Commentaries

at the Ear Inn

Charles Bernstein standing in front of the Ear Inn. It was January 4, 1992, before or after a reading at 326 Spring Street, Manhattan. That day he read with Ann Lauterbach. [Photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald.]

turn left in order to go right

From his book Turn Left in Order to Go Right, Here is a poem I greatly admire: "I'd Like to See It." The refrain--"I'd like to see it that way"--is offered every four or five lines. It seems to me the perfect meditative and yet arbitrary structure to frame an otherwise random series of hoped-for conditions, which range from intensely and obscurely personal to geo-political. "So I could relax, put on my enormous suit / And ring your doorbell holding my breath and flowers." And also: "For the good of the nation behind bars" and "In order to be able to end war..." The refrain itself, rather than closing off possibilities in the serial quality of the remarks and thoughts, doubles the meaning each time: (1) It would be nice if it were so; I would like to make it so; and (2) This is how I would like to see or perceive or understand this or that part of my world. There's both agency and fatedness.

We at PennSound have a recording of Fischer reading this poem aloud--beautifully. I urge readers of this blog to read the text while hearing Fischer's Zen-ish performance. Charles Bernstein describes Fischer as "incandescently tranquil" and I cannot think of a better example of this hard-to-achieve tone than this poem.

Americans read or hear 100,000 words per day

Americans on average read or hear 100,000 words per day.Americans on average read or hear 100,000 words per day. Anyone who has read Kenneth Goldsmith's Soliloquy can compare that figure against one talkative avant-gardist's one-way talk (just Kenny going out, leaving aside what's coming in and not including his reading) for a week; just divide by seven. Here is your source for the factoid. The media "reporting" of the study that produced this information implies that it's all a disaster and that it's qualitatively as well as quantitatively new.

Oh, yes, and despite all the doomsaying about the end of reading and writing: people are reading and writing more than they did in 1980. Reading somewhat more and writing a whole lot more.

thousands of poetic flowers blooming

Despite the corny romanticism that is its basis (wilting urban flower has a dream of sunlit wind-kissed wavy fields), there's an overwhelming consensus out there that Flower is, as co-creator Jenova Chen puts it, "video game poetry." Not just "poetic" in the sense meant by the phrase often repeated in gamers' reviews--"this poetic, romantic ideal," one of them writes--but poetic in its super-explicit aestheticism and anti-ambitious alterity. It's surely not the first video game that approaches abstraction and open, non-directed themes, but it's surely the first that will receive a wide response. If its promoters can get past the obvious transcendental language ("Flower makes your heart soar as you whip the controller up, sending your petal stream high above the landscape in a tornado of beautiful colours and roaring wind...watch[ing] the blades of grass part..."), many competition-oriented gamers will discover for themselves something of the surprise of poetic experiment: What exactly was that I just experienced? I don't know what to call it. It's not that it's especially beautiful (certainly not to me); the visualities are not its innovation. What's different is that it's different--its unobvious motives, its impractical reason for being, its unintentionally deadened affect.***

To be sure, making body-oriented or body-connected poetry in digital environments such as Brown's "cave"** is not new. And Flower is retro compared to some of the work done by artists in the world of digital poetics. The difference with Flower, of course, is that it's coming through a mainstream pipe (PlayStation3) and is the work of young people not otherwise connected to the poetics community.

Your responses invited. Write me at afilreis [at] gmail [dot] com.

** For an example of visual/physical word flow in Brown's cave, click here.

*** I suppose it could be argued that this makes it a candidate for designation as kitsch.

"brilliant" okay in my book

Can't tell if the following paragraph was made by the publishers (in which case "brilliant" is a throw-away word) or is quoted from a reader or reviewer (in which case the term makes my day):

The poetry of Wallace Stevens has inspired generations of poets of every school. Here, for the first time, is assembled an astonishing variety of poems, by a full range of poets, inspired by Stevens' life and work. In its own way, each poem exhibits the torque and feel of his poetry, yet each also is deeply personal and conveys how meaningful Stevens was and remains for poets and poetry. Whether whimsical or serious, solemn or light, the poems in Dennis Barone and James Finnegan's "Visiting Wallace" are sure to inspire delight and thought. Alan Filreis' brilliant foreword asks us to consider whether there is another modern poet who means as much to contemporary verse as Stevens: "seventy-six poems giving us seventy-six distinct Stevenses to follow and succeed."

The book for which I wrote the foreword is Visiting Wallace, an anthology of poems written under the influence of Wallace Stevens. Below is the first page of the foreword (click for a larger view).