[NOTE. The following was originally published in TheExquisiteCorpse in 1993 & again in ThusSpakeTheCorpse (An ExquisiteCorpse Reader, 1988-1999). Brought into the present context its central argument – as presented here – has much to say about the nature of language & identity beyond more orthodox ideas of nativism & foreignness. The emphasis on American & Jewish writings rhymes as well with matters of concern to the present editor & touched on from different perspectives in previous postings on PoemsandPoetics. It is also an acknowledgement of the role played by major figures in our recent poetry & literature who have come into English writing as a second or even a third language, but in the extract cited here goes well beyond that. A complete version of Nemet-Nejat’s once controversial essay can be found elsewhere on the web. (J.R.)]
I speak no language like a native. Though I have lived in the States since 1959, my accent still sounds foreign. I was born in Turkey, but I am not Turkish. I am Jewish. In the fifties most Jews in Turkey were Sephardim and spoke Ladino Spanish.
Caesar of ribald songs & nose & blemishes of seven birthmarks on his stomach ringworm gravel in his urine negligent of personal appearance when granted an audience with the Great Bear & on dropping off in summer slept with the bedroom door open to protect himself especially by not bathing with an oil rub after which he took a douche of water (sulfur water) on a wooden bath seat ended with a sharp sprint in the company of little boys regarding them as freaks
[What follows is the opening of Pierre Joris’s introduction to Synopticon:ACollaborativePoeticsby Louis Armand & John Kinsella (Litteraria Pragensia, 2012). That my own interplay with Joris has been essential to my life as a poet goes almost without saying. Along with him & others I have come to see collaboration, not as a threat to identity, but as part of the arsenal of poetic means that has long been at our disposal. There is more to be said about this and the collective enterprise that it implies, but I‘m willing to take his testimony here astruly more than a beginning. (J.R.)]
The first time I ever heard of Howard Finster was in the pages of Missing Pieces (Georgia Folk Art 1770-1976), that useful catalogue in honor of the American Bi-Centennial issued by the Georgia Council for the Arts and Humanities. I made a note to visit Pennville and see the “Paradise Garden,” which I persisted in calling the “New Improved Garden of Eden,” just to be ornery. It is not my custom to have too much truck with country preachers.
In August of 1994, President Clinton’s Crime Bill destroyed the monies designated on a nation-wide basis for all Prison Education programs. The Federal or Pell Grants were for books; without books, like it or not, there are no programs. Those monies constituted less than one percent of all federal funds designated for higher education and were beginning to offer proof, at least in the program of which I was a part, that this form of rehabilitation might be the cheapest, most far reaching yet devised.