Commentaries

Mad cartographer (PoemTalk #28)

Jack Spicer, "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy"

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Julia Bloch, CA Conrad, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis joined Al Filreis to talk about Jack Spicer’s early poem of 1949, “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy.” Sections of the poem are framed by what is either meant to be an unironic prompt or a satirized annoyance: What are you thinking about? - What are you thinking?What are you thinking now? The speaker is the analysand and the poem is the means by which the analysand talks his way through to the poem. Is his major concern – the supposed problem for which the poem is a talking cure – that the poem “could go on forever”? The sexual longing, the pain and the dislocation of the California summer are all – together – topics “I would like to write a poem” about. Increasingly annoyed by the sameness of the analyst’s refrain (“Do you get me, Doctor?”), he pushes his sexual conceits to a hottest point, when summers are seen to “torture California,” when “the damned maps burn” and the “mad cartographer” (whom the PoemTalkers agree is the speaker himself)

Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.


What he has been hiding? The significance of his homosexuality? And why, by the way, might California in 1949 be just the spot, as it were, on the geohistorical map for the psychoanalytic mode of talking about what one is hiding about oneself? We explore a range of possible answers to that question, including biographical and ideological. Julia and Al note in particular that this was the time of anticommunist investigations into “disloyal” faculty teaching in the University of California system, especially at Berkeley – that jobs, but also identities (including secret identities) were at risk. (Spicer was among those who refused to sign the loyalty oath imposed on faculty by the state government.) Whereupon Conrad observes that the witch-hunts almost inexorably targeted gays both open and closeted. Rachel concludes with a cogent interpretation of the gendering in the poem and of the sexual hiding. What remains wide open is the question of whether, in the end, this poem says mockingly and happily goodbye to psychoanalysis as a mode of self-understanding, or affirms analysis as having done its job for the poet in particular. Does the realization that “a poem could go on forever” seem to affirm the talking-through process, the topical wandering, the going wherever thought goes? Or does that just add to the torture of this endless summer? Both, it would seem.

This episiode of PoemTalk was engineered and directed by James LaMarre and edited by Steve McLaughlin. It was recorded as usual in our third-floor garrett studio at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. Next on PoemTalk: Rae Armantrout is in town and is joined by Tom Devaney and Linh Dinh to talk about Kit Robinson's "Return on Word." After that, Robert Grenier, another Californian, comes east to talk with Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman about two short William Carlos Williams poems to which Bob Grenier goes back again and again--an episode, thus, that makes Williams the first poet featured twice in our series, which will by then be marking its 30th episode.

Above from left to right: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, CA Conrad, Julia Bloch.

David Schine and Roy Cohen in Europe

junketeering gumshoes

David Schine and Roy Cohn - Joseph's McCarthy's henchmen - turned their attacks on overseas State Department-sponsored libraries.David Schine and Roy Cohn - Joseph's McCarthy's henchmen - turned their attacks on overseas State Department-sponsored libraries. The point of these was to provide war-torn European communities a place to go for otherwise hard-to-get books by American authors. Or, to be more specific, the point was to provide the sort of American books that would persuade postwar Europeans, otherwise susceptible to the wiles of communist criticism, that the American imagination was being nourished by the free and diverse cultural life in the U.S.

But McCarthy and his people decided that some of the books in these libraries had been written by disloyal people. Schine and Cohen went traveling (a classic boondoggle disguised as a national-security emergency), yanked books off shelves and ruined the careers of librarians and many other government workers in Europe whom Schine-Cohn said they suspected of radical pasts.

The pair spent forty hours in Paris, sixteen in Bonn, nineteen in Frankfurt, sixty in Munich, forty-one in Vienna, twenty-three in Belgrade, twenty-four in Athens, twenty in Rome, and six in London. What was it all about? After a time, it turned out to be about books in I.I.A. libraries, but the interest in books was probably minor at the start. The expedition had been set up only a few days in advance, and the purpose of it was so obscure that everywhere the travelers touched down they gave a different account of why they were traveling. In Paris, they said they were looking for inefficiency in government offices overseas. In Bonn, they said they were looking for subversives. Asked in Munich which it was, Cohn explained that it was both. "Efficiency," he said, "includes complete political reliability. If anyone is interested in the Communists, then he cannot be efficient." Back home, on "Meet the Press," he said he didn't consider himself competent to judge performances abroad and had gone only to look into "certain things."

Richard Rovere was there after the Cohn-Schine tornado had done its damage. Here is his description of what he found afterward:

I was working in Europe a few months after Cohn and Schine left, covering much the same territory they had covered, and I had a chance to see what they had wrought. Actually, not many people had been fired as a result of their trip. The most notable victim, probably, was Theodore Kaghan, who had been a Public Affairs Officer in the United States High Commission for Germany. A witness at the Voice of America hearings had called him a "pseudo-American," and it had come out that in the thirties he had shared an apartment in New York with a Communist. He might have survived these scandals if he had not described Cohn and Schine as "junketeering gumshoes" to a newspaperman during the tour, and he might have survived even this if the State Department had not been in such a panic to get rid of him. He was eased out speedily, and so were a few others, but what really damaged the whole American complex in Europe was the shame and anger of the government servants who had witnessed the whole affair. I must have talked with a hundred people in Bonn, Paris, Rome, and London who told me their resignations were written, signed, stamped, and ready for mailing or delivery. Some did not really want to resign; others planned to, and were simply waiting until they could find other jobs or make the necessary arrangements for getting their families out. No one, probably, could estimate the number of people whose departure could be traced to this affair, and surely no one could estimate its effect on morale. Morale sank very low so low, indeed, that I was surprised to note, among government people in Europe, a willingness to denounce McCarthy in extravagant language and to ridicule Cohn and Schine. This was most unlike Washington at the time, and the explanation I was given was that very few people cared any longer whether they held their jobs or not.

For a fuller excerpt, go here.

Wallace Stevens Journal now on CD

If you subscribe to the Wallace Stevens Journal now, you'll receive a copy of the first 25 years of WSJ on CD--searchable, of course. A significant resource.

KWH-TV

Here is a reminder that we at the Kelly Writers House offer a live video stream of nearly every reading, seminar, workshop, talk and performance that takes pHere is a reminder that we at the Kelly Writers House offer a live video stream of nearly every reading, seminar, workshop, talk and performance that takes place at the House. Any time there's a program scheduled for our Arts Cafe (most weeknights and several lunch hours per week) you can go here

http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/multimedia/tv/

--click the link "view live video," and watch what's going on at KWH as if on TV. That's why we call it "KWH-TV." Our event schedule is always the top link on our home page: http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/ . Enjoy watching!

January's favorite PoemTalks

Not including the most recent PoemTalk episode on Robert Duncan, below are the 18 most often listened-to episoNot including the most recent PoemTalk episode on Robert Duncan, below are the 18 most often listened-to episodes in the last month. Creeley seems to be in the lead every month lately. The Duncan show had by far the most listenings this month, but that's mostly because we widely announced its availability during this period; and it's still prominently featured on the front page of the Poetry Foundation site. We'll see where it fits next month. Is this of real interest? value? Not really. Such stats are subject to the vagaries of web site and blog cross-linking.

1. Robert Creeley
2. Adrienne Rich
3. William Carlos Williams
4. Wallace Stevens
5. Ezra Pound
6. Vachel Lindsay
7. Allen Ginsberg sings William Blake
8. Barbara Guest
9. Louis Zukofsky
10. Amiri Baraka
11. Alice Notley
12. John Ashbery
13. Ted Berrigan
14. Jaap Blonk
15. Gertrude Stein
16. George Oppen
17. Charles Bernstein
18. Lyn Hejinian