Commentaries - November 2017

The drift of it

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1872. Library of Congress.

The study of how poems travel —  and how they change —  calls for some discussion of the relationship between author and reader. How do poets themselves define or at least imagine this relationship? What do they do to ensure that their work reaches their audience? And what happens then?

Few poets have paid more attention to their audience than Walt Whitman. Matt Cohen’s book Whitman’s Drift: Imagining Literary Distribution, published earlier this year by the University of Iowa Press, explores the topic from the combined perspective of reception studies, media studies, and book history. The “drift” in the title refers to the pattern of distribution of Whitman’s work in his lifetime and after — something not easy to capture empirically or to grasp conceptually. For Cohen, the word implies uncontrolled, unsystematic, but not entirely haphazard movement, “the nexus of the textual-formal and distributional form in his work, coupling a range of methods of dissemination with poetic technique and the physical design of books.” As his study shows, distribution as much as production was central to Whitman’s desire to connect with his readers.

From vocabularies of indenture to living grammars: A writing prompt

With these poets drawing from the pool of their collective unconscious, the haunting memory of a traumatic past from “passage to plantation,” something new emerges. It is the Coolitude of endurance, the transformation of a vocabulary into a grammar that depends upon inclusion in various national spaces. As seen in Torabully’s poetry, the history and weight words occupy when given different parts of speech, to the continuing negotiating of kalapani, and the power to topple patriarchal atavism with queer interventions — poets Coolie language.

Vocabularies of Coolitude: South Africa

Francine Simon

Thungachi by Francine Simon

In her debut collection Thungachi (2017, Uhlanga Press) Francine Simon draws from the vast well of her Coolie inheritance to create poetry that speaks through the vocabularies of indenture. Being of Christian and Hindu Tamilian descent, Simon begins her book with the indenture story, fulfilling Vijay Mishra’s prescription that Indian Labor Diaspora be haunted by its traumas of oceanic crossings.

In her debut collection Thungachi (2017, Uhlanga Press), Francine Simon draws from the vast well of her Coolie inheritance to create poetry that speaks through the vocabularies of indenture. Being of Christian and Hindu Tamilian descent, Simon begins her book with the indenture story, fulfilling Vijay Mishra’s prescription that the Indian labor diaspora be haunted by its traumas of oceanic crossings.

Simon in the first poem writes,

Toward a Poetry and Poetics of the Americas (6): Oswald de Andrade, 'An Anthropophagite Manifesto,' May 1928

Originally published in Revista de Antropofagia, no.1, year 1, May 1928, São Paulo.
Translation from Portuguese by Adriano Pedrosa and Veronica Cordeiro.

Richard Foreman: Videos and Films of Four Decades of His Theater

PennSound is happy to announce a major expansion of our Richard Foreman page edited by Jay Sanders. The page for Foreman, for me the greatest visionary theater director of the period, includes the full production films and videos of many of his productions.

>>>PennSound Foreman page