Commentaries - December 2012

40 printed pages: edited by Pam Brown

Australia pin
Australia pin

Pam Brown's recent gigantic feature for Jacket2 titled "51 Contemporary Poets from Australia" had a ghostly foreshadowing a year or so ago, in Pam's "Rewriting Australia" feature in Jacket 39, where some Australian poets wrestle with their poetic forebears. Banjo Paterson shows up as a punching bag several times, perhaps because he is an old, dead, conservative white male with his portrait on the Australian ten dollar bill.

[»»] Pam Brown: Rewriting Canonical Australian Poems: Introduction
[»»] David Brooks: Cracks in the Fray: Re-reading ‘The Man From Snowy River’
[»»] Justin Clemens: Dürer: Innsbruck 1495
[»»] Michael Farrell: the king
[»»] Michael Farrell: Anti-Clockwise Judith Wright: A ‘Widdershins’ Reading of ‘Bullocky’
[»»] Duncan Hose: Blue Hill 404
[»»] Banjo Paterson: The Man From Snowy River; John Tranter: Snowy
[»»] David Prater: Three poems: Red Dawn Ward / Oz / “The Campfires of the Lost”

Edited by Karlien van den Beukel

Edwin Denby in Venice
Edwin Denby in Venice

[»»] Rudy Burckhardt: ‘And then I met Edwin...’: Rudy Burckhardt talks to Simon Pettet
[»»] Yvonne Jacquette Burckhardt: Edwin Denby
[»»] Jacob Burckhardt: Martens Bar (with photo of Martens Bar and MP3 audio file of Edwin Denby reading ‘Disorder, mental, strikes, me; I’)
[»»] ‘The Cinema of Looking’: Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby in conversation with Joe Giordano

Karlien van den Beukel

Photo: Karlein van den Beukel, Rotterdam, 2005, photo by John Tranter

[»»] Lynne Hjelmgaard: Ten poems
[»»] Vincent Katz: Poem: Edwin Sitting
[»»] Nicole Mauro: Ode: To Edwin Denby
[»»] Alice Notley: Intersections with Edwin's Lines
[»»] Simon Pettet: poem: ‘Fortunate proximity of lives...’
[»»] Noel Sheridan: Remembering Edwin Denby
[»»] Simon Smith and Ron Padgett: A conversation about Edwin Denby
[»»] Brian Kim Stefans: poem: A california submerged
[»»] Anne Waldman interviews Edwin Denby, 1981
[»»] Edwin Denby interviews artist Neil Welliver
[»»] Audio links: Edwin Denby reads five of his poems

Sean Bonney rewrites Baudelaire and Rimbaud

Sean Bonney's translation of Baudelaire's "Correspondances"
Sean Bonney's translation of Baudelaire's "Correspondances"

Sean Bonney is another poet who turns to a poetics of iteration as a poetics of revolution. Especially in Baudelaire in English and Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud, Bonney adapts iteration to revolutionary poetic and political ends. In these two books, Bonney attends to the way revolutionary writing, if too direct or smooth, can become implicated in the power structures it seeks to overcome. Bonney’s Baudelaire in English concludes: “the poem is in danger of becoming an overly smooth surface fit only for the lobbies of office buildings and as illustrations / expensive gallery catalogues, that kind of bullshit.” In Baudelaire in English, Bonney stresses the relation between echoes and cracks in the smoothness in his version of “Correspondances,” which contains the phrase “their echoes split us.” Bonney’s texts are idiosyncratic translations of Baudelaire’s poems so breaking the smooth surface of standard translations. Bonney’s translations overlay lines of typewritten text to the point of illegibility, even as they superimpose twenty-first-century London onto nineteenth-century Paris. Through grainy photographs of neglected and forgotten places in London, Bonney (like Baudelaire) emphasizes the ruins and decay of the modern city, the fissure lines and suffering that are the neglected side of the progress of modernity.

In Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud, Bonney again makes the city of London his subject, this time through a focus on the protests against the existing economic and political order that took place in 2010 and 2011 in the wake of the financial crisis. Much of Happiness first appeared on Bonney’s Abandoned Buildings blog so that the book functions as a retrospective archiving and framing of poems written as news, as part of and in response to a movement for revolutionary change.

Yet for all their immediacy, Bonney’s poems are also presented as iterations––through their positioning “after Rimbaud” and in relation to a revolutionary past. The book begins with an echo, with an epigraph from the Preface to Lissagaray’s History of the Paris Commune: “They who tell the people revolutionary legends, they who amuse themselves with sensational stories, are as criminal as the geographer who would draw up false charts for navigators.” The problem then is how to look back on the revolutionary past without smoothing it over, without transforming it into a nostalgically recalled legend suitable for lobbies of office buildings or expensive catalogues. Bonney stresses and redoubles this problem by echoing past texts (like Lissagaray’s) and events (like the Paris Commune). Lissagaray’s statement opens the entire collection, but Bonney repeats it in the final part of a poem beginning: “We invented colours for the vowels, rich people live there: a mobile holding cell where reality would go on reproducing and representing itself endlessly where we could not exist, a systematic & carefully charted series of political assassinations. Now study this.”

Here, Bonney alludes to Rimbaud’s poem “Voyelles,” or “Vowels,” and to his revolutionary poetics, which, for Bonney, has become smoothed over––has become, like those lobbies and catalogues, a place for “rich people” to live.

Bonney’s repeated echoing of Rimbaud in Happiness contrasts strikingly with Christian Bök’s iterations of Rimbaud’s “Vowels.” Bök turns to Rimbaud to stress not revolutionary politics but linguistic virtuosity. Bök’s most well-known work, Eunoia, takes as its constraint the use of a single vowel in each of its five chapters. Eunoia is in part inspired by Rimbaud’s work: the cover shows each vowel in a stripe of colour that matches the associations between vowel and colour in Rimbaud’s sonnet. Bök has also produced five translations of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles,” each of which is based on constraints involving sounds or letters.

Where in his versions of Rimbaud’s “Vowels” Bök focuses on sounds and graphemes, Bonney is more interested in how Rimbaud’s disruption of grammatical and linguistic certainties relates to an explosion of political, social, and economic structures. But Bonney cautions that the iteration of such a revolutionary poetics might also be entrapping, might just “go on reproducing and representing itself endlessly,” so assassinating the political––as Bonney might read Bök. The poetics of iteration marks both possibilities.

 Arshile Gorky: Child of an Idumean Night
Arshile Gorky: Child of an Idumean Night

Every hair in his beard was bristling.

Every flag along the border brought war closer,
pierced the father’s heart,
architects & gardeners baled water,
tigers roamed the city,
singers chanting beard to beard.

Jerusalem drew closer to Philistia,
God watching how the holy race leapt from the fire

Mechanics were the last to leave,
all in a row.

American & fat,
fucked senseless.

They celebrate a crystal solstice,
a sound behind them of a brass harmonica,
like wind inside a swollen udder,
a tumescence & a pustule.

A willow bends & snaps,
a door flies open.

A winter holocaust approaches,
the dead lie frozen,
shoes & teeth piled up,
ploughed underground by tractors.

A willow bends & snaps,
a door flies open.

Down to its final decimal,
the pustule bursts,
their voices sound like avatars,
dancers as pale as doves.

A willow bends & snaps,
a door flies open.

Their father is a jackal,
waves a parchment,
tallow dripping slowly
over a globus written large
A willow bends & snaps,
a door flies open.

If the candle lasts
for days
flash it before
God the Father,
let the testaments
turn rancid,
sprinkle holy water
on your hair.

The father’s heart
may melt,
no longer Master,
a murderer
atop a throne.

So many things
will be repeated,
a tsar will sprinkle water,
up to his hips in dust
the only owner
of his kingdom.

Master of the dust
forever fat,
his language hidden
under languages, the part
he plays forgotten.

Sounding like dull brass,
days dim with
worshippers & masters
wait with legs apart,
peace ever distant,
while the locomotive cracks
the idumean night.

Hair covers eyes,
the father’s chest swells,
peace comes slowly,
testaments confound
the senate,
legs & hips
grow fat.

Not brass or iron,
fatness covers all,
a substance drawing light
from wicks,
a master race.


[NOTE. The last several years have brought me, possibly against my better judgment, into acts of retrospection – a big Reader of works (Eye of Witness) for Black Widow Press & a gathering of uncollected poems (Retrievals) for Junction Press most notable among them. Coincident with this I made a return to a number of earlier works and submitted them to a process I had begun with The Lorca Variations (1993), in which I drew words from translations I had made of Lorca’s Suites & used them (the nouns in particular) to create a new series of poems “that both were & weren’t Lorca.” In “The Gorky Variations” and an accompanying series, “The Jigoku Zoshi Variations,” I use the same process with poems of my own that date back to the middle 1960s, drawing in the present instance from The Gorky Poems published by El Corno Emplumado in 1966 and reprinted in Poems for the Game of Silence in 1971. As an indication of what’s at stake I’ve turned elsewhere to the following from Henri Matisse, as a directive for the transition from old work to new & as a way of moving forward:

 One should be able to rework an old work at least once – to make
               sure that one has not fallen victim – to one’s nerves or to fate.
                                     – Matisse to Gino Severini

 And again:

               When you have achieved what you want in a certain area, when 
               you have exploited the possibilities that lie in one direction, you 
               must, when the time comes, change course, search for something 

 Another poem from “The Gorky Variations” can be found here on Poems and Poetics and one from “The Jigoku Zoshi Variations” can be found here. (J.R.)]

Erica Hunt, Bruce Boone, Peter Inman, Jackson Mac Low, David Antin, Barbara Guest, Lorenzo Thomas, Steve McCaffery, Kathleen Fraser, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Mackey, Ron Silliman, Bob Perelman, Anne Waldman, Nick Piombino

In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.

I made these recordings myself and we are missing some of the talks, and in some case parts of the talk, in this new PennSound archive of the events. Here is what we got:

October 25, 1984
"Politics and Language"

November 11, 1984
"line music counterpoint disjunction and the measure of mind"

  • David Antin
    part 1, includes introduction by Bernstein (45:44) MP3
  • part 2 (22:45) MP3
  • discussion (46:16) MP3

January 10, 1985
"Writing as General Economy"

poster for this event

poster for the next four talks

April 24, 1985
"Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol"

May 2, 1985
"What Takes?"

June 6, 1985
"The Tradition of Marginality"

October 4, 1985
"Condition, Information, and the Paranoia of the New"

October 25, 1985
"Writing from a House of Women"

  • Judy Grahn (1:25:46): MP3
  • discussion (42:39): MP3

November 11, 1985
"Subject Matter"

the talks by Robert Glück and Lydia Davis were not recorded
Nick Piombino
(27:21): MP3
discussion (1:20:30): MP3

January 26, 1986
on the Black Arts movement, projective verse, and cinema

March 23, 1986
"Mysteriously Speaking of the Mysterious Byzantine Proposals of the Poem"

April 13, 1986
"Postmodernism: Sign for a Struggle, the Struggle for the Sign" (draft)

  • introduction (3:43): MP3
  • Ron Silliman (1:34:33): MP3
  • discussion (40:39): MP3
  • Silliman pubished the final version of this talk in Poetics Journal, No. 7, September, 1987, pp. 18–39. Reprinted in Contemporary American Poet-Critics, translated into Serbian by Dubravka Djuric and published in Gradina, Vol. 26, No. 2–3, 1991, Nis, Yugoslavia, pp. 162–179

May 25, 1986
 "Celine, Pound, and Fascism": 

the first half of the talk was not recorded