Commentaries

much more than night

I'm beginning to put together my fall '09 course, Representations of the Holocaust. I'm not a big fan of Wiesel's Night (not for lack of trying to admire it) but I still insist that the students read the original non-Oprah edition. Don't know if that less puffed-up version is available in sufficient quantities. Night, to me, is on one end of a spectrum of representations; Lanzmann's Shoah is on the other. My students and will watch all 9.5 hours of Shoah in one sitting on a Sunday. They complain bitterly and this itself becomes a major topic for discussion. If you look at the reading schedule, you can see that I'm convinced that Primo Levi is the one--the writer through which I feel the problems of representing this genocide can be most compellingly addressed. We also view a sampling of survivor testimonies from the great Yale video archive. Here are the links I provide the students.

Oppen at 100, in 23 minutes

Tom Devaney organized a celebration of George Oppen's 100th birthday - and the event happened at the Writers House in April '08. Soon after, we set up a special PennSound page with links to audio recordings of the presenters (myself included). Now we've released a PennSound podcast featuring a 23-minute excerpt from that event.

The photo was taken that night - George Economou, Michael Heller, Tom Devaney and Tom Mandel, listening to Ron Silliman present on Oppen.

Jews to whom nothing untoward happened (not)

Lisa New's memoir, Jacob's Cane, will be published in the fall by Perseus Books. I read it this past weekend in proofs and found it to be dazzling. I was asked to write a jacket blurb and here it is:

Elisa New’s brilliant memoir prefers convergences to chronology. That “history is a random business, made out of wanderings, guesses, and old glue” is the major idea—and also method—of the book, and its themes converge, surprisingly and pleasurably and emotionally—every which way. One moment we happily tear at Lithuanian rye jagged with caraway, its crust so tough it tugs the bones in the jaw, the next moment our guide is asking a man on the tractor to point out the spot where they’d shot the Jews. The Jews, of course, of New’s convention-defying family. These people are real, troubling every stereotype. Here is the gorgeously written, marvelously structured memoir of a person who’d been made as a child to understand why her whole clan comported themselves as though they were persons to whom nothing untoward had ever happened. But something most certainly did happen…

You can hear recordings of Lisa reading from the memoir - linked here.

We are living in diminished Times

Just before I picked up my Sunday New York Times, I read this status update from Just before I picked up my Sunday New York Times, I read this status update from Robert Archambeau: "Every time I pick up the NY Times in its new, shrunken version, I feel like some kind of giant. Today I'm intensifying the feeling by replacing my usual coffee with espresso from a tiny cup. In fact, I think I'll just commit to the role and make Godzilla noises as I walk around."

All poets were truly welcome

I met Dan Saxon through Penn - through the Writers House; he graduated from Penn in 1960. His son Jon was my student years ago, and his daughter Jerilyn and her husband Brian are members of the Writers House Board. Dan has shown interest in what we do at the Writers House for years - attends all our New York events and has been to the House itself many times. It was perhaps during our second or third meeting that Dan mentioned he'd had a connection to the avant-garde poetry scene of the early '60s in New York. Finally, a few weeks ago, I arranged for Dan to come to my office, which doubles as a recording studio, and we talked for an hour or so. A new PennSound podcast is a somewhat edited portion of that longer conversation.

As you'll hear in the podcast, Dan happened upon Le Metro, where Lower East Side poets and other artists gathered, and began to publish a crude but innovative and now really valuable irregular magazine, Poets of Le Metro. Daniel Kane, in All Poets Welcome, his book about the Lower East scene, describes the importance of Dan's magazine. Below is a passage.