Commentaries - October 2018

Test of Poetry: Five translations

Charles Bernstein, Norbert Lange, Ernesto Livon-Grosman, Collective à Royaumont, Haroldo de Campos,  and Leevi Lehto

A Test of Poetry

“A Test of Poetry” was written in 1992 and published in My Way: Speeches and Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1999). The poem is based on a letter from the Chinese scholar Ziquing Zhang, who translated poems from Rough Trades and The Sophist for Selected Language Poems (Chengdu, China: Sichuan Literature and Art Publishing House, 1993); quotations from the poems are italicized.  It seemed to me that Ziquing Zhang’s questions provided both an incisive commentary on my poems and also raised a set of imponderble yet giddy, not to say fundamental, translation issues. Several  poets have take up the task of translating this poem, and we here compile the results: Norbert Lange into German, Ernesto Livon-Grosman into Spanish, Collective à Royaumont dans le cadre de l’Atelier Cosmopolite into French (originally published as a pamphlet by Format Américain), Haroldo de Campos into Portuguese, and Levi Lehto into Finnish.

Monastiraki in Montreal

One of the real delights of my recent visit to Montreal: visiting Monastiraki and meeting Billy Mavreas. Above is a photo of Billy in the shop. The offer fine prints, art and gig posters, small press, zines, and art objects by some of Montreal’s most unique artists. Overflowing with paper ephemera and vintage found treasures, the space is an assemblage of things Billy and his colleagues love. The shop has been very supportive of the community of experimental poets.

How many poets does it take to screw in a light bulb?

image of six markers from a board game arranged so that one faces a row of five
Firing squad or poetry reading?

I’d like for the boundary between what is funny and what is poetry to be torn down or at least be outfitted with a glory hole. I feel there is one (a boundary, geez!). I feel it when I read a funny poem in a terribly lit, modular classroom and am met with unblinking eyes (and no laughs). Or when I read on an elevated stage at a fancy literary festival and hear only the groan of a chair (and no laughs). Maybe it’s because you’re not funny? Get a life. What I’m getting at is there is a set of expectations that surrounds poems and poetry. There is the expectation that the person in front of us is smart(er than us), that poetry is depressing, or worse, poignant, that it is a puzzle and so needs focus lest you miss a vital piece, that it requires silence to be shared.

I have one [PG] fantasy of reading poems in comedy clubs and telling jokes at poetry readings. Why waste a fantasy on it? Why ruin a good comedy night for those unsuspecting patrons? I don’t know. I don’t want to answer those questions. They’re rather aggressive, if you ask me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s okay. I’d rather explore what that might do, in my mind, to read funny poems, funny poems that are often also quite sad, on stage, against a brick wall, beneath a blinding Klieg or two, alone. The set up sounds like a firing squad.

Jerome Rothenberg: Talking with David Antin

Talking with David Antin

The first accounting of a friendship

[Remarks prepared for presentation at the conference “David Antin: Talking, Always Talking” September 27, 2018 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, in connection with the revival of Antin’s 1988 “Sky Poems” as an exercise in the poetics of sky-writing.]

[Remarks prepared for presentation at the conference “David Antin: Talking, Always Talking” September 27, 2018 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, in connection with the revival of Antin’s 1988 “Sky Poems” as an exercise in the poetics of sky-writing.]