Commentaries - January 2013

Australian poet Martin Johnston, 1947-90

Twelve pieces, in Jacket 1 and Jacket 11

Martin Johnston and his wife Roseanne Bonney. Photo by John Tranter.
Martin Johnston and his wife Roseanne Bonney. Photo by John Tranter.

A note from John Tranter: The Australian poet Martin Johnston was one of a generation of poets who invigorated Australian poetry in the late 1960s and 1970s. His contribution was unusual: he had a European upbringing, having spent fourteen years of his childhood abroad, in England and Greece. Martin died in June 1990 at the age of forty-two. Over the next two years I compiled a selection of most of his published poetry, essays and book reviews together with some interviews and photographs, and Martin Johnston — Selected Poems and Prose was published by the University of Queensland Press in 1993. A large number of Martin’s poems and prose writings are available in Jacket 1, together with some photographs, and another large tranche in Jacket 11, all linked to from the items below.

In Jacket 01:
The main part of my Introduction to the Selected Poems and Prose
A group of sonnets, In Transit — a Sonnet Square
An essay on Jorge Luis Borges

Guest writer: Rob Fitterman

When I sent him interview questions on Josef Kaplan's Intros, he sent me back a little piece of his own

by Robert Fitterman

In David Joselit’s new critical book, After Art, he adopts the term “image fundamentalism” to describe a relationship to art that aims to be rooted to a “specific place.” He writes: “Religious fundamentalism is defined by adherence to doctrine, as laid down in sacred texts. Image fundamentalism asserts that a visual artifact belong exclusively to a specific site (its place of origin).” What, then, would literary fundamentalism look like? My point here is that Kaplan’s introductions are unchained to their origins, and, as such, they are the polar opposites of literary fundamentalism. Following Joselit’s premise, Kaplan lets the work of the writer he is about to introduce dictate a slippery procession, where the reader gets to traverse the unknown (and in this case the reader is the presenter).  In exchange for a tired list of accomplishments, publications, and insights, Kaplan aims for another possibility: one reader’s world intersecting one writer’s world. Of course it is the seriousness, hilarity, courage, and thoughtfulness that makes us, the audience, interested in the performance of this intersection... an intersection, by the way, that overlaps the actual author’s work by as little as, say, 10%. But it doesn’t matter: this isn’t about being respectful or authentic or informative (can we say Google at home?), this is about actually caring enough to take the work—and a reader’s response to the work — somewhere else, not rooted to the original meaning or author’s intention or biography, but elsewhere.

English and Yíngēlìshī

Jonathan Stalling's homophonic translations

The cover of Jonathan Stalling's Yíngēlìshī, as published by Counterpath Press in 2011

Like Place’s iterations of Gone with the Wind, Jonathan Stalling’s Yíngēlìshī 吟歌丽诗 also takes as its impetus the copying of another text and also addresses racial stereotyping and the negative attitude toward accents and dialects of English that differ from enforced norms. In Yíngēlìshī , Stalling appropriates an English phrasebook for Chinese speakers. The phrasebook uses standard characters for representing English speech. These characters are not meaningless but their use is conventionalized and in this context they are meant simply to stand for the English sounds––their meaning in Chinese is considered irrelevant. Stalling reproduces the Chinese and English from the phrasebook.

The Introductions of Josef Kaplan

If you haven't attended the December-January Segue events these past two years, you have missed something. Josef Kaplan's introductions. Most weeks, as they unfold, you can observe something come over the room. Some weeks it's like a wave of something between shock and glee. Other weeks it's just lots of audience reaction, hysterical laughter, conversations erupting, the occasional person turning away in discomfort. These introductions have been described as uproarious, sweet, insulting, naive, hilarious, and courageous. Many seem to agree he's exploding the form.

Rumor has it Ugly Duckling is planning to make a chapbook of a select few. 

When asked if anything seemed special about what's happening here, James Sherry, who has been steering Segue for over thirty years, says, "Josef breaks the tradition of laudatory introductions with confrontational framing such as saying that he doesn’t understand the poet’s work." Sherry points to Kaplan's Michael Gottlieb intro, describing it as, "psychological rhetoric layered on satiric imitation creating an uproarious surface" that "exposed Michael’s social critique as a personal complaint." But what's equally extraordinary is how funny and loving it all seemed when it was happening. Michael laughed harder than anyone. Steve Zultanski, Segue co-curator with Kaplan for two years, described it as, "confusing and borderline insulting, but in the sweetest way."

Six New Leslie Scalapino videos on PennSound: three performances, a reading, plus Reed and NY memorials

from FIona Templeton production of Flow – Winged Crocodile

Goya's L.A., New Langton Arts, San Francisco, CA, February 26, 1995