Commentaries

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. Not super into expectations, especially those. With all of that seriousness seething in the audience it’s a small wonder that I ever get a laugh at all, and I do, okay, so zip it. I feel it when I’m in the audience, too; when my laugh is the only one bashing itself to death against the stark white walls of the auditorium.

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.]

 

Rochelle Owens: 'Beloved the Aardvark'

A new poem with author's comments

Author’s comment: “To look at the image of an Aardvark is to take a cosmic Rorschach test, and like a cubist mural is both a microcosm and macrocosm. You understand Intuitively — a Cartesian resolution of body and spirit. The poem presented here is the first of a series of poems titled ‘Beloved the Aardvark,’ related I suppose to the poem ‘Devour Not the Elephant’ that appeared earlier in Poems and Poetics.” — Rochelle Owens

The letters horizontal

or vertical  f l o a t  before

your eyes 

 

a black line shapes itself

spells out the first noun in

an english dictionary

 

with a forefinger and thumb

Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (14)

Emily Dickinson, 'A Letter to the Master,' lineated

[NOTE. I published this earlier in a nonlineated prose rendering in America a Prophecy, coedited with George Quasha in the early 1970s. Well-enough known as one of three Dickinson letters addressed to an unidentified “Master,” this version, following closely her handwritten draft, emerges (for me at least) as a near-projective forerunner to what would become a dominant form of North American experimental composition a century after her own writing. The result anyway is based on the transcription in The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin and published by Amherst College Press in 1986. It will likely be the version used by me and Heriberto Yépez in our transnational anthology of North and South American poetry, now in preparation for University of California Press. That the full-blown sense of thwarted intimacy here is both surprising and overwhelming is also to be noted, as is the quirky and volatile language that connects the voice behind the letter to that of her better-known poems. (J.R.)]

Summer 1861