Commentaries - May 2012

filmed by François Sarhan, Paris, 2012

Claude Royet-Journound
Royet-Journoud reads "A la ressemblance des bêtes" from Théorie des prépositions, P.O.L, 2007
"Kardia," Eric Pesty éditeur, 2009
"Asservissement de l'air à son vacarme," A la Pension Victoria, 2011

Jacques Roubaud


Anne Portugal

also available on the poet's PennSound page.

International Symposium organised by Cristina GIORCELLI, Luigi MAGNO
Centro di Studi italo-francesiSala Capizucchipiazza di Campitelli, 3 – Roma
17-18 MAY 2012

Emma Bunny, Polaroid, estate of Emma Bee Bernstein © 2007

Exquisite Fucking Boredom
Polaroids by Emma Bee Bernstein
May 24 - June 25, 2012
curated by Phong Bui
Opening Reception Thursday, May 24, 6-9pm

Microscope Gallery is very pleased to present Exquisite Fucking Boredom, Polaroid images by
artist/writer Emma Bee Bernstein (1985-2008). With intimate as well as often staged
photographs of the artist and her close friends, Bernstein – who committed suicide in Venice,
Italy at the age of 23 – transforms the spontaneous, on-the-spot Polaroid aesthetic into a
generational portrait of hyper-self-conscious, passionately alluring young women and men taking
on adulthood with deadly serious abandon. The more than 200 photographs in Exquisite Fucking
were taken during Bernstein’s college years, 2003 to 2007 and have never before been
seen. The photographs have been assembled from Bernstein’s personal archive and private diary
notebooks, which will also be on view.

Bernstein who earned a BA in Visual Arts and Art History from the University of Chicago writes,
“The perfect projection of the internal imagined self, if it exists, only does so for the duration of
the photographic performance.” Bernstein is indebted to the photography of Robert
Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, Francesca Woodman, and Cindy
Sherman. Her works are marked by an acute awareness of the fleeting and temporary nature of
existence. The Polaroid series are just one of several bodies of photographic works by the artist
who also worked with 35mm film and digital formats.

"... [Bernstein's work] is consistent in tone, with an atmosphere of tension, verging on
discomfort though interlaced with humor, and a guardedness that never relaxes.”
-- Holland Cotter, The New York Times

Bernstein’s short film Exquisite Fucking Boredom (2006) also will be shown during the course of
the exhibit. And, film-maker Henry Hills will premiere on June 18 a new 80-minute version
of Emma’s Dilemma, a film that documents Bernstein’s adolescent years (1997-2002), and
features her conversations with Carolee Schneemann, Jackson Mac Low, Ken Jacobs, Richard
Foreman, Keith Sanborn, Lee Ann Brown, Susan Howe, Kenneth Goldsmith, and others.

EMMA BEE BERNSTEIN’s works have been previously exhibited in solo shows at the University of
Chicago and Janet Kurnatowski Gallery in New York. Her work has also exhibited at A.I.R.
Gallery, NYC, the Smart Museum, Chicago, and at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her
book GirlDrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism, co-authored with Nona Willis
Aronowitz, was published by Seal Press in 2009. Belladonna #4, which features her writing and
photographs, was published in 2009.

PHONG BUI is an artist, writer, independent curator (curatorial advisor at MoMA PS1 2007 –
2010) and publisher of The Brooklyn Rail.

MICROSCOPE GALLERY presents the works of film, video, sound, new media and performance
artists from the emerging to pioneers of their art forms. The gallery is located in Bushwick
Brooklyn and opened in September of 2010.

Selected images of the show are available for preview upon request.

More info at:

4 Charles Place
Brooklyn, NY 11221
Gallery Hours: Thurs. to Mon. 1-6PM,
or by appointment
Tel: 347.925.1433
nearest subway: J/M/Z - Myrtle/Broadway
other options: L - Morgan Ave or Jefferson Street

Cole Swensen, "If a Garden of Numbers"

The Gardens of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.


Cole Swensen’s book Ours is a sequence of poems — or is perhaps best described as a poetic project. André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) was the principal gardener of King Louis XIV; he designed and led the construction of the park of the Palace of Versailles. The poems in Swensen’s book indicate a range of interests in Le Nôtre’s work and beyond, but his Gardens of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte are of special interest, and they are the topic of the poem we chose to discuss, “If a Garden of Numbers.”  The poem, and our talk about it, raised a number of compelling questions. Are historical research and the lyric compatible? (Yes, we agreed. But what are the varieties of integrating the two? And how does a scholarly methodology knowingly bespeak what was once super-elite art — namely, Le Nôtre's?)  Can the hyper-rational garden be truly “ours,” ever? (The master landscape designer's name is a pun on that possessive form of liberalism’s favorite pronoun from the French Revolution onward. This pun is a key to understanding Swensen’s poem and indeed the whole book.) If — to quote Swensen channeling Louis XIV — “it was an age that felt that nature could be corrected,” does such an urge extend to the formalities of poetry? If Le Nôtre “couldn't stand views that end,” what effect should that have on a poetics? The idea that the garden includes everything you can see from the garden has some kind of political valence: progressive if what’s beyond the garden can and must be welcomed in, if natural emigration is really possible (by virtue of its design, notwithstanding the exclusivity of its original patron); conservative if Le Nôtre's act of inclusion colonizes nature beyond its border. If the latter, then is form as a kind of artifice inherently conservative? Le Nôtre’s “jar in Tennessee” problem means that form takes dominion everywhere, even if the slovenly wilderness grows up all around it. One needn’t beat it back. One need only place the form in its midst. Finally: If art is an idea as distinct from nature, and if the “real exceeds the ideal,” then can a poem of ideas about nature be aligned with the real? We’re back to hyper-rationality. These gardens are beautifully excessive, and so — Swensen seems to contend, but arguably — they get at humanity because indeed they produce a version of reality rather than (merely) ideality. Subjectivity is affirmed. Every slight shift in perspective matters a great deal. The garden (the poem too?) is a way of making nature account for the mind.

Ann Seaton, Michelle Taransky, and Gregory Djanikian joined Al Filreis for this discussion. We went hard at all the questions enumerated above, expressing doubts about the progressive claim implicit in the pun on “ours.” We pondered the aesthetics and ethics of the garden that includes everything one can see from the garden. Annie offered a political reading, and the others responded, both agreeing and pressing back. Fortunately for us and for PoemTalk listeners, Cole Swensen was interviewed about this work by Leonard Schwartz for one of his “Cross-Cultural Poetics” shows, and so our varying interpretations can benefit from a rich context of resources and responses. Here, below, are relevant audio segments from that radio broadcast:

  1. introduction and discussion of the Le Nôtre gardens (5:12): MP3
  2. brief note on the style of “A Garden Is a Start” (1:40): MP3
  3. “A Garden Is a Start” (3:12): MP3
  4. discussion of the language of fact in poetry (8:05): MP3
  5. “Paradise” (0:56): MP3
  6. discussion of gardens as dominion over nature (2:43): MP3
  7. discussion of the geometry of the Le Notre gardens (3:38): MP3
  8. introductory discussion to “Versailles the Unfurled” (2:53): MP3
  9. “Versailles the Unfurled” (3:56): MP3
  10. dicussion of fountains and water as a public and private commodity (5:42): MP3
  11. “Keeping Track of Distance” (with a brief introduction) (1:40): MP3

During that same discussion, Swensen read our poem: MP3. The text of the poem is available at the Poetry Foundation site: text. Cole Swensen has responded to this episode of PoemTalk: here is a link to her note.

Max McKenna was our engineer for this episode of PoemTalk, and Steve McLaughlin was, as always, our editor.

Adrienne Rich, teaching writing

Adrienne Rich
Image Credit: Neal Boenzi / New York Times

Lately I’ve been particularly interested in researching and reading about the history of CUNY and the role of poets and writers within that history. By this, I mean the history of Basic Writing and SEEK (at CCNY) and the poet-activists that taught in the early days of these programs.  As Adrienne Rich writes in “Teaching Language in Open Admissions,” “At that time [the late 1960’s] a number of writers, including Toni Cade Bambara, the late Paul Blackburn, Robert Cumming, David Henderson, June Jordan, were being hired to teach writing in the SEEK Program…” (55). The SEEK Program (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) was chaired by Mina Shaughnessy in this time period, an administrator and teacher known for her work in Basic Writing and her support of Open Admissions at CUNY. Rich describes Shaughnessy as knowing "that education was not only a means of access to power, but a form of power in itself: the power of expression, of language."

This link between language and power is perhaps nothing new, but what really strikes me here is context — the context that this conversation is happening in a “remedial” class and the body at the front of the room is authoring texts that might not conform to the myriad of “rules” one assumes are part and parcel of this particular classroom. Rich continues (in “Teaching Language in Open Admissions”), “I think of myself as a teacher of language: that is, as someone for whom language has implied freedom, who is trying to aid others to free themselves through the written word, and above all through learning to write it for themselves” (63).

I'm not aiming to idealize Rich’s description of teaching in CCNY in the late-1960’s/early 1970’s. What I am interested in is the age-old question of “what does it matter who is speaking,” or in this scenario, what does this array of professor/poet/writers all housed under the legendary SEEK program tell us about pedagogy? How often do we, writers who often scrape by adjuncting and teaching as many composition courses as possible, talk to each other about what we do in these classrooms? How does language function for us as poets, adjuncts, critics in the contexts we inhabit?


Maher, Jane. Mina P. Shaughnessy: Her Life and Work. Urbana, IL: National Council of the Teachers of English, 1997.

Rich, Adrienne. "Teaching Language in Open Admissions" in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1979. 51-68.

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.