Commentaries - November 2012
Interview: Claude Royet-Journoud by Jacqueline Pluet, trans. Abigail Lang
This interivew accompanies the Reissues launch of the complete run of Zuk, 1987-89 (edited by Claude Royet-Journoud).
Below is a substantial extract of “La poésie au format Zuk,” an interview of Royet-Journoud by Jacqueline Pluet on the subject of Zuk, published in issue 5 of La revue des revues in the spring of 1988. The interview can be found in full in Eric Pesty's Claude Royet-Journoud. Une Bibliographie Tome 1, 1962-2003. For more information on that publication, see here.
The Jacket2 edition of this interview is excerpted and translated by Abigail Lang.
* * *
J.P: Where does the enigmatic title Zuk come from?
CRJ: Zuk is short for one of the greatest American poets, Louis Zukofsky, who died in 1978. Concerning Anglo-American literature, one generally attributes a certain modernity to Pound and Joyce, minimizing the importance of Gertrude Stein and Zukofsky. We asserted the theoretical and political — at the poetical level, of course — importance of Zukofsky almost twenty years ago by publishing the first fragment of Zukofsky’s long poem “A” in French in Siècle à Mains[i], edited by Anne-Marie Albiach, Michel Couturier (who died in 1987) and myself, in a translation by Anne-Marie Albiach (n°12, spring 1970). Later I edited several magazines whose titles invoked Zukofsky. In 1987, it was the small magazine “A”[ii] which I co-edited with Alain Veinstein and which ceased publication upon the death of Zukofsky, after 21 issues. Later, Emmanuel Hocquard and I collected an anthology of monostichs — one-line poems — under the aegis of Zukofsky since it was entitled LZ.
JP: Why a 4-page magazine?
CRJ: I must indicate that it’s the first time that a magazine of mine is published by a publisher, Emmanuel Ponsart, and I’m extremely grateful to him. Spectres familiers was already publishing another magazine, Skoria, and I think couldn’t afford to burden their production, and that a lightweight publication suited them better. I felt like something small but regular, on a monthly basis. And I don’t see why a magazine should be 150 pages to deserve being called a magazine. Zuk is entirely printed in size eight font, the size of footnotes in books. This goes unnoticed because the space between the lines is much wider than usual. The characters are small but legible and we have a lot of text. I got the idea from seeing the catalogue of Spectre familiers editions whose layout I liked immensely. Of course, this creates some constraints as to the choice of texts but my experience has now taught me that it’s feasible. I design the magazine like a huge painting; I start at the bottom left, continue on the top right, moving toward the middle. I have a sense of the whole beforehand as I work simultaneously on all the issues of a given year. It’s the layout, the organization of space — also in time — that I like in a magazine, which is a bit like a book with several authors. Of course, in Zuk I cannot give the poem the space it deserves and needs to breathe, the way Siècle à mains did. I have to cut the poem, to run on to the next page. Still, the smallness of the page doesn’t preclude the ambition of the project. Each issue features at least five authors and stretches across a vast geographical area if little paper. The authors are from Guadeloupe, the United States, Italy, or France, but maybe they all belong to the same literary territory.
JP: Zuk is clearly the work of just one man. How do you select texts?
CRJ: I edit Zuk on my own and I only publish unpublished material which I commission. I don’t want to receive unsolicited texts. I have a very specific project in mind. I don’t mean that all the texts are specifically written for Zuk — the expression is ambigous — maybe only the translations… but it’s true that some of them are written for the magazine. Some authors recur on a regular basis, in installments, in ongoing poems that continue under the same title. TMCL by Dominique Fourcade, for example, or Grammaire by Jean Daive, or Marcel Cohen’s short stories. I want to hold readers breathless, I want them to know they will discover a young generation of Americans, poets they won’t just be reading random snippets from; that they will be getting a specific work which develops as the months go by.
JP: American poetry seems particularly privileged in Zuk.
CRJ: Zuk is not primarily devoted to American poetry but it so happens that I’m familiar with it and well placed to make it known, with the help of translators who I entirely trust, Françoise de Laroque, Dominique Fourcade, and Joseph Guglielmi for instance. But the magazine’s true vocation is to publish Jabès as well as Maria Obino, Bernard Collin, or Mathieu Bénézet. I spend a long time selecting texts for obvious reasons imposed by the magazine’s format and sometimes the length of a text influences the decision over and above my pleasure in reading it. The fact is I have to count lines and signs with extreme precision: I can’t have more than 60 characters per line and 24 lines per page. There are texts I can’t publish because they have one line too many (and with three lines missing, it would be a shame to waste space). This is why my name doesn’t appear as chief editor; that’s one precious line saved.
JP: Could you tell us the run of the magazine, the number of subscribers, and who Zuk’s readers are, if you can at all get a sense of the readership through subscription.
CRJ: I believe the run is around 500 copies. Before the first issue appeared, there were aleardy 20 subscribers or so, through word of mouth. Currently, in March 1988, there are 122 subscribers. Zuk can also be purchased in a few bookstores. In Paris, at Les Matinaux, at le Divan, at Autrement dit. La Hune wouldn’t take it because they didn’t know where to put it. It’s true that at 9 Francs the issue [less than 2$], there isn’t much profit to make for bookstores! And it cannot be magnetized. Its readers are mainly publishers, writers, philosphers, painters…
JP: I notice that your name appears neither in Zuk nor in In-Plano[iii] and that it’s only in the next to last issue of Siècle à Mains that you published one of your poems. How do you conceive of the relationship between your own work as a writer and your work as an editor?
CRJ: For me, it’s a natural gesture to write and make known, to publish — the latter term is more accurate, it’s about leaving an active trace — texts that you like. I even consider it as a theoretical gesture, it enables me to make a theoretical statement without theorizing. Indeed, this coherence I’m after in Zuk — however small the magazine — is not the result of chance, it is the product of long reflections about what it means to write, what it means to read: why we need such texts at a particular time, and not at any other time. The poetry magazines I publish are aimed at people who write or want to write. They are movements, steps in a direction even if one cannot be sure what will come of them. I feel a poetry magazine ought to hold a sort of incandescence, to live on the edge of implosion, which is the very opposite of the magazine-as-collection, which is useful of course, but too tame. I conceive the poetry magazine as a passion.
from Eric Pesty, Claude Royet-Journoud. Une Bibliographie Tome 1, 1962-2003
excerpted and translated by Abigail Lang
[i] SIÈCLE À MAINS – Magazine and collection published on an irregular basis, founded by Claude Royet-Journoud, co-edited from 1967 with Anne-Marie Albiach, and from 1970, with Michel Couturier ; n°1 - 12, September 1963 - Spring 1970, London and Neuilly-sur-Seine. Number of pages and format vary.
[ii] « A » – Xeroxed magazine edited by Claude Royet-Journoud and Alain Veinstein; n° 1 - 21, 1976 -1978, Paris, 4 pages (covers reproduce Greek schoolchildren’s notebooks), 150 x 205 mm.
[iii] L'IN-PLANO – Xeroxed daily, edited by Claude Royet-Journoud, published Monday through Friday; n° 1 - 80, 15 January - 6 May 1986, 295 x 210 mm, 2 pages. One author per issue and per day.
with Peter Waterhouse's University of Vienna seminar
A raucous evening of translations and transformations, performances and metamorphoses in/around All the Whiskey in Heaven and "Johnny Cake Hollow."Charles Bernstein with Miriam Rainer, Julia Dengg, Manuel Niedermeier, Dimitri Smirnov, Helmut Ege, Franz Vala, Judith Aistleitner, Nina Truskawetz, and Peter Waterhouse. With thanks to Katharine Apostle. Filmed by August Bisinger
Susan Bee on Lee Sherry at Sibila
William Zimmer on Sherry: scan of 1983 review
I will be reading with Corina Copp and Peter Giizzi in Danniel Schoonebeek's series in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
E-Poetry London/2013 RFP deadline is Dec. 1.
Felix Bernstein: "New Fangled Old Things: Views from the Avant-Garde 2012" - The Brooklyn Rail: On Jeff Preiss, Matt McCormick, Lewis Klahr, Ericka Beckman, Peggy Awesh, Michael Robinson, Martina Kudlácek, and Peter Kubelka: brooklynrail.org
Jennifer Bartlett -- (a) lullaby without any music
new from Chax Press
These etched words take flight into the everyday of husbands and birds, crystalline reflection and self-possessed repose. Bartlett's poems sparkle with unadorned being and sardonic becoming. Till we become ourselves in their reflection, refigured as beauty.
In the essay “The Conspiracy of Us” (first published in 1979, in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), Charles Bernstein anticipated a key driver of the iterative turn in contemporary poetry when he described his anxiety about collective identity and action and argued for the revolutionary power of poetry to disrupt the certainty of our collective positions. In the concluding paragraph of the essay, the notion of a revolutionary poetic collective is disrupted by the revolutions of the turntable: “The skips on the record which our pounding feet accentuate, making the needle dance out of synch to the rhythm our bodies seem to want to keep . . . —keep us honest.”
Bernstein presents the relationship between poetry and politics, including revolutionary politics, as coming only through this kind of mediation and repetition, through the remixing or echoing of another’s record. In the post–Cold War context, Bernstein has repeatedly turned to iteration as the only means by which poetry can properly engage with political protest and change. For example, in a response to the US invasion of Iraq, he concludes by playing a looped recording in a high-pitched voice simply saying: “stop it, stop it.”
Bernstein insists on a poetics attuned to the echoes of others’ voices and to the power structures that inevitably shape our own voices, even when we call for revolutionary change. He therefore criticized aspects of the Poets Against the War movement (founded in response to the US invasion of Iraq) and called instead for, in his words, “an approach to politics, as much as to poetry, that doesn’t feel compelled to repress ambiguity or complexity nor to substitute the righteous monologue for a skeptic’s dialogue.” While criticizing poetry and political statements not self-consciously aware of their echoes, Bernstein mobilized the very rhetorical moves that he claimed to be undermining, provoking attacks from other writers. Kent Johnson described Bernstein’s “moral decree” as being “astonishingly blind to the ironies of its own arrogance,” while David Baptiste-Chirot compared Bernstein to George Bush: both, wrote Chirot, ask their “listeners to make a choice—you’re either with us or against us.” Yet such suspicious readings are entirely to the point—they are what Bernstein’s texts repeatedly demand. By performatively echoing the rhetorical modes he claims to oppose, Bernstein destabilizes their certainties and points to their complicity.
Whether Bernstein perpetuates or dismantles the structures or frames of thinking he puts into play is left in doubt. This is where I would locate Bernstein’s poetics of iteration as, in another sense, a poetics of revolution. Bernstein has written about his use of irony as perpetual circulation or exchange: “With irony, you’re left with some sense of authoritative distance from whatever’s being mocked or ironized, especially in the modernist form. I’m interested in coming back around so that you’re actually where you were if it wasn’t ironic. You’ve gone through this humorous turn, but it’s self-cancelling in the sense that you’re not remaining at a distance from it, nor are you ridiculing it. On the contrary, you’ve gone through a kind of comic spin cycle.” Bernstein’s “comic spin cycle” presents the poetics of revolution as a poetics of iteration.
To follow Bernstein’s incessant motion at a high rate of revolutions per minute is to experience the entrapping, implicated position of poem, writer, and critic within the global circulation of capital and the uneven structures of modernity, modern art, and global power. Yet like Brathwaite’s “tidalectics,” Bernstein’s “spin cycle” also seeks to disarm these entrapping forces. Brathwaite disarms dialectical thought (which he calls “another gun: a missile”) by transforming it into “tidalectics”: a circle that “moves outward from the centre to circumference and back again.” Bernstein attempts something similar with his “spin cycle”—an image of everyday domesticity with a touch of comedy. Instead of a revolutionary resolution of oppositions, we are left with just another revolution of the washing machine, or, if we listen closely, of a turntable whose revolutions are marked by the perpetual dissonance of the skipping needle.