[EDITOR'S NOTE. My own concern with minimal forms of poetry & verbal composition goes back to the 1960s & discoveries I was making & creating in Techncians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin & connecting to experiments in our own time by poets like Ian Hamilton Finlay & others connected most specifically with what we were then speaking of as concrete poetry. That there was a complexity of thought & act behind this was another point I had to make – both “there” & “here” – & still that point seemed obvious enough. I called it, for Finlay & others, “a maximal poetry of minimal means,” & where I got into it myself, I found it helped to cool off, to set another temperature for what was otherwise my work. It’s with thoughts like this in mind that I approach Seymour Maynes’s long-running project of what he calls & practices as “word sonnets.” In their one-word verticality I’ve found a strong resemblance too to the look & feel of Chinese poetry that led Ernest Fenellosa to see in the immediacy of the Chinese graphic/visual ideogram (set one per line) “a splendid flash of concrete poetry.” The following, then, is from Maynes's recent gathering, Ricochet (University of Ottawa Press), composed over a short period of time & conceived by him as a single & unified series. (J.R.)]
The word sonnet is a relatively new variation of the traditional form. In essence, it is a fourteen line poem, with one word set for each line. Concise and usually visual in effect, this “miniature” version can contain one or more sentences, as the articulation requires.
Each of the word sonnets in the following sequence attempts to be a pithy and suggestive poem in its own right. Many draw on the seasons and also aim for a compact resonance that may attract the reader to return to them again and again.
Copyright © 2004 Seymour Mayne.
All rights reserved.
In my last post I posed the question: how did I discover and engage with Clark Coolidge's poetry in the first place? Every reader will have her own story to tell in this regard; here's my story. As is I suspect the case for most English Majors graduating from U.S. undergraduate programs in the early 1990s--and perhaps still today? more preservers of tradition than innovators, universities and their English departments in particular are notoriously inept at addressing the contemporary--Anglo-American poetry in my formal education ended with Pound and Eliot. (Gertrude Stein I had to discover on my own, though my own avant-garde eanings in the late 1980s also led me to Kerouac, Burroughs and Artaud). I knew names of some contemporary poets and has some familiarity with the Beats (a hardbound copy Ginsberg's collected poems was one of the first poetry books I ever bought, at the Strand on some early trip to New York City), but I had no way of orienting others: no sense of distinguishing an Ashbery from a Hollander, a Creeley from a Lowell, let alone connecting them up to the present moment.
In beginning my graduate studies in the mid-1990s, it was in the context of studying postmodern literature and theory that I first engaged with Charles Olson's work, as well as, in the midst of Fredric Jameson's now classic theories of postemodernism, a curious little poem called “China” by Bob Perelman. I remember throughly enjoying the discussion we had in class about what kinds of speakers could offer these seemingly disconnected bits of observation and experience, though my full initiation into what was being called “Language Poetry” would take place a year or so later, upon hearing Charles Bernstein read his poetry at the 20th Century Literature Conference in Louisville in 1994. I enjoyed the sound-and-sense play of his work: it reminded me less of any “poetry” I knew and more of Captain Beefheart. Back home, I checked out and devoured with great relish Dark City, the newest Bernstein collection at my university library.
As is my inclination, when I find something of interest I read everything I can find about it; this “language poetry” seemed to be something that connected up in the present moment back to the great Modernists I knew (Pound and Stein; someone named Zukofsky was completely unfamiliar to me), creating a living tradition in the wake of what my academic training lacked (or more likely willfully ignored). And the more I read about “language poetry,” the more the name Clark Coolidge kept appearing. Clearly he warrented investigation.
At some point in the next few years (mid-1990s) I picked up his book Solution Passage: Poems 1978-1981, a dense book of poems for such a short span of years through which I did not immediately find a clear way. In December 1997, I took a trip to Toronto to do dissertation research (on my first and soon to be abandoned topic), visit friends and see the city, reporting in an email to my friend Logan Esdale that I had found a copy of Barrett Watten's essay collection Total Syntax at a used bookstore in Toronto. Watten's discussion of Coolidge's poetry was a revelation for me, especially for the passages from the early poems he included. I had been hearing and reading how key the “early Coolidge” was for Language Poetry and yet had never seen these books before and had no immediate way of obtaining them as they were all well out of print at this point. (Remember, this was before Project Eclipse or abebooks.com.)
Tracie Morris, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Marina Rosenfeld
The event was called “What Oozed Through the Staircase: A Winter Afternoon of Surrealist Writing and Music,” held in the middle of the surrealist exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday, January 26, 2014. Surprised that the event wasn't being recorded, I brought out my smart phone and captured the audio as best I could from the fourth row. I also made a video recording of the final performance — a surrealist game. All this is now available at a special PennSound page.
- introduction (3:51): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Hans Bellmar, from “What Oozed Through the Staircase” (1:48): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Andre Breton, from “Manifesto of Surrealism” (2:35): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Robert Desnos, “Awakenings” and “Ideal Mistress” (3:21): MP3
- Marina Rosenfeld: Mise en scene en scene #1 (Daily Bul, etc.) (4:51): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Joyce Mansour, “Poemshots” (1:57): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Salvador Dali, “The Great Masturbator” (1:46): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Mina Loy, “Auto-Facial-Construction” (4:14): MP3
- Kenneth Goldsmith: Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, "Equinox" (0:56): MP3
- Marina Rosenfeld: Mise en scene en scene #2 (Logbook, etc.) (5:52): MP3
- Tracie Morris: Leopold Senghor's “Speech and Image”: An African Traditional of the Surreal (5:23): MP3
- Tracie Morris: Quotes from Josephine Baker and excerpts from Kurt Schwitters's “Ursonate” (5:37): MP3
- Tracie Morris and Kenneth Goldsmith: Amiri Baraka, Excerpt of Scene II from Dutchman (3:31): MP3
- Tracie Morris and Marina Rosenfeld: Bob Kaufman, “O-Jazz-O,” “A Terror is More Certain...” and “On” (10:11): MP3
- Tracie Morris and Kenneth Goldsmith: Surrealist Game (2:14): YouTube
On January 31, 2014, Frank Sherlock's appointment as Philadelphia's second Poet Laureate was announced by Mayor Michael Nutter at a ceremony at City Hall. The laureate was selected by the Mayor's Poet Laureate Governing Board. “I am honored and excited to appoint Frank Sherlock as Philadelphia’s second Poet Laureate,” said Mayor Nutter. “Frank is a native Philadelphian and a 2013 Pew Fellow in the Arts for Literature. He is one of Philadelphia’s most talented homegrown artists. I am confident that Frank will represent Philadelphia well during his term as Poet Laureate.” “How lucky I am to be a poet in my favorite city in the world? This city raised me, beat the hell out of me a few times, and still reveals the magic of Philadelphia Brotherly Love,” said Sherlock.
The members of the Poet Laureate Governing Committee are: Beth Feldman Brandt, poet and Executive Director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation; Dr. Cathy Cohen, Education Director of ArtWell; Greg Corbin, Founder and Executive Director, Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement; Thomas Devaney, poet and Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry at Haverford College; Lillian Dunn, Co-founder and Executive Editor of APIARY Magazine; Al Filreis, Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania; Mytili Jagannathan, poet and Principal of Itinerant Ink; Trapeta Mayson, poet; Autumn McClintock, poet and Assistant Chief of Staff at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Sherlock performed a poem at the ceremony, and it was captured on video: