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.
Al Filreis convened Imaad Majeed (in Colombo, Sri Lanka), Irene Torra Mohedano (in Paris, France), and Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué (in Chicago, USA) to talk about William Carlos Williams’s “By the road to the contagious hospital,” the well-known first poem in the disjunctive, manifesto-like, nonsequential sequence called Spring and All, first published in Paris in 1923. Was this a poem recalling the recent, desperate time of the Spanish flu pandemic? Can “Spring and All” teach us something about our own birthing springtime, emerging eerily without us this time around? Why is this poem taught in medical schools? How lifeless is a thing “lifeless in appearance”?
Stephen Metcalf, Anna Strong Safford, and Ahmad Almallah joined Al Filreis to talk about one of the most well known poems in English of the twentieth century — Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” What hasn't already been said about this poem? Well, to our ears at least, this conversation goes in several unusual and, we think, fascinating new directions. What exactly is the nature of the poem’s (or anyway the speaker’s) cultural conservatism? Can the wall really be read geopolitically? Is it more about what is being walled out than walled in? Do the stalwart iambs themselves form a wall that is hard for readers to get across? Are the gaps in the wall wide enough for new readers to get through?
Stephanie Burt, Bonnie Costello, Anna Strong Safford, and Al Filreis met up at the Woodberry Poetry Room in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to record a special episode of PoemTalk about Tonya Foster’s A Swarm of Bees in High Court. A section of that book, published in 2015 by Belladonna*, is a sequence of haiku pairs. The group focused on five pairs — those on pages 38, 39, 42, 46, and 50. The haikus on page 50 form the final entries in a long part of the book titled “In / Somniloquies.” Tonya Foster made a special recording of these poems just for use in this PoemTalk episode; they will also be added to her PennSound page.
Al Filreis convened Selena Dyer, Jonathan Dick, and Jerome Rothenberg to talk about three poems in Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras. The three poems can be found here. One of them is number 49 in the series, and there is a complicated history of performances. At Birkbeck College in London, McClure, performing some tantras, offered a brief commentary on 49 and then played a famous earlier recording in which he performed the poem (in 1964 and again in 1966) at the San Francisco Zoo in the lions’ house. Each time the lions roared in response.