Commentaries

letterpress

Three Penn partners created The Common Press - a letterpress project - at few years ago, happily: the Fine Arts Department of the School of Design; the Van Pelt Library; and us, the Kelly Writers House. The Common Press blog gives a pretty good sense of the types and range of projects undertaken at the press. Johanna Drucker has been a big supporter of this venture (as those who know Johanna's work as a maker of art books and an historian of art books will easily imagine) and during Johanna's last visit she and some Writers House people went to the presses and created a collaborative collage-y broadside. Below you see photos of the broadside, of Johanna and Kaegan Sparks, and of most of the gang including Mike Hennessey, Erin Gautsche, Michael Tom Vassallo and Mike Van Helder (roughly from right to left).



writing out Emily

Yesterday I spent the day at Harvard and met a number of very interesting folks along the way. One was Zachary Sifuentes, who has written out all of the poems of Emily Dickinson and created a powerful visual effect which Zach also suggests conveys something of the sound (or at least, I guess, the idea of the sound) of Dickinson's poetry. "What does sound look like," he asks, "in Dickinson’s poetry? With their associative logic, tangential reasoning, and circuitry, Dickinson’s lines hint at a shuffling of the mind. In other words, the linear behavior of her poems is anything but linear. Instead, her lines are large flocks of starlings, or cormorants, or even sparrows, fugitive from apprehension." At Zach's web site you can see photographs of the writing on display, both close-ups and far-offs. And you can watch a video of the writing in process. Here's your link to the Complete Poems project, and be sure, while there, to explore his other works.


Cynthia Ozick


My hour-long discussion with novelist Cynthia Ozick is now available as a downloadable mp3 recording. Cynthia came to the Writers House as a "Fellow" in 2006. Our conversation took place on March 21.

College Board loan scam

Don't let this scandal - one of the biggest in the history of American higher education - go unnoticed. The New York Times ran only this AP wire story, a few inches long, on a back page. Hard to believe the College Board would still be in business after having done this.

my vocabulary did this to me

I've been re-reading Jack Spicer's Thing Language. I find very helpful three passages from Ron Silliman's "Spicer's Language," in Writing/Talks, ed. Bob Perelman (1985):

[] Spicer, both as poet and linguist, rather aggressively disputed the valorization of language within the process of the poem. "Words are," he said in Vancouver, "things which just happen to be in your head instead of someone else's head.... The words are counters and the whole structure of language is essentially a counter. It's an obstruction to what the poem wants to do." (p. 191)

[] [On the first poem in "Thing Language":] I take it as no accident that the first word of the first poem . . . is "This." The assertion of presence is language's most fundamental claim on subjectivity, at once both referential and illusory. (p. 168)

[] [Spicer contends a] concept of an absent presence, the notion that you can have your cake and have (always, already) eaten it too; though, from either perspective, one is left hungry... Spicer achieves this effect by yolking together two nouns, thing and language, into an adjective:noun relation.... The result is not quite an oxymoron, which woulid be too simple. The use of the nominative thing in the place of an adjective is more in line with the abominations of Leviticus, that thing and language shall not lie down together. As any linguist would know, things are not signs. They are not, in a linguistic sense, significant.... Yet both the universe of things and the system of language are total dimensions of reality. An inarticulate universe of all that is real versus a system of articulation which, as a whole, can communicate nothing, and which serves to isolate the individual, both from the universe and from others. This is a vision of language, of subjectivity, as total oppression. That is the fundamental premise of the book Language [where the poetic sequence "Thing Language" appears]. Later, it will be the thrust of Spicer's dying words, "My vocabulary did this to me." (169-70)

Here's the first poem in Thing Language:

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Nothing.
It
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

"These three passages," writes Murat Nemet-Nejat, "show Spicer's profound pessimism about language, its insufficiency (as opposed to Duncan's optimism). The first one particularly about the thinning of language, disputing its valorization, is nothing less than a poetic revolution, shifting the center of gravity from words themselves to the empty space surrounding them, creating a new space. It all starts I think with Homage to Creeley."