Strange galvanics (PoemTalk #75)

Will Alexander, 'Compound Hibernation'


Tracie Morris, Kristen Gallagher, and Michael Magee gathered together in PoemTalk’s garrett studio to discuss a poem by Will Alexander: “Compound Hibernation,” published in Zen Monster, then performed at least once at a reading (Alexander’s Segue Series performance at the Bowery Poetry Club in March of 2007), and then collected in the book Compression & Purity (City Lights, 2011). The text of the poem is now available at the Poetry Foundation site, reproduced with the poet’s permission. The recording of the poem in the Segue event is available, also with permission, at PennSound’s Will Alexander page.

The group began by discussing the poem’s relationship to the Ellisonian strategy (or condition) of invisibility, in which one “ingest[s] ... a blackened pre-existence” through a glaring, nine-sun-sized brightness while maintaining the feeling that “Those who glance about me / ... cannot know me.” Its poetics — or “galvanics” — presents a speaker residing in “a pre-cognitive rotation” in an “invisible tremor” yet made of a complex compound, and “aloof” because of such “interior compounding.” Mike Magee observes that Alexander is attempting to locate the speaker “in an other-wordly space,” possibly inside the sun, the ur-source of our light. Tracie Morris adds that magic (including sleight of hand) is about dispersing light, teaching us the misdirection of seeing, “making you distracted by not seeing what is in front of you.” For Kristen Gallagher, all during the discussion, Alexander’s interest in surrealist writing practice seemed not just important to our following, or not following, the words of the poem, but helpfully connects with the magic of distracted vision Tracie sees in misdirected (in)visibility. (Kristen later notes that relevant here is Alexander’s work on Haiti and specifically voodoo; from that one sees here the poet’s engagement with an identity established not by denotative declaration but through “possession,” a non-Western tradition of declaring selfhood that doesn’t presume location.)  Tracie adds that writing about space becomes here a strategy of talking about blackness — space being a site pre-existing, an imagination "before racism," a sphere not predicated on whiteness. “Before light there was space.” Mike notes that one senses from such an aesthetically eccentric (as perhaps distinct from concentric) poem, as too from the poems of Harryette Mullen (whom he quotes), that “‘it's dangerous to be the only one,’ so you try to figure out a way to be both inside and outside the circles.” And “Compound Hibernation,” Mike feels, is a very canny poem in that way.

Following the PoemTalk discussion, Tracie Morris wrote an additional note on this poem; Jacket2 is pleased to publish that short essay here.

PoemTalk this time was directed and engineered by Steve McLaughlin, created and produced by Al Filreis as always, and edited by Allison Harris, whom we gladly welcome once again to the PoemTalk community as the new editor of the series. PoemTalk is cosponsored by PennSound at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, the Kelly Writers House, and the Poetry Foundation.

David Abel in conversation


David Abel visited the Kelly Writers House recently in order to record his poems for PennSound (his PennSound author page will be available soon), to check with us about our progress in digitizing a box of rare recordings on cassette he has given us for adding to the PennSound archive, and to participate in a recording session of PoemTalk (on a poem by Muriel Rukeyser), to be released later. Among the cassettes are readings by David Rattray and Gene Frumkin. Al Filreis spoke with David about his own poetry (particularly in Float, published by Chax in 2012), about his work as bookseller, convener of poetry communities (through readings series, etc.), librarian, and editor/publisher. They also discussed the poems and lives of Rattray and Frumkin. The interview was engineered and then edited by Zach Carduner.

Ann Lauterbach

A 9-minute excerpt from a recent reading


PennSound podcast #39 is devoted to Ann Lauterbach — a nine-minute excerpt from a reading she gave at the Kelly Writers House in November of 2013. Allison Harris introduces and hosts. For a full video recording of the reading and/or a full audio recording, see the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry. Charles Bernstein introduced the event, and a few seconds of his remarks can be heard in the podcast.

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.