I was pleased to be invited to be Charles Bernstein's guest on his radio show, "Close Listening," a series (now 38 shows) done in collaboration with PS1.org. We talked about the cold-war politics of modernism, about literary history as a method for poetics, about my new book, etc. The show is about 35 minutes long. Have a listen. All of the Close Listening shows are listed and linked in PennSound.
The Writers House was founded in 1995-96 as a writer-centered bottom-up writers' haven or sandbox, and by now, a dozen years later, we offer 300 events - seminars, lectures, readings, book groups, manuscript exchanges, mentorships, symposia on all forms of writing - each academic year, September through May. All events are free.
We have an archive of media files - audio and some video, mostly mp3 but also RealAudio and RealVideo - of hundreds of readings and talks. It's called medialinks. There's also an archive of webcast recordings - of (to name a few writers) Laurie Anderson, Robert Creeley, Thalia Field, Lyn Hejinian, Tony Kushner, Alice Notley, James Alan McPherson, Carl Rakosi, Susan Sontag, Slavoj Zizek. We have a podcast series that on this date has produced 15 programs. We host week-long and month-long book discussion groups.
Best of all, we've made a bunch of good friends - mostly, I think, by treating writers well, by feeding them fabulous food and by bringing to them and their art audiences that typically have read carefully, ask thoughtful questions and don't mind disagreeing.
 "You have created at once a center of artistic and personal social power, a non-bureacratic, unconventional power in one spot without being marginalized in the process. Brilliant."--Nick Spitzer, host of NPR's radio show, American Roots.
 "The people at the Writers House have created such a lively and hospitable environment that I love to walk in and teach there. I just finished reading a manuscript about the University of Chicago in the 1950's and that literary environment, and I thought that Writers House might have saved a lot people in that era."--Max Apple, author of The Oranging of America and many other books, and member of the Writers House "hub" since autumn 2001.
 "I keep telling everyone I see that this is an amazing thing you have here, this house of writers. It exists in no other space that I can think of in the United States. We were talking about that earlier, this question of a place for writers and translators, where poets and artists can come together and work, in a sense, in collaboration. It is amazing. So thank you."--Ben Hollander, poet and participant in "UnAmerican Poetry," a conversation about writing, translation, globalization, politics in the Middle East, the foreign poet's relation to language in March 2001.
Allen Ginsberg saw himself in the line of prophetic poets. And so he made an LP of William Blake's songs of experience, including "The Garden of Love." We've just released PoemTalk episode #4, a 25-minute discussion of Ginsberg's chanting of this poem in country-western style, featuring Charles Bernstein, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Jessica Lowenthal.
Allen Ginsberg sings Blake's "The Garden of Love"
Hear the voice of the bard....
Which bard? Well, we're not quite sure how bardic Charles Bernstein is but he certainly loves the idea of poem as song; he joined some by-now regular PoemTalkers (Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Jessica Lowenthal) and chanted for us that very line. We've worn the grooves on an old LP of Allen Ginsberg singing William Blake's Songs of Innocence & Experience and for the fourth PoemTalk chose Ginsberg's countrified (crossover?) rendition of "The Garden of Love." Does the snappy, twangy (and relatively tuneful) setting create an irony? Jessica thinks yes; Charles thinks no.
But perhaps the tune should be in conflict with the poem's sense, and thus perhaps Ginsberg was not so much pushing a song of experience into a popular (and thus single-direction-tending) mode so much as making it still more Blakean.
The binary of innocence and experience, Rachel says, is broken by the way the song is sung. Blake wanted the binary to be broken; Ginsberg only breaks it further. And seems to been having fun along the way.
Listen for the happy out-take at the end. We had some fun ourselves, albeit somewhat atonally and quite arhythmically.
The Garden of Love
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
PoemTalk #4 was recorded in the Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. Al Filreis and Mark Lindsay produced; Steve McLaughlin is our director, engineer and editor. Ginsberg's Blake song were recorded in New York City in 1969; PennSound has a complete collection of these recordings. Be sure to check out PennSound's Ginsberg page.
There's a poem by Guillaume Apolinaire called (in English translation) "There Is." (I just said that the poem is there. But that's a kind of pun, since I meant that such a poem exists--as in, "There is a young man who travels the highway..."--but I also meant that there [below, here; on a page somewhere] it is, or, it is there, a particular place where you can find it. Ah.) Every line there (there I go again) begins with "There is" (or for plural objects, "There are" in English). Its effect as a list poem is doubled by the constraint/non-constraint of that opening phrasal construction. What is there? What is out there? What is in here (in the mind)? Whatever there is is there (here) in the poem. As a reader I don't try to follow a sequence--I don't try to "get somewhere"--because I know that what's next is just another thing that is there, and there can be outside but also inside the poem.
Then again the poem is a sequence but it's "about" war. It's about the ubiquity of war, in which every "there" is there. You can't turn away from it because it is just there. I don't try to get somewhere as a reader because in the end I will end up there, again.
The poet is pointing out things ("Look, there is that, and, see, over there is that...") and he is saying that these things are. It is also, in certain lines, about what is not there, not present (his love). So "there" on occasion means the opposite of presence.
There is this ship which has taken my beloved back again
There are six Zeppelin sausages in the sky and with night
coming on it makes a man think of the maggots from which the
stars might some day be reborn
There is this enemy submarine slipping up beneath my love
There are one thousand young pinetrees splintered by the
bursting of the same shells falling around me now
There is this infantryman walking by completely blinded by
There are all these crosses everywhere this way that way
There are paradisial persimmons growing on cactus-trees in
There are the long hands of my love