Commentaries - January 2013
Produced in a limited edition of 80 handbound copies, Last Words from ‘Sentences My Father Used’ by Charles Bernstein is produced on 4 gate-folded long, narrow pages. Cover by the author.
Last Words from ‘Sentences My Father Used takes the final word in each of the 179 lines of “Sentences My Father Used” from Controlling Interests (New York: Roof Books, 1980, reprinted 2004). It is published here for the first time and will be collected in Recalculating (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
Please email derek -- @ -- housepress.ca to order, if copies are still available.
300 printed pages, in Jacket 39
I wanted to do this special feature for Jacket on the work of Bob Perelman because I noticed a dearth of writing available on the internet about his work. There is a fair amount written about Language Poetry in general, and more if you have access to the search engines JSTOR, Project Muse, etc., or if you know how to search recent dissertations. But even then, I was surprised to find fewer essays focusing on Perelman alone than I had hoped for.[...] So I decided to edit a collection, and a special issue of Jacket seemed the obvious choice. I knew their editors liked this kind of work and, rather than edit a book, I chose the format of easily accessed online materials to best serve the largest audience. Books take forever and not many people buy them anymore. I wanted people to have access to this as soon as possible and for free. — Kristen Gallagher, from her Introduction
[»»] Kristen Gallagher: Introduction
[»»] Bob Perelman: Biographical Note
[»»] Rae Armantrout: Bob Perelman’s Grammatology
[»»] Charles Bernstein: The Importance of Being Bob
[»»] Louis Cabri: Poems
[»»] Al Filreis: The President of This Sentence: Bob Perelman’s History
[»»] Kristen Gallagher: Teaching Bob Perelman’s “The Story of My Life”
[»»] Alan Golding: “Time to translate modernism into a contemporary idiom”: Pedagogy, Poetics, and Bob Perelman’s Pound
[»»] Nada Gordon: To the Reader (On Bob Perelman’s «To the Reader»)
[»»] Rob Halpern: Restoring ‘China’
[»»] Lyn Hejinian: Dreaming Something Else
[»»] Andrew Klobucar: Bad Dreams: Sense as Censorship in Bob Perelman’s «The Future of Memory»
[»»] Michael Magee: ‘Nearer to us Than the Present’: Bob Perelman in the 90s, then and now
[»»] Nicole Markotić Three poems
[»»] Peter Middleton: After Marginalization
[»»] Kit Robinson: “Before Water,” After Years: Bob Perelman and the Turn to History
[»»] Joshua Schuster: For Bob Perelman: An Ordinary Day in the Philadelphia of the Mind
[»»] Tim Shaner: ‘My Summer with Bob’: A Paratactic Essay (in Co-production w/ Bob Perelman)
[»»] Susan Stewart: «Playing Bodies», a work in paintings and poetry by Francie Shaw and Bob Perelman
[»»] Chris Stroffolino: Fear Of Money…
[»»] Marjorie Welish: For Best Results, Try…
[»»] Bob Perelman in conversation with Chris Alexander: “Flat Motion”
[»»] Bob Perelman in conversation with Bruce Andrews: New York, September 10, 2009
[»»] Bob Perelman in conversation with Peter Nicholls
[»»] Francie Shaw and Bob Perelman in conversation with Kristen Gallagher and Chris Alexander
SEVENTEEN ANCIENT POEMS
Translated from Greek and Latin by Thomas McEvilley
Meleager of Gadara
Raising the Alarm
Meleager Commiserates with His Soul
Meleager Addresses His Servant Dorkas
Meleager Speaks to a Honey Bee
Instructions for Meleager’s Burial
Meleager Reproaches the Dawn
Meleager Reproaches the Dawn Again
An Address to the Bedside Lamp
Meleager Writes a Poem for the Police
Philodemus Reforms Again
Anacreon Speaks to the Ladies
Strategy for Living
Of these seventeen poems sixteen are in ancient Greek and were found in the collection called the Greek Anthology. Twelve of these sixteen were brief elegies of the type later called epigrams. Ten of these twelve are by Meleager of Gadara, who was Syrian by birth but Greek by education. His collection called the Garland (about 90 BC) established the style and spirit of the earliest anthologies of poems. The other two “epigrams” are by Philodemus, also of Gadara, who was an Epicurean philosopher of the circle of Calpurnius Piso in Herculaneum. The four selections from the Anacreontea are metrically different but also from the Greek Anthology. The seventeenth is the one Latin Poem, by Horace. All seventeen, with the possible exception of the undated Anacreontea, are from the first century BC. All are untitled in the original.
Help! He is gone. That wild boy, Love, has escaped!
Just now, as day was breaking, he flew from his bed and was gone.
Description? Sweetly tearful, talks forever, swift, irreverent,
Slyly laughing, wings on his back, and carries a quiver.
His last name? I don’t know, for his father and mother,
Whoever they are, in earth or heaven, won’t admit it.
Everyone hates him, you see. Take care, take care,
Or even now he’ll be weaving new snares for your heart.
But hush—look there, turn slowly. You don’t deceive me, boy,
Drawing your bow so softly where you hide in Zenophile’s eyes.
Didn’t I tell you, oh soul, “Look out, you’ll be caught,
You silly thing, if you flutter so near her net?”
Didn’t I warn you?
And now the trap is sprung.
Why struggle in vain?
Love has tied your little wings,
Sprinkled you with cheap perfume, set you fainting in the fire
And given you, in your thirst, hot tears to drink.
That’s the message, Dorkas, and when you’ve told it to her
Then tell it to her again, and then again, now hurry.
But wait a minute; hold on there; slowly, my Dorkas, slowly.
Why are you rushing off before you’ve heard all your instructions?
Say also that I—but no. It’s more manly to be silent.
Don’t tell her a goddamn thing. Say only that I--. Tell it all!
All of it Dorkas, all of it! But, Dorkas, why did I send you,
When, look, I have followed after you, all the way to her door?
Do you leave the flowers of spring,
The lilies and the rest,
And plant your little sting
In Heliodora’s breast
To show that in love’s wound,
So deep and terrible,
A sweetness may be found
That makes life bearable?
Oh, please, your news is wasted,
I knew it long ago.
Do you think I have not tasted
Where you, drunkard, linger so?
If anything happens to me,
Kleoboulos my friend,
(For I am not safe—
I lie like a curling vine
Flung in the fire of girls)
before you send
My ashes under earth
pour in strong wine,
Then on the drunken urn write,
Love sends this gift to death”—
And bury me and go.
Dawn hateful to lovers, why do you rise so quickly
Beside my bed when I lie with delicious Demo?
Can’t you turn round, run back and be night again,
And stop that sweet smiling that pours out poison light?
Once before you did that, when Zeus was enjoying Alcmena.
Oh, learned at running backward! You can’t say you don’t know how. . .
Dawn hateful to lovers, why do you roll so slowly
Around the sad world when under another man’s blanket
Demo lies and sheds her god-like heat?
When it was my turn to hold her slender body in my arms
You couldn’t wait to hurl your disgusting light in my eyes.
Oh Night, and you, kind lamp beside his bed,
No one else was near so you
Were witness to our vows,
He that he’d love me,
I, that I’d never leave him,
Oh, you remember.
But now he says that vows flow away on the river,
Stay no longer than stay the breaking waves.
And you, oh lamp,
Now you see him lying
In someone else’s embrace.
I pray you, Eros, in the name of my muse I pray you,
Oh let me sleep and forget for a while this lust for Heliodora.
My god, I pray by your bow which doesn’t know how to shoot
At anyone else but day and night sinks shafts of screams in me!
Alright, no more prayers, you sonofabitch, you won’t get away with it.
With my last strength I write this poem for the police—
It was love—
Love killed me.
What I cannot see is how,
From the green wave rising,
Out of water, Oh Aphrodite,
You bred a flame.
I want no more garlands of white violets, no more lyre playing,
No more wine with cocaine in it, no more Syrian incense burning on the night-table,
No more all night parties that end with a thirsty whore in my bed—
No more! I hate these things, they are all driving me mad!
But—give me garlands of narcissus flowers, and let me play the flute,
Perfume me with saffron, give me wine with amphetamines and hashish,
And mate me, yes, mate me with a virgin.
Already more than half the pages have been torn out of the little book of my life;
Look, girl, already white hairs are sprinkled on my head,
announcing that the age of wisdom is drawing near.
But still all I care about is laughing and drinking and the pleasures of the night;
Still, in my unsatisfied heart, a fire is burning.
Oh, Muses, my guides, write an end to it: Say, This girl, this one here,
She is the end of your madness.
Bring me Homer’s lyre, yes, bring it,
But leave that string of blood out
Bring a cup of versing rules
Oh and mix some metres in it
I will sing, then I’ll be dancing
Not a drop of sense left in me
I will dance to horn and zither
Crying out the cries that wine makes
Bring me Homer’s lyre, yes, bring it
Oh but take that string of blood out
In a dream
Anacreon, the singer of Teos,
Looked at me and laughingly addressed me.
And I ran up to him
And embraced him and kissed him.
He was an old man, but beautiful,
Beautiful and fond of wine.
His lips smelled of grapes.
Though he was already old and quaking
Eros led him by the hand.
As he passed by he took the wreath from his head
And gave it to me.
And I stupidly took it
And bound it around my forehead
And ever since
I have been mad with the sting of love.
The ladies say,
You really shouldn’t
Act that way;
Look in the mirror,
Your head is bald,
Your cheek is pale,
You’re getting old.
Well, ladies, I say,
I don’t know if my hair
Is thick or thin
And I don’t care
But the closer to death
I drift each day
The louder must I
Sing and play.
Here lies Anacreon,
An old man, a wine bibber,
And a lover of boys. His
Harp still sounds in silent
Acheron as he sings
Of the boys he left behind,
Megasthenes, who was so
Graceful, and that passionate
Thracian, Smerdies, and
Bathyllos and Euripile.
The vine tendrils mingle with
His carven beard, and the white
Marble smells of wine and myrrh.
Leuconoe, why try to know
The future, which cannot be known?
Or what the Assyrian numbers say
Of your fate and my own?
Put it away, don’t waste your time,
Winter will come on
And break the lower sea on the rocks
While we drink summer’s wine.
See, in the white of the winter air
The day hangs like a rose.
It droops down to the reaching hand
Take it before it goes.
EPC Digital Library link (which has single space formatting)
Go through my things
god knows what you'll find. When I'm not here.
I'm not here, in this poem
I'm in another room, writing praises
of their loveliness and terror
the ones that dance through my mind
not endlessly, but to be one at one
I want to be.
I want to be one,
I want her to be one
when the voice begins
she is, and she dances.
I am the voice. I praise
from Guests of Space
When you're feeling
bad as your
of Goethe you must
go see the
Parrot of Penance
and he will
say unto you
"Way around it?"
Way around it?
There's never been
any way around it."
––from Salt Publishing, Braided River: New and Selected Poems 1965-2005.
I took this picture of Anselm at his CUE reading in 2007, in New York
Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest Finnish newspaper), written by one of the editors of the Cultural Section. Hollo is remembered as having been "Finlands link to the Beat Movement in US" (Jan. 31, 2013)
Digital version of this article.
Charles Alexander, "Near or Random Acts"
Charles Alexander joined others in Philadelphia in the early autumn of 2001 to celebrate Gil Ott, poet and maker of many important books of poems through his Singing Horse Press. Alexander, whose Chax Press owes a good deal to Ott’s work and persevering spirit, simply had to be there, notwithstanding the hassle of cross-country air travel during those early post-9/11 days. He arrived a day or two early and gave a pre-celebration reading at the Writers House, trying out some very new poems that seemed, in part, inspired by responses to the September 11 attacks. He had begun a long poem in many sections to honor his daughters, and these later became the book Near or Random Acts, published by — you guessed it — Singing Horse Press.
Reaching 35 years of age, the father of two young children, Alexander had decided to constrain his writing about daughter Nora, then 7 years old, through a 5x7 (5x7=35) structure: 5 words in a line, 7 lines in section – the numbers referring thus to the phases of life of both poet and beloved addressee. In early September his progress on the Nora poems was suddenly stopped by “non-poetic doings” (as Al Filreis puts it in the introduction to this PoemTalk), and when Alexander returned to the series he keenly felt the need of additional constraints. The first poem in the series written after 9/11 added a third and rather severe limitation: first initials of each word in each line in the 5x7 form would now have to spell T O W E R. For instance: “Try our waffles early riser.” A few songs later we find the dad attending to his daughter again, now at a girls’ soccer game. Then, later, in 66, we reach a seven-line remembrance of a pre-9/11 raspberry-picking excursion, an idyllic late-summer outing that had been reported in an earlier section. So by this point what Ron Silliman calls “the raspberry suite” of Near or Random Acts sections has begun and ended with that ordinary but memorable dad/daughter experience.
Al Filreis brought together Mark Nowak, Ken Jacobs and the aforementioned Ron Silliman to talk about this suite of sections of a book Ron calls, in the end, a masterpiece. (Each of Alexander’s books, Ron says, launches a “dramatic and complete project.” Alexander has a special “relationship with each work as a project” that Ron finds personally instructive.) Ken notes that our choice of this particular group of sections from the long poem — sections 56 through 66 — discloses a theme that is just one of several running throughout the volume. Yet, he adds, this particular theme is powerful and central to the work: the thin, inexpressible boundary separating domestic and public lives, the crossing of which threatens the intimacy and joy of a parent’s protective private embrace of his daughter in a time of political anxiety. Looking back to the sections immediately preceding the crisis, Ken finds section 56 – the first raspberry canto – full of “horrific foretelling.” Mark, pondering Alexander’s line “never such a thing as return” (57), remarks on the reader’s realization here of the father’s sense that one “can’t go back to innocence.” The furious dramatic irony created is unlike that in most post-9/11 writing, for here again was a project already underway (even with its reference to a “plane” in the last pre-9/11 section): the writer of those sections experienced the calm of not-knowing in a way readers, coming later, simply cannot. We simply come upon a man out with his child, picking berries. “The space that only you can build” in canto 60, which Alexander re-reads with great emotion a decade after the crisis, in 2012, bespeaks the poet’s hope for his poem: that it will stand as a convergence of paternal and civic legacy, a future message to its addressee, then too young to know. The poem, with its many nods to children’s verse and at the same time its indebtedness to the quasi-nonintentional chance writing of Jackson Mac Low, is designed to be just such a space, the hoped-for republic of random yet near (intimate, close) words.
PennSound’s Charles Alexander page includes several readings of Near or Random Acts, each of which is segmented so that one can listen poem by poem. For more about the Gil Ott celebration, including links to recordings, click here. PoemTalk was recorded and engineered this time by Chris Martin, produced by Al Filreis, and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin. PoemTalk is a collaboration of PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, and the Poetry Foundation. We at PoemTalk wish to honor the memory of Gil Ott, to celebrate the ongoing work of Chax Press, and to thank Charles Alexander for taking time during the summer of 2012 to re-record, so feelingfully, all of the Nora sections of his book. (Pictured above, from left to right: Ron Silliman, Ken Jacobs, Mark Nowak.)