Along with the recent publication of Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, Stories, and Songs for Children (reviewed in Jacket2 by Eileen R. Tabios and Carolyn Hembree), Black Radish Books has released a sampling of recorded readings from the anthology. While the recordings could illustrate how to approach these poems with children — such as alternating line by line between adult and child, as Kit Robinson does with his granddaughter Flora Beatrice Breitbard in reading “The Happy Onions” — the recordings also, in a broader sense, encourage the rule-breaking inherent in play.
These recordings showcase the contagious dosages of play that may conjure otherwise faded childhood reveries, whether it’s a poem about a pickle that does all the things adults want it to — “stands up straight, glistens for company, shakes hands in a way you’ll remember, respects others” in “The Aptitude of the Pickle” — or about childhood friendship as detailed in “Valentine,” in which the speaker asserts, “I am your bestest friend forever and ever.”
Cole Swensen’s letter begins with two accusations that we do not feel are just regarding our post. We do not conflate the Iowa MFA with the International Writing Program. And we do not conflate the contemporary moment with the 1950s. It is true that we do not distinguish between the fiction and the poetry program within the MFA but we do not understand how this is relevant. Where we might disagree with Swensen is regarding the assumption that one can be on the advisory board of the State Department-funded IWP, a program that both the IWP and the State Department itself mention as cultural soft diplomacy, and not be a willing participant in soft diplomacy. We understand that Swensen might not be doing much advising (and we are not saying that Swensen has done much more than be willing to be on the board); her willingness to support the program with her established name is to us an endorsement of it. We have no interest in singling anybody out; we have been trying to understand the breadth of such arrangements as itself a phenomenon, and so we are interested in all the instances. — Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, Juliana Spahr
Editorial note: We have received a letter from Cole Swensen in response to “Cultural Riches?” — a piece in the Commune Editions commentary series by Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Juliana Spahr. We reprint the letter in full, here. — Jessica Lowenthal, Jacket2 associate publisher
I’d like to respond to the allegations made in Jasper Bernes’, Joshua Clover’s, and Juliana Spahr’s commentary post “Cultural Riches?” The commentary overall conflates the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with the International Writing Program at Iowa, conflates the fiction program and the poetry program within the Workshop itself, and conflates the contemporary moment with the 1950s — and so, not surprisingly, it comes out with some erroneous equations. I’d like to counter just one — the implication that I, because I’m on the advisory board of the International Writing Program, “have been willing to work with the state in the name of soft diplomacy in recent years.” That’s completely absurd and simply a lie. And accusing people falsely gets you no closer to the root of a problem.
On a morning of slow grey drizzle in the southern spring of 1976, at Robert and Cheryl Adamson’s living room table at Lane Cove, Sydney, between bites of a late breakfast and occasional snatches of quiet conversation, Robert Duncan began writing “An Alternate Life,” a poem that evolved from and partly recounts his experiences whilst visiting Australia. He was here on a reading and lecture tour. He’d brought with him the booklets and manuscripts that later became Ground Work: Before the War, his first major collection since Bending the Bow, though it didn’t yet have that title (he referred to its contents generically as “ground work”) and wouldn’t be published until 1984.