Word up (PoemTalk #74)

Whitman's 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking' as performed by Basil Bunting


Amy King, Julia Bloch, and Tom Pickard — before a live audience — joined Al Filreis to discuss Basil Bunting’s 1977 performance of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” On that occasion, a reading at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bunting read poems by Thomas Wyatt, Ezra Pound (Cantos I and II), Edmund Spenser, and Louis Zukofsky, as well as this poem by Whitman. The full reading of “Out of the Cradle” runs some nineteen minutes. The group chose to focus on the first two stanzas, with a glance, late in the discussion, at the remarkable final passage: “My own songs, awaked from that hour; / and with them the key, the word up from the waves, / The word of the sweetest song, and all songs.” Although we don’t deal specifically with the significance of “word up from the waves” until the end, the discussion as it evolved can be said generally to be about the urge Whitman recalls feeling as a young man as a keenly discerned compulsion to “translate” longing into language — words of the sort that the sea suggests with its incessance, its bodily formlesness, its blank-slateness (as Tom Pickard beautifully suggests), its dependability. It and the natural seasonal life motions of the seaside birds embody the state of language of the sort Whitman needs and loves, a desire he discovers in these words of recollection.

Tom Pickard’s engagement with this topic enables a personal as well as three-generation aesthetic lineage, from Whitman to Bunting to Pickard himself, who knew Bunting well at the time of Briggflatts (1965) and until the poet’s death (1985). As his final word, Tom read from his own poem, a dream of Bunting and himself by the sea — Tom’s way of suggesting a poetic response to Bunting’s death insofar as it invokes the rocking life-in-death of the cradle in the Whitman.

This episode of PoemTalk was recorded before a live audience in the Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House in Phialdelphia. Most of the audience were participants in the free, open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry, “ModPo.”

The PoemTalk episode, after the typically brilliant and sensitive editing by Steve McLaughlin, is based on a program that lasted an hour and seventeen minutes and included a longer version of the PoemTalk discussion followed by a full question-and-answer session. Some participants in the Q&A were viewing the program via live webcast. Questions were submitted through Twitter, through the online ModPo discussion forums, and by way of the telephone. A full video recording of the event is embedded below (YouTube recording that captures a GoogleHangout session).

This special episode of PoemTalk was engineered by Chris Martin, Zach Carduner, and Steve McLaughlin. PoemTalk’s editor this time — and for every episode preceding this one — is Steve McLaughlin.

PoemTalk is produced by Al Filreis and is a collaboration of the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, Jacket2, and the Poetry Foundation. All seventy-three previous episodes can be found at PoemTalk’s Jacket2 page. Grateful thanks to Jessica Lowenthal and Andrew Beal for supporting PoemTalk in all its details.

Above: video recording of November 5, 2013, live ModPo webcast: includes the PoemTalk discussion and a forty-five-minute Q&A session.

Pierre Joris on Celan and the Shoah in 20 minutes


On December 3, 2013, Pierre Joris discussed Paul Celan’s poetry, with special focus on his response to the genocide of Europe’s Jews and others during World War II. Now PennSound podcasts presents a 20-minute excerpt of the hour-plus-long program. The video recording of the entire event is here, and the whole audio recording is here. The Kelly Writers House web calendar entry for the event can be found here. This episode is #36 in the PennSound podcasts series.

Robert Duncan on Walt Whitman


Episode #38 in the PennSound podcast series presents a 15-minute excerpt from Robert Duncan’s lectures on Walt Whitman presented at New College in three sessions between June 11 and 18, 1981.  The full recordings are available on PennSound’s Duncan page. The excerpt was edited by Nick DeFina and the podcast is introduced by Emily Harnett.

Poetry and architecture


In a Segue Series event at the Bowery Poetry Club hosted and curated by Tim Trace Peterson, Robert Kocik, Benjamin Aranda, and Vito Acconci each speak for about 26 minutes about relations between poetry and architecture. The event took place on April 25, 2009. Both audio and video recordings of each talk are available on PennSound. Peterson wrote this about the event afterward: “People really turned out for this event: I counted over 70 in the audience including David Antin, Ellen Zweig, Gail Scott, Wystan Curnow, Eileen Myles, Andrew Levy, Abigail Child, Walter Lew, Jonathan Skinner, Jennifer Scappetone, Andy Fitch, and many Segue regulars. But a portion of the audience was people I had never seen before, people connected with architecture who would otherwise perhaps not have the experience of attending a poetry event.” And Peterson’s account — as well as the text of the introduction to the event — can be found here. Matthew Bernstein edited the whole recording to create a 15 minute excerpt; Emily Harnett hosts and introduces the podcast, which is the 37th in the PennSound podcasts series.

Is it over already? (PoemTalk #73)

Steve Benson, 'Did the Lights Just Go Out?' from 'Open Clothes'


On February 8, 2003, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club without prepared text or notes, Steve Benson improvised a long poem composed entirely of questions. His transcript of this performance later appeared in the book Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005) as “Did the lights just go out” [text].  Later, Steve McLaughlin created two excerpts from the full audio recording:

Excerpt 1 (2:55): MP3
Excerpt 2 (2:37): MP3

For PoemTalk episode 73, Patrick Durgin, Thom Donovan, and Tyrone Williams joined Al Filreis at the Kelly Writers House to talk about a passage from this performance.

Tyrone noticed a similarity to the “talk poems” of David Antin (although acknowledging their different ideas about improvisation): for each it is important to understand how entering a room, unprepared, leads to work that comes from reacting to the space and particular environment.  The relation between a text and the space in which it is performed is always a significant matter, but never more so than in this unpredictable mode.  Pondering Benson’s idea that some of the material he utters is only intermittently “accessible to [his] attention,” Thom observes that what distinguishes Benson from other Language writers is the way he’s developed an improvisational practice in order to make himself “radically vulnerable.”  He knows the transitions in advance but doesn’t know what will fill in the spaces (the “body” of a work — the typical carrier of content) between the transitions, which are in this case the only semi-stable aspect.  This work unfolds as a way of “mediating or providing structure” to the fact of “becoming naked before his own interlocution,” in Thom’s phrase.  Patrick notes that a way of enjoying this work it is to deem it composition. “What you witness,” Patrick notes, “is not a performance but a composition. [An audience] is there as a piece of art is being composed.”

Three nights after the Bowery Poetry Club performance we used as the basis of our discussion — by then Benson has traveled to the Writers House in Philadelphia — he again improvised a long poem composed of questions, although on this occasion he then responded at length to inquiries about the method from the audience. His transcript of this performance also appears in Open Clothes — as “If you stop to listen to yourself think” and “Is your thinking about the words.” A full audio recording of the event, including the Q&A session, can be heard here.  Again, Steve McLaughlin created excerpts:

Excerpt 1 (2:25): MP3
Excerpt 2 (1:42): MP3
Excerpt 3 (2:27): MP3

In May 2011, Eric Baus wrote about Benson's improvised questions for his Jacket2 commentary, “Notes on PennSound.” In 2006, for Jacket issue 31, Rob Stanton reviewed Open Clothes and made reference to the transcription of the 2003 Writers House Q&A.

PoemTalk is produced by Al Filreis, was engineered this time by Steve McLaughlin, and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin. The series is sponsored by PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, and the Poetry Foundation. Program notes are hosted among the podcast series, of course, at Jacket2.