I've briefly mentioned Tony Green here before (scroll down the sidebar at right until you see the image of a cone-like object). Tony, of New Zealand, makes poem-objects of various kinds. Or: sculptured poems. Or: three-dimensional linguistic accumulations. "Accumulations" is in fact a term he sometimes uses. The above object is called a "sliding accumulation" and it really does "work" just as you think it does from the way it looks here. It's made like one of those little palm-sized games you played when you were a kid. One space is open and you slide the little tiles around until you are able to put things in the right order--letters or numbers or colors. Here of course it's a poem--a poem that can't really be wrongly arranged. What you have instead of options for reading.
I'm pleased to say that I own one of these. In a latter entry I might attempt to show you how some of the patterns mean.
There's a nice article about the Kelly Writers House in today's New York Times by Alan Finder, the reporter who covers higher education for the paper. This link should work (it might not if you don't have a subscription): LINK. In the paper itself, the story seems to be in section B, page 7 (at least in the edition I get delivered to my house here in Philly).
So what is the point? “Apprenticeship, mentorship, internship,” Dr. Filreis said. The goal, he added, “is to enrich the undergraduates’ lives outside the classroom.”
“For me, this is Swarthmore, Reed or Bard, here in the middle of a big research university,” said Dr. Filreis, a bearded, often beaming professor of modern and contemporary poetry whose enthusiasm and avuncular demeanor seem to permeate the Writers House. “This is a little bit of Bard. You can come in and people know who you are.”
When Israeli novelist and essayist and activist Amos Oz visited the Writers House in October 2004, his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, was just then begin published in English--in a beautiful translation by Nicholas DeLange. DeLange visited the Writers House too as part of a 4-day Oz conference. I had read the proof copy of the memoir in the weeks prior to the visit, and had fallen under its spell. Then I had the honor of reading a chapter from the book in English, with its famous author sitting there in the front row. Fortunately he liked the way I read the chapter very much.
I chose to read the chapter about attempts by the young Amos and his father to grow vegetables in the Israeli soil. Not a success. It's easy to think of the story as an allegory for living life in Israel from Oz' political point of view, but Oz himself resists this interpretation, preferring to think of the tale as a literal remembrance. You can judge for yourself. The reading of the chapter takes 26 minutes, so perhaps you'll download the mp3 of my reading of it and listen to it on your IPod.
When the weather starts to get a bit nasty, and just going out for a stroll in nature seems the last thing I'd want to do, I make "Let's Go Out" as recited by Jaap Blonk my poem of the day. Oh, let's go out, let's go out. Let's go out into nature, nature, nature, the natural word along with natural language, the most natural language there is....
Jaap Blonk read at the Writers House on November 11, 2004, and this performance was stunningly good. Woke me up, completely, to the sound of words as sounds.
So, dear reader, it's my poem of the day: so start it off with a good listen, please, to "Let's Go Out".
Wallace Stevens loved to buy paintings from Paris, especially in the late 1940s. And yet he never traveled to Paris and in those pre-internet, pre-fax days, he typically could not see the painting he was about to purchase. In several instances, he depended entirely on the descriptions in words provided by the daughter of his long-term Parisian agent (who died during the war); her name was Paule Vidal. Through long letters back and forth, Stevens came to know her well and could tell what he wanted in a painting from the way she described it. In one case, she sketched the painting that interested him and mailed the sketch to him along with yet another letter of descriptive language. The sketch is reproduced here above right.
I found this whole process fascinating: a modern poet imagining his paintings for weeks and months before he saw it. And of course this wouldn't be nearly as interesting is Stevens didn't write poems about some of these paintings. I should say poems "about" the paintings, because it's not entirely clear whether Stevens could properly be said to have written "about" the painting or about the description of the painting or indeed about the interanimations entailed in the process of slowly apprehending or viewing the painting. After all, their representations slowly emerged for him.
So I wrote a long essay about this, and chose the story of one painting and one poem to tell--that of Stevens' "Angel Surrounded by Paysans" (first published in 1950) and Still Life by Pierre Tal Coat. The painting depicts some items on a table: a napkin surrounded by a tureen and some vases and bottles. The angel-like quality of the napkin is something Stevens "saw" in the letters from Paule Vidal. Back in the late 1980s my colleague Wendy Steiner was editing a special issue of Poetics Today and invited me to write this story for that. It appeared in the summer 1989 issue. Here is the article as a PDF. The full citation: "Still Life without Substance: Wallace Stevens and the Language of Agency," Poetics Today, "Art and Literature II," vol. 10, no. 2 (Summer 1989), pp. 345-72.
I once visited Stevens' daughter, Holly Stevens, at her ocean's-edge home in Guilford, CT, and spent the afternoon with her and my friend and co-editor Beverly Coyle. I had a chance to see many of Stevens' paintings right there on the walls of this small house. I was struck by the Tal Coat. There it was. I either took a color photograph of it then, or later had Holly or Bev take a shot of it, but in any case somewhere in my files I have a color photo of it. The black-and-white reproduction of the painting done for the Poetics Today article was taken during a 1963 exhibit of Stevens' paintings at Trinity College in Hartford.