PoemTalk

The straight path gone astray (PoemTalk #64)

Caroline Bergvall, 'VIA'

Caroline Bergvall, Dante Alighieri

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Amaris Cuchanski, David Wallace, and Laynie Browne converged on the Writers House one day recently to talk about a remarkable performance piece (later text) by Caroline Bergvall, “VIA.”  In the piece, Bergvall intones forty-seven English translations of the opening tercet of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (1321): “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura / ché la diritta via era smarrita.” She arranges the translations alphabetically according to first word, from “along” to “when,” reciting the translator’s name and date after each.  Our PoemTalkers discuss the poem’s pre-textual state as aural performance, the remarkable title which seems to connect every manner of issue and mode, the relative literary value and literary-historical place of individual verse translators, translation itself as inherently open, and, of course, the ur-relevance of Dante’s always-interpretable infernal foray into the experience of being lost in words.

Daytime never ends (PoemTalk #63)

Laynie Browne, 'Daily Sonnets'

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PoemTalkers Jessica Lowenthal, Lee Ann Brown, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee gathered with Al Filreis to talk about five poems from Laynie Browne’s Daily Sonnets, which was published by Counterpath Press of Denver in 2007. We chose two of Browne’s “fractional sonnets,” two of the sonnets in which the talk of her children is picked up partly or wholly as lines of the poem, and one of her “personal amulet” sonnets.

PoemTalk in "Open Culture"

We at PoemTalk were pleased to see the series featured in the current issue of Open Culture.

A space only you can build (PoemTalk #62)

Charles Alexander, 'Near or Random Acts'

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Charles Alexander joined others in Philadelphia in the early autumn of 2001 to celebrate Gil Ott, poet and maker of many important books of poems through his Singing Horse Press. Alexander, whose Chax Press owes a good deal to Ott’s work and persevering spirit, simply had to be there, notwithstanding the hassle of cross-country air travel during those early post-9/11 days. He arrived a day or two early and gave a pre-celebration reading at the Writers House, trying out some very new poems that seemed, in part, inspired by responses to the September 11 attacks.

I can't get started (PoemTalk #61)

Bill Berkson, "Signature Song"

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Marci Nelligan, David Kaufmann, and Thomas Devaney joined Al Filreis to discuss what David thinks might well be one of Bill Berkson’s own signature songs; during our discussion, David opines that Berkson’s poem “Signature Song” is the best of the poet’s “fact poems.” Marci and Tom certainly did not disagree with that judgment. Its diction and tone are mostly that of familiar factistic subgenres: the liner note, the encylopedia entry, etc. Finally, of course, it’s more than merely encyclopedic, for it wanders around both historical and personal connections and interleavings, and concludes with a quiet but still jarring judgment of the “odd” work of writing through these associations in and out of the extremity of political situations they somewhat ignore and somewhat express.