Al Filreis

Further explorations of found poems in card catalogues

Or: fighting against fear

photograph by Meredith Bergmann

Ever since I saw the photographs associated with Erica Baum's book of photographed juxtapositional found poems, Card Catalogue (1997), I've been rather obsessed with the project. I've taught it to my students many times. I can't think of a better way of extending forward the lessons they and I learn when encountering imagism and other radically condensed juxtapositional language at the beginning of poetic modernism. Baum of course has often photographed the language she finds out there and is especially attracted to categorizing systems, such as the codex (Dog Ear) or the catalogue. This conceptualist consciousness — and devotion to words in the ambience (as in: who needs to create them? they're there) — I find extraordinarily teachable and infectious. One of my students is a young autistic man, Dan Bergmann. Readers of this ongoing commentary will surely have heard of Dan’s feats of talking (writing, really — or, still better: spelling). What is even more remarkable is the way in which Dan becomes aware of categories and meaning-systems.

A note on two versions of Caroline Bergvall's 'Via'

The version of "Via" (subtitled "48 Dante Variations") that Caroline Bergvall published in Fig (Salt, 2005) consists of, in fact, 47 different translations of a single tercet from The Divine Comedy (Part 1, canto 1, lines 1-3). The version of the piece as it appeared in Chain (#10, Summer 2003; pp. 55-59) includes 48 translations. Bergvall published a prefatory statement in Fig that, in part, explains the difference (pp. 64-65). Those pages appear below. For a larger view, click on the image.

Tsitsi Jaji among 'Seven New Generation African Poets'

Tsitsi Jaji at Harvard as a Bunting Institute Fellow

Recently Aldon Nielsen noted that the choice made by Kwami Dawes and Chris Abani to include Tsitsi Jaji’s Carnaval in the box-set edition of Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol Press, African Poetry Book Fund; 2014) indicated that she has joined “the burgeoning number of poet-critics who are now working in our best universities . . . who are doing some of the most memorable work both as scholars and as poets.”  Indeed, the concerns of the poems in Carnaval are the concerns of Jaji's recent critical book, Africa in Stereo. The poem “Preambule” is written across the Zimbabwean ground (“lightly / loosening the soil’s death rattle”) as its theory of listening derives from a transnational circulation of classical music (lines inspired by Schumann’s Carnaval, Op. 9, which the poet herself has performed), African-American double consciousness (W.E.B. DuBois) and musicological migration (“The piano originated in Africa,” per Abdullah Ibrahim).

New at PennSound: James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

Thanks to the archival and digital work of Chris Mustazza, who is the editor of this new material, we at PennSound are now able to announce a new page of recordings of James Weldon Johnson. Most readers who might otherwise know Johnson's work well have never heard the man's voice. The recordings Chris located, researched and digitized were made on December 24, 1935, at Columbia University, recorded by Barnard professors George W. Hibbitt and W. Cabell Greet, lexicologists and scholars of American dialects. PennSound wishes to thank the staff at Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, especially Thai Jones, Jennifer Lee, Devon Maeve Nevola, Jane Siegel, and Karla Nielsen, for helping us to make these recordings available.We acknowledge permission from Jill Rosenberg Jones and the James Weldon Johnson estate to present these recordings for free to anyone.

“The recordings here were originally made on aluminum platters,” writes Chris in his editorial note. “They were subsequently dubbed to reel-to-reel tapes by the Library of Congress in the 1970s. These digitizations are made from the reels, which are stored at Columbia University. I made the decision to present the recordings in the order in which Columbia numbered the aluminum platters, which may or may not be the same sequence used by Johnson and Hibbitt, except for where I reordered them to keep parts of the same poem together. Sequence numbers, as well as record numbers, are available in the file names.”

Anthology of 14 contemporary U.S. poems published in 'Hava LeHaba'

jacket of autumn 2014 issue of 'Hava LeHaba'

I was honored to be asked by editor Oded Carmeli to choose fourteen poems published during the current decade by U.S poets for an anthology that has now been published in the most recent print issue of Hava LeHaba in Israel, a Hebrew-language magazine of experimental poetry and poetics. Click here to view a PDF copy of the relevant pages from the magazine. I wrote the following very brief prefatory statement:

Contemporary experimental poetry in the U.S. is so diverse in mode, tone, and conception that no introductory generalization will suffice. But having chosen fifteen poems I admire, all published in the current decade, I noticed post facto that they are all meta-poetic. Nada Gordon thieves Marianne Moore’s anti-ars poetica. Susan Howe’s “That This” presents, in part, the this-ness of the writing. Rae Armantrout’s post-God/post-mother linguistic smiting reminds her and us that she owes her writing life to a mother who taught her to wring sweetness from syllables as a kind of maternal sacrifice. Tyrone Williams “scribbles furiously to a mortgaged future.” Brenda Hillman’s own words fall out of sentences when aerial bombs fall on their targets. And the poem I chose to represent Dorothea Lasky is itself titled “Ars Poetica.” Poems about poetry need not indicate an escape from the world. On the contrary, these are mostly political poems—a language of politics and a politics of language. Laynie Browne gives us the real Hillary Clinton, lines Hillary would say, except that key words are left blank so that readers can be competent co-creators.