First Readings

First reading of Basil Bunting's performance of Thomas Wyatt's 'Blame not my lute' (4)

Jeroen van den Heuvel

The first time I listen to Basil Bunting perform Thomas Wyatt’s “Blame not my lute,” I am unable to follow it. The sixteenth-century English certainly does not help. I hear the word “desart“ and don’t know what it means. I hear the word “change” that is familiar to me but it is used in a way that I am not accustomed to. I listen to it a few more times. The repetition radiates a kind of pleasure. But why should I, in 2017, bother to listen to one dead guy reciting a poem four decades ago that another dead guy wrote five centuries ago?

With Jeroen van den Heuvel’s short essay responding to the experience of hearing Basil Bunting’s performance of Thomas Wyatt’s “Blame not my lute,” the three coeditors of the “First Readings” series offer the fourth of five takes on this cover. The recording is linked here and is also available at PennSound’s Bunting

First reading of Lorine Niedecker's 'Popcorn-can cover' (3)

Mandy Bloomfield

When I first encounter a poem as object-like as this one, the impulse is to look before I read. The first thing I notice about Niedecker’s poem is the indentation of the fourth line. From there, my eye is drawn to the word “hole” in the line above, and this verbal-visual articulation leads me to understand that the indentation performs a state of perforation; its left margin isn’t sealed; the poem orients itself around a gap. 

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' (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.