In Seattle, Washington, Al Filreis convened Kate Colby, Tyrone Wiilliams, Mónica de la Torre, and Aldon Nielsen to talk about a late poem of Wallace Stevens, “The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain.” The group collaborates on an enumeration of possibilities for understanding the poet’s current ruminative state as a retrospective view of his previous poems and old ideas about poetry. Past perfect and conditional language — had needed, would be right, would discover, could lie — make us doubt that there is or ever was such a thing as a “there” in “There it was.” There what was? The words? The new words of this poem? The old words on previous poems about the uphill climb of poetic career? The new poem about such old poems re-presents the word-for-word mountain and never really means, it seems, to stand in for the thing itself. This isn’t mere exhaustion. It’s a final development of theory.
Al Filreis convened Stephen Metcalf, June Thomas, and Jess Shollenberger to talk about two poems by Eileen Myles: “Writing” and “Mount St. Helens.” They appeared in Myles’s book of 2001, Skies, and were included by Myles in their volume of selected poems I Must Be Living Twice. Myles’s PennSound page includes several performances of these poems, including a powerful although understated reading of “Writing” here at the Writers House when they were visiting as a Kelly Writers House Fellow in 2016. The recordings we used for the purposes of our PoemTalk conversation were made during an episode of Charles Bernstein’s interview series “Close Listening” in March of 2009.
Simone White, Dixon Li, and Jo Park joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House to discuss two poems by Terrance Hayes from his book Wind in a Box (2006). The poems are “MJ Fan Letter” and “RSVP,” and the texts are connected. The first begins with an address to Michael Jackson (“Dear K.O.P,” or King of Pop) and the second begins “Dear Michael,” although the opening of that versified fan letter is crossed out — single-line excising that makes it easy nonetheless to see and read what is meant to be excluded or second-guessed. And when the cross-outs finish in that passage of the second poem, the writing starts again with “Dear K.O.P.” We hear layerings of speaker, addressed figure, voices, subjective imaginings, and fantastic substitutions.
Al Filreis convened a conversation with Amber Rose Johnson, Jacob Edmond, and Huda Fakhreddine about Kamau Brathwaite’s “Negus.” The poem was included in the book Islands, published by Oxford in 1969. “Negus” appears as part six of a section of the book titled “Rebellion” within Islands, and Islands, in turn, is part two of The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy, which includes Rights of Passage and Masks as the first and third volumes. Brathwaite’s PennSound page — which has been curated by one of our PoemTalkers, Jacob Edmond — features just one recording of Brathwaite performing this poem. On May 1, 2004, in his Segue Series reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, the poet chose to read “Negus” as a kind of prefatory piece to the whole forty-three-minute reading. It certainly seems to introduce several of Brathwaite’s major concerns.
Tyrone Williams, William J. (Billy Joe) Harris, Aldon Nielsen, and Erica Hunt joined Al Filreis — host, producer, and moderator — for a live presentation of a special episode of PoemTalk before an audience gathered in the Arts Café of the Kelly Writers House back in November 2019. They discussed many of Erica Hunt’s concerns, across her poetry and her work as public intellectual and activist, by way of a single poem called “Should You Find Me.” It is the final poem, and — the group comes to agree — the coda to the book Time Slips Right Before Your Eyes, published by Belladonna* in 2006.