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.

Eight introductions to Creeley, 1961-1996


The 27th podcast in the “PennSound Podcasts” series features an anthology of eight introductions to Robert Creeley, culled from PennSound's many recordings of Creeley’s readings over the years. The introductions are, in order: by Paul Carroll (Chicago, May 15, 1961), at the Berkeley Poetry Conference (Berkeley, July 22, 1965), by Ed Saunders (New York, October 24, 1966), in the Woodberry Poetry Room of Harvard (Cambridge, October 27, 1966), at MoCA Los Angeles in 1983, by Reed Bye at Naropa (Boulder, July 1984), by Diane Wakoski (Washington, DC, 1984), and by Susan Howe (Buffalo, October 11, 1996).

This PennSound podcast is hosted and introduced by Amaris Cuchanski and edited by Nick DeFina. Be sure to listen to other PennSound podcasts. And find us on iTunes by typing “PennSound” in your iTunes music store searchbox.

Kenneth Sherwood & Loss Pequeño Glazier on electronic poetics in 1995

From the LINEbreak series

Left, Kenneth Sherwood; right, Loss Pequeño Glazier


In this episode of the LINEbreak series, co-editors of RIF/t, Loss Pequeño Glazier and Kenneth Sherwood, talk with Charles Bernstein about electronic publishing and the politics of editing the first online hypertext journal of poetry and poetics, RIF/t magazine. Their program was recorded in the Music Department at SUNY Buffalo in 1995. An audio recording of the full program (29 minutes) can be heard here: MP3.  Some obvious context puts this remarkable discussion in relief: graphical browsers (such as Mosaic) were not readily available until 1994, and this discussion about, in part, an online poetry magazine, took place a year after that.

The excerpt of the Glazier/Sherwood discussion we present now has been assembled eighteen years later — so much further into the era of digital poetics — as the 26th episode in the PennSound podcasts series, produced by Al Filreis, introduced and hosted by Amaris Cuchanski, and edited by Nick DeFina.

Daytime never ends (PoemTalk #63)

Laynie Browne, 'Daily Sonnets'


PoemTalkers Jessica Lowenthal, Lee Ann Brown, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee gathered with Al Filreis to talk about five poems from Laynie Browne’s Daily Sonnets, which was published by Counterpath Press of Denver in 2007. We chose two of Browne’s “fractional sonnets,” two of the sonnets in which the talk of her children is picked up partly or wholly as lines of the poem, and one of her “personal amulet” sonnets. These are, to be specific: “Six-Fourteenths Donne Sonnet” [MP3], “Two-Fourteenths Sonnet” [MP3], “In Chinese astrology you are a snake” [MP3], “I’m a bunny in a human suit” [MP3], and “Protector #2: Your Personal Amulet” [MP3]. The sonnet after Donne is a constrained rewriting of a “holy” sonnet: “I am a little world made cunningly.”

From her daily life, Browne derives a sense of writing written uncunningly, not so much by repudiating the made autotelic perfection of the traditional poem — of the sonnet in particular as a (holy) form — as by implying that in reality we don’t live our writing lives that way.  Her unsequential sonnet sequence explores the daily influxes of the moments of which and in which the poems are composed. She makes the ordinary extraordinary. There's a conceptualism here, and Jessica, Lee Ann and Juliette discuss it: the procedural constraint was to treat the regular work of making a book of sonnets as a specific daily habit or practice. “Finally,” Browne has written (in the book’s afterword), “after many years of controlled circumstances, the allowing in of all voices, all time.” The sonnets are acts of collaboration “with the bumpiness of days passing.” Browne’s two children, noted in the dedication, are the makers of some of those bumps. “To Benjamin and Jacob,” the dedication runs, “my daily sonneteers / inventors of the ‘real time sonnet’ and ‘dailiness.’” (Above from left to right: Lee Ann Brown with Miranda, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, and Jessica Lowenthal with Alice.)

Here, appended to Browne’s PennSound page, is the text of our poems: PDF. Thanks to the work of Anna Zalokostas, all of Browne’s various readings from Daily Sonnets are identified as such on the PennSound page.

This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Chris Martin, produced by Al Filreis, and expertly edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin.

Howe interviews Bernstein and Andrews in 1979

from left: Susan Howe, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein


On March 14, 1979, Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein visited the studios of WBAI in New York and were interviewed by Susan Howe, host then of the Pacifica Radio Poetry Show. This installment in the PennSound podcast series, introduced again by Amaris Cuchanski and based on editing done by Nick DeFina, features an excerpt from that interview focusing on a discussion of opaque as distinct from transparent language and of language’s materiality.

During their appearance on Howe's show, they read some poems: Andrews read from R&B and “How” and Bernstein read “Matters of Policy.” Of course the entire one-hour program can be heard on PennSound.

Susan Howe’s WBAI-Pacifica Radio shows are available on PennSound in collaboration with the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California, San Diego. PennSound’s digital copies were made from recordings housed at the archive.