Commentaries - August 2012

Poetry and/as revolution


Poetry doesn’t make anything happen

I’m not interested in a revolution you can’t dance to

This machine kills fascists

Things happen, and poetry is a thing, a making, and sometimes a happening

Where “thing” (ding) once meant “meeting place”—“assembly”—so we are such “things” as revolutionary dreams are made of

Mayakovsky: “the presence of a problem in society, the solution of which is only conceivable in poetic terms”



In the mid-1980s I rode in a zodiac up an inlet in Clayoquot sound with a man who had been a student activist in Chicago in 1968, and had helped organize the protests at the Democratic National Convention. We were going to tend his oyster farm, and we talked about Neruda (his favourite poet), Chile (where he’d lived after fleeing charges in Chicago), and Neruda’s Memoirs (which I was then reading).

Opening the field

The 1923 edition, left; and the 1970 edition, right, courtesy of Silliman's Blog
The 1923 edition, left; and the 1970 edition, right, courtesy of Silliman's Blog.

I take this commentary post title from Robert Duncan, but I write this as I reread William Carlos Williams’s 1923 long poem Spring and All for class tomorrow. Since I am teaching Williams within a teacher training program this summer, we tend to pay special attention to what Williams has to say about education and the academy. Spring and All’s attack on the “age of copying” is of interest this week. Near the end of the poem, the rules of standard punctuation and capitalization break down as Williams considers how knowledge is transmitted to the student in what he calls a “dead state”:

The whole field of education is affected — There is no end of detail that is without significance.
     Education would begin by placing in the mind of the student the nature of knowledge — in the dead state and the nature of the force which may energize it.
     This would clarify his field at once — He would then see the use of data
     But at present knowledge is placed before a man as if it were a stair at the top of which a DEGREE is obtained which is superlative.
     nothing could be more ridiculous. To data there is no end. There is proficiency in dissection and a knowledge of parts but in the use of knowledge — 
     It is the imagination that — 

Shi Zhi: 'Fish Trilogy,' the poet as forerunner

[EDITOR’S NOTE. Starting to write as the Cultural Revolution was taking shape, Shi Zhi (born in 1949) appears today as an early forerunner to the changes in Chinese poetry that began to emerge during that time of repression and that have now come to represent the Chinese present. His life has been marked by periods of suppression and by recurrent and ongoing confinements for mental illness, but he is now widely recognized as a major influence on better-known groups such as the Misty Poets of the 1970s and 1980s, with whom he was later associated. Winter Sun, a selection of his poems translated into English by Jonathan Stalling, appeared this year as the first title in the Chinese Literature Today book series from the University of Oklahoma Press. (J.R.)]

Richard Baker Stein covers

Richard Baker showed his paintings of book covers at a show that opened tonight in Provincetown at the Albert Merola Gallery. Gertrude Stein covers were featured, including four different editions of the Autobiography and the cover to the LP (hear the recordings on the Stein PennSound page).