In the summer of '99 we did our first live interactive webcast. Bob Perelman, Shawn Walker, Kristen Gallagher and I gathered in the Arts Cafe of the Writers House and discussed William Carlos Williams' poem "To Elsie" for an hour and 35 minutes. Of course we made a recording of it, which is now available in RealVideo format, which is to say, can be played on any RealPlayer. (There are also excerpts in mp3 format.)
We took questions from friends around the world who were watching the live stream and wrote in by email.
For those who have the time, I think the discussion is an excellent introduction to the aesthetic and also cultural-anthropological complexities of that poem, which was originally published in Spring and All in 1923. Here's the text.
Look closely for the blur of the white stickball. See it? It's almost behind the ear of the batter, who is leaning creatively away so as to avoid being beaned. See it? Who threw that pitch? Did he mean harm? The catcher might provide evidence for answering this question. He's prepared to catch the ball way inside, almost as if he knew it was coming there.
This well-known photograph is one of Arthur Leipzig's documentary shots: a stickball game on a Lower East Side street, 1950. You've got old LES: the Jewish butcher, leaning on his store, watching the intense integrated street game, little to nothing in his shop window. Then too you have the two skippy fifties-style howdy-doody kids, presumably brother and sister, carefully crossing the street. And then that fabulously serious-cool game, a stickball contest: presumably two white guys vs. two black guys (so integrated but also not integrated), and the pitch coming in is so high and tight that one believes it is a brushback pitch (a "purpose pitch," aimed at the head) and thus one feels that the four players are cool-loose and happy with each other but also that there's a lot of nascent tension. "Cool-loose": check out the flexibility in the knees of the batter.
I happen to own the original print of this wonderful photo - and thus have the pleasure of seeing it every day. It always makes me think of one of those crucial transitional moments. There are three cultures here, all in one unstaged shot. I think we all see such scenes every day, but few of us can capture it.
For a little more about New York in the Fifties, go here.
My favorite list poem is Ted Berrigan's "Three Pages." It's ten things he does every day (play poker, drink beer, "lunch" [a noun here, not a verb], read, poems, hunker down, [accept? endure?] changes). Life goes by quite merrily. "No help wanted" refers idiomatically to no work. But it's on the list and it means both work and independence (economic [he is "self-employed"!] and aesthetic/intellectual). He "flowers" (verb there) by the waters of Manhattan - there a reference to the great important NY-based documentary poet Charles Reznikoff. Other stuff ("the heart attack," "a house in the country," "the Congressional Medal of Honor") is "not enough." Happiness is doing this. And this is the very thing we are reading.
You can hear Berrigan reading the poem here. It was part of a reading Berrigan gave on KPFA radio, Berkeley, a radio show hosted by Lyn Hejinian & Kit Robinson in 1978. PennSound has this show and much more Berrigan.
Here's the text of the poem.
Sherwood Anderson on Gertrude Stein: "Every artist working with words as his medium, must at times be profoundly irritated by what seems the limitations of his medium. What things does he not wish to create with words! There is the mind of the reader before him and he would like to create in that reader's mind a whole new world of sensations, or rather one might better say he would like to call back into life all of the dead and sleeping senses."
W. G. Rogers on Stein: "As always when at her best, she uses double talk to arrive at plain meanings: she adds nothing and nothing and gets something; her sum is an emotional impact; an excitment, an undeniable deep stirring. This is the marvel and the mystery of her language; it can be an incantation, and like the lingo of the medicine man, it can say little while accomplishing a lot. You don't blame it for what it is, you credit it for what it does." MORE...