This morning I went for a run just long enough to enable me to listen to Robert Grenier's introduction (written June 2009) to the collected poems of Larry Eigner. In his essay Grenier does a more or less close reading of five poems. One of them is this:
And here's Grenier's fabulous comment: "This is a real ‘moment’ (evoking the appearance and vanishment of all such into and out of existence, and time)—but ‘for the time-being’, accomplishing itself inside an interwoven ‘narrative-of-this-poem’—a very closely observed and ‘animated-in-the-poem’ skateboarder skateboarding down the middle of McGee Avenue in Berkeley—see how the trochaic accent emphases (“footwork”/“skateboard”/“middle”) get balanced by that iamb “between”, so as to evoke (for the reader) actual experience of two feet balancing on the board of that skateboarder (an interesting new word for LE)—and how would Larry Eigner know that, given his circumstance?—going down the middle of the poem (as if it actually were the “middle of the street”)—all this in lines which (seem to) ‘look like a skateboard’ (now that I think about it!) moving forward steadily (one space at a time) rightward from the left margin."
Indeed: "how would Larry Eigner know that, given his circumstance?" (disabled; bound by his body, to say the very least**). I should say now that I listened to this introduction because before I took off I quickly converted the text I found on the web (pre-dating publication of the book in December) into an automaton-voice-read sound file which I loaded onto my iPod, and off I went. I have choices - I chose a male avatar and set the voice-speed to low speed. The avatar does a pretty bad job of pronouncing the words. And perhaps because of a quirk in the way I block-copied the text into the text-to-voice program I use, he did not handle possessives well at all. Grenier likes to use "LE" for Larry Eigner and "LE's" I had to hear as "el - ee - ess." But I got used to it and began, especially in hearing the excerpts from the poems, a weird distended language spoken, something that made me have to listen hard. And then came this easeful perfectly balanced skateboard skateboarding down the middle of a poem, visually and metrically. Heart beating, faster running to the end, down the middle of Osage Avenue, I began again to understand, bodily this time, how to hear a poem as a sense.
** For one of many commentaries on Eigner's physical limitations, see this.
In this video clip, watch and hear Juliana Spahr read from her work, "The Incinerator." The clip is 8 minutes long and was prepared for our PennSound YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/pennsound. There are now 118 videos uploaded to PennSound on YouTube. They range from David Antin rethinking Freud to Kaegan Sparks introducing Christian Bok to John Yau talking with Charles Bernstein.
IT and the Poetry Classroom
This essay on modernist poetry at the end of the lecture is now available through the Selected Works site. Many thanks to Peter Middleton and Nicky Marsh for commissioning it and for fabulous editorial and other advice along the way. Thanks also to Julia Bloch, whose class session on the sounds of Amiri Baraka was inspirational. Also to Ira Winston, John MacDermott, the late Jack Abercrombie, Chris Mustazza and Mark Lindsay who have pushed me toward using digital media and computing in my teaching and who on occasion permitted me to push them. RIP, Jack!