Commentaries

a Zelig of modern poetry

Very soon we at PennSound will be announcing a new page of recordings: those of the poet Walter Lowenfels. We've been working with WL's daughter Judy to preserve readings and interviews that have been stored on reel-to-reel and cassette tapes. First they were digitized and put onto CDs. Then we've been selecting batches to upload, tag, name and organize on the new Lowenfels author page: here. We'll be adding more soon, but check it out now. Rare stuff there.

Lowenfels is, in a way, the Zelig of modern American poetry--part of nearly every aesthetic and political movement of his time. In the 20s he was an expatriate avant-gardist living, writing, experimenting, publishing, frolicking in Paris; toward and in the 1930s he became a political activist, and a member of the Communist Party; in the 1950s he actually went to jail after having been convicted under the anticommunist Smith Act, and wrote sonnets to love and liberty while in jail; re-emerging in the early and mid-1960s, he was taken up avidly by a new generation of readers and became a leader among the poet-activists who opposed the war in Vietnam.

For my book on the poetry of the 1950s and the way it responded to modernism in the 1930s, I spend a good deal of time tracking down Lowenfels' publications and reading among his unpublished letters and other archival materials. So this new Lowenfels PennSound gives me special pleasure.

Armand Schwerner: "Way before the sixties, Walter Lowenfels perceived the lopsided canon of our poetry; he did a great deal to change the climate, in which, as he writes, the country needed to include 'the vast emotional resources and insights that Indian, Black and Chicano people express in their poetry."

owning the epoch

From Robert Stone’s June 2004 remembrance of Ken Kesey:

“More than the inhabitants of any other decade before us, we believed ourselves in a time of our own making.”

And: “I knew that the future lay before us and I was certain that we owned it.”

From “The Prince of Possibility,” June 14/21, 2004, p. 71.

as if it needed to be invented

Misha Defonseca's best-selling Holocaust memoir, a tale of a petite Jewish lass wandering around Europe and cohabitating with wolves, turns out to have been a hoax. Her confession came just yesterday. The online Boston Globe has the story.

I have mixed feelings. Oh, let me say my disgust is unambiguous. My indecision is this: do I care much about it (just another fake of our time) or do I work hard at the problem, countering such things, teaching verity as the only alternative, etc.? The latter impulse is to counter the way in which this sort of thing seems to give credence to "Holocaust revisionists" (deniers), the fabricators about an alleged fabrication who use "history" to (a) doubt the efficacy of fictive forms of representation of the genocide, and to (b) cast doubt on survivor testimony generally.

Thanks to Leslie Onkenhout, once a student in my Holocaust course, for pointing out the Globe story.

more on paradise

At right, El Paso-based poet Bobby Byrd, co-editor of Puro Border: Dispatches, Snapshots & Graffiti from the US/Mexico Border.

Byrd's blog is subtitled "It’s a good time to be a poet, I think, although the pay is shitty," and recently paid tribute to Keith Wilson (in poor health, at 80) and invited us to come to Placitas, New Mexico, for a tribute reading. "Welcome,"Byrd said in his talk this past Sunday, "as Jerome Rothenberg would say, to the Paradise of Poets. Welcome, as Gertrude Stein might say, to the continuous now of poetry. We are here today to honor poet Keith Wilson, and by our presence, the radiant beast of poetry survives."

Pondering further in his blog on the phrase he used from Rothenberg, "paradise of poets," Byrd writes about his connection to that generous poet about whom I've also written here a few times in recent months. Along the way, Byrd kindly mentions our recent PoemTalk show about the poem from which the generative phrase is taken.

'70s in Orono

Quaint downtown Orono, without the snow. I've eaten several times at this restaurant. Once the confab, which went on happily for hours, was highlighted by a delightful conversation with Harvey Shapiro. Harvey's company was ten times finer than the food.

The National Poetry Foundation - its home has been Orono for many years - hosts a series of conferences on poetic decades. I've attended several of these, mostly notably the gatherings on the 1930s and 1940s. Alan Wald and I drove up (what a long drive!) from New Haven to Orono for the '30s conference. A highlight there was a talk by M. L. ("Mac") Rosenthal reflecting (for the first time in public, so far as I know) on his late-'40s NYU dissertation on '30s poets Rukeyser, Fearing and Horace Gregory.

That MLR had been somewhat ashamed of his choice of topic was obvious even at that late date (it was 1994 or so--which would be 2 years before Mac died); to choose 3 communist-affiliated "social" poets for a dissertation topic--not to mention such contemporary writers--at the beginning of the cold war did not seem to augur well at the time for Mac's career. And indeed he never published the dissertation as a book. (I own a clumsily bound copy printed from microfilm by that dissertation service in Ann Arbor.) He went on just fine at NYU, editing anthologies, publishing his own poems, teaching some of the great younger poets (Paul Blackburn was his student), becoming poetry editor of The Nation in the late 50s.

Now the tribe is back at Orono again (not I this time, though) to talk about the 70s. I'm somewhat following the proceedings because "LJS," the Britain-born NYC-based student of Anglo-Saxon and poetics who authors the blog called "The All-Purpose Magical Text," is and will be blogging summaries of readings and talks.

An Orono alphabet: here.

Some photos and a few videos: here

And from the blog called "glamor levels hi," this here entry that enchants me with its surprising phrases: "I imagine a world in which all objects retain the the political essence of previous use: I am me because my second-hand anarchist scarf knows me." "[A]nd when will the 70s end? and haven’t we quite eerily at this conference recreated social conditions?" "Everybody has to eat breakfast and then drive an hour to a museum to hear Bernadette Mayer and Clark Coolidge. This is why I am in Orono at all."

Here's the conference schedule.