Articles - February 2013

Howe interviews Bernstein and Andrews in 1979

from left: Susan Howe, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein


On March 14, 1979, Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein visited the studios of WBAI in New York and were interviewed by Susan Howe, host then of the Pacifica Radio Poetry Show. This installment in the PennSound podcast series, introduced again by Amaris Cuchanski and based on editing done by Nick DeFina, features an excerpt from that interview focusing on a discussion of opaque as distinct from transparent language and of language’s materiality.

During their appearance on Howe's show, they read some poems: Andrews read from R&B and “How” and Bernstein read “Matters of Policy.” Of course the entire one-hour program can be heard on PennSound.

Susan Howe’s WBAI-Pacifica Radio shows are available on PennSound in collaboration with the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California, San Diego. PennSound’s digital copies were made from recordings housed at the archive.

From the voice to the book

Jerome Rothenberg, 2010 Threads Talk Series presentation


Jerome Rothenberg on May 7, 2010, presenting at the Threads Talk Series (curated by Steve Clay and Kyle Schlesinger), mapped branches of book culture that are typically kept apart. Rothenberg reviews the differences between — and the need to bring together — speech and writing and printing, and he uses this summary as a way of freshly re-defining ethnopoetics.  The title of the talk from which this podcast-length (18 mins.) excerpt is taken: “From the Voice to the Book, from the Book to the Voice: a Dialectic.”  The Threads Talk Series page at PennSound includes, of course, the full audio recording of the talk, the introduction by Steve Clay, and the 38 minutes of discussion that followed the talk. Amaris Cuchanski hosts and introduces this 24th podcast in the PennSound Podcast series.  The editing was done by Nick DeFina. T.he produce of PennSound Podcasts is Al Filreis.

PoemTalk in 'Open Culture'

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

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Burning Deck Press

An anthology of readings by eight poets at the 2001 event


Amaris Cuchanski introduces the newest PennSound podcast in the series, now numbering 23 episodes. Nick DeFina created this 20-minute audio selection from the five-volume set of recordings made at Brown University at the May 2001 celebration of (then) forty years of Burning Deck Press publishing of books, chapbooks and pamphlets, by, of course, Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop. The entire recording has its own page at PennSound.We hope this excerpt entices you to listen to the whole, itself an aptly remarkable testimony to the range, longevity and generous persistence of the Waldrops in Providence. The Waldrops, of course, are no stranger to Jacket: we’ve published reviews, video clips, and (among many other items) Anne Dewey’s essay on Olsonian poetics in Rosmarie’s work.

A space only you can build (PoemTalk #62)

Charles Alexander, 'Near or Random Acts'


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. He had begun a long poem in many sections to honor his daughters, and these later became the book Near or Random Acts, published by — you guessed it — Singing Horse Press.

Reaching 35 years of age, the father of two young children, Alexander had decided to constrain his writing about daughter Nora, then 7 years old, through a 5x7 (5x7=35) structure: 5 words in a line, 7 lines in section – the numbers referring thus to the phases of life of both poet and beloved addressee. In early September his progress on the Nora poems was suddenly stopped by “non-poetic doings” (as Al Filreis puts it in the introduction to this PoemTalk), and when Alexander returned to the series he keenly felt the need of additional constraints. The first poem in the series written after 9/11 added a third and rather severe limitation: first initials of each word in each line in the 5x7 form would now have to spell T O W E R. For instance: “Try our waffles early riser.” A few songs later we find the dad attending to his daughter again, now at a girls’ soccer game. Then, later, in 66, we reach a seven-line remembrance of a pre-9/11 raspberry-picking excursion, an idyllic late-summer outing that had been reported in an earlier section. So by this point what Ron Silliman calls “the raspberry suite” of Near or Random Acts sections has begun and ended with that ordinary but memorable dad/daughter experience.

Al Filreis brought together Mark Nowak, Ken Jacobs and the aforementioned Ron Silliman to talk about this suite of sections of a book Ron calls, in the end, a masterpiece. (Each of Alexander’s books, Ron says, launches a “dramatic and complete project.” Alexander has a special “relationship with each work as a project” that Ron finds personally instructive.) Ken notes that our choice of this particular group of sections from the long poem — sections 56 through 66 — discloses a theme that is just one of several running throughout the volume. Yet, he adds, this particular theme is powerful and central to the work: the thin, inexpressible boundary separating domestic and public lives, the crossing of which threatens the intimacy and joy of a parent’s protective private embrace of his daughter in a time of political anxiety. Looking back to the sections immediately preceding the crisis, Ken finds section 56 – the first raspberry canto – full of “horrific foretelling.” Mark, pondering Alexander’s line “never such a thing as return” (57), remarks on the reader’s realization here of the father’s sense that one “can’t go back to innocence.” The furious dramatic irony created is unlike that in most post-9/11 writing, for here again was a project already underway (even with its reference to a “plane” in the last pre-9/11 section): the writer of those sections experienced the calm of not-knowing in a way readers, coming later, simply cannot. We simply come upon a man out with his child, picking berries. “The space that only you can build” in canto 60, which Alexander re-reads with great emotion a decade after the crisis, in 2012, bespeaks the poet’s hope for his poem: that it will stand as a convergence of paternal and civic legacy, a future message to its addressee, then too young to know. The poem, with its many nods to children’s verse and at the same time its indebtedness to the quasi-nonintentional chance writing of Jackson Mac Low, is designed to be just such a space, the hoped-for republic of random yet near (intimate, close) words.

PennSound’s Charles Alexander page includes several readings of Near or Random Acts, each of which is segmented so that one can listen poem by poem. For more about the Gil Ott celebration, including links to recordings, click here. PoemTalk was recorded and engineered this time by Chris Martin, produced by Al Filreis, and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin. PoemTalk is a collaboration of PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, and the Poetry Foundation. We at PoemTalk wish to honor the memory of Gil Ott, to celebrate the ongoing work of Chax Press, and to thank Charles Alexander for taking time during the summer of 2012 to re-record, so feelingfully, all of the Nora sections of his book.  (Pictured above, from left to right: Ron Silliman, Ken Jacobs, Mark Nowak.)