Commentaries - January 2014

A few thoughts on Vendler's Stevens

I recently re-read Helen Vendler’s 1986 review of Milton Bates’s A Mythology of Self (1985) and Albert Gelpi’s collection of essays (The Poetics of Modernism, 1985) which included Marjorie Perloff on Stevens experience (or inexperience) during World War 2, Michael Davidson’s critique of Stevens as not a prosodic innovator, and Alan Golding on Stevens and Zukofsky. (I have insufficient space here to deal with Vendler’s complex reaction to Perloff’s piece – a topic that should surely occasion another foray into the matter.)[1]

Vendler was in general not fond of the essays collected by Gelpi, but she did admire Milton Bates — whose meticulous book was the first full-length biographical/intellectual/historical reading of Stevens.

The self-abolition of the poet

At the excellent Poetry and/or Revolution conference a few months back, one salient but perhaps muddy point of discussion concerned the relationship between poetry and capitalism (or class society more broadly). A couple of us here at Commune Editions wrote on this point in our statements for the conference, with Joshua Clover averring that a successful revolution would spell the end of the poet as a distinct social role, while Tim Kreiner and Jasper Bernes seemed to take an even more maximalist position, suggesting that the revolutionary formation of a free and equal society would mean not only the end of poets but also poems, allowing for some new and for us inconceivable form of aesthetic expression that might still deserve the name poetry.

Alana Siegel: From 'Archipelago,' 'Communion (A Preludium)' and 'Afterword'

[NOTE.  Soon to be published by Station Hill of Barrytown, Alana Siegel’s Archipelago adds a new presence & intelligence to a major subset of postmodern American poetry with traceable connections to Duncan’s “grand collage” & Olson’s “composition by field.”  In her own way, which is “a completely different way” (G.

Entry 1

Presentism

Writing in the absolute present (which fades away as I write), I am looking down on a field that was once a stretch of the Berlin Wall, now restored to native grasses. It had been storming last night, but this morning I see someone just waking up who had slept in the middle of the field, under a white blanket. His or her hair also appears to be white. To what degree were trust or terror a factor in selecting that site, from an "open field" of possibility?  — “Reverse Maps,” Grand Piano 4:67

Every presentism is a historicism, and vice versa. I have been writing, over the past several years, on the concept of the historical “date” — neither narrative nor nonnarrative, but the index of a punctual unit of calendar time. This date, for instance, is marked as the first of the New Year, and I am looking forward to the present as it unfolds over the year.

First reading of Rae Armantrout's 'Spin' (4)

David Caplan

David Caplan’s first reading of Rae Armantrout’s poem “Spin” is the fourth of five we will publish in this new series. Others by Jennifer Ashton, Katie Price, and Dee Morris are available at the First Readings series page. The next set of first readings will describe encounters with NourbeSe Philips’s Zong #6. — Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis

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When first reading a poem, I focus on particularly evocative or puzzling moments — a phrase or two, some technical gestures, a flourish, a stylistic oddity, an apparent redundancy. I am searching for points of orientation and disorientation. I also often consider the poem’s structure; I want to know how it organizes language. My questions are rudimentary. Like Auden, I ask of the poem, “How does it work?”[1]