Commentaries - November 2012

The city in and of nature

New York, East River moonlight by George Barker
New York, East River moonlight by George Barker

Monday night around 8:40 pm, I watched the East River flood its banks. It’s funny to think of the East River as even having banks. For so much of my life, I hardly thought of it as a river—or estuary, really. It was completely off limits—I didn’t drink from it, would never have swum in it and didn’t boat on it. I thought of it as sort of a giant drainage pipe, if I thought about it at all. But one week ago, like a “real” river, it flooded and was an amazing thing to see. There is a park that runs along the river, and inside the park are soccer fields and on those soccer fields were giant floodlights illuminating what had turned from a strictly bounded river into a contiguous field of water. I had to look twice as it was such an unexpected sight. On the other side, I could see water coming over the FDR drive and into a parking lot, then halfway into a basketball court behind my building. Just as I was wondering whether it would make it to me, yes, me personally, a giant flash lit up the sky and the power cut out. I can’t remember if there was an actual “zzzzt!” but it sure seemed like it.

British poet Basil Bunting

Spying for MI6 and the CIA

Basil Bunting, Cumbria, UK, 1980. Photograph (c) Jonathan Williams
Basil Bunting, Cumbria, UK, 1980. Photograph (c) Jonathan Williams

British poet Basil Bunting was part of the plot engineered by the CIA, MI6 and Anglo Oil to depose Prime Minister (of Iran) Mossadeq, whose administration, as Wikipedia says, “introduced a wide range of social reforms but is most notable for its nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC/AIOC) (later British Petroleum or BP).” They go on to say that Mossadeq “was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the United States CIA at the request of the British MI6.” So

Anne-Marie Albiach (1937-2012)

The great French poet Anne-Marie Albiach died today, after a long illness. 

Albiach was born in 1937 and for many years lived in Neuilly sur Seine on the outskirts of Paris.  Her major collections include Etat (Mercure de France, 1971; republished 1988), Mezza voce (Flammarion, 1984), Anawratha (Spectres Familiers, 1984) and Figure vocative (1985; reissued by Fourbis, 1991), and Figurations de l'image (Flammarion, 2004). She edited Siècle à mains with Claude Royet-Journoud & Michel Courturier.  Royet-Journoud writes that, for him, the 1971 publication of Etat  “changed the ‘face’ of poetry.”  

Albiach has been fortunate in her American translators.  Keith Waldrop worked for 12 years on Etat (Awede, 1989).  Mezza Voce (Post-Apollo, 1988) was translated by Joey Simas in collaboration with Lydia Davis, Anthony Barnett and Douglas Oliver.  Vocative Figure (Allardyce-Barnett, UK, 1992) was translated by Anthony Barnett and Joey Simas. Rosmarie Waldrop has published a translation of Travail Vertical et Blanc in her Série d'Écriture (#4, Spectacular Diseases, 1990).

Jean-Marie Gleize's Albiach was the first book on her complete work (Editions Belin, Paris, 1995).  In the U.S., essays on her work have been written by Keith Waldrop, Paul Auster, Benjamin Hollander, Geoffrey O'Brien, Joseph Simas, Norma Cole, Michael Palmer, Alan Davies, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Gale Nelson, Rosmarie Waldrop, Jonathan Skinner, Don Wellman,  Peter Ramos, Cole Swenson and others.

Memorials in Berlin

Earlier this year I wrote about Rob Fitterman's "Holocaust Museum," Heimrad Backer's "Transcript," Christian Boltanski's "To be a Jew in Paris in 1939," and the documentary poetics of Raul Hilberg in a commentary called "The Picture Intentionally Left Blank." Like many, I resist the expressive deceptions of traditional memorials, which is why Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial is for me the more perfect embodiment of what is possible, not so much negative capability as negative dialectics.

Pierre Joris: From 'Double-Gazing Semes after Babel Sequestering' (some notes on collaboration)

Pierre Joris, Jerome Rothenberg, Robert Kelly, circa 1990s, a collaborative port
Pierre Joris, Jerome Rothenberg, Robert Kelly, circa 1990s, a collaborative portrait

[What follows is the opening of Pierre Joris’s introduction to Synopticon: A Collaborative Poetics by Louis Armand & John Kinsella (Litteraria Pragensia, 2012). That my own interplay with Joris has been essential to my life as a poet goes almost without saying. Along with him & others I have come to see collaboration, not as a threat to identity, but as part of the arsenal of poetic means that has long been at our disposal. There is more to be said about this and the collective enterprise that it implies, but I‘m willing to take his testimony here as truly more than a beginning. (J.R.)]