Commentaries - December 2012

Outsider poems, a mini-anthology in progress (49): From 'The Ahmed Fragments,' 'Of Ants, Arabs, & the Art of Civilization'

Translated by Pierre Joris

(The Ahmed Fragments are my translations/adaptations of a series of monologues improvised in 1972/1973 in front of a tape recorder by Ahmed Taraoui, an Algerian worker “born about 1940,” and published under the title Une vie dalgérien, est-ce un livre que les gens vont lire? [ Does an<

Dmitri Prigov's ABC of Russian culture

Gerald Janecek on the 'Alphabet' poems

Andrei and Dmitri Prigov
Dmitri Prigov and Andrei Prigov (PMP Group––also including Natalia Mali), video still from Narod i vlast' sovmestno lepiat obraz novoi Rossii (The people and the state together are building an image of the new Russia), 2003. DVD, 8 minutes.

Today I present a guest post from Gerald Janecek, who has contributed so much to our understanding of the visual, verbal, and sonic breadth of Russian avant-garde poetry from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. Jerry’s and my shared interests include the work of the conceptual artist and writer Dmitri Prigov, whose iterative practice spanned a vast range of genres and media from sculpture to performance, poetry to theatre. Some time ago, Jerry shared with me an extraordinary video of Prigov performing with the musician Vladimir Tarasov in the apartment studio of Ilya Kabakov in Moscow in 1986. Below, I present part of this video: Prigov and Tarasov’s performance of the 49-aya azbuka or 49th Alphabet from Prigov’s Alphabet series (you can read the Russian text here). Jerry’s commentary on the work and its performance follows. Together I hope they will serve as an introduction to a writer and artist who deserves to be far better known in the English-speaking world.

Susan Howe

58 printed pages in Jacket 40

Susan Howe; courtesy Electronic Poetry Center, SUNY Buffalo
Susan Howe; courtesy Electronic Poetry Center, SUNY Buffalo

The last of the old Jackets, Jacket 40, had a 58 printed-page feature on poet Susan Howe:

Modern poetry: An effect on my open-ness

An open letter by Daniel Bergmann

Note: I met Daniel Bergmann through my 10-week free and open online course – “ModPo,” a study of modern and contemporary American poetry taught through a collaboration of the University of Pennsylvania and Coursera. He was one of 36,000 students. He submitted his first essay — a close reading of “I taste a liquor never brewed” by Emily Dickinson — and it was a fine short essay on the poem. I happened to comment on it; I don't comment on all the essays, I can assure you, but I happened to notice Daniel's and thought it noteworthy. The student on the other end of my comments, posted to the ModPo discussion forum, was ecstatic. So were his parents, a New York-based film-maker and a sculptor. They were aware of this teacher-student exchange because one of them helps Daniel communicate through an iPad configured with special software enabling Daniel to type one letter at a time with one finger. Daniel doesn't speak and indeed he had never written an essay before. It took him a long time. The affirmation pushed him further. He kept up with the course and became one of the most widely recognized participants. He and his parents visited the Kelly Writers House to join us for a live webcast session — to be in the in-house audience for what is otherwise a virtual synchronous gathering hosted through Google Hangout/YouTube and enhanced by twitter and our virtual forums as well as a phone line. Daniel enjoyed that, stayed for my afternoon Penn class on the same poetry, and then spent some time with me in my office at the Writers House (photo above). He returned for the final webcast session and there met a number of his classmates. At the end of the session, when people were invited to create two-word poem-like sayings to summarize the experience of this experimental course, Daniel actual spoke into the microphone — haltingly, but clearly: “Not impossible” was his poem. I challenged him to write about his ModPo experience, and, although it took some time, he has done it.  He wrote the words you find below.  He is also writing an essay, which I hope to publish in Jacket2, on Ron Silliman's prose-poem “BART,” about which Daniel has a lot to say. He has tasted a liquor never brewed — fine, discerning writing — so it is hardly surprising that he is enebriate of this new air.

Confidences, liberties, intimacies, trusts

Reading Juan Gelman

Juan Gelman, 2011, photo by Gianluca Battista

Thinking today about Argentinian poet Juan Gelman and crossing borders, following the small essay yesterday on his work in the Madrid newspaper El País. To quote a footnote (already also a border) in Wikipedia on Gelman—(I suggest reading the whole article!): “ ‘I am the only Argentinian in the family. My parents and my two siblings were Ukrainian. They immigrated in 1928.’  In the same brief autobiographical text, Gelman states that his mother was a student of medicine and the daughter of a rabbi from a small town. ‘[My parents] never shut us up in a ghetto, culturally or otherwise. [...] I received no religious education.’ Gelman would later write some poems in Ladino, i.e., Judeo-Spanish; he is also known for being sharply critical of Israel.”

The article quotes a Gelman poem in its entirety, Confianzas, a word that in Spanish has so many echoes: confidences, liberties, intimacies, trusts: “se sienta a la mesa y escribe / ‘con este poema no tomarás el poder’ dice / ‘con estos versos no harás la Revolución’ dice / ‘ni con miles de versos harás la Revolución’ dice // y más: esos versos no han de servirle para / que peones maestros hacheros vivan mejor / coman mejor o él mismo coma viva mejor / ni para enamorar a una le servirán // no ganará plata con ellos / no entrará al cine gratis con ellos / no le darán ropa por ellos / no conseguirá tabaco o vino por ellos // ni papagayos ni bufandas ni barcos / ni toros ni paraguas conseguirá por ellos / si por ellos fuera la lluvia lo mojará / no alcanzará perdón o gracia por ellos // ‘con este poema no tomarás el poder’ dice / ‘con estos versos no harás la Revolución’ dice / ‘ni con miles de versos harás la Revolución’ dice / se sienta a la mesa y escribe”.