William Carlos Williams, "Between Walls"
Can such a brief bit of writing - William Carlos Williams's "Between Walls" - be a "campaign poem," as host Al Filreis at one point in PoemTalk #1 suggests? Saigon-born poet Linh Dinh (Jam Alerts) insists that it is a garbage poem and prefers not to claim for it such large literary-political territory. Williams is "flirting" with the poetic, but never quite gets there. Teacher, editor, poet, translator, college administrator Randall Couch sees greater awareness of the poetic line in the poem as printed on the page than in the way Williams's read the poem at public readings. Linh and poet Jessica Lowenthal (As If In Turning) see and hear two different poems. Al keeps wondering if the poem can be negative (be about nothing) and yet at the same time produce something and point toward this bit of shining broken modern shard to discover, or re-discover, life. To Al and Jessica it's positive ("lie / cinders / in which shine") but Linh insists with pleasure that Williams is being neutral - just a snapshot of an urban scene. As such, the poem has had a huge influence on poetry and photography since its first publication in 1934. Yet can any artist today get away with so straightforward and seemingly objective a mere observation?
the back wings
will grow lie
in which shine
pieces of a green
We at PoemTalk were celebrating Williams's 124th birthday a little while back when we noticed several bloggers seemed to feel it necessary on that very day to "avoid[...] the urge to romanticize" WCW. The blogger who creates Caught in the Stream led the way, pondering - and then rejecting as untrue - the distinction between Walt Whitman's long-lined sentimentality and WCW's succinct and seemingly exclusive focus on things. We delighted at the way respondents to the blog weighed in on one side or the other. But on our cake, at least, we held an extra candle for Walt, sensing that the two poets are very much in the same line.
PennSound's Williams page has the complete recordings, every last one so far as we know. Including, of course, the three recordings of the poet reading PT's first poem, "Between Walls."
PoemTalk #1 was recorded in Studio 111 at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The show was produced by Al Filreis and Mark Lindsay, and was directed and edited by Steve McLaughlin with help from Curtis Fox.
If you're fed up with antiquity, and feel that even the automobiles are antiques, and that religion alone remains an entirely new religion, which is to say it remains as simple as an airport hangar, then get thee to Paris and look at this spot under the chestnut trees, backed by the walls of the old monastery, surrounded by children at play. MORE>>>
In response to this, Tim Carmody wrote: "Who am I to argue with Sid Caesar? But as William Carlos Williams knew, the wheelbarrow is a pretty genius invention. Sometimes one wheel is enough."
To which I repled: "The flaw in Sid's thinking is in the assumption of the precise number of wheels that take a concept beyond its invention. (He was such an automobile-age sachem.) But the thought about thinking is still good to me: Invention is a thing done to a concept."
To which, in turn, Tim responds as follows:
I agree. I'm also reminded of Pound's quote of Leger quoting Hegel in the ABC of Reading: "Man should be prouder of having invented the hammer and nail than of having created masterpieces of imitation." Then Pound goes on to quote Spinoza: "The intellectual love of a thing consists in understanding its perfections." And to write: "You don't sleep on a hammer or lawn-mower, you don't drive nails with a mattress. Why should people go on applying the SAME critical standards to writings as different in purpose and effect as a lawn mower and a sofa cushion?" Given that Pound refers to the latter kind of writing as an "REPOSE, dope, opiates, mental beds," and later attacks Shakespeare for having "upholstered" language, Pound does seem to be positioning himself on the hammer/lawnmower end of the spectrum. [LINK]. The Pound/Williams generation didn't just say "no ideas but in things" -- they really did seem to try to use things to think.
Today's Times features an article about the pressures brought to bear on these mostly ridiculous big-time party designers - "event planners" who sometimes take six months to create a gathering. One of these folks, David Stark, might rightly be called a conceptual event designer (in the sense of "conceptual artist," although as I verily write this parenthesis I realize it will seem a stretch, but bear with me...).
Stark's latest work, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s awards gala, was meant to be Green & enviro-friendly and avant-garde at once. Giving into decadence in one sense, creating green ironies in another, and possibly mocking the tuxes and little black dresses prancing below trash topiaries and shredded-paper chandeliers in yet a third. Stark created indeed giant faux-natural shapes - many florid archaisms fashioned from trash. "It was the language of excess," says the Times "— those topiaries recalled the gardens of Versailles — expressed in the material of frugality."
The shredded paper of which these biomorphs were made included 12 years of Stark's own tax returns. Excess means the extra stuff you throw away (or now: make available for recycling), and it also means too much.
(Maybe, as a result of this success, Stark's tax return this year will need to have a few extra addenda. I wonder, if we demand to have his tax returns made public, if it will be part of the art. I rather think so.) MORE...
John Brockman's world in the 1960s was a humming electronic world, in which multiple films, tapes, amplifiers, kinetic sculpture, lights and live dancers or actors are combined to involve audiences in a total theater experience. His Intermedia Kinetic Experiences permitted audiences simply to sit, stand, walk or lie down and allow their senses to be Saturated by Media. His 1969 book was By the Late John Brockman.
Yes, Brockman, the sci/tech literary uber-agent, the Happenings organizer in the 1960s and in recent years the creator of "Third Culture" and a leader of the digerati (cyber-intellectuals), came to the Writers House in 1999 along with six of the digerati. And I introduced and, with John, co-moderated a discussion about digital culture.
The digerati I met that night were: Maris Bowe of word.com; Jason McCabe Calacanis, a Silicon Alley Reporter; Luyen Chou of Learn Technologies; Steven Johnson of feed.com; Katinka Matson of EDGE; Frank Moretti of Columbia University's Center for New Media, Technology and Learning; Stefanie Syman of feed.com; Bob Stein of Night Kitchen. At left: John Brockman in '99.
 the KWH calendar entry for this event: LINK
 the KWH digerati page: LINK
 Daily Pennsylvanian article covering the event: LINK
 Wired exec ed Kevin Kelly's essay about Third Culture: LINK
 an account of the day Dylan visited the Factory and Brockman was there: LINK