getting at this in this poem:
It isnt for want of something to say— something to tell you—
something you should know— but to detain you-- keep you from going—
feeling myself here as long as you are— as long as you are.
j/j hastain begins “crepuscular,” from the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA, (with Eileen Tabios, and hereinafter referred to attreooa) with this simple problem: “The dilemma of belonging. What of that has to do with things exterior to us and what of it has to do with our own regard of exteriors and interiors?” (27). hastain responds to Tabios's sequence of prose poems about orphanhood, in particular those orphans who are older, considered too old to be adopted. The orphan who becomes part of Tabios's family (provenance Colombia, destination California) is doing word problems in algebra. But these problems are more complicated than the math would indicate. Arriving at a reference to walls that “slant at 65-degree angles” the child thinks of “the man you longed to call 'Dad.'” He is not father, but “potential father.” What appears outside the “glass-less window” is “a lucid mountain.” The man has scarred the boy. Their relation is not lucid. Hence, the “answer” to the equation is “'indifference > hatred'?” Equations do not generally end with question marks; this one offers a “resolution” only in ambiguities. Most of us consider indifference to be a thing better than hatred. But an orphan, who needs feeling, an emotional relation, longs for it to be strong, not absent or ambiguous. His regard meets the world's disregard in an equation whose answer is no answer. As hastain writes in “LUCIDITY DISCERNING”: “The desire for a father is not a father” (30).
But Tabios and hastain are most engaged in what happens when relation between persons occurs, or between genders within persons, namely in the TRANS of their “relational elations.” They are fascinated by displacements, yes, but also in “active placements,” whether those are relationships within adoptive families or within individuals whose gender-identities are not normative.
The focus of the Poems & Pictures exhibition I curated in 2010 for the Center for Book Arts in New York City was primarily on collaborations between visual artists and poets, primarily in book form, between 1946 and 1981. I fondly refer to these thirty-five years as a ‘renaissance’ in the art of collaboration, a rich period of revitalization that was often made possible by adventurous publishers who, in various ways, made such collaborations and ways of exploring and complicating the relationship between word and image possible. The history of the book often sidesteps art history and criticism, while a close examination of the work itself tells another story, its own story, distinct, but not dissociated from other artistic and literary traditions. In these years, arguably for the first time, Americans created the first books that broke from the principles of European book design, while rivaling the experimental works of the Dadists, Futurists, and Surrealists of the early decades of the twentieth century. Some of the books included in this exhibition were: Joe Brainard’s C Comics; Wallace Berman’s Semina; Robert Duncan & Jess’ Caesar’s Gate; Tom Raworth & Jim Dine’s Big Green Day; Larry Eigner & Harry Callahan’s On My Eyes, Kenneth Patchen’s Panels for the Walls of Heaven; Ted Greenwald & Richard Bosman’s Exit the Face; Charles Bernstein & Susan Bee’s The Occurrence of Tune; Bill Berkson & Philip Guston’s Enigma Variations; Joanne Kyger & Gordon Baldwin’s Trip Out & Fall Back; and various collaborations between Ron Padgett & George Schneeman. And a whole lot more.