Commentaries

Lower East Side brushback pitch

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.

house in the country...not enough

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.

irritated by the limitations of the medium

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...

that eminently human technology, language

The Sackner Archive (of Miami) and UbuWeb. Two treasures in the world of concrete, sound, and visual poetries. They've come together now, as Matthew Abess has curated an anthology of sound recordings from Ruth and Marvin Sackner's collection and Kenny Goldsmith at Ubu has made digital space for them and added the list to Ubu's site. It's all semi-rare to rare, great and strange stuff. Have a listen.

In his liner notes, Matt Abess writes (in part):

The work presented here comprises a portion of the Sackner's tremendous compendium of sonic works. The range of geographic origins runs the circumference of the globe. The time span is nearly a century. It witnesses histories: of poetry, literature, music, visual art, technology, politics, religion, theoretical contentions and practical abstention. It indicates and permits divergent lines of flight. It is an ensemble of dramatic personalities and the social narratives that they informed. It chronicles and enacts the persistent deformation and reformation of the flow of language, intending the same towards the order of things in the world.

It is the story of a charming pair - Ruth and Marvin Sackner - whose permissive attitude invites us to navigate the wordy, worldy present; to co-operatively investigate that eminently human technology, language. The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry is a tactile space of verbal, vocal and visual collision. As each deflection inflects, so collisions coalesce: the Archive makes spaces where the interface of body and language might take place on planes patterned by our movement across them. The works here evidence the enormous range of possible iterations. Ruth and Marvin Sackner invite us to join in the play.

As a Penn guy, I'm especially proud of this. The Sackners are both alumni, Matt is our student and close affiliate of Writers House and CPCW, and Kenny teaches "Uncreative Writing" and his CPCW/ICA seminar here.

avant-garde more sexist than the mainstream?

Have you been following the fracas over at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog (named after founding Poetry editor Harriet Monroe)? Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young began it by showing and analyzing "the numbers" on women poets published in avant-garde magazines. Is the experimental poetics community particularly sexist? In the middle of this discussion, Ange Mlinko suggested that the avant-garde may be more sexist than mainstream literature because the avant-garde has often renounced the lyric. And on and on it has gone.

If you're looking for a way into the middle of the discussion (that might be the best entry-point), I suggest starting with one of Christian Bok's rejoinders. You should be able to link your way around from there. And/or read Ange Mlinko's main commentary on the matter.