Al Filreis

Preface to a book on/as Duchamp's infrathins

The seminar is a convergence of the two entities: right there where Marcel Duchamp’s infrathin space-between-spaces and the students’ own experiments with language meet. Where “The dictatorship of grammar” (#100) is only there to be overthrown. Where “The vibrations from sound, audible yet invisible” (#243) are nonetheless seen. Where the space “Between saying and meaning” (#385) is also known as the classroom. Where one is by design never forced to choose “Between passion and purpose” (#993). As Goldsmith has enjoyed saying to anyone within earshot, the poetry world is more than a half-century behind the visual art world; experiments in painting, sculpture and conceptual art have been doing things that most poets and poetics people have heretofore felt impossible or unnecessary. The term “behind” suggests a competition, but of course it’s not that. It’s not a course (as it were) with a finish line or single endpoint. It’s a means, a movement defying conventional academic evaluation, a way toward fresh conception through educational defamiliarization. The success of the project comes from putting the two worlds aesthetically — and pedagogically — together. Thus will emerge, we expect, a new generation of artists and arts-minded citizens who are actively uninterested in distinctions between the arts; they know it’s all one project.

Every other year Kenneth Goldsmith teaches a year-long seminar on writing about/through contemporary art. The 2017-18 seminar was held as a collaboration of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at Penn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (in particular the Modern division) — and the students created their own version of Duchamp's infrathins. In a few weeks a book containing the students' Duchampian compositions will be published, and it will include the following prefatory statement by me.

Wai Chee Dimock, 'Education Populism'

Wai Chee Dimock, editor of PMLA, published her editor’s comment during fall 2017 on the “education populism” she discerned in several affiliated projects hosted at the Kelly Writers House — among them, PennSound, PoemTalk, ModPo, and the programs offered in the old house at 3805 Locust Walk itself. A PDF copy of the article is available HERE.

Herman Beavers, the tundra of yes

A review of 'Obsidian Blues'

Herman Beavers reading from 'Obsidian Blues' at the Kelly Writers House, September 2017

Obsidian Blues, to quote Herman Beavers quoting Ralph Angel, is itself “a still life and a way to get home again.” The poems in this powerful collection often present still lives of stilled lives. The speaker can see “Apples. / The way the light / betrays them” in a poem,“Obsidian Blues 43,” about a guitarist whose stringy wail (“strings judding like a systolic ghost swaggering”) sings a song of variation that reqpeatedly requires renaming. One such tentative title is “Still Life with Guitar and Heartstrike”; another is “Landscape with Skull and Banjo.” 

On September 9, 2017, at the Kelly Writers House, Herman Beavers read poems from his new book, Obsidian Blues. HERE is a link to the video recording of the event, and HERE is a link to the audio-only recording.

The Kafka revival of 1960: Guilt, absurdity, forestalled post-trauma

Chapter 2 of my current book project — titled 1960: The Politics & Art of the Avant-garde — is about the delayed (post-traumatic) response to the mass killings of World War II precisely fifteen years later. Here, in presenting one section of this long chapter, I'm not going to describe in any detail why I think it took fifteen years before such a reckoning could occur. As I did my research and reading, I did discern such a rather sudden interest, saw it in fact everywhere. In this section I turn to a certain revival of Kafka in 1960. From this one can probably get a sense of the larger argument.

The dark containers (PoemTalk #117)

Larissa Lai, 'Nascent Fashion'

Left to right: Colin Browne, Daphne Marlatt, and Fred Wah.


Larissa Lai’s poetry here “is on the move between things,” as Fred Wah puts it in this episode of PoemTalk, for which Al Filreis also gathered Daphne Marlatt and Colin Browne to discuss Lai’s long poem Nascent Fashion (published together with several other long poems in Automaton Biographies). Fred, Daphne, and Colin were on tour together as a Western Canadian trio for readings and events along the US east coast. Fortunately for PoemTalk and Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia was one of their stops.