Commentaries

agh, petals maybe

Still transferring old Real-format audio and video materials into the more accessible and less proprietary mp3. Today it's a short discussion--by me and Shawn Walker--of William Carlos Williams's poem "Portrait of a Lady," which, perhaps oddly, I ask my students to read not when we study the rise of modernism but, a little later, when we are preparing to enter the postmodern. Here's the chapter of the course where it occurs. And here is the discussion of the poem.

Portrait of a Lady

Your thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze—-or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
—As if that answered
anything.—Ah, yes. Below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore—-
Which shore?—-
the sand clings to my lips—-
Which shore?
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
—the petals from some hidden
appletree—Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.

Above: a detail of Fragonard's painting "The Swing."

An introduction to basic New York School modes

an old mini-lecture prepared for an online course

For my survey of modern & contemporary American poetry (English 88) I once (1999) made a recording of a really basic mini-lecture on three fundamental types of New York School poems: anti-narrative, non-narrative, pastiche. The whole thing is plausible enough, although obviously there are more "types" and much more to say about pastiche. Recently we converted a RealAudio file of this recording and produced a new mp3, which I've linked to "chapter 8" of the course. So here is that old talk as an mp3.

editorial presence

The late Ted Solotaroff--one of the most important literary editors of the '60s and '70s--visited us in 2003. He had recently published his very frank memoir, First Loves. He had been an editor of Commentary and the editor of Bookweek before he founded the influential literary journal New American Review. He is the author of The Red-Hot Vacuum, A Few Good Voices in My Head, and First Loves: A Memoir. He taught at the University of Chicago, Yale, Columbia, the City College of New York, and the University of California at Berkeley. He lived in East Quogue, Long Island, and in Paris.

It was in the pages of the New American Review where I found Max Apple's amazing short fiction for the first time. Even then, as I handled the paperback-sized magazine for the first time, I had a sense of Solotaroff's editorial presence. It was strong and clear somehow.

[] Solotaroff at the Writers House: LINK

[] audio recording of his talk: LINK

[] New York Times obit: LINK

reference, like the body itself...

In the introduction to The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews wrote that:

[C]onfusion about the nature of this exploration flourishes. For instance, the idea that writing should (or could) be stripped of reference is as bothersome and confusing as the assumption that the primary function of words is to refer, one-on-one, to an already constructed world of "things." Rather, reference, like the body itself [and there, again, is the body, the "plan"], is one of the horizons of language. . . . It is the multiple powers and scope of reference (denotative, connotative, associational), not writers' refusal or fear of it, that threads these essays together. It is a renewed engagement that comes from the recognition that the (various) measuring and questioning and composition of our references is the practice of our craft.

Kit's balance sheet

Kit Robinson's 1993 reading at the Ear Inn has now been segmented into individual poems. Here's our Kit Robinson page.