First Readings

First reading of Lorine Niedecker's 'Popcorn-can cover' (2)

Ross Hair

Popping with a flurry of consonantal k sounds (“Popcorn-can cover”) that settle down in the poem’s successive lines (“screwed,” “cold” and, finally, “can’t”), “Popcorn-can cover” reminds me that Niedecker’s is a poetry of pressure. Not only the pressure of brevity but also of everyday existence.

Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
       so the cold
can’t mouse in
          — Lorine Niedecker

First reading of Lorine Niedecker's 'Popcorn-can cover' (1)

Marjorie Perloff

Lorine Niedecker (at left) & Marjorie Perloff

When this poem arrived in my mailbox it had a familiar ring, and, sure enough, when I took from the shelf Niedecker’s Collected Works, I saw that the poem was originally published in 1965 in Ian Hamilton Finlay’s magazine Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. Serendipity: I had just come home from the opening of my daughter Nancy’s Concrete Poetry exhibition at the Getty, an exhibit on Finlay and Augusto de Campos. There are all those issues of Poor.Old.Tired.Horse — those tiny ideogrammatic poems where every word counts in the verbivisual construct. Finlay and Niedecker were very close.

Popcorn-can cover
screwed to the wall
over a hole
       so the cold
can’t mouse in
          — Lorine Niedecker

First reading of Hannah Sanghee Park's 'And a Lie' (2)

Amaris Cuchanski

Hannah Sanghee Park (left) and Amaris Cuchanski

From the first stanza of her poem “And A Lie,” Park sets in motion a pattern of fissure and fusion. She splits words into their fundamental sound units and rearranges them. The confidence of the initial “the,” a definite article whose purpose is to point to a singular thing, becomes “then,” an adverb anticipating change, then transforms to “anathema,” and finally to “anthem.” Anathema and anthem evoke loathing and loving, condemnation and celebration.

First reading of Hannah Sanghee Park's 'And a Lie' (1)

Susan McCabe

Hannah Sanghee Park (left) and Susan McCabe

A first reading, is it possible? I realize as I approach the poem how excited I am to open the package, find its surprise. This is what I expect when I read a poem. Poems are puzzles, and as I look upon this choicely narrow-looking “visual” stance, I want to jump in, but I stop myself: I do this a lot in my first close readings. Especially if the “look” of the poem immediately grabs me, as this one does: the title “And A Lie” suggests we are already in the middle of things, or at the end of a catalogue of “things.” And now a lie.

First reading of Basil Bunting's performance of Thomas Wyatt's 'Blame not my lute' (3)

Ross Hair

“Blame Not My Lute” is but one of eleven Thomas Wyatt poems that Basil Bunting read at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1977. Wyatt was keeping good company on that occasion as Bunting, it appears, also read poems by Pound, Spenser, Whitman, and Zukofsky. Here for the "First Readings" series is Ross Hair's take on Bunting's take on Wyatt.

The black screen that greeted me when I opened the PennSound link seemed particularly appropriate for the First Reading assignment. No context, no introduction, no preamble; just a recording of Bunting in the form of a nondescript audio file that, after clicking play, inched its way across the black screen, its bar changing from grey to white in just under three minutes. The URL reveals that the recording dates back to 1977. The PennSound Bunting page yields little extra: “Blame Not My Lute” is but one of eleven Wyatt poems that Bunting read at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1977.