Susan Bee and Raphael Rubinstein in conversation at the New York Public Library (on PennSound)

Susan Bee: Artist Dialogue with Raphael Rubinstein
Saturday, June 6, 2:30 pm, The Corner Room
Mid-Manhattan Library, 455 Fifth Avenue New York, NY

MP3 (1 hr 11 min)
Introduced by curator Arezoo Moseni

Held in conjunction with Art Wall on Third exhibition "Susan Bee: The Challenge of Painting," this was  a discussion between painter Susan Bee and poet-critic Raphael Rubinstein, focusing on Bee's narrative-based work, which incorporates elements from the 20th-century abstract painting and cinematic history including film noir. Bee and Rubinstein also consider poet and painter collaborations, a genre in which both have considerable experience. What happens when artists and writers encounter each other in the pages of a livre d'artiste? How do images and words affect each other? What are the specific possibilities of the book as a site of collaboration? Another theme to be addressed: the interaction of personal history and political history, as exemplified by some of Bee's paintings.

CFP: The fourth convention of the Chinese/American Association for Poetry and Poetics

Jinan,Shandong, China • November 28–29, 2015


The 4th Convention of the Chinese/American Association for Poetry and Poetics will take place in Jinan, Shandong from November 28 to 29, 2015. This convention will be hosted by Shandong Normal University and co-sponsored by Central China Normal University, Foreign Literature StudiesForum for World Literature Studies, Shandong Foreign Language Teaching Journal, and University of Pennsylvania. Papers are called from scholars all over the world.

I. Conference Topics
War and Trauma in Poetry
Poetry, Poetics and Ethics
English Poetry and Confucian Culture 【The host is in the hometown of Confucius.】
Modernist Poetry and Mass Culture
Sound, Visual, Performance: Perspectives to the Text of Poetry
Performance: Perspectives to the Text of Poetry
Poetry in the Genealogical Perspective: the Evolution/Devolution of Poetic Genres
Poetry Translation: Theoretical Explorations
Poetry interpretation 

II. Important dates:
1. By Sep. 30, 2015     Submit conference paper proposal and confirm over issues about your attendance and lodging.
2. By Oct. 20, 2015     Submit the full text of your conference paper, including abstract and the author’s info.
3. Nov. 27, 2015        Conference registration
4. 8:30am, Nov. 28—13:30 am, Nov. 29, 2015   Conference

III. Conference publications:
Proceedings of the conference will be published in China, and quality papers will be recommended to be published in Foreign Literature Studies, International Journal of Poetry and Poetics, the publication of CAAP, Forum for World Literature Studies, and Shandong Foreign Language Teaching Journal.

IV. Contacts:
Prof. Luo Lianggong, Central China Normal University(Tel: +8613886067048)
Prof. Wang Zhuo, Shandong Normal University (Tel: +8613964069500)
The Organizing Committee, the 4th Convention of Chinese/American Association for Poetry and Poetics 


(中国 山东济南    20151128-29日)










4   现代主义诗歌与大众文化

5   声音、视觉、表演:诗歌文本研究 

6   谱系学视野下的诗歌:诗歌文体的演化

7   诗歌翻译研究 

8.    诗歌文本研究




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山东师范大学外国语学院  王卓教授(电话:13964069500

华中师范大学外国语学院  罗良功教授(电话:13886067048






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【 请提供中英文摘要,中文限400字内】







Jack Sweeney's basic English translation of Donne's 'Loves Deity' from 1943

John L. (Jack) Sweeney fist published his Basic English translation of Donne’s “Love Deity” in Reed Whittemore and James Jesus Angleton’s Furioso 2:1 (p. 34) in 1943. Sweeney's note on the experiment included these comments: "It should be noted that in terms of the system of Basic English its use in verse form is unorthodox. It is not a literary language . … In a certain sense the extension printed here is a sport [but] it may suggest to educationists an auxiliary device for the analysis and discussion of language in poetry. As I. A. Richards said in a different connection, 'Most people find that having versions of a passage before them opens up the task of explaining immensely. This is true even when one version of it is clearly very inferior; its presence still throws the implications on the other into relief." The poem was reprinted in Delos 1:4 (1988-89), pp. 138-40.
What's remarkable about Sweeney's translation is how very beautiful it is.

Some background from a 1956 article in the Harvard Crimson

Sweeney came to Harvard in 1940 to work with I.A. Richards on the Committee on Communications--using Richard's "Basic English" to prepare simplifications of the Bill of Rights and immigration documents. Curator of the {Lamont Library] Poetry Room since 1943 and selection specialist for Widener since 1946, Sweeney controls the purchase of modern English and American writings for the working collection of the University libraries. In the Poetry room, he has assembled a thousand-reel tape collection of recordings by contemporary poets, including rare readings by Wallace Stevens. "Sweeney is the sort of man for whom Stevens would overcome his reluctance to record," one colleague said. "With his charm and intelligence, he is a person Stevens could trust. … Many disciplines are fused in his personality--the Catholic training of his youth and college years at Georgetown, graduate study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, his years as a lawyer, and extensive European travel. At Cambridge, his supervisor was I.A. Richards, whose standards of artistic excellence based on absolutes conditioned Sweeney's critical tastes. Working with Richards and William Empson in Basic English stimulated in appreciation of poetry's lingual exactness and internal architecture. With his brother James Johnson Sweeney, former head of the Museum of Modern Art, Sweeney developed an early liking for painting. … 

Loves Deity

I long to talk with some old lovers ghost,
Who dyed before the god of Love was born:

I cannot think that he, who then lov'd most,
Sunk so low, as to love one which did scorn.
But since this god produc'd a destiny,
And that vice-nature custom lets it be;
I must love her that loves not me.

Sure they, which made him god, meant not so much,

Nor he, in his young godhead practis'd it.
But when an even flame two hearts did touch,
His office was indulgently to fit
Actives to Passives, Correspondency
Only his Subject was; it cannot be
Love, till I love her that loves me.

But every modern god will now extend
His vast prerogative as far as Jove
To rage, to lust, to write to, to commend,
All is the purlue of the God of Love.
Were we not weak'ned by this Tyranny
To ungod this child again, it could not be
I should love her, who loves not me.

Rebel and Atheist too, why murmure I.
As though I felt the worst that love could do?
Love may make me leave loving, or might try
A deeper plague, to make her love me too,
Which, since she loves before, I'm loth to see;
Falshood is worse than hate; and that must be,
If she whom I love, should love me.

John Donne (1669)
Hear John Richetti read the poem on PennSound: MP3

Loves Deity (Sweeney adaption)

Talk with some old lover
Dead before the god of love had come to be
Would do my poor heart good. For he,
As full of love when living as I am now
Would not have done what I have done,
Have given love to an unkind, unloving one.
But as this god has made things so,
And ways of men have not till now said 'no',
No other way I see
But give my love to one
Who has no love for me. 

This certainly was not designed by those
Who made him god, and he, when young,
Would not have let it be,
But when two hearts were touched with equal fire
His purpose was to see 

A balance in the scales of their desire,
Loves answering one another
In regular harmony
His interest was; there is no love
Till I have love for her who gives her love to me. 

In range of rule now every new-made god
Will undertake the part of Jove.
And all the acts and secrets of the heart
Are ruled and guided by the god of love.
If only, starting suddenly awake,
We might from this cruel boy his power take,
It, this way, would not be
That I gave love to her who has no love for me. 

But why do I,
With heart at war against my god and government,
Say things which seem to say
That love's worst punishment has come my way?
Love still has the power to make me give up loving,
Or that much sharper pain, make her give love to me
Which, as another has her love, I would not see.
False love is worse than hate; and that would be,
If she who has my love, had love for me.


Bright arrogance #13

David Hadbawnik and Carrie Kaser's epic redux reduced

Image from David Habdawnik and Carrie Kaser's Aeneid, Courtesy the Artists

David Hadbawnik’s Aeneid (currently a series of hand-sewn and illustrated chap-books numbered 1 & 2; 3 and 4) is a translation-as-reduction, paradoxically allowing for selective amplification through subtle resonances generated in the space of what’s left out. The epic in general is no light reading, although these translucinations make it so without trivializing the content. Like Christopher Logue’s similarly reduced Iliads (but unlike, I would say, Ronald Johnson’s erasure of Paradise Lost or this more transductive work of conceptual needlepoint), the modernist spacing and minimalist gestures of condensation allow the poem to take advantage of an aeon of intertextuality, without getting the Laocoön end of it.

These translations are not only full of light, but also speed. I was pleased and surprised, for example, that Hadbawnik dispensed with the invocation to the Muse, a too-often fetishized, and ultimately cloying ornament. Indeed, as even a whitewig like Dryden noticed, translations of the Aeneid can quickly become overpowering if too pompous, sentimental or lofty. Virgil is, for him, “like ambergris, a rich perfume, but of so close and glutinous a body, that it must be opened with inferior scents of musk or civet, or the sweetness will not be drawn out into another language.”  Hadbawnik’s Aeneid is not the creative destruction of erasure, but rather the well-crafted impoverishment of something potentially too rich to take in.

Accordingly, the illustrations of Carrie Kaser that accompany the translation are understated, humble and artisanal—inviting augury but not spelling out what the text is already doing. These images may, in fact, deculturize Virgil. Perhaps these silhouettes of fields and ducks, thistles and stags bring us back to the time of his more youthful Eclogues, before his own exile and the expropriation of his land. After all, there is an autobiographical element, many times forgotten, underpinning the poet’s glorification of Aeneas’s rough adventure out of burning Troy. Here, the epic is stripped of teleological gloria and reduced to the existential uncertainty of someone who has not yet found his Italy—the work, after all, of the poet or hacker rather than the hero. Doggedly improvizing, grasping, endlessly thwarted, this Aeneas is concocted with fragments and patch work that depict moments of lucidity and even zen awareness, escaping the epic and its memorializing function. This is a hand-sewn, not “hewn” book.[1] It’s neither an easy instant product nor a tomb, but rather a book that contains the small intimacy of moments stolen from epic time.

This crafted book may be less about the text than the memory of a text, less about the Aeneid than its insistence and survival. Perhaps also it is about its disappearance from cultural relevance. Because Virgil, like Dante (and Virgil through Dante), is an immense node of translational overdetermination, any further translation becomes a metaphor of translation, allowing us to reflect on the ways the original is entangled in the history, sometimes violent, in which Greek meanings were transfered into Roman, Latin into English, so that what we read in the epic is the longue durée of history that defies the hexameter, full of unreadable, irresolvable lines, which, in Fenollosa’s words “would take all time to pronounce.”[2]

However, we need not be faithful to this interminable play of reference and dudgeon. Turning the tables on time, Hadbawnik even seems to insert sentiment from the Eclogues, placing on these wild wastelands of Getic fields a wishful hysteron proteron that reverses the violence that myth and its endless reproduction in translation both memorializes and propagates:

                                                                               make the god run for once


                                                                        from the girl and the fountain

                                                                               tree or bird


                                                                                        spring into human form


1. However, a standard paperback edition of books 1-6 will be available from Shearsman Books in the fall. The hand-sewn version is currently available through Little Red Leaves Textile Series.

2. See Yopie Prin's "Metrical Translation: Nineteenth-Century Homers and the Hexameter Mania," for a fascinating account of the Victorian hexameter and a riposte to Venuti's notion of the hexameter as domesticating and ultimately conservative, rather than, as Prin claims, a modernizing and defamiliarizing measure.

A slowing 1: Intraacting with absence

Some works give more. Often by giving less.  

Telling us what to think is not the same as moving the mind to think differently.  Powerful art can slow and stun us. The sense of a shock is something to shake off, and yet to draw the reader into silent attention – this is the power that moves us. The mind slows.  

I know when art makes me attend better to the world. How might we know the heart breaks – is it metaphor? – if the fissure was not made perceptible? How would we understand the pain of loss if we could not sense absence? There is the hollow, the what-is-not-there. This is the stuff of slowing.

We interact, react.  In this both/and simultaneity of art the experience is “intraactive,” in the words of Karen Barad.  The reader constitutes the work while encountering it.  The work is altered as it alters, alive.  Christina Davis’s book An Ethic begins with the title poem thus:

There is no this or that world.

One is not more or less 
admitted.  Into the entirety

one is invited
and to the entirety
one comes.

This volume opens with death, the encountering of loss and meditation on grief.  There is a quiet in this grief.  It does not tell its secrets, but invites the reader into the world that shares in loss: “the entirety.”

What does it mean to experience loss if we do not recognize another world, but only this world, swollen with absence?  The irony of this is its power.  If the reader insists upon a telling of absence, it would be filled and thus diluted.


When we had reached the West

the sun delivered 
its last instruction.  Nearness,

it said, nearness
is the new frontier.

  (Davis 31)

Absence can be filled by awareness of the density of its hollow.  Such is grief.  We must bring to bear on the poem our own pauses, our loss.  Thus is the poetic work of intraaction, of art that demands, in order for its very existence, to be created by the reader. It is no accident that Davis evokes George Oppen, whose great monument to a sort of phenomenological ethics, Of Being Numerous, opens “There are things/We live among ‘and to see them/Is to know ourselves’” (147).  

According to Iris Murdoch, “As moral agents we have to try to see justly, to overcome prejudice, to avoid temptation, to control and curb imagination, to direct reflection” (39).    We have to try to see justly, and how that happens is related to how we try to direct reflection.  Emphasizing this latter work is the task of art, and through art that effectively moves our attention to direct reflection toward this effort to see justly, we exercise our moral agency.  However, telling us what to look at is not the same as guiding us to attend differently.  

Oppen understands how attention to the world creates the world for us, and even the language of the poem, its lines in quotations, its echoing of itself, intraacts with itself as we intraact to create experience. As Barad helps us understand through quantum mechanics, “intra-action signifies the mutual constitution of entangled agencies. That is, in contrast to the usual ‘interaction,’ which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction, the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action” (33). It is a clarifying distinction in contemplating poetry that has both ontological resonance and ethical implications.  

The hard work of grief does not come easily.  We don’t want it and don’t want to do it wrong. We enter the poem to be in the poem and to attend to the work it gives us.  To intraact, not just react.


But she was glad to be looking

And them not 
             always to arrive

was like 

love is
love of

a future.

      (Davis 40)

The hard work of love is also not easily found. It slips away. Escapes, slippery.  Yet there it is. Oppen observed:

the rain falls
that had not been falling
and it is the same world

(Oppen 155)

To perceive justly is not only to see clearly, but also to recognize fallability – which the gaps convey – and to attempt to perceive “lovingly” (to borrow from Murdoch, 22).  In seeking beauty, in leaving room for beauty, we are situated in an encounter that – if we will consider the morally live situation of art – allows us access to bring just.  There are limitations to that view (we might insist on changes that enact just thinking in laws and civic engagement, we might wonder how others are unable to apprehend the beauty that so affects us), yet we can’t begin to more fully realize the good stuff if we have no capacity for attending to that which sensitizes us to the unsayable, our blurred losses, slurred griefs, our muddled and swelling compassions.  


Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.  Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
Davis, Christina. An Ethic. Callicoon: Nightboat Books, 2013.
Murdoch, Iris. The Sovereignty of Good. 1970. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Oppen, George. Collected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1975.
Image credit: John Carimando