Commentaries - January 2013

New at PennSound

Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, PennSound’s vast Ashbery page now includes links to segments of a recording of his appearance on The Book Show in 1992. Hosted by Tom Smith, The Book Show was produced by the New York State Writers Institute at SUNY Albany. On this program, Ashbery discusses Flow Chart (1991) and Hotel Lautréamont (1992).

  1. reading "Light Turnouts" (0:43): MP3
  2. introduction (0:56): MP3
  3. the writing of Hotel Lautreamont and the figure of Lautreamont (3:43): MP3
  4. discussing the title poem and the implications of the hotel (3:58): MP3
  5. when the poems in Hotel Lautreamont were written in relation to Flow Chart (1:21): MP3
  6. deciding to write short v. long poems (2:55): MP3
  7. the evolution of Flow Chart (1:10): MP3
  8. Ashbery describing his writing process (3:44): MP3
  9. cultural noise as inspiration and all-inclusivness as an overriding aesthetic concern (3:15): MP3
  10. abstract expressionism in relation to his poetry (2:13): MP3

In Jacket 1 and Jacket 25

Carl Rakosi, San Francisco, March 1989, photo John Tranter
Carl Rakosi, San Francisco, March 1989, photo John Tranter

Poet Carl Rakosi died on Friday afternoon 25 June 2004 at the age of 100, after a series of strokes, in his home in San Francisco. [Some eight months before,] My wife Lyn and I were passing through California in November 2003, and we stopped by to have a coffee with Carl at his home in Sunset. By a lucky coincidence, it happened to be his 100th birthday. He was, as always, kind, thoughtful, bright and alert, and as sharp as a pin. We felt privileged to know him.
Here are some poems and other bits and pieces in Jacket magazine, starting with a poem from Carl in 1996:

[»»] Poem: “The Citizen"
Carl Rakosi in conversation with Tom Devaney, with Olivier Brossard
[»»] Carl Rakosi: audio recordings at U Penn (a note from Al Filreis, University of Pennsylvania)

[»»] Jane Augustine: For Carl Rakosi’s 100th Birthday Celebration
[»»] Robert Creeley: For Carl, Again & Again
[»»] Laurie Duggan: An invitation (poem)
[»»] Michael Heller: For Carl
[»»] Kent Johnson: Prosody and the Outside: Some Notes on Rakosi and Stevens

001. The End, by Anon.

 I think I’d have to write a very short book. Yes, I have wanted to write lots of books before. I think my first book would be about actually how to get into the position of having to write a book in the first place.…

 The book would be red and white. That’s all I know. The colour of snow. I don’t think it would have pictures.

 And yes, it is about isolation. Maybe the whiteness is the blank page. Maybe it’s the blank page.

 (Recorded at Brompton Cemetery May 2001)

 116. This Is a Story, by Anon.

 … My dream would be to write it in a column. I’d have a big book but only write in an inch and-a-half space down the middle, with lots of paper on either side so you can draw pictures. If you are writing in short blasts, like I was saying, you can fill out the details with little stick figures doing stuff. If you can’t figure out how to write it, you can do it visually.

 I just want to write it. It makes me laugh and that’s the most important thing.

 (Recorded at Battersea Library 8 September 2002)

 215. The Latvian Table, by Richard Layzell

 Perhaps it would be set in this café. I have a little bit of a thing about café tables, just like we are sitting here. I think a café table is a great place for being reflective, but you might also be interrupted by the waiter or the waitress. It’s very ordinary. There are cafes all over the world, so I don’t even know where it would be set. Might be Eastern Europe or even the Soviet Union, places that people in the West don’t know very much about. I have been to Minsk and Belarus, but there weren’t any cafés there, because they couldn’t afford it. They couldn’t afford to go out and have a cup of tea. So maybe it would be somewhere a little bit richer than Belarus. I haven’t been there, but maybe somewhere like Latvia …

 I might talk a lot about the table. The table would be like the blank stage or blank canvas. Everything would be very rich. If there was butter on the table, it would taste very special, and the colour might remind this fictional person (it probably isn’t me, I think it might be a woman) of looking at the sun, and she goes into some kind of poetic journey until the cup comes with the coffee in, or something like that. …

 (Recorded in West Bromwich 1 June 2003)

 307. The Boy in the Coffin, by Amanda

 … I fished out a bizarre newspaper cutting I’ve had for twenty years. It was in the Daily Express. ‘The Boy In The Coffin – Mystery of Man in Milton Keynes’. This guy had jumped off the bridge into the canal and they had found him floating in a standing position, and they had no idea as to his identity. In his pocket they found a wood shaving, a bus ticket, and an old film.

 They dried out the film and when they played it back it showed him as a young boy in scenes with a coffin. First they show him lying down in the coffin, then he gets out and this thing swings towards his head, swings across the screen; then there’s the doll’s head being smashed, squashed tomatoes... all very ritualistic. They found a ring in the water as well with the initials BR. That linked him to a family in Swindon who had always practised black magic, and the sons – one went missing, one was murdered, and one died in suspicious circumstances. … and now twenty years on it’s haunting me again.

 I’m back on the trail but I’m not going to bother about the reality behind the story. All I’m going to use is the actual point of death – whether he was pushed, jumped, or bumped off is irrelevant really. What I’m going to stick to is how the film in his pocket was made. …

 (Recorded at Spread the Word, Lambeth Walk, London23 May 2004)

 712 My Secret Marbles, by Marbles Mya (aged 9)

 I’ve collected five hundred and sixty-four marbles. I’ve got one big one and I’ve got six medium sized ones and I’ve got four hundred little ones. I’ve got white ones with spotted different colours, blue ones, purple ones, two that are sky blue but one’s a light sky blue and one’s a dark sky blue and I’ve got an orange one with black spots and waves, a purple and white one that’s all wavy and a dark green and light green all mixed up together. I haven’t got a favourite; I like them all.

 In my spare time I like to pretend they’re people. I’ve got some toy cars that I pretend they drive around in and I’ve got this doll’s house that I got for Christmas and I put some ornaments in it and pretend that they’re sitting on them and stuff. …

 It’s called My Secret Marbles because my friends always say it’s a bit weird so I don’t really tell them. I don’t like it when people say stuff is weird but I don’t really mind. Anyway, it is a bit weird because nobody else would probably do that. Maybe it’s because they’re not really into marbles, they’re into pencil cases and stuff, and they don’t realise how much fun it is if you haven’t got any brothers and sisters to play with at home and have something to do when you’re bored, instead of just sitting there watching TV or playing on your Nintendo all day long like I do sometimes.

 (Recorded at New Art Gallery, Walsall 1 September 2007)

with John Bloomberg-Rissman

 SOURCE: Library of Unwritten Books (

[Write the founders of this work in progress – an exploration of poiesis as a basic human capacity, even where unrealized]: “Library of Unwritten Books is a collection of possible books. Short interviews are recorded with people about a book they dream of writing or making. Limited edition mini books are published from transcripts of the interviews, which are made available to readers at exhibitions and special events. Touring book-boxes also display the books at everyday venues such as cafés, pubs, libraries and launderettes. The concept was inspired by a fictional book repository featured in The Abortion: An Historical Romance by Richard Brautigan. The novella’s main protagonist is a librarian who catalogues any book deposited in his care.

“Inspired by the non-selective ethos of the Brautigan library, Caroline Jupp and Sam Brown founded Library of Unwritten Books in 2002. The books are collected through random encounters in parks, city streets and public places, and by invitations to visit literature festivals, public libraries and community centres. People are prompted to spontaneously record their unrealized ideas, fictional tales, and personal histories. There is no selection procedure and all contributors to the library receive a free copy of their own unwritten book.” (Library of Unwritten Books website)

(2) Who could be more “outside” the world of writing than someone who hasn’t written? Yet, as the creators of this project note, “The collection is evidence of the common desire to write a book and is an ongoing survey of this literary phenomenon.” This common desire tangles the written with the unwritten, and complicates the notion of inside and outside immensely.]

Susan Howe’s “Thorow” and “Melville's Marginalia” performed by Howe along with music and sounds composed by David Grubb. These recordings are available on PennSound. Click here.

Thiefth was the first collaboration between Howe and musician and composer Grubbs. The two were brought together when the Fondation Cartier proposed a collaborative performance. Grubbs had been an ardent reader of Howe’s for more than a decade, and the opportunity to work with Howe’s poetry and her voice immediately intrigued. In late 2003, the two set about to create performance versions of “Thorow” and “Melville's Marginalia,” two of Howe’s longer poems. Drawing from the journals of Sir William Johnson and Henry David Thoreau, "Thorow" both evokes the winter landscape that surrounds Lake George in upstate New York, and explores collisions and collusions of historical violence and national identity. "Thorow" is an act of second seeing in which Howe and Grubbs engage the lake's glittering, ice surface as well as the insistent voices that haunt an unseen world underneath. “Melville's Marginalia” is an approach to an elusive and allusive mind through Herman Melville’s own reading and the notations he made in some of the books he owned and loved. The collaging and mirror-imaging of words and sounds are concretions of verbal static, visual mediations on what can and cannot be said.

Jennifer Bartlett, John Godfrey, Jackson Mac Low, Miekal And, Robin Brox, Luxorius, Yugen

cover by Susan Bee

Jennifer Bartlett, (a) lullaby without any music, 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.

John Godfrey, Tiny Gold Dress, Lunar Chandelier
The evanescent lilt of everyday ruminations percolates through these wistful poems, ear bound to ambient eye's wry regrets and tender hopefulness. Perception becomes an aroma of reflection and infatuation in John Godfrey's fractured songs. Here, now: good as gold.


PDFs of the 8 issues of Yugen (1958-1962), ed. Hettie Cohen and LeRoi Jones (as he called himself art that time). See commentary by Kyle Schlesinger:







Luxorius, Opera Omnia or, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone, tr. Art Beck Otis Books/Seismicity Editions
Neeli Cherkovski review
The sixth century Latin poet from Catharge is rollicking and outrageous in these artful translations.

Robin Brox and mIEKAL aND,  of fracture,  Xerox Sutra Editions
rewriting Factura by Bruce Andrews
Download pdf (5.3mb)
(or purchase via link above)
of fracture
is a resounding blast from the past, when syllables roamed free on the page and ears had bounty crops. only now it's even better, with all the echos.




Jackson Mac Low, 154 Forties, ed. Anne Tardos, Counterpath