Al Filreis

Needless iconoclasm

Notes on an anthology of contemporary American poets in 1957

Ray B. West, editor of The Western Review (published for years out of the University of Iowa), went on a rare leave of absence and left things to an acting editor, Richard Freedman. (Paul Engle, faculty director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, served as the magazine’s advisory editor.) While Freedman was minding the editorial store, the magazine published as its Spring 1957 issue a selection of twenty-one poets who had come of age in the late 1940s and early 1950s – “essentially,” Freedman noted, “the generation which has developed since the Second World War.” Richard Stern chose the poets and poems.

David Wilk interviews Charles Bernstein, Al Filreis, & Michael Hennessey of PennSound

On December 5, 2013, David Wilk released his interview with me, Charles Bernstein and Michael Hennessey about PennSound. At his WritersCast site, Wilk explains: 

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics? It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Pierre Joris on Paul Celan and the Shoah

On December 3, 2013, Pierre Joris discussed Paul Celan’s poetry, with special focus on his response to the genocide of Europe’s Jews and others during World War II. The session, which I moderated, featured close readings of passages of “Death Fugue” and “Stretto.” Joris played an audio recording of Celan reading the first section of “Death Fugue,” and a newly discovered video recording made from Celan’s appearance on German television.

Stephen Collis

Some thoughts upon having re-read five of his books

Stephen Collis is an important contemporary poet, with ten books of poems published, at least eight of them as substantive book publications. To the Barricades (Talon, 2013) is one of the books in a trilogy going under the title “The Barricades Project.” Here the poet maintains a shifting or fluid form of social address (“on the run,” is what one reviewer noted), and this is the formal expression of the works’ content. Together, all the work seeks to form cities of words. The compilings of negativities (e.g. in a poem called “Threshold song” [p. 128]) suggest their hopeful opposites – spaces inhabited, or at least occupied, by the very coal ports, containers, parties, societies, and species that seem to have vacated. The project is clear and striking – holds out possibilities even through its negations.

Jen Bervin

Sewing down the Mississippi

Jen Bervin will sew the Mississippi on your ceiling, if your ceiling is big enough.  I saw Bervin present on her “Mississippi” project. “Mississippi” is a panoramic scale model of the river that divides east and west in the United States. The scale is one inch to one mile, and the length of the river and gulf measures 230 curvilinear feet. The river is installed on the ceiling; it shows the riverbed mapped from the geocentric perspective, from inside the earth's interior looking up at the riverbed. It is composed of silver sequins; light shifts over the surface of them as you move through the space.  The sequins are made of foil stamped on cloth, a rare variety of vintage French sequin that comes strung in clusters. They vary in circumference — some are quite tiny. They are sewn onto a very simple layer of paper, mull, and tyvek. The lower Mississippi, or meander belt, was completed at The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in August 2009. “During that time,” Bervin writes, “I found that it took me exactly the same amount of time to sew the length of river in sequins that it would have taken me to walk the same section of the river.”