Commentaries

he's our guy

There will be other, better photos of Jerome Rothenberg at the Writers House last night, but here's the one I have at hand--appearing with the article about JR's visit that appears this morning in Penn's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Here's a bit from that article:

KWH Faculty Director and Professor of English Al Filreis teaches the Writers House Fellows Seminar, which is the program that brings prominent authors to campus. The goal of this class is to give students the opportunity to study the work of an author in-depth and then interact with the authors themselves during the course of the semester.

In his introduction, Filreis commented on the profound effect that Rothenberg has had on the poetry world.

He emphasized that the attitude Rothenberg embodies as a poet is exactly the spirit KWH tries to create with its programs. Filreis hopes to continue to preserve this atmosphere at the Writers House by keeping its events free and open to both students and community members.

"Rothenberg is our guy. We would like to fill the space with this spirit," said Filreis.

whaling ballads & sea chanties

Thanks to Erica Kaufman who checked with Alice Notley about the line in Berrigan's "3 Pages": and if the weather plays me fair....

Alice writes: "'And if the weather plays me fair' is from a folksong. Ted had an LP of Ewan M[a]cColl, the Scottish folksinger, performing whaling ballads and sea chanties. It's from one of those."

down with would-be sincerists

A little more than a year ago, back in February 2007, we hosted a "Flarf Festival," featuring--you guessed it--several Flarf poets. Nada Gordon, Mel Nichols, Rod Smith, Sharon Mesmer, and Gary Sullivan. Sullivan was the first to use the term Flarf to describe this kind of poetry, or, perhaps better put, this anti-poetic attitude. Audio recordings of the whole event and of each poem read by each poet are available on PennSound. I also did a podcast about this event.

What's Flarf? Easy enough to define, harder for some to appreciate, harder still perhaps for some of the flarfists to stay with it (in any particular sense) after the months or years of excitement about the mode has worn off. Then again, a number have managed to keep the excitement up.

Surely a flarfist himself or herself wrote the Wikipedia entry on "flarf poetry"; it's quite a good little essay on all this. "Its first practitioners practiced an aesthetic dedicated to the exploration of 'the inappropriate' in all of its guises. Their method was to mine the Internet with odd search terms then distill the results into often hilarious and sometimes disturbing poems, plays, and other texts." Joyelle McSweeney expressed my own relief and delight: "This is utterly tonic in a poetry field crowded by would-be sincerists unwilling to own up to their poems."

Flarf is alive and well, even as its definitions widen. I read Gary Sullivan's blog called "Elsewhere." This very weekend there's a conference being held in lower Manhattan. The title seems to be "2008 Holistic Expo & Peace Conference" but the poster announces "FLARF IS LIFE." Go to flarffestival.blogspot.com.

And flarf is all over YouTube. Drew Gardner's performance of "Chicks Dig War" has been viewed 3,027 times - not bad for a poem.

And Michael Gottlieb has written well about flarf for Jacket.

At left: Drew Gardner performing "Chicks Dig War" at the 2006 Flarf Festival.

on the verge of chaos at Bread Loaf

No, this--above--is not the chaos I have in mind. The photo here was taken in 1984 at Bennington, at a summer writing workshop: there's Richard Ford at left, and Alan Cheuse at right. If you are an NPR listener, you will know Cheuse for his good radio reviews and other All Things Considered literary contributions. No, the chaos I have in mind goes back to 1960, when Cheuse was a quasi-bohemian figure who'd gotten to attend the Bread Loaf end-of-summer writers' workshop as a waiter, and caused some trouble, at least from the point of view of those who wanted the Old Ways at Bread Loaf to be restored. I've written about this today on my 1960 blog, so please go there and get more.

the greenest month

It's been a cool April in the mid-Atlantic - not much in bloom when this photo was taken a few weeks ago - but the Writers House, set back from Locust Walk in the mode of the Victorian "nostalgia cottage," always seems verdant. Come on in.