Commentaries - October 2012

Half a loaf of bread and a book.

extra belt notch
Budgetary suggestion for affording books

One of the powers of translation is that it (as act and as actual work) causes us to examine identity formations, the formation first and foremost of our own identity as translators: what we are absorbing, how our cultural structuration as public beings effaces memory in the work that is translated, in fact, destroys the work in the act of translation. Or risks such destruction. It is that bad, my friends: it is that bad. Or that good.

Translation tears a strip off me, a bark, a coalesce of snot and varnish and spit. It takes months to grow my skin back.

In this regard, one of the crucial challenges to translation today in 2012 is the work done on indigeneity, poetics and translation, by the incredible writer and thinker from the austral regions of the Americas, from Chile, the south of Chile (which is like our North in its impact on human memory, inhabitation and bearing), Andrés Ajens.

The translation of Ajens’ essays (published in Spanish in Argentina), Poetry After the Invention of America: Don’t Light The Flower, by American translator and poet Michelle Gil-Montero this year, is one of those brave and salutory acts of cultural interruption. She brings us face to face in English with an intelligence in poetics that demands a rethink even of the word “literature” and an acknowledgement of its traces of colonial endeavour, in considering what it is that poetry itself is.

 In confronting the crux where definition meets extermination, actual human extermination of lives and cultures, Ajens brings together European poetics (Celan, Baudelaire) and American (native and first Turtle Island and unAmerican) poetics pre-Conquest in a manner critical to our endeavours now in poetics AND in translation.

“Don’t light the flower of extermination for me,” writes Ajens, quoting the Pampan poet J.C. Bustriazo Ortiz and putting Bustriazo Ortiz’s poem “Archaic Ballad” in heterotopic encounter with Paul Celan’s “Einmal” from Breathturn. Two traditions, two poetries, to derive and articulate the start (for it is just a start) at a poetics that does not overwrite the laws of the poetry of the Americas with the poetry of and from Europe, the poetry of colonialism.

I recommend a read. Yes, the book is expensive… but if you can afford a dinner out with a friend, you can afford this book, for what it contains is crucial to you. Or eat less; tighten your belt another notch. As Lorca once said: If I were hungry I would not ask for a loaf of bread; I would ask for half a loaf and a book.


Arkadii Dragomoschenko
New York, Nov, 4, 2010 (silent)
Susan, Felix, and I visited Arkadii and Zena in Petersburg in August 2001. One day outside our hotel a group of gypsies surround us and Xena swung her purse at them in such a convincing way that they immediately disbanded. Another day we took a boat ride on the Neva, sipping brandy as we glided through the city. Arkadii wrote a dedication for Susan and me in a book of his that day: "Isn't it important that the glass of brandy in the morning is more important than poetry. With all my love after endless picnics." I didn't see Arkadii again until he came to Philadelphia and New York nine years later. We hung out in one of the Columbia offices before his reading. Arkadii died two years later. It was the last time I saw him.


This is a clip from Arkadii's Close Listening program, Nov. 3, 2010, at Penn. He is answering a question about synchronicity in his poetry. I showed both of these clips at the memorial for Arkadii at NYU last night.



From the archive: Dragomoschenko on Creeley.

Jacket magazine and the Internet

Compugraphic 7700 typesetter, circa 1980, John Tranter at the keyboard
Compugraphic 7700 typesetter, circa 1980, John Tranter at the keyboard

This 11-page downloadable PDF file is available now on the website of JASAL at the Australian National Library. JASAL = the Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.


Australian poet John Tranter trained in all aspects of publishing, from hand-lettering to editing, from litho platemaking to screen printing, and developed an early familiarity with computers. The development of the Internet in the 1990s found him armed with a formidable array of skills. He published the first issue of the free international Internet-only magazine «Jacket» single-handed in 1997. «Jacket» quickly grew to become the most widely read and highly respected literary magazine ever published from Australia. In late 2010 John Tranter gave it to the University of Pennsylvania, where it continues to flourish. This memoir traces John Tranter’s publication of literary materials on the Internet including the technical and literary problems faced by «Jacket», and outlines the many other projects he embarked on that resulted in the Internet publication of over fifty thousand mostly Australian poems, articles, reviews, interviews and photographs.

Read the full article here.

Here’s the start of John Tranter’s 11-page article:

Where I Came From

In 1973, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began a research program to link packet networks of various kinds, aiming to develop information-exchange protocols to allow computers to interact across networks, a program that became known as the ‘Internetting project’. ‘To internet’ was a verb. What emerged over the subsequent two decades is known today as the ‘Internet’, a noun.

That year I returned to Sydney from Singapore, started work on my third book of poetry and sent in my first application for a Literature Board grant. [The Literature Board of the Australia Council was rather like the NEA; they gave out grants -- 138 grants, in their inaugural year, 1974 -- enough money to live on for a year and write poetry.] I had already travelled through Europe and Asia, abandoned a promising academic career, published two books of poetry, an anthology of new Australian poetry for «Poetry Australia» magazine, two issues of the aptly-named «Transit New Poetry» magazine, and had written and published a small hoax magazine printed on a Gestetner rotary silk-screen machine titled «Free Grass».

I learned lettering and design in the early 1960s and photo-litho printing in the late 1960s, and when my wife bought a typesetting agency in the 1970s I learned to use the computerised photo-typesetting equipment that came with it [see photo below]. And in the 1970s I designed and printed silk-screen posters for rock bands to make money.

Growing up on a farm, I had learned to fix machinery – farmers had to – so computer technology was little more than an interesting challenge to me. My training in English literature, art, design, photography and typesetting all converged on book and magazine publication, which computers had so recently made relatively cheap.

Compugraphic typesetter, c. 1980

          Photo above: Compugraphic typesetter, Sydney, circa 1980

My first two poetry books were typeset in metal type, as was common in the 1950s and 60s. But the 1960s saw a move to lighter, cheaper and cleaner typesetting machines – fancy typewriters, initially – and the move from metal type to cheap and ubiquitous photo-lithographic reproduction led to a flood of little magazines and schools of poets. That was a significant shift in print technology, and made print production much more widely available.

But this shift didn’t solve distribution – getting the material into the hands of its readers. You can solve all the other problems, but that one is intractable. Or it was, until the Internet.

What Was «Jacket» Magazine?

The Internet has changed everything; in particular it has made the creation, research, supply, publication, discussion and academic study of poetry inexpensive, voluminous, and widespread.

People compare the impact of the Internet with the impact of Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press around the middle of the fifteenth century. This is mistaken; in the few decades it has been with us, the Internet has created more important changes throughout the entire world, more deeply and far more quickly, than the invention of printed books has done over five hundred years.

The invention of email alone has transformed how we relate to others, involving more than 200 thousand million messages per day. The spread of music and movies across the Internet, involving millions of downloads a week, is astonishing. More than two thousand million people now use the Internet; more than 36 thousand million photographs are uploaded to one popular social network each year. These figures are literally incomprehensible.

The history of «Jacket» magazine makes up an informative case study, within the limited realm of writing and literature, of what can be done and how best it can be done with this new research and publishing tool.

[More: You can download (offsite) and read all of this free eleven-page PDF article here.]

Poem by Jerome McGann, pictures by Susan Bee.
24pp, 4-color cover plus 5 4-color drawing pages , $16
order from SPD

from The Invention Tree:

Ages ancient and anterior
Hid in beatific bowers,
Stirred a Vision Bird to tell of
Flagrant hands with dreamy powers
Flicking flakes of fragrant showers
Hours and hours on vagrant flowers.
"'T is our Being Beatific
(Sang the Bird in tones terrific)
Our amazing beatific
Lady Luminosity
Lady Luminosity."

Text by Jerome McGann with drawings by Susan Bee. "This delightful book plays with words and non-words, phonetics, and poetic conventions such as metrics, rhyme scheme, and figurative language to cleverly reflect on the much debated, long troublesome, ever wonderful process of artistic creation. Jerome McGann weaves a fantasyland complete with oceans and islands, lords and ladies, demons and creatures, and the familiar trope of the tree in the garden—here it is one of invention. The imaginative nature of the work, and its mastery of allegory liken it to the whimsical cousin of Spenser's Faerie Queene in miniature. Where Spenser discussed religious morality, McGann's work is a parable of the joys and trials of the creative process, and the dilemmas an artist will inevitably encounter on the journey to inspiration. Susan Bee's artwork provides a colorful compliment to McGann's poetry, the images joining in a medley of whimsy that reinforces his charmingly quirky style."—Sarah Caitlin Ghusson

Jerome McGann teaches at the University of Virginia. His most recent book is the pamphlet from Prickly Paradigm Press Are the Humanities Inconsequent?. THE INVENTION TREE is one of a set of prosodic parodies of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, Poems for People of Uncertain Age.

Susan Bee is a painter, editor, and book artist living in New York City. Her artist's books include collaborations with Susan Howe, Johanna Drucker, Charles Bernstein, Regic Bonvicino, and Jerome Rothenberg. Bee is coeditor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online. She will have a solo show at Accola Griefen Gallery in May-June 2013.

Martina Kudláček and Peter Kubelka on Monday after the New York Film Festival premiere of Kudláček's Fragments of Kubelka, a lucid, engrossing portrait of the man and his thinking.

More on Kudláček's film at Sixpack.

Kubelka presented his self-described last film, Monument Film, which consisted of sequential and simultaneous showings of his 1960 classic of structural cinema, Arnulf Rainer and its reverse, Antiphon, made just this year. Arnulf Rainer and now Antiphon are made up on just black and transparent frames. Kubelka exhibitted the 16mm film at the festival as well as giving out strips from it to those who came to the show. (The sound track consists of alternating silence and white noise.)

Also at the festival's Views from the Avant-Garde series were the marvelous, visually layered, collage films of Luther Price (pictured at right), fresh from his success at the Whitney Biennial; new 16mm prints blown-up from Super 8 of Peggy Ahwesh's terrific 1989 Martina's Playhouse and Joe Gibbons's paradigmatic, eery 1980 Confidential, Pt. 2,  Jeff Preiss's riveting epic, Stop, and Jerome Hiler's Stone House


Not part of the Avant Garde series, the Film Festival also premiered Richard Foreman's new Once Every Day. Foreman spoke with Amy Taubin after the premiere: