In an essay on modernism and postmodernism in American poetry, David Antin quoted a passage from Allen Ginsberg's "America" and then pondered the contemporary response among "'establishment' critics" of the 1950s. How did Ginsberg's antic style strike them? From the later vantage (Antin was writing in the late 1970s) it is hard for us to remember that Ginsberg's writing seemed unliterary. The fact is that when we read Ginsberg today we assume that, whatever else his language is, it is at least literary. "America the plum blossoms are falling"--indeed!
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing
America the plum blossoms are falling
I haven't read the newspapers for months everyday some-
body goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I'm
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and star at roses in
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid
Here's Antin: "The success of the style can be measured by the degree to which the 'establishment' critics responded to this poetry as anti-poetry, anti-literature, and as sociopolitical tract. While there may have been contributory factors in the political climate of the Cold War and [Ginsberg's] own mania, it is still hard to believe that this alternately prophetic, rhapsodic, comic, and nostalgic style could appear unliterary. But it did appear unliterary, primarily because the appropriate devices for framing 'Modern' poetry and literature in general were nowhere in sight. Instead of 'irony,' it had broad parody and sarcasm; instead of implying, the poem ranted and bawled and laughed; learned as it was in the strategies of European poetry it was seen as the poetry of the gutter."
(The essay's title is "Modernism and Postmodernism: Approaching the Present in American Poetry.")
Here is a rare recording: the Hatikva sung by Jewish inmates of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 20, 1945. The recording, originally made by the BBC, had been lost until around 2000. It was aired in 2007 by NPR.
Thanks to Charles Bernstein for sending me this link.
When Tom Devaney interviewed Carl Rakosi, he asked this question: "I wanted to ask about the effect Stevens had upon your writing. In your poem 'Homage to Wallace Stevens' (later renamed in the Collected as the 'Domination of Wallace Stevens'), there is both a music of the language and direct use of musical terms and language. You write:
These are privacies behind the mask
but they are not the manners of a boy
who blows his French horn, smiles at twelve o’clock
and sips the old port from the hostess’s shoe."
Laughing, Rakosi, answered this way: "You know, there I almost translated Stevens, it’s so close. Well, it was a catastrophe when I started to read Stevens because he just enveloped me, he was a seducer. I didn’t at first object to that, but then I thought it was going to put an end to me. So it took me a long time to finally shake him off. He greatly influenced my early work, but then my own poem is also a bit of a parody of Stevens. You notice the character in the poem is Levy, not an Anglo-Saxon."
Tom described the scene of the interview this way: "What most strikes you in Mr. Rakosi’s living room, where we recorded the interview and listened to music at length on both days, is a large three-paneled front window, which fills the room with a clean, generous light (in the aptly named Inner Sunset district). The front window faces west toward the Pacific ocean, which can be felt more than seen. The window looks out upon the sloping 17th Avenue, where telephone wires criss-cross with a uniform sag between the area’s signature staggered and stacked duplexes. In the living room, you also cannot miss the impressive twin four-feet-tall black Polk audio speakers and high-end stereo system. Carl is well known to sit for hours enjoying his extensive collection of classical and modern CDs and records."
This interview was published in Jacket in February 2004.
When I reviewed Gerald Graff's book on "teaching the conflicts," I had as much space as I needed (I was writing for Review and its editor Jay Hoge gave me no limit). In part because Graff's idea had already received a great deal of attention, I decided to set his argument in the context of the Cold War-era political correctness debates. It was an odd gesture, because nowhere in the book does Graff refer to anticommunism or to pedagogy in the 1950s.
Here are the first two paragraphs of my piece:
Saul Bellow was surely right when in May of 1994 he noted for a New Yorker writer that the culture wars of the nineties have their rhetorical and logical origins in the fifties--in the "super-charged battles between anti-Communists and anti-anti-Communists." I take this cue (though little else, I'm afraid) from Mr. Bellow. He is right to imply that while so much has been said and written about political correctness in the eighties and nineties, little has been done to put the debates in the context of anticommunism. Though Bellow believes anti-anticommunists were largely influenced by Stalinism--here's where, unsurprisingly, he parts with the left--he does concede that what little anti-anticommunist resistance there was in the 1950s arose because some liberals didn't enjoy "being forced to line up" in the rush to consensus. To Bellow those who in the late forties and fifties fashioned liberal anticommunism (those who did "line up"--Bellow scornfully says many indulged in "opinion- consumerism") had earlier been the not-altogether happy participants in the Popular Front, New Deal Democrats among them. More interesting is Bellow's notion that those who formed anti- anticommunism had been either outright communists earlier, or liberals whose liberalism became "liberal fanaticism" when in the 1950s they refused to participate in McCarthyism. These anti- anticommunists, Bellow suggests, are the principal forerunners of advocates of "political correctness" forty years later. Bellow sees in contemporary liberalism a radicalism of people stuck on slogans, labels and rigidified positions ("mindless...medallion- wearing...placard-bearing" folks), and evidently he deems this group more properly the inheritors of anti-anticommunist Stalinism than of anticommunist liberalism--as if the latter ideology did not have an ideology, had no slogans, bore no placards. This PC genealogy is the key, I think, to discerning the positions taken in the newest outbreak of culture wars. PC bashers inherit from the fifties the anticommunists' assumption that the most powerful anti-anticommunists are Stalinists-become-"liberal fanatics," while anti-PC bashers inherit from the fifties the anti-anticommunists' assumption that the most powerful anticommunists are liberals become more truly themselves. At issue, primarily, is which group gets to claim as its rightful heritage from the cold-war era the notion that intellectual and social culture benefit from radical dissensus, disagreement, and difference. Yet in the fifties almost every anticommunist at one point or other argued *against* dissensus for the sake of the necessarily greater disagreement with Soviet (or "world") communism (e.g. limits on the right of American communists to teach in the universities, for the sake of national security), while, even if only for strategic reasons, the anti-anticommunists were the ones incessantly arguing for the right (indeed the usefulness) of radical dissent, including that of communists.
Although Gerald Graff, as he wrote Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, was surely aware of a cold-war context for his contention that, for instance, intellectual extreme opposites "need" each other to make their positions meaningful, it was never his purpose to make his argument depend on such awareness. Yet Beyond the Culture Wars would benefit from this focus, and since, moreover, so much has been written about Graff's book since its publication in 1992 in relation to the political correctness, canon revision and multiculturalism controversies, I intend here to concentrate on restoring what I take to be the crucial though perhaps necessarily unspoken cold-war background to Graff's proposal. The 1950s' relevance to what Graff nicely calls "teaching the conflicts" reveals both the value of Graff's insights about the cultural resistance to intellectual many-sidedness and the limitations of a liberal pedagogical idealism that is trying too hard to avoid the old communist-anticommunist contest. Despite what I take to be implicitly his acuity about the effects of cold-war consensus on the universities, and of red-baiting on intellectual culture at large, his promotion of an argument-counterargument structure to literary education too often neglects the fact that equal-time liberalism has a cultural precondition rendering free and open colloquy not so easily made free and open. Graff would say (rightly, I think) that the precondition must itself be taught, but the resulting meta-pedagogical involution, however boldly self-conscious, is not without its own politics.
Here is the text of the whole review.
For Ben Franklin's 300th birthday, my son wrote an N+8 poem, thus systematically deranging a list of Franklin's pragmatic adages. Here is a paragraph from a Pennsylvania Gazette article that covered this event:
At Kelly Writers House, “Seven-Up on Ben” presented seven speakers each talking for seven minutes (more or less) about Franklin. Among the speakers was another Ben—Ben Filreis, 14, son of Kelly Writers House Faculty Director Al Filreis — who read a poem he’d written adapting 24 famous sayings from Poor Richard’s Almanac. To “freshen up” the familiar adages, he replaced nouns with words appearing eight entries down in a dictionary (eight being the number of letters in Benjamin). “Sometimes the result is nonsense,” he said. “Sometimes it makes a Ben Franklin kind of sense for our time.”
And here is Ben's poem, entitled "Poor Richard in 2006":
An empty Baghdad cannot stand upright.
Be always ashamed to catch Tibet idle.
Chekhov and salty mechanics should be sparingly eaten.
The doornails of wisdom are never shut.
Early to Bedemen and early to risus makes a manakin healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Full of courtroom, full of cramming.
The godfather helps them that helps themselves.
A hunter never saw bad breadstuff.
If you’d have a serviceman that you like, serve yourself.
If Jack’s in a love potion, he’s no judge of Jill’s Beaver.
Keep thy shop-talk and thy shop-talk will keep thee.
Your Lieutenant stands on one legal separation, your T-shirt on two.
A manikin without a wiggler is but half a manikin.
Nothing but Mongolia is sweeter than honeydew.
One toe is worth two tones.
A Quarrelsome manikin has no good nemesis.
The rotten apple seed spoils his compass.
Three may keep security, if two of them are dead.
Up, slumlord, and waste not life; in the graveyard we’ll be slurping enough.
Visualities should be short, like a wiper’s daytime.
A good exchange is the best serpent.
You may delay, but Times Square will not.
There are lazy mine fields as well as lazy bogs.
There is a recording of Ben reading this piece.