The day pours out space (PoemTalk #65)

Lisa Robertson, 'The Weather' ('Monday')


In October of 2000, Lisa Robertson presented along with Steve McCaffery at the seventeenth episode of PhillyTalks. She read from a then-new work, The Weather, just a few months before the book’s publication by New Star in Vancouver (2001). Here are the segments from that 2000 reading: “Monday” (2:10): MP3; “Tuesday” (7:06): MP3; “Wednesday” (2:14): MP3; “Thursday” (6:38): MP3; “Friday” (9:16): MP3; “Saturday” (4:02): MP3.  The book-length project, organized as such by days of a/the/every week, was in part stimulated by the poet-researcher’s experience during a six-month Judith E. Wilson Visiting Fellowship at Cambridge University: as a non-local, she found herself listening to late-night weather and shipping reports on the British radio, discerning there and elsewhere a specifically localized language that seemed abstract and was yet radically precise.<--break- />

For PoemTalk we chose to talk about the “Monday” section of The Weather, and invited (shown left to right in the photo at left) Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Kristen Gallagher, and Michelle Taransky to gather at the Kelly Writers House for the purpose. The group discusses the way in which a poetics can derive from meteorology and its importance in contemporary culture and history. We variously observe how the language of the poem brings together pastoral poetry, meteorological prose, Anglo-centric subjectivity, the Wordsworthian problem of sincerity, and the cloudy concept of the universal.

Robertson has written and spoken with remarkable cogency about the project, and certainly the quality of our discussion owes a great deal to her own suggestions and analysis. Before she began reading from the typescript at PhillyTalks, she gave this 3-minute introduction. And here is a relevant excerpt from an essay she wrote before a Washington DC reading — “The Weather: A Report on Sincerity,” a piece mentioned and quoted several times during the discussion:

I'm interested in the weather. Who isn’t? We groom for the atmosphere. Daily we apply our mothers' prognostics to the sky. We select our garments accordingly; like flags or vanes we signify. But I'm interested in weather also because cultural displacement has shown me that weather is a rhetoric. Furthermore, it is the rhetoric of sincerity, falling in a soothing, familial vernacular. It's expressed between friendly strangers. I speak it to you. A beautiful morning. You speak it back. The fog has lifted. We are now a society. To say insincerity is foreign to weather is precise. Weather is the mythic equilibrium of the social, rising and falling in the numbly intimate metres of the commonplace. For a long time the rhythm’s opaque to the stranger. Haltingly you begin to sing, during the long cab ride from the airport, the long chorus of place. You enter a new weather, an unfamiliar system of sincerity. You learn it by example. You begin to adjust, to settle; put in order; regulate. But you are a spy in sincerity. The real knowledge of weather is indigenous.

Should it come as a surprise that Britain's most profitable television export is not costume drama but weatherporn? Weatherporn. An atmospheric condition dallies with some lives and we drink its lusty spectacle from the screen. Description pries up, frees itself, briefly phatic, expresses a gestural plenitude, framed by but untied to the sociality of objects. This loosening is diction as rhythm. It crosses borders. The weather becomes a flickering social prosody. As it abstracts into rhythm it becomes commodified, universal. Really. It was a fireball, right through the front door, and out the back.

It’s real. It’s mythic. It’s wild. It’s a vernacular. It’s didactic. It’s boredom. It’s ceaseless. It’s a delusional space.

PoemTalk #65 was hosted and produced by Al Filreis, engineered by Steve McLaughlin, and edited (as every PoemTalk has been since #1) by Steve McLaughlin. The text of the “Monday” prose-poem from The Weather has been made available, with permission, at the Poetry Foundation site. The text of the Robertson-McCaffery PhillyTalks event is here. At the end of the PhillyTalks reading, Robertson and McCaffery interviewed each other, and took questions from the audience; that session was recorded and is available here. A video recording of the entire event was made and is extant only in RealVideo format. (PhillyTalks was hosted by Louis Cabri and engineered by Aaron Levy.)

John Tranter in Philadelphia


John Tranter recently visited the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. He participated in the recording of an episode of PoemTalk (about a poem by Ray DiPalma — to be released later), and then took time to record a conversation with Al Filreis about the founding of Jacket and various related topics. This recording is episode #31 in the PennSound podcast series. During the discussion Filreis asked Tranter to read a few recent poems; three poems can be heard in the whole recording, but have also been segmented, as follows:

“After Hölderlin”
“At the Tomb of Napoleon”
“Goats and Monkeys”

The podcast was engineered and edited by Steve McLaughlin. For an earlier interview with Tranter, conducted by John Kinsella, go here.

Into the Field: Joe Milutis

Joe Milutis is a writer, media artist, musician, and Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at the University of Washington-Bothell. His latest book is Failure, A Writer’s Life (Zero Books, 2013), “a catalogue of literary monstrosities, a philosophy for the unreadable, and a map for new literary worlds.” He’s also the author of Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything (Minnesota, 2006).

Joe’s work has appeared in CabinetTriple CanopyLeonardo Music Journal, and on WNYC’s The Next Big Thing. His website is JoeMilutis.com, where you can find the video for his translation mashup “Stéphane Mallarmé’s The Conversation.”

You can — and should! — subscribe to Into the Field via RSS or in iTunes.

A Belladonna* anthology

Podcast features seven readings from the series

erica kaufman and Rachel Levitsky.


From the excitingly varied PennSound page hosting recordings from the Belladonna* reading series from 1999 to the present, PennSound podcasts now presents, for its twenty-eighth episode, an anthology of seven Belladonna* performances.  The seven are: erica kaufman, “A Conventional Hero” and “PS 54”; Rae Armantrout, “Seconds”; Lydia Davis, “City People”; Rachel Levitsky, “In the Wee Hours”; Sharon Mesmer, “Gait Signatures”; Tim Trace Peterson, “Bricky”; Jennifer Moxley, “Taking My Own Advice After Skylar.” 

A reading series and independent press that promotes the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, and dangerous with language, Belladonna* was founded as a reading and salon series by Rachel Levitsky at Bluestocking’s Women's Bookstore on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1999. In 2000, in collaboration with Boog Literature, Belladonna* began to publish commemorative “chaplets” of the readers work. Erica Kaufman joined Levitsky as cocurator/editor in 2002. Then in 2005, the series moved its events to the downtown performance venue, Dixon Place.

This episode of PennSound podcasts is introduced by Amaris Cuchanski, edited by Nick De Fina, and produced by Al Filreis. Be sure to listen to any or all of the other twenty-seven podcasts in the series.

The straight path gone astray (PoemTalk #64)

Caroline Bergvall, 'VIA'

Caroline Bergvall, Dante Alighieri


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.

The recording of “VIA” we are using in here was first made in 2000, and later (in 2005) included in Rockdrill CD #8, published by the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre at Birkbeck College, produced by Colin Still and used with his permission. The CD is titled Caroline Bergvall, Via: Poems 1994-2004 but the recording made available, in addition to “VIA,” Ambient Fish, 8 Figs, About Face and other pieces.  The text of “VIA” was published in Chain magazine’s 10th issue — a special number devoted to translation — in the summer of 2003 (pp. 55-59), and thus of course postdates the performance. PoemTalk listeners new to Bergvall will surely benefit from a look and listen at Bergvall’s PennSound page, where one can hear her discuss topics relevant to the work of “VIA”: translation in relation to cultural traffic between languages, rethinking identity in relation to language, the translation of live performance to text, the problematics of text and performance, and more.  Jacket2 has published Genevieve Kaplan’s essay on “VIA” called “How we read Caroline Bergvall’s ‘Via’ and Why we should care” and Brian Reed's essay titled “‘Lost Already Walking’: Caroline Bergvall's ‘VIA’.”  Laura Goldstein has published an essay on “VIA” that focuses on translation as performance. (Above from left to right: Amaris Cuchanski, David Wallace, Laynie Browne.)

This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Chris Martin, hosted and produced as always by Al Filreis, and edited expertly once again by Steve McLaughlin. We at PoemTalk wish to thank the Poetry Foundation for co-sponsoring the series, and, in particular there, Cathy Halley and Nuria Sheehan.

We are pleased to share Steve Benson’s response:

I found it fascinating in listening, afterward, to the recording, and recognizing many of the translators' names, and, so far as I caught them, I recognized none of the translators as women. So far as I can remember, issues relating to gender were not brought up in this particular conversation. But, after all, in this text, gender is pervasively male: the “I” and the “my” and the “myself” in the translations always refer to a male identified with the figure of Dante Alighieri. Might not Bergvall be remarking on something here too? It seems she is handling, by her precise patient focused reading, the translation craftwork of so many dozen males, each contemplating the same single existential situation, one that strikes me as archetypally male: he finds himself radically disconnected, island-like, off task, on a sort of involuntary quest for orientation, lost in it, uncertain of its purpose or ground. How is she handling these as a woman? It seems to me she attentively, impartially vocalizes each of these tercets like prayer beads on a string, neither objecting nor venerating. They are facts, acts, things, and she witnesses them, attends to them, one at a time, as part of a larger fabric -- the weave of her generating attention between them, as well as the implicit context (which might be identified as the Comedia, Western male-dominated culture).

I gather from Wikipedia that Dorothy Sayers felt her translation of the Comedia was her own major contribution. Maybe there are more women translating Dante than I realized.