Commentaries

Telephony so retro it's cool

dial-a-poem returns

About a year ago Curtis Fox, who produces and hosts a weekly poetry podcast for the Poetry Foundation, spoke with me about our dial-a-poem project, which is part of a telephone system we at the Writers House set up, figuring that it was beginning to be, or was well into, an age once again in which telephony was the site of convergence for many if not all things communication. Which is a probably an over-fancy way of saying something obvious about how many of us walk around with smartphones and do email, texting and of course phone-calling on the one portable device. So when our email weekly calendars get sent out, listing and linking to upcoming events at the Writers House for the coming week, at the top of that announcement is our phone number: 215-746-POEM (215-746-7636). When you're looking at this emailed announcement on a smartphone, the device will automatically make a kind of hyperlink of the phone number (it knows to do this for every 10-digit number it sees). Touch that link or scroll to it and hit your button, and the phone will automatically dial it. Because of this, we figured we ought to be there with some cool telephony, retro and cutting-edge both. Try dialing 215-746-7636 right now and see what I mean. Press "3" and you'll hear a single poem recording from PennSound - a poem read at the Writers House. Press "4" and you'll hear a 1-minute performance from a member of the Writers House community. Click here and listen to Curtis Fox's interview with me about this new/old version of "dial-a-poem."

Anne Tardos Poem for Lytle Shaw

Anne Tardos created a poem that consists (mostly) of lists of adjectives and adjectival phrases that she'd "picked up" from a reading given by Lytle Shaw in the Segue series. In December 2002 she gave her own reading in The Line Reading Series, where Lytle Shaw introduced her, and so she began with the aforementioned poem, "For Lytle Shaw." Here is the recording. And here is the link to PennSound's Anne Tardos page.

Writing through imagism (PoemTalk #36)

Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies" and H.D.'s "Sea Poppies"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

For this episode of PoemTalk, we took the show on the road - to Chicago - where David Pavelich hosted us at the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago, a favorite haunt of an archive-obsessed Al Filreis over many years. (The Modern Poetry collection includes, of course, the papers of Poetry magazine up until 1962 or so, among other gems.) Thanks to David for hosting us! We were joined by Don Share and Judith Goldman and we talked about two poems, one written through the other: H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" and Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies." Here's H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" (1916):  

Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

treasure
spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

And here is Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies" (2002):

Lavenderish dusk
strapped for stays,
pomegranates under the rubberband
chucked for a glass Oz,

letdown
splayed by the pillar-shelves
to page upon the ottoman:

his talk has wrought suit
amid citrus gapes
and pall dunked in the bowl
and grated sage
or cleaved clear paleo-pines.

Postgeist, upcast
California upon weed,
what banker yields
so fragrant a cant
as this vagrant cant?

Scappettone wrote through H.D.'s poem, substituting words but always keeping to parts of speech. She echoes the original at certain moments, creating some rhymes and in a few cases what amounts to a homonymic ("husk"/"dusk") and quasi-synonymic translation ("sought root"/"wrought suit"). The poem is a meta-commentary on imagism, a way of decorating or over-elaborating H.D. whose imagistic lines convey a "piety that veers into preciosity" (the poet's phrase).** Conch-shells become paleo-pines. "Fire on leaf" becomes "California upon weed." "Vase" can rhyme with "maze" or with "Oz," depending on your class. (Scappettone has introduced the poem at readings sometimes by mentioning this valence, seeming to contribute to the notion that it is a commentary on imagism's social preciousness.)

Photo above and at left: Don Share and Al Filreis taking questions after presentations on the work of Poetry editor Henry Rago - in Chicago at a conference hosted by David Pavelich held after we recorded this episode of PoemTalk.

** Quoting from an email sent to Al Filreis by Jennifer Scappettone.

We Want Water in Every Originist Myth

1964, Shea Stadium Opens

Ah, the way we humans find ways to mythologize water. It flows into almost every narrative we make about origins. Here's my favorite instance of this:

On April 16, 1964, the day before Shea Stadium officially opened, Bill Shea christened the Mets' new home with two symbolic bottles of water: one from the Gowanus Canal, near Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers and one from the Harlem River, near the Polo Grounds, where the New York Giants had played and later the Mets during their first two years. The next morning, April 17th, construction workers were painting outfield signs and fresh sod was being laid in the outfield as the teams took batting practice. (The Mets lost, 4-3, to Pittsburgh that afternoon.

I hardly need to say that the Mets were originally conceived as a balm to the wounds felt by Giant and Dodgers fans whose National League teams were stolen from them (moving to California) in the late 50s, in moves that have often and can really only be interpreted as white flight. By the way, my friend Peter Tarr, who passed along this factoid to me, himself attended that first Shea game, April 18, 1964, the first of many, many losses Pete has endured.

On Memory and Writing

Leonard Schwartz and Susan Schultz

Several times recently I've mentioned Susan Schultz' Dementia Blog here, so I won't repeat the basic information about the project; rather I'll direct you back here. Michael Nardone recent completed transcribing the conversation between Leonard Schwartz and Susan recorded for one of Leonard's "Cross Cultural Poetics" shows. We hope to publish it some day in Jacket2 but meantime here's a preview - an unedited transcription of one portion of the interview.

- - -

SCHWARTZ:
So, it's a really rich and complicated weave of things, and so beautifully juxtaposed.  You know, you have that section: my empathy is memory, is a container into which your experience sometimes fits, shallow grave or swimming pool, death by water. The mind is a memory of overpasses, not to pass over but under by way of air.  The air is human.  I am the limbless woman.

Can you say a little bit—-I know this is a, you know, vast and grave question—-but a little bit about your take on memory having moved through this experience with dementia, and on the personal level, your mother's dementia, and the political level, with the Bush administration now reaching its end?

SCHULTZ:
Could you ask me a bigger question, Leonard?

SCHWARTZ:
Were one to ask Proust the question about memory, I know what we would get.  It would take several volumes.  It's a big question.  He's got quite a few books that are devoted to that, but what would be the thumbnail sketch of Susan Schultz's vision of memory?

SCHULTZ:
Well, I've always been quite obsessed with memory, and I think most of my work comes out of the way in which my memory—which I think in many ways is simply an echo chamber of the larger cultural and social memory—works, if that's the right word.  So, I think memory is not just a solitary activity, it's very much a communal activity.  It's what joins us to other people once we take our memories and offer them to others.  So, perhaps one of the most striking effects of memory-loss is that return to a kind of profound solitude that I certainly saw in my mother for a long time.  Now that she's in a better place—she's in an Alzheimer's home and she is very well taken care of—there is a sense that she's back in community.  But she doesn't speak of her memories.  I'm not sure she has them anymore, and so, in that sense, I think there's a kind of profound solitude that has to do with living exclusively in the present.

There's also a strong ethical sense to memory.  There's a wonderful book about the ethics of memory by an Israeli philosopher whose name, of course, I can't call to mind at the moment, but the sense in which if you have a memory and you use it correctly, it's an ethical act.  If you fail to remember certain important things, that's an unethical act.  And yet, if you lose your memory to illness, it's something else again.  So the difference between that loss of memory to illness and the loss of memory that the Bush administration tried to create for all of us, I think, is very telling that there are different uses of the erasure of memory, and in my book I was trying to negotiate a place from which I was encountering both at the same time.  So, I don't know if that answers your question—

SCHWARTZ:
It's a wonderful response to the question.  I'm so glad I insisted even though you tried to laugh the question off at first, because it's a great—and there's so much to think about in what you just said, the way in which, in fact, memory is communal, we think of memory at some level as a deep form of introspection, and it is, but at the same time certain kinds of memory, certain forms of memory would not be possible without a conversation, or without the wider conversation that is sometimes called community.  So, that complexity, that complicated tissue of discourse and language that makes memory possible, you speak to so tellingly in what you just said, and in the book itself, Dementia Blog, which is really quite extraordinary.