Perhaps a new optimism (PoemTalk #68)

Ray DiPalma, 'It makes / of nonsense'


Aaron Shurin (then just in from the Bay Area), John Tranter (visiting from Australia), and Charles Bernstein (coming in from New York) joined Al Filreis for this episode of PoemTalk to discuss a poem by Ray DiPalma, “It makes of nonsense.” The poem was written in 1976, and first performed, we think, in 1977. Our text of the poem comes from the poet, and is reproduced below. Our PennSound recording of the poem was segmented from a longer tape of a reading DiPalma gave, along with Michael Lally and Bruce Andrews (quite a threesome in those years), at the Ear Inn in New York City on November 10, 1977; the tape-recording itself was made by the aforementioned Charles Bernstein, one of this episode’s interlocutors.

When the group encounters this passage — “the basis / of this world / the failure / of causality / common / sense is not / what hat / we find there” — we focus on “what hat,” that which we find there once cause-and-effect relations have been deemed to fail. John suggests that a reading of the passage can be straightforward, that hat is a role (as in what hat you wear to signify a job or assumed identity). Thus a “new optimism” augured by this poem might derive from a fresh sense of “common / sense” that does not make identity a function of put-on role. Charles agrees. Aaron and Al suggest a second reading, in which “hat” emerges out of “what” as language, suggesting an alternative to the traditional causality in which a word rather than a thing (“what”) can emerge from a thing, a hat pulled (as it were) out of the poem’s hat. Al and Aaron see the poem as, perhaps only in hindsight, a programmatic poem for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and begin to make a list of aesthetic ideas and practices the poem recommends in very the way it is formed to say what it says. Whatever doubts about this Charles and John share, all agree that when the poem turns to cause and effect it offers a radical alternative for “it” (it being the poem or poetic project, the it that the poem makes of nonsense), so that “instead of / basing it / on cause / and effect // they built / it on cause / and perhaps.” Not cause and effect but cause and perhaps. It’s that embrace of perhaps — key to the poem’s open-endedness — that leads to its new optimism. What Deleuze and Guattari call “a concerted deconstruction of the signifier, non-sense erected as a flow,” can a positive step in our efforts to understand how language creates connection. Indeed, Ray DiPalma came across a passage from Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze & Guattari that, he feels, bears special relevance of the poem: "But through the impasses and the triangles a schizophrenic flow moves, irresistibly; sperm, river, drainage, inflamed genital mucus, or a stream of words that do not let themselves be coded, a libido that is too fluid, too viscous: a violence against syntax, a concerted deconstruction of the signifier, non-sense erected as a flow, polyvocity that returns to haunt all relations."

Pictured above at right, from left to right: Charles Bernstein, Al Filreis, Aaron Shurin, and John Tranter. This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Steve McLaughlin, and edited, as always, by the same talented Steve McLaughlin. Al Filreis is PoemTalk’s creator and producer. Special thanks to Nuria Sheehan and Cathy Halley of the Poetry Foundation for their collaborative efforts and support; to Jessica Lowenthal, Andrew Beal, Lily Applebaum, and others at the Kelly Writers House for space and logistical help; to Chris Martin for his constant technical acumen and fast keyboard fingers; to the thousands of people of ModPo, who generously created a fund to support digital poetic outreach and who tend to listen to the whole series of PoemTalks as if they constitute a survey course introducing contemporary American poetry.

Here now is Ray DiPalma’s poem:

It makes
of nonsense
the full we
put into
they are
in under
the same
seem to
do so
the difficulties
in following
are not
it is that
one art
and science
was enough
while microscopic
has now served
the basis
of this world
the failure
of causality
sense is not
what hat
we find there
once it keeps
still and into
instead of
basing it
on cause
and effect
they built
it on cause
and perhaps
a new
but whose
boundaries are
uncertain in a

         — Ray DiPalma (1976)

Into the Field: Paul Dutton

Paul Dutton is a poet, essayist, novelist, and free-improvisational musician from Toronto, Ontario. Paul was a member of the seminal sound poetry group The Four Horsemen from 1970 to 1988, and since 1989 he's performed in the improvisational trio CCMC with John Oswald and Michael Snow. Paul has also worked with the vocal art supergroup Five Men Singing, among numerous other collaborations.

Paul's 2000 album Mouth Pieces: Solo Soundsinging is available on PennSound, and his visual work The Plastic Typewriter (1993) is on UbuWeb. You can find an online version of his 1991 poetry collection Aurealities at Coach House Books. Dutton's novel Several Women Dancing was published by The Mercury Press in 2002.

As always, Into the Field is available via RSS and in iTunes.

An Alcheringa sound anthology


For this 32nd podcast in the PennSound Podcast series, Nick DeFina and Amaris Cuchanski collaborated to present an anthology of seven recordings from among those produced in association with Alcheringa magazine by Dennis Tedlock and Jerome Rothenberg. For Jacket2’s “Reissues” department, Danny Snelson has prepared a digital edition of the EP audio inserts that appeared with the magazine in each issue. Here are the seven recordings chosen for our podcast anthology:

1) Jerome Rothenberg, “The Tenth Horse-Song of Frank Mitchell” (1971)
2) Andrew Peynesta, “Once Long Ago,” in the original Zuni language (1973)
3) Jaime de Angulo, “Story of the Gilak Monster” (1975)
4) Son House, “Conversion Experience Narrative” (1976)
5) Awawo, Ogiepo, Asegieme, “Nigerian Songs of Ritual License” (1976)
6) Reverend W.T. Goodwin, “Easter Sunrise Sermon” (1971)
7) Hotoke-Oroshi, “Manifestations of the Dead” (1953)

Girl head mostly eyes (PoemTalk #67)

Catherine Wagner, 'This Is a Fucking Poem'


Rae Armantrout, Laura Elrick, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis joined PoemTalk’s producer and host Al Filreis to talk about Catherine Wagner’s “This Is a Fucking Poem.” The text of the poem is most readily available in Wagner’s book My New Job (Fence Books, 2011). It was previously collected in a chapbook, Hole in the Ground, published by Slack Buddha Press of Oxford, Ohio, in 2008 (5 1/2" x 8 1/2", 28 pages). The Hole in the Ground poems form a sequence, even beginning with a poem setting out “The Argument.” On their site, the Slack Buddha folks say mildly (but, to be sure, accurately) that these poems “explore [...] the mores of interpersonal relationships.” The PoemTalkers say much the same thing of “This Is a Fucking Poem” in particular, but perhaps, in the spirit of our poem, more bluntly. The fucking poem, which includes child sexualization through insectization and (self-) cannibalism or body mortification and brutal socialization (“Send her to school // ... her eyes will retract inside // ... nobody will hurtcha”), asks us right away not to “expect too much” and then nevertheless “go[es] into the / fucking human tunnel” headlong.

Wagner here is writing “under the sign of Armantrout,” as Rachel points out. To the clear influence of the writings of one of our own PoemTalkers (Rae herself humbly did not bring it up; we others did), we also add these styles (“allusional zones”) to the always striking Wagernian mix: Emily Dickinson; Sylvia Plath; Franz Kafka (“I woke up and I was turned into a little girl-bug” — per Rachel); Perrault’s/Grimms’ fairy tale of stalking-become-mastication, “Little Red Riding Hood”/“Little Red-Cap”; and Olga Broumas’s key feminist poem “Little Red Riding Hood.” To quote from the famous Broumas poem:

No child, no daughter between my bones
has moved, and passed
out screaming, dressed in her mantle of blood

as I did
once through your pelvic scaffold, stretching it
like a wishbone

Now Wagner:

            … go into the
fucking human tunnel
I'm going …

shudder out the little-girl
legs with a little
girl head mostly eyes …

Stroke her riding hood
Settle down, little

nobody will hurtcha

by breaking off your little legs,
six little legs,
if you come.

The poem raises haunting questions. Is there always a threat of being eaten by someone in disguise as a loved one? And — frightfully — can that threat be transposed onto or even into oneself? What does all this have to do with child-getting, child rearing, and birthing? (With Rebecca Wolff, Catherine Wagner is editor of Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child Rearing [2007].)

The recording of Wagner performing “This Is a Fucking Poem” comes from the reading she gave at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 26, 2011. She also read several other poems from the Hole in the Ground series. These and many more recordings are available at PennSound’s Catherine Wagner page. PoemTalk this time was directed and engineered by Steve McLaughlin, and edited — as always — by the same super-talented Steve McLaughlin. Next time on PoemTalk: Charles Bernstein (coming back to Philadelphia from New York), Aaron Shurin (visiting from the Bay Area), and John Tranter (with us all the way from Australia) join Al to discuss a poem by Ray DiPalma, “It makes of nonsense.”

Deep heart's core sound (PoemTalk #66)

W. B. Yeats, 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'

William Butler Yeats in 1932


Taije Silverman, Max McKenna, and John Timpane joined Al Filreis to discuss William Butler Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” [text], surely his most famous early poem (written in 1888; published in 1890) and a staple of his poetry readings into the 1930s. Yeats’s father had read Walden aloud to him; Thoreau’s pastoral simplification had been alluring for him as a teen, when he fantasized living on an uninhabited island in Lough Gill (near Sligo) — Innisfree. In the poem, the speaker, now longing for an orginary Ireland “while I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey” of the city (presumably London), expresses his desire to build a small cabin on the isle and, like Thoreau, to plant rows of beans and “have some peace there.” The romantic torque generated by such Irish/English splitting produces at the same time a brilliant but makeshift, extra-cultural — one might almost say, dramatically dislocated — prosody.  The striking sound made by this poem is a topic that draws special attention from our three talkers.

PennSound’s Yeats page includes three recordings of Yeats performing this poem: the first recorded sometime in 1937; the second recorded on October 28, 1936; the third sometime in 1932. At another 1932 — on October 4 — he took two minutes to introduce the poem. Here is a transcription of his commentary on our poem: “I am going to begin with a poem of mine called ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ because if you know anything about me you will expect me to begin with it. It is the only poem of mine which is very widely known. When I was a young lad in the town of Sligo I read Thoreau’s essays and wanted to live in a hut on an island in Lough Gill called Innisfree, which means ‘Heather Island.’ I wrote the poem in London when I was about twenty-three. One day in The Strand I heard a little tinkle of water and saw in a shop window a little jet of water balancing a ball on the top. It was an advertisement, I think, for [of?] cooling drinks. But it set me thinking of Sligo and lake water. I think there is only one obscurity in the poem. I speak of noon as a ’purple glow.’ I must have meant by that the reflection of heather in the water.”

This 66th episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Rebekah Caton and Christopher Martin, and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin. Above, from left to right: Taije Silverman, Al Filreis, John Timpane, Max McKenna.