Nada Gordon joined a conversation some of us were having yesterday in New York about the spare late poem of Wallace Stevens, "Not Ideas about the Thing But the Thing Itself." Nada, a proud flarfist, feels that poetry should include (rather than exclude) and would seem to love the fecund, richly imaginative Stevens of poems like the florid, overwritten "Comedian as the Letter C." But "Not Ideas" is sparse, thin, scrawny, barely there. In it, nonetheless, Nada finds here a beckoning to the (faded, past, almost gone) richness of the imagination. The poem's call for thing-only objectivity is not (at it were) real. Nada has written about all this on her blog today. She has also rewritten the poem and that seems to express perfectly well her overall response to it:
Not Ideas About the Bling But the Bling Itself
At the earliest antinomian disaster,
On Mars, a prawn-y guy from outside
Seemed like he had blown his mind.
He knew that he blown it,
A dry curd, under a fluorescent light,
In the early harsh of mellow.
The sun wore purple underwear,
No longer a buttered ganache above dandruff...
It would have been outside.
It was not from the vast vacuum cleaner
Of creepy jaded poetics conferences...
The sun was wearing purple underwear inside out.
That brawny gay--It was
A chorine whose c preceded the bleach.
It was part of the giant lox,
Surrounded by its collar rings,
Still barbarous. It was like
A new knowledge of reality shows.
She recalls being read to her mother as a child, and in a poem called "The Way" brilliant reproduces the effect of that special kind of abandonment: the child, sent into story, follows Gretel-like into the pages' wood (Ron Silliman believes the mention of "paper" in "The Way" is a forest made of pages), gets horrifyingly lost, only to come into a clearing once again.
The 8th episode of PoemTalk is being released today. I gathered the abovementioned Ron Silliamn and also Charles Bernstein and Rachel Blau DuPlessis to talk with me about "The Way" for about 25 minutes. Here is your link; have a look and listen and please let me know (afilreis [at] gmail [dot] com) what you think.
Rae Armantrout, "The Way"
This time the PoemTalkers were Ron Silliman, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Charles Bernstein, and our poem was Rae Armantrout's "The Way." Charles had already spoken with Rae about this poem briefly during their interview in the Close Listening series, so we went into our convo knowing that Rae sees the poem as having two compositional parts--a first part consisting of found phrases, items from the poet's notebook of linguistic observations, a collage of voices, no fixed I. "I am here" is Jesus revealed to you in a pew, but I is also a poem's prospective speaker: someone saying something tautological. Where else would you be, at the moment, than here? The second half, again according to the poet--revealingly or not--is a quasi-personal recollection: being read to as a child, getting lost in a story and thus feeling "abandoned" by the mother who gave her the gift of books. Gretel-like, does she "come upon" these trees, this wood, each time diving into the wreck of each new now-nonnarrative venture? The most relevant of such ventures being...this poem itself? Who is lost in it? Have we lost the poem's speaker, only to come upon her again (and again)?
Charles chants lyrics from Grease: Grease is the way I am feeling. Rachel reminds us that "I am here" can also read as "Kilroy was here" does - a marker left by someone who came randomly before. Ron helps us focus on the ending: a grand vision expected, a definitive something, the light coming down through the trees, and what we get is..."again." The sort of thing that keeps happening over and over. "Once" (as in "once upon a time") in "once again" (the fairy tale's synchronicity).
PoemTalk #8 was recorded in studio 111 of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Our director and engineer was Steve McLaughlin.
There's been much talk about Nicholas Carr's Atlantic essay bemoaning the demise, in the internet age, of deep reading (“Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Atlantic, July/August 2008, pp. 56-63). Carr's answer is that Google is indeed making us stupid and, to be perfectly frank, I think the question is itself rather stupid. First off, "us"? Second: "stupid"? Reading habits are changing, just as they always have been changing; it's just that they are changing more rapidly than usual. I'd guess that the emergent ubiquity of the daily newspaper in the 18th century probably changed urbanite reading habits as quickly as they've changed in the 1996-2008 period in which the web has become a major source of words to be read. And I'm not sure anyone will ever be able to speak very specifically about wide reading as distinct from deep reading as a positive or negative value. The traditional notion is that deep reading is of greater value than wide. But I've never felt that way. Moreover, when we're moving fast we are wide readers pretending (e.g. in class, at cocktail parties, at the office on a Monday morning) to be deep readers.
One sane response to Carr is at the blog called PolEconAnalysis: here. Disclosure: I found this because GoogleAlerts signalled to me that this blog response mentions me.
Responding to the above, Murat Nemet-Nejat wrote:
In my view, the real value of reading occurs in re-reading. The speed at which things occur in the web, the intense flow of time constructs in the web represent -for instance, the way entries of "yesterday" gain a secondary place in a blog, replaced by the entry of "today"- make re-reading very difficult. When Thoreau says that one does not have to travel the world, that examining one's own place is the greatest of travels, he is also referring to the experience of re-reading, the loss of which can be nothing but a melancholy experience.
To which I casually wrote:
You're certainly right about re-reading. I think re-reading prose in particular has gone or is going out the window. Fortunately certain forms have the experience of re-reading inhering in them (or seemingly) - poetry being one. I might be unusual in that I do in fact re-read a lot of things that fly past me digitally. I save them, put them somewhere (bookmark, saving-as, etc.) where I can find them again. I take advantage of the new portability. But again I take your point. I like your second point even better - yesterday's blog entry becomes secondary. But but but...web searches produce old blog entries and bypass that hiearchizing within any one blog. Make sense?
Then Murat again:
Particularly in its manifestation in blogs, but even more generally, in its incredible ability to produce, to replicate, the internet makes the passage of time very concrete. By definition, reading/re-reading is a meditative activity, involving a slowing of the time process, in Spicer's terms, going against its grain. Here is the dilemma, for me, in the contradictory nature of the internet, both its intense allure, its power, and the peril involved in this fatal seduction. I do not mean by this that one can or one should wish to undo this historical change, as if not more profound than the industrial revolution; only that one must -particularly us as poets- develop a more complex relationship to it.