Commentaries - June 2012

Jerome Rothenberg: A round of renshi & the poet as other, an experiment in poesis (part one)

Clockwise from top left: Tanikawa Shuntaro, Jeffrey Angles, Jerome Rothenberg, Ito Hiromi, Kaku Wakako, Yostsumoto Yasuhiro



           An experiment in time & spacehow much of my life was given to itto step

 out of where I first had found myself & come into an other, stranger world.

           I mean to say that we emerged from the second world war & knew that it

 was bigger than that. The world, I mean.

          The world as Europe was not the world the mind now knew.

          And something had happened that let the mind know many worlds — each

one of which was "other" to the mind.

          Europe was also "other."

          America was "other."

          What was exotic & what was near to hand were "other."

          You & I were "other" to ourselves, our minds.

          The mind the mind knew was a final otherness: a habitat of minds & worlds.

          (This emerged. The world emerged it.)

          What you know is what you are. What the mind can hold is what the mind


          Enough, the mind says. There is a politics in this & yet there is no politics.

          There is a knowledge here that mixes real & unreal, that opens.

          There is also the trembling headiness of a world in which, Rimbaud told


us, "I is an other."

          What did he mean by that?

          What do I mean?

          "I" is "other," is "an other," is "the other."

          (There is also "you.")

          If the mind shapes, configures the world it knows or holds, is there an

imperial/colonizing mind at work here, or is this mind as shaper & collager

still pursuing its old work: to make an image of the world from what appears to


          And what appears to it?

           The world.




I first heard about renshi from Hiromi Itō, a remarkable and justifiably celebrated Japanese poet and writer, who has also been our neighbor in Encinitas, California, for most of the last two decades. Her presence among us goes back to 1991 and to my first visit to Japan, a contact I hadnt had before but have been able to repeat six times since then. My host for the Tokyo part of the trip was Hisao Kanaseki, a distinguished scholar and translator of Gertrude Stein, who was also compiling a book of American Indian traditional poetry with some acknowledged adaptations from my own Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin. Kanaseki arranged a roundtable reading and dinner for me at a large and presumably newfangled restaurant in the Ginza, and a few days later, at a private dinner in his home, he introduced me more directly to Hiromi, who signaled her intention, which I barely understood at the time or even now in retrospect, to come to California as my student in American Indian culture and related matters. That was the beginning of my acquaintance with Japan and contemporary Japanese poetry and poets, but it connected as well to ideas about poetry that had been a dominant concern of mine from as far back as I can remember.

There was a timenow a good half century in the pastwhen poets of my generation were discovering themselves as part of what Donald Allen, in the great and seminal anthology of that name, was callingthe new American poetry(emphasis mine). The connection he asserted there with jazz and abstract expressionism and other good things was incredibly seductivefor me and most of the poets around meand yet there was something disquieting about it also, something that rhymed too easily with the idea of anAmerican centuryor an American hegemony and seemed to belie the other connections and genealogies that many of us felt. The break with British language and stylistics was one thing, but to my mind at least it went hand in hand with the discovery and recovery of other poetries on a nearly global scale.

It was with something like that in mind that I met with Donald Allen for the first and last timesometime in the early 1960s. Allen explained to me that unlike the poets in The New American Poetry, I was a part of what he called the international school of poetry. This stung me at the time but after a while made perfect sense to me, and I began to ponder the different ways that I could play his designation to the fullest. My own work I knew was continuous with radical modernisms and postmodernisms that were situated well beyond our shores, and this I thought held for all but a handful of my contemporaries, the few like Olson and Snyder, say, who pushed the American stance to its limits. By the time I appeared in the revised edition of The New American Poetry in 1982, the Vietnam war, among other events, had intervened and may have shaken confidence in a purely American moment.

There is a tension of course between the particularities of place and language (thelocalismthat Olson wrote of) and the idea of a poetry that translates, reaches across borders. Both Ive come to think are necessary, and in the years since my first bookNew Young German Poets published by City Lights at the heart, let me say, of thenew American poetry” – translation and travel have allowed me to test and experience the interconnectedness between poetry and poets physically and linguistically at a considerable remove from each other. In some sense too I was likely testing my own otherness, my closeness to or distance from the place from which my parents came. And my experiments with forging a new ethnopoetics was a further exploration of poetic particulars and poetic transmissions across boundaries of space and time.


With all of that behind me, with all of that in mind, I responded to the invitation to come to Japan in March 2010 to engage with Hiromi Itō and others in a round of renshi.




Renga, the traditional and well known form of Japanese collaborative or linked writing, has its modern counterpart in renshi, generally practiced with projective or open forms but always with the shadow of the ancient orders somewhere in the background. While the practice of renga goes back at least 800 years and follows a wide range of traditional rules and constraints, renshi is tied closely to the freeing of verse during the upsurge of a new poetics in the half century and more of Japanesepostwar writing.Its notable Japanese practitioners include Makoto Ōoka and Shuntarō Tanikawa, key figures of the modernist or postmodernistpostwargroupings, and an occasional foreign participant, such as British poet Charles Tomlinson in the late 1990s. Far better known in the West is the still earlier collaboration across four European languages by Tomlinson, Octavio Paz, Jacques Roubaud, and Edoardo Sanguinetti. (Renga: A Chain of Poems, 1971), though that one without a Japanese participant.


My own brush with renshi came last March, during a four-day event in the southern Kyushu city of Kumamoto in which I was the fifth wheel with Tanikawa, Hiromi Itō, Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, and Wakako Kaku. For this the chosen site in Kumamoto was the happily alternative Orange cafe and bookstore, as a result of which the place for writing, unlike some other renshi that I know of, was open rather than private, a small area at the rear of the equally small cafe, which was however closed off to outside business during our time there. Even so, people came and went freely, which only enhanced the sense of writing in publicin-the-open, so to speak. That and the relative speed required gave itto my mind at leasta performative and improvisatory feeling, while respondingalwaysto what came before and after. For all of that it was the sense of writing that dominated the proceedingspen and paper augmented by the computers that all six of us brought to the event. At the end the Japanese poets used brush and ink on long strips of exquisite Chinese paper to transcribe their work in calligraphic form, as did Jeffrey Angles who functionedlargely for my benefitas our principal translator. To top it off there was also a public reading and discussion, a paying event that drew over four-hundred people to an auditorium adjacent to the citys Literature Museum, where the calligraphic poems hung like banners from wires overhead.


While the renshi event went a long way toward clarifying any sense I had of a connection with Japanese poetry, both contemporary and traditional, I would have to go back to the 1950s at least, to recall how Japanese poetry and culture began to enter our consciousness. It had something to do with the aftermath of the war and the possibility for some of us of travel to Japan, but that was not my own case, since I was still settled in New York and my only real possibilities for travel were eastward (to Europe) and southward (to Mexico). I had however begun to read and to be startled by some of what I was reading. Notably at that time it was translations of Japanese Noh theater that I think had the greatest impact on me. Arthur Waley and Ezra Pound were the dominant translators of course, and what came through in the wake of their translations was not only a dynamic dramatic and poetic form, but a poetics associated with ancient figures such as Zeami and Kanami Motokiyo. Their concept of yugen, which LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) took for the title of his early poetry magazine, stood alongside Lorcas duende, Koranic tawil, Hebraic kabbala, and ancient Australian alcheringa, as touchstones for the emergence of a radically new/old poetry.


There was more than that of course, and for a time (and with more than time on my hands) I gave myself to the languagea years study of Japanese at Columbia, following two years (against my will) of army service. While Ive retained very little of the actual language, my sense of some of its grammatical and syntactic strategies was of great importance to me; but not only that. By the end of that year I was able to translate a few poems by Fuyuhiko Kitagawa and a part of Yukio Mishimas Mizu no Otosomething that greatly surprises me in retrospect. I also attended a class of Donald Keenes and for a while I was scheduled to publish his translation of Bashōs Narrow Road of Oku for an independent press that I was then co-directing with David Antin, but we sadly failed to do so. The presss name was Hawks Well Press, after Yeatss play At the Hawks Well, itself derived from Yeatss early fascination with Noh theater. An accompanying little magazine of mine, Poems from the Floating World, also had a Japanese-derived title, not in the familiar ukiyo-e sense of an urban pleasure world (though something of that too) but as it turns up in an old Japanese Buddhist text that I only came across recently:The [floating] world [ukiyo] is one in which happening gives way to happening, illusion follows illusion, and all of it is nothing but a phenomenon void of substance.To top it off a series of my poems from the early 1960s, The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi, had its source in the hell-scrolls of that name, but brought definitively, I would like to think, into the immediate and continuing present.


It wasnt until the 1990s, however, that I began to spend time in Japan and made actual and sometimes surprisingly close contact with a number of my Japanese contemporaries. The first time there, as I mentioned earlier, was through Hisao Kanaseki, and the next couple through Hiromi Itō, but once the visits started, they took on a momentum of their own. Better than that, they carried with them a sense of collaboration that wasnt, I knew, exactly collaboration, but in the act of being and performing together, it might as well have been. And needless to say too, some of my visits to Japan also resulted in a number of poems that I wrote and that have remained of considerable importance to me.


For me, finally, the culminating work in Japan has been the recent renshi event in Kumamoto, in which I participated alongside Itō, Tanikawa, Kaku, and Yotsumoto, with the last of whom I have been collaborating on a translation of the poems of the Japanesedada poetNakahara Chuya. That the five of us could work, as we did in Kumamoto, across languages and cultures, vindicated for me the sense Ive long had of poetry, for all its cultural and linguistic specifics, as an international enterprise at its deepest and even sometimes at its most superficial levels. This is something that Ive written about elsewhere but that may still be worth repeating here.


The result of that and how we got to it is what I’d like to take up next.


A DIGRESSION. Of the five active participants, Tanikawa and I were the oldest, born four days apart in December 1931. There was no question of the deference paid to him, which he took in stride, and I had the sense that some of it got attached to me as well, though it was a little harder to respond from my perspective. He comes across as a physically taut and emotionally self-contained personunder these circumstances at leastand was the only one of us who went off frequently to write in private. One of the leading postwar [post]modernists, his reputation at home is far-reaching, enhanced as a writer of popular childrens books and as the translator of Peanuts and Mother Goose into Japanese.


The two women poets, Itō and Kaku, also have a pop side, Itō as a translator of Doctor Seuss and author of a number of books on childbirth and child rearing, and Kaku as a musician and a lyricist for films such as Hayao Miyazakis anime classic, Spirited Away. In Itōs work this has to be measured against the transgressive extremes in both her poetry and fiction, yet neither she nor Kaku seem to feel this as any kind of rupture. At the end of our public performance, Yotsumoto, a younger counterpart to Tanikawa, had Kaku set one of his renshi poems to music and accompany him on guitar as he performed it karaoke style. (I joined the two of them on a Seneca Indian horn rattle, which I often use in poetry performances.) Here the ease in moving between literary and popular forms is also something to be noted.


[to be continued]

Mister L.D.

Laurie Duggan, mid-1980s (drawing by Ken Bolton)

Laurie Duggan is a prominent Australian poet who has been living in Kent, England for the past six years. At the end of last year Fewer & Further published Laurie's chapbook Allotments (with a cover by Basil King) and Shearsman Books, in the UK,  has recently published his sixteenth collection of poetry called The Pursuit of Happiness.

In 1983 Laurie's poetry writing took a new direction from his earlier work and he began an epic project. The Ash Range is a long documentary poem that mixes prose, poetry, reportage and illustrations. It narrates a history of the settlers' engagement with Gippsland, a southerly region of the state of Victoria. Like William Carlos Williams' Paterson, which concerns itself with small-town New Jersey, The Ash Range is not constrained by its locality, but instead finds the universal in its extended examination of the local. While the work is enormously ambitious in its mix of materials, the whole is welded into a solid structure that facilitates communication of the theme, even to an audience that is unaware of the territory it describes. It was originally published by Pan Picador in 1987 and there was a second edition from Shearsman in 2005.

  The Ash Range, original version, 1987

Matt Simpson, writing in Stride magazine, said; "What The Ash Range offers is an elegiac three-dimensional portrait of an area of south-eastern Australia, the region of Victoria called Gippsland. The work is epic, not just in scale nor simply in being divided into twelve parts, but in the sense that at heart it constitutes a search for roots, a journey home. That said however, and despite the fact that Duggan's forbears come from Gippsland, it is in no way a 'family' poem, what Geoffrey Hill once disparagingly called a 'home-movie'. The hero of the poem is Gippsland itself, which Duggan has described elsewhere as 'a larger than life place.' This larger-than-life quality is attained by means of collage, a judicious artistic manipulating of extracts from diaries, journals, newspapers, which cumulatively recreate, as it were, the collective unconscious of the place. The effect is kaleidoscopic and haunting—haunting in the sense that ghosts as firsthand witnesses are let loose to make play with your imagination, to describe the shape of the land as it was first seen by explorers and settlers, to document the trials and tribulations of colonising, 'civilising', digging for gold, living through storms, floods, bush-fires. The poem makes its way, with one or two skips in time, chronologically, from the second half of the eighteenth century and Captain Cook to a point not long after Duggan's birth in 1949. We experience Gippsland as something growing almost organically, as cumulative history, a kind of reverse archaeology. Whatever the research procedures of Duggan's 'map and history project' may have been, the achieved poem is not a digging-down but a piling up, its effect is voice-over filmic (the poet has written scripts and taught media courses). Despite its deliberate exclusion of the solipsistic, it is still a Romantic poem in that it stunningly evokes the spirit of place with an implied nostalgia, and explores the question who am I in terms of the history I have emerged from. And that is part of its universality, how, in words from the back cover, it 'transcends locality'. . . . It is an important work—and not just of Australian literature."

In the year 2000 Laurie Duggan made his first appearance in Jacket when the magazine reprinted his article on Paul Blackburn that had been first published in Scripsi magazine in Melbourne in 1986. It was called "Mister P.B."

In 2001 Laurie published a work of cultural criticism,   Ghost Nation: Imagined Space and Australian Visual Culture, 1901-1939 (UQP, St Lucia), that looked at early twentieth-century Australian modernism via the work of photographers, painters and architects. The plurality of images ghost each other within time to give an understanding of interdependence and discontinuity in the construction of twentieth-century visual culture.

In 2002 Jacket editor John Tranter invited me to compile a feature in collaboration with the literary quarterly Overland magazine where I was the poetry editor.  I included ten of Laurie's poems.

Laurie Duggan contributed work to Jacket on various occasions, including a short poem for Carl Rakosi's 100th birthday and an anecdotal narrative on meeting Gael Turnbull in memoriam on his death in July 2004.  His own work was reviewed in issue 27 by Tasmanian poet, Angela Rockel and a selection of his long, intermittent yet serial, project  Blue Hills was published in the same issue.

Three years later, in Jacket 34 Laurie wrote a review article on Gael Turnbull’s Collected Poems,   "with a digression on his aleatory, kinetic and other off-the-page practices" and we published two extracts from his long poem 'The skies over Thanet' in the same issue.

In 2010, on his blog 'Graveney Marsh',  Laurie Duggan commented on the lack of financial support in Australia for ventures like Jacket magazine . This note also expressed the mild apprehension of the magazine's editorial change held by many of the poets and writers who had contributed to the original Jacket magazine. I agreed with Laurie's remarks then and I can report that  Australian magazines that include international work alongside local material still can't attract local state funding for their pursuits.  Though now, I'm pleased to say that the transition from Jacket-the-first to Jacket2 seems to have been a successful venture and that the Commentary columns, co-ordinated by Jessica Lowenthal, continue to canvass opinion and information on poetics from a broad, global range of English language writing and translation.

Matvei Yankelevich on Close Listening June 8, 2012

Close Listening program #1:
complete program  (27:44): MP3
Singles: Matvei Yankelevich reads
from Alpha Donut (United Artists, 2012) (8:33): MP3
from a new poem "Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt" (16:36): MP3

Close Listening program #2, a conversation with Charles Bernstein
(58:51): MP3
Matvei Yankelevich talks about "Some Words for Dr. Vogt," his grandmother Yelenna Bonner and growing up in an American center of Soviet dissidence, the relation of Soviet samizdat and small press publishing in North America, the formation and operation of Ugly Duckling Presse, the importance of book design, Russian poets of the modernist period and of the 1920s, and 1930, wih special reference to Daniel Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky, and the translation into English of contemporary Russian poets, including Dmitri Prigov and Lev Rubinstein.

Yankelevich's most recent book is Alpha Donut from United Artists. His other books and chapbooks include Boris by the Sea (Octopus Books), The Present Work (Palm Press), and Writing in the Margin (Loudmouth Collective).  Yankelevich‘s translations of Daniil Kharms were collected in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Ardis/Overlook). He edited a portfolio of Contemporary Russian Poetry and Poetics for the magazine Aufgabe (No. 8, Fall 2009) and has written essays on Russian-American poetry for Octopus magazine online. He teaches at Hunter College, Columbia University School of the Arts (Writing Division), and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. He is a co-founder of Ugly Duckling Presse, where he designs and/or edits many and various books, is the editor of the Eastern European Poets Series, and a co-editor of 6×6. He lives in Brooklyn. For recordings at his PennSound page.

These two Close Listening programs were produced and recorded by Charles Bernstein for the Radio Station of the Clocktower Gallery, operating at, and PennSound. Photo of Yankelevich by Bernstein.

State-of-the-Nation poems (4)

Ian Wedde, ‘Barbary Coast’ (1993)

Auckland Skyline - photograph: Michael Dean

1946 was a good year for poets. Along the fruits of that bumper crop were Alan Brunton, peripatetic troubadour and (co-) founder of radical theatre troupe Red Mole; Bill Manhire, Dean of the Wellington school and unquestioned Top Bard of the country; Sam Hunt, restless road warrior and heart-sore lyricist – and Ian Wedde, New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2011-13.

It’s Wedde [pronounced Wed-dee, not Wed, in case you were wondering] I’d like to talk about here. He’s far harder to characterize in a couple of gimcrack phrases than most other local poets. That’s if he really is a local poet. There’s always been something of an air of the largeness of outside in Wedde’s work from the very beginning.

He’s written six novels (most recently The Catastrophe, 2011) as well as fourteen books of poetry (to date), starting with Homage to Matisse in 1971 and continuing with Good Business in 2009. He’s also written essays, art catalogues, and – perhaps most famously – a combative and polemical introduction to his 1985 anthology The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (co-edited with Harvey McQueen).

Wedde’s was the first substantial anthology to sample poetry beyond the monoglot field of New Zealand Verse in English, the first real attempt to represent the growing cultural complexity of our society in the 1970s and 80s. That’s not the extent of his innovations in this groundbreaking volume, but that will give you some idea of where he started from.

ian wedde

For the next entry in our state-of-the-nation poems, then, the one looking back over the mind-blowing (in retrospect) culture shock of the 1980s in New Zealand – the age of Privatisation, neo-liberalism; the end of ANZUS, our defense treaty with Australia and the US (as a result of our anti-nuclear stance); the beginnings of mass migration to New Zealand from East Asia and the Pacific rim – I offer Ian Wedde’s poem “Barbary Coast” (available, in full, here), from his 1993 volume The Drummer:

When the people emerge from the water
who can tell if it’s brine or tears
that streams from them, purple sea
or the bruises of their long immersion?

They seem to weep for the dreams they had
which now the light slices into buildings
of blinding concrete along the Corniche.
Is it music or news the dark windows utter?

Who are these people emerging from the water? Boat-people fleeing the dark realities of Pol Pot and Suharto? Europeans awaking from their long Pacific swoom? Whoever they are:

The diners are cheap and the food is bad
but you’d sail a long way to find anything
as convenient. Pretty soon, sailor boy,
you’ll lose your bearings on language.

Why “Barbary Coast,” in the first place? A pirate port, does he mean? Some kind of Freetown, the local equivalent to Burroughs’ Interzone / Tangiers? Or Kororareka, hellhole of the Pacific = the shores of North Africa, lair of the Barbary corsairs?

That crack about the diners being cheap and the food bad certainly rings true enough. Was that not the universal cry through the land through the late 80s? “At least there are more restaurants and the coffee’s better; at least the whole city doesn’t close at 5 on Fridays and open again at nine on Monday morning? Surely that’s worth a few tears, a few more bodies in the gutter?”

What’s that he says about losing “your bearings on language”, though?

Takes more than one nice green kawakawa
leaf, chewed, to freshen the mouth
that’s kissed the wooden lips of the figurehead
above history’s cut-water

That’s certainly true. We can redefine ourselves all we want, go out whoring after the Queen of the Night, but these harbour waters are brackish, slimed with the flotsam and jetsam of the past.

Trailing blood across the moon’s wake
the ship bore out of Boka Bay.

Trailing sharks, she sailed
for Port Destruction. In Saint Van le Mar,
Jamaica, Bligh’s breadfruit trees grew tall.
In Callao on the coast of Peru

geraniums bloomed like sores
against whitewashed walls.
The dock tarts’ parrots jabbering
cut-rates in six tongues.

Where’s Boka Bay? A port on the Adriatic, in the tiny country of Montenegro. It’s a long haul from there to Jamaica, but not quite so long as Bligh's trip from Tahiti, where the breadfruit grow, to the West Indies, where they can be used to feed slaves.

Boca is also Spanish for “mouth” – Italian bocca, French bouche, Latin bucca, Portuguese and Catalan boca (both). It’s the safe haven of the mouth that this barque of language seems to be leaving from, bound for all points west, across the ocean:

‘I would tell you if I could --  if I could
remember, I would tell you.
All around us the horizons
are turning air into water

and I can’t remember
where the silence ended and speech began,
where vision ended and tears began.
All our promises vanish into thin air.

So says the “voyager”, as his “briny eyes / flood with chimerical horizons”:

What I remember are the beaches of that city
whose golden children dance
on broken glass. I remember cold beer
trickling between her breasts as she drank.

But my paper money burned
when she touched it. The ship
clanked up to its bower, the glass towers
of the city burned back there in the sunset glow.’

There’s a great passage in Alan Brunton’s last long poem Fq (shorthand for Faerie Queene -- or does it, rather, stand for F**k you?), published posthumously in 2002, where he talks of the future he foresees for his daughter Ruby, the “bright locofocos over Ocean City”:

leaving me in my old age growing up again in 
the fuzzy town of my childhood where nothing 
was original, not even our peccadillos, where I 
promised with my hand stuck to a tree by a 
knife I’d eat the wind all my life and ramble

Is that where Wedde’s poem is going at this point? From the very outset of his poetic career he seems to have shared his friend’s need to “eat the wind … and ramble” – his second book, way back in 1973, was the Selected Poems of Mahmoud Darwish, translated from the Arabic with Fawwaz Tuqan – even before those groundbreaking longer works Pathway to the Sea and Earthly – Sonnets to Carlos.

Cool star foundering in the west.
Coast the dusty colour of lions.
The story navigates by vectors
whose only connection is the story.

The story is told in words
whose only language is the story.
All night the fo’c’s’le lamp smokes above the words.
All day the sun counts the hours of the story.

It’s all very fine. Like all of us lost in the impenetrable seas of poststructuralist 80s – “no context / nothing outside the text” – the story was “told in words / whose only language is the story.” Heady stuff, to be sure – nothing to guide us but narrative logic, nothing but language flexing itself.

But then:

Heave of dark water where something
else turns -- the castaway’s tongue
clappers like a mission bell.
Unheard his end, and the story’s.

Raconteurs in smoky dives
recall his phosphorescent arm
waving in the ship’s wake.
Almost gaily. The ship sailed on.

That castaway makes the poem, I guess.

The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

I fear we were all a bit beguiled by those “glass towers” of the city, the “beaches of that city / whose golden children dance / on broken glass” in that headiest, most hedonistic of times: Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, as much as Eliot’s own “unreal cities” from The Waste Land.

Jerusalem Athens Alexandria   
Vienna London

Another avatar springs to mind, though, Cowper’s own “Castaway,” set in the Atlantic Ocean during a storm, who “bitter felt it still to die / Deserted, and his friends so nigh.” In the end, though, the poet has little mercy on him:

We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.

Like Eliot’s, Ian Wedde’s is poem about history – or possibly the end of history. He sees the beguiling gleam of that will-o’-the-wisp in the distance, that “Cool star foundering in the west. / Coast the dusty colour of lions,” but also sees that it’s an illusion. Raconteurs may tell the tale of your “phosphorescent arm  / waving in the ship’s wake” but time, tide. language and history wait for no man:

The ship sailed on.

torpedo bay

Espians: Issue #2

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Volume Two 2012 (1)


EPSI (English Poetry Studies Institute), Sun Yat-sen University
Sponsored by
School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University
March 2012

ISSN 1925-573
Co-Publisher: EPSI
(English Poetry Studies Institute of Sun Yat-sen University, PR. China); Office One: School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University, PR. China (Contact: Dr. Lei Yanni); Office Two: Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, England (Contact: Mr. J. H. Prynne).

 Editor-in-Chief:    Ou Hong
Honorary Editors
(in alphabetical order):
R. D. Gooder
Marjorie Perloff

J. H. Prynne
Executive Editor:  
Li Zhimin
Board of Editors
(in alphabetical order by family names):
Daniel Albright                                Harvard University, USA
Charles Altieri                                             UC Berkeley, USA
Charles Bernstein                             University of Pennsylvania, USA
Craig Dworkin                                 University of Utah
R. D. Gooder                                               University of Cambridge, England
Daniel Jernigan                                Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Li Zhimin                                       Guangzhou University, China
Julia Lovell                                     University of London, England
Joyelle McSweeney               University of Notre Dame, USA
Ou Hong                                         Sun Yat-sen University, China
Marjorie Perloff                                Stanford University, USA
J. H. Prynne                                                University of Cambridge, England
Claude Rawson                                Yale University
Joshua Scodel                                              University of Chicago, USA
John Wilkinson                                University of Chicago, USA
Xie Ming                                                    University of Toronto, Canada
Zhang Yuejun                                              Central South University, China
Zheng Jie                                                    Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

 Associate Editors (in alphabetical order by family names):
Li Zeng                  Northeast Normal University, China
           Yang Xiuling             The University of Macau, China
Cover Designer:
Lin Panpan


Marjorie Perloff
Becoming a Critic: An Academic Memoir /1

 Daniel Jernigan
Cloud Nine
: Caryl Churchill’s Pre-emptive Response to Her Critics /25

 Xu Sha
The Speaking Silence of Ghosts and Dreamers: Dead Women in Christina Rossetti’s Death Lyrics/45

 Zeng Daxing
Climate, Phenophase and Regionalism of Classical Chinese Poetry /57

 Ou Hong
Literature Teaching Overseas: A Culture-Loaded Process /75

 Charles Bernstein
In Unum Pluribus
: Toward a More Perfect Invention /83

J. H. Prynne
Poetry and Sympathy: An Example from Coleridge /99

 Li Zhimin
Editorial Memoir: In Company with Poetry /137


Becoming a Critic: An Academic Memoir
Marjorie Perloff
Stanford University (Emerita)
bstract: In this essay, originally written as a lecture for Sun-Yat-Sen University, in which I tried to explain the trajectory of my career as a literary critic, I detail my critical education from the heyday of the “New Criticism,” studied, along with Formalist criticism at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and go on to explain how I moved from this work to Russian Formalism and the Frankfurt School, and then beyond these to a specific concern for the avant-garde—both the avant-garde of the early twentieth century and our current avant-garde.  I argue that in all these cases, my conviction was and still is that one must read closely, paying attention to language, syntax, imagery, tone so as to understand what is really happening in an individual poem as well as in the larger period style. 

Cloud Nine: Caryl Churchill’s Pre-emptive Response to Her CriticsDaniel
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Caryl Churchill is well known for writing plays which engage feminist, Marxist, and gender issues in ways that have drawn the attention of literary critics interested in these same concerns, not all of it favorable. However, Churchill’s concurrent interest in critiquing traditional epistemological and ontological commitments by exploring how truth is invested in power is perhaps less well known, except, perhaps, for those who see it as an inevitable component of her political concerns. The primary objective of this essay, however, is to explain that Churchill doesn’t simply engage such issues as a byproduct of her investment in political issues, but, rather, quite the opposite, as I finally argue that her primary impulse is epistemological – and that all her other concerns stem from that first concern.

The Speaking Silence of Ghosts and Dreamers:Dead Women in Christina Rossetti’s Death Lyrics
Xu Sha
, Sun Yat-sen University, China
The speaker in most of Christina Rossetti’s death lyrics is a dead woman who, under the guise of ghost or dreamer, vacillates between keeping silence and speaking. Through this process, the speaker arrives at her final state of “muteness,” a muteness in which the speaker nevertheless still talks and prays calmly and optimistically in her heart, a Silence saturated with hope, faith, and belief. This pattern in Rossetti’s work may be described by the paradigm “silence-voice-Silence”.

Climate, Phenophase and Regionalism of Classical Chinese Poetry
Zeng Daxing, Guangzhou University, China
This paper is based on an essential premise of literary geography, that is, there is a close relationship between the regionalism of literature and the diversity of climate and phenophase. Through discussing the climates and phenophase as recorded in the classical Chinese poetry of Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, this study aims to illustrate that the diversity of climate and phenophase as affected by latitude, longitude, altitude and periodicity enables Chinese poets to offer localized experience in their unique language.

Literature Teaching Overseas: A Culture-loaded Process
Ou Hong, Sun Yat-sen University, China
Literature teaching overseas involves a context and perspective other than that of the native land. Influenced by the alien cultural elements, the canon is modified, and the focus of emphasis shifted. Allowances should be made for these changes since literature teaching overseas is a culture-loaded process.

In Unum Pluribus: Toward a More Perfect Invention
Charles Bernstein,
University of Pennsylvania, USA
Emerson's moral perfectionism, as interpreted by American philosopher Stanley Cavell, emphasized that we don't achieve perfection but move toward it in an unending process. President Obama invokes this idea in discussing the racial divide in America, by speaking of "more perfect." Emersonian pragmatism might also be a model in considering the difficulties of translation between American English and Chinese. Translating contemporary poetry is model for possible cultural exchange.

Poetry and Sympathy: An Example from Coleridge
J. H. Prynne
, University of Cambridge, England
This paper presents analysis and commentary focussed on a 'conversation poem' by S.T. Coleridge, 'This Lime Tree Bower My Prison', in the context of a specific episode in his personal and social life, examining the poem's style as an experimental hybrid between informal reflection and the more elevated manner of the pindaric ode. Each stage of the poem's composition, its language and state of consciousness, is discussed in close detail, against a theoretical background of “sympathy”, a current idea at the time, as a framework for projective thought and emotion in the poet's inner life.

Editorial Memoir: In Company with Poetry
Li Zhimin

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