Tom Raworth, 'Errory'
For our 50th episode, Charles Bernstein, Michael Hennessey, and Marjorie Perloff gathered at the Kelly Writers House to talk about Tom Raworth’s poem, “Errory.” The poem was published in Clean & Well Lit in 1996, and has been reprinted in the Carcanet Press Collected Poems (2003). Our recording of “Errory” comes from audio material produced in 2004 by the Contemporary Poetics Research Center (CPRC) at Birkbeck College of the University of London, and we thank Colin Still for making these recordings available to PennSound.
Here is the CPRC/PennSound recording of Raworth performing “Errory,” at somewhat more than his usual breakneck speed. Listen to “Out of a Sudden,” for instance — from the same recording session — and you'll notice a more deliberate pace.
The 32-minute recording of “Writing,” read at typical Raworthian canter, is certainly worth hearing for similarities to the aural feel of “Errory”: urgent, converging, phrases “clawing back,” “free-falling into mind,” “vibrations of division,” “small notes to the rhythm of the train,” “things whiz past.” These are all, of course, phrases from our poem, which is, in a sense, in addition to everything else that it is, a poem about the urgency of its soundings. The pace of Raworth’s delivery is clearly a crucial aspect of the signifying, and, as if anyone needed further evidence, underscores the importance of close listening in the sound archive.
Michael and Marjorie are especially interested in “Errory” as a war poem of some sort. Michael reminds us of Raworth’s childhood experiences of the Blitz. All the talkers comment on the use of a vocabulary and diction of martial industrial (not post-industrial) mechanism. Al sees, as well, a embedded sequence of landscapes, and Al and Charles note that, if the poem is slowed way down (Charles performs this briefly), we’ll hear little seemingly set-piece nature lyrics — lyrics that are, of course, challenged by the ubiquitous presence of “landing sites” and “transmitting unit[s].” The “scanty pastures” with which the poem ends are sites on which communication is destroyed “more easily” than otherwise.
“Errory,” as Marjorie points out, is so much more than a single fault or misdirection, indicated by the conventional term “error”; “errory” is, rather, an ongoing condition or state of error, a continuous striking of the so-called false note, “free-falling into mind” to the point where it becomes a “joined harmonising.”
PoemTalk was edited this time, as forty-nine times previously, by Steve McLaughlin. The show is produced at the Kelly Writers House in collaboration with the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation.
P. Inman, 'reception. theory.' and 'lac[e]ly.'
Michael Golston, Danny Snelson, and Sarah Dowling joined Al Filreis this time to talk about two short poems by P. Inman from his book at.least. (published by Krupskaya in 1999). The poems are “lac[e]y.” — dedicated to Tom Raworth — and “reception. theory.” — which is “for Diane Ward.” The text of the poems is available as a downloadable PDF, and the book is described and available here. Recordings of Inman reading the two poems, made in 2005, are available at Inman’s PennSound page and as follows:
Sarah and Al in particular found Inman’s presentation at PhillyTalks #14, curated by Louis Cabri and produced by Aaron Levy in November 1999, to be relevant to the at.least. poems. Inman’s paper, presented on that occasion (a double reading and talk pairing Inman and Dan Farrell), is called “Notes on Slow Writing.” The text is available, and here are several propositions from “Notes” that seemed to help us understand the “overpunctuation” of the poems:
Michael was fascinated with the title “lac[e]y.” — noticing, as Sarah also did, that it’s in part a reference to the saxophonist Steve Lacy (who has collaborated with Tom Raworth) and in part a way of describing the form of the poem: “almost like a lacing,” Michael says, “there’s a sense that you could visualize this as laced, the lines lace together and unlace, and so on.” Danny, interested as always in textual variants, identifies possible vertical readings. Yes, the poem can be read downward. “What’s nice about the poems,” says Danny, “is that they leave a space open for readers to read the poem as they would like.” That the poems, as printed, sit close to the gutter and “hang on the page” in a certain manner, “further destabilizes things.”
Steve McLaughlin is our editor, as always, and James LaMarre was the director and engineer for this forty-ninth episode. PoemTalk is a collaboration of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation. We are grateful to Michelle Taransky, Jessica Lowenthal, Mingo Reynolds, Chris Martin, Chris Mustazza, Stephanie Hlywak, and Catherine Halley.
Above, at right: P. Inman.
Edgar Allan Poe, 'Dream-Land'
Read Edgar Allan Poe's “Dream-Land” even just once and discover that it’s not at all clear if this land of dreams is the place from which the speaker has come, or is, rather, his longed-for destination — or if indeed it is the very mode and means and route endured along the way. Subject and object, both; content and form likewise; it is the process that demonstrates the importance of desired ends. “Thule,” a northerly, arctic/Scandinavian sort of zone, is apparently an origin "from" which the speaker has traveled, but it is also apparently “it” — a “wild clime” neither geographical nor temporal, “Out of SPACE— out of TIME.” And “it” is also a space through which one passes.
Thomas Devaney, John Timpane, and Jerome McGann greatly admire what Poe achieved here. For them it is a matter of a sort of wild control. The poem seems to go where it will (and that’s its point) but the speed — as matter of tongue, teeth and lips saying its words — is managed at the level of the line. The poem is intensely languaged, as is the selfhood of the “I” whose journey is always already the poem. And so this work, as an act of writing, far transcends its Gothic conventions.
Jerry McGann visited the Kelly Writers House to give a talk on Poe, decentered culture and critical method, and also to record a session of “Close Listening.” We at PoemTalk took advantage of his proximity to our studios, as well as of Philadelphia’s Poe-centricity, and (unusually for PoemTalk) gave our fair city’s visitor his choice of which Poe poem to feature. He selected — as he explains briefly during our talk — a typical but less well-known piece. Emerging from the urban corners of the Poe-known world were John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, where poetry actually continues to have something of a foothold among daily journalism, and, from further south and west, Tom Devaney, who ventured in from Haverford College where he teaches his share of Poe along with a great deal else. It should be noted here that Tom wasn’t always at the bucolic edge of William Penn's town. In 2004, for instance, he spent several afternoons at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (Poe’s house, in other words) performing “The Empty House Tour” as part of the ICA’s series called “The Big Nothing.”
Of course we have no recordings of Poe reading this poem, and we’re not even certain he ever performed it in public, although Jerry and Tom assure us that Poe did give readings and was even, for a time, avid about it. PoemTalk’s featured poems are always drawn from PennSound’s vast archive, but in this case, fortunately, we were able to make use of PennSound Classics, a page featuring links to guest performances of Blake, Chaucer, Wyatt, Spencer, Homer, Sappho, Langland, Milton, Pope, Swift, Dryden, Shakespeare, Whitman, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats, as well as from among archaic Greek poems and Scottish ballads. “Classics” also include Poe, as selected and performed by our own Jerome McGann. Here is his recording of “Dream-Land.”
Our director and engineer for this show was James LaMarre, and our editor this time, and indeed for all 48 shows, has been Steve McLaughlin. We note with pride that Steve is now also the Director of PennSound Radio. If you tune in you will occasionally hear Steve’s voice announcing the playlist, but know, in any case, that he’s the DJ behind the selections.
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE— out of TIME.
Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters— lone and dead,—
Their still waters— still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily.
By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead,—
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily,—
By the mountains— near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—
By the grey woods,— by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp—
By the dismal tarns and pools
Where dwell the Ghouls,—
By each spot the most unholy—
In each nook most melancholy—
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past-—
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by—
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth— and Heaven.
For the heart whose woes are legion
'Tis a peaceful, soothing region—
For the spirit that walks in shadow
'Tis— oh, 'tis an Eldorado!
But the traveller, travelling through it,
May not— dare not openly view it!
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringed lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule.
Above, left to right: John Timpane, Jerome McGann, Thomas Devaney.
. The term “ultima Thule” in medieval geographies indicates any distant place located beyond the borders of the known world.
2. For links to essays, articles and more information about Devaney’s work on Poe, click here.
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Sean Cole is a poet and radio producer currently based in New York City. I spoke with him last summer in Toronto, where he was living at the time. Sean’s chapbook Itty City (Pressed Wafer) was published in 2003, and The December Project (Boog Literature), a collection of postcard poems, came out in 2005. Sean has contributed to numerous public radio programs, including This American Life, All Things Considered, Marketplace, and Weekend America. He produced a memorable piece on Flarf poetry for Studio 360 in 2009, and his story “Death Mask” appeared as a Radiolab podcast last month.
Rosmarie Waldrop, 'Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence'
Rosmarie Waldrop’s book Shorter American Memory consists of prose poems collaged from documents collected in Henry Beston’s American Memory, a book of the late 1930s evincing an Americanist zeal for early documents. Beston's historicism seemed a liberal effort to restore and include in the American story, as it was being retold during the Depression, a wide range of Native American as well as both obscure and classic “founding” or “first encounter” Euro-American writings. By appying various constraints to these documents, Waldrop rewrites Beston by “taking liberties” — an intentional pun on her part — with the gist of the anthology and its very length. In doing so, (to quote her publishers at Paradigm Press) she “unearths compelling clues into America's perception of its own past, developing a vision of America vital for its intelligence, wit & compassion.”
We at PoemTalk decided to take a close look at one of these prose poems, “Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence.” A performance of this poem, preceded by a short introduction, was recorded at Buffalo in 1992. The main work of that reading was to present many chapters from Key into the Language of America, a project related to that of Shorter American Memory in several ways we mention in our discussion. As a warm-up to Key, she read three of her writings-through Beston: ours on the Declaration, a second on Salem, and a third on “the American Character According to [George] Santayana.” Here is a link to Waldrop's PennSound page, where these and many other recordings are linked.
Al felt especially pleased to be joined on this occasion by Jessica Lowenthal (the poet, Director of the Writers House, and former student of Waldrop at Brown), Julia Bloch (co-editor of Jacket2), and Johanna Drucker, who was visiting us from Los Angeles that day for a talk on materiality and aesthetics, which turned out, unsurprisingly, to be stunningly suggestive and exciting.
This episode of PoemTalk was, we think, masterfully edited and sound-adjusted by our long-time editor, Steve McLaughlin. Thanks to the digitorial work of Danny Snelson, Shorter American Memory has been made available in its entirety as a PDF downloadable from Ubu Editions. A transcript of this episode is available here.