To celebrate the one hundredth episode of PoemTalk — the series began in 2007 and is ongoing — producer and host Al Filreis convened seven poet-critics who had participated in previous episodes: Herman Beavers, Maria Damon, William J. Harris, erica kaufman, Tracie Morris, Steve McLaughlin, and Charles Bernstein. These seven were asked to listen again to the series and choose two episodes that in particular stimulated new thinking or the desire to revise, restate, reaffirm, assess, and/or commend.
LISTEN TO THE SHOW. Julia Bloch, Joseph Massey, and Michelle Gil-Montero joined Al Filreis to discuss four four-line poems by William Bronk. The four were selected from Bronk’s book Finding Losses, which was published by Elizabeth Press in 1976. The group seeks to describe Bronk’s strong rejection of the pathetic fallacy in a world unabettably bleak. That desolation will not be lessened by the writerly act of “compar[ing] trees to what it means to be human,” and these poems identify “an honest acknowledgement of how deep and challenging intimacy can be.” That challenge not only extends to poetry but is at the heart of it.
Herman Beavers, Salamishah Tillet, and Chris Mustazza joined Al Filreis to discuss James Weldon Johnson’s “O Southland!” Johnson made a recording of this and a few other poems late in his life in December 1935 at Columbia University, as part of a project led by George W. Hibbitt and W. Cabell Greet, lexicologists and scholars of American dialects. The PoemTalk conversation here speaks to the depth of Johnson’s rhetorical, idiomatic, metrical, and strategic influence on civil rights in later decades. The extent of this influence — and the centrality of Johnson’s “call” for us to hear “The mighty beat of onward feet” — seems to be disclosed fully only on close listening, for those “feet” are metapoetic notes toward the inexorable work of the poem as poem.
Michael Kelleher, Daniel Bergmann, and Ron Silliman joined Al Filreis for a discussion of three poems by Larry Eigner. The first, “Again dawn,” was written in November 1959; the second, “A temporary language,” was composed on September 1 and 2 in 1970; and the third, “Unyielding / rock,” was written on May 31, 1971.
Kathryn Hellerstein, Peter Cole, and Ariel Resnikoff joined Al Filreis to talk about Allen Grossman’s poem “My Radiant Eye.” It’s a late poem written in a late style. It appears in Grossman’s last book, Descartes’ Loneliness. The performance of the poem, recorded by Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room, gives us a voice that has “vatic sweep and boost,” as Peter puts it, but also “fragility.” Kathryn, who knew Grossman as her teacher of Humanities 1 at Brandeis decades earlier, will “never forget th[e] voice” of those long-ago lectures.