The novelist and essayist Lynne Sharon Schwartz visited the Writers House recently as a "Writers House Fellow." She read from her 9/11 novel The Writing on the Wall on Monday evening; an mp3 is available, and so is streaming QuickTime video. The next morning she was back, and this time I interviewed her and led a discussion with an audience of about 50 people gathered at the House. This to can be heard and also viewed as video.
During the interview we talked in part about her essay called "Drive, She Said," which is a mostly implicit rejoinder to Robert Creeley's "I Know a Man":
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.
Lynne is somewhat afraid of driving recklessly or fast; her father was the master of the road and she wants his inheritance, but she drives cautiously and slow and cannot get over the fear that a cop will pull her over, ask her to roll down the window and will say, "You're not your father's daughter." She seeks counsel from her therapist, but she neglects to say the most important thing about her driving anxiety--that it's founded entirely on a fear of her father's driving and her incapacity at the thought of being disconnected from him as a timid driver. The therapist preaches the therapeutic gospel of a communalist road, where we share interests even while driving our separate ways. Lynne would like to believe that, but she can't. Nor can she end the essay. She is after all her father's daughter. She's more Creeley-like than not, in the end, because her essay-memoir talks on and on and meanders until finally she's driving the essay forward in the mode of which she thinks she's afraid. To me it constitutes an interesting feminist response to the Creeley of that early Guy Talk/On the Road poem.
"I'm saying that the domain of poetry includes both oral & written forms, that poetry goes back to a pre-literate situation & would survive a post-literate situation, that human speech is a near-endless source of poetic forms, that there has always been more oral than written poetry, & that we can no longer pretend to a knowledge of poetry if we deny its oral dimension."--Jerome Rothenberg, from a dialogue on oral poetry with William Spanos, 1975*
* in Pre-Faces, p. 11.
I've had a lot to say - too much, for most people, I'm sure - about the cardboard caricaturing of American communist poets, an invention of the 1940s and 1950s after the apparent/alleged dominance of such poets in the 1930s. I don't mean their politics, which often can be aptly caricatured (or at least predicted); I mean their aesthetics.
To take an instance: Collage, one would think, would be anathema to a communist poet at the height of the anti-fascist movement.
Responding to the death of Franklin Roosevelt in the spring of 1945, the communist Aaron Kramer constructed an elegy of words he found in the New York newspapers of April 13th and 14th. The result is a poem that is most certainly not an effort to respond coherently to a major political event - maybe emotionally, but not ideologically. It's not, in my view, a great instance of collage, but it is a newspaper collage and it was published in the American communists' official newspaper. The whole text is available in my modern American poetry site/English 88. Here are a few parts:
QUESTION: What did President Roosevelt mean to you
Place: Times Square...
A black crepe bowknot
either with or without streamers...
They came up out of the subways to put the question...
the flag is flown at half-staff, it was pointed out,
but never with the blue field down,
as that signifies a signal of distress...
Sometimes the magic is not in the looked-at but among the onlookers. As in this 1952 cartoon (published in the Saturday Review of Literature):
There's also here, of course, a related 1950s narrative about the Americanization of the Other, his transformation from status as the Real Thing to that of mere member of the Lonely Crowd craving the domestication of the non-rational. MORE >>>