Podcasts

A hole torn in the world (PoemTalk #42)

Nathaniel Tarn, 'Unraveling / Shock'

Nathaniel Tarn; "Dying Trees" jacket

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The eighth section of Nathaniel Tarn’s sequence Dying Trees is titled “Unravelling / Shock.” Dying Trees was first published as a chapbook in 2003; later, in 2008, it was included entirely in Tarn’s New Directions book, Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers. When the Dying Trees sequence was still unpublished, Tarn gave a reading at the Kelly Writers House (2002) during which he read several sections of the then-new poem, including the one discussed here by Marcella Durand, Burt Kimmelman, Erin Gautsche, and PoemTalk’s producer and host, Al Filreis.

The setting is certainly Tarn’s parched American southwest. Drought is killing the trees; a cancer diagnosis is delivered; nationalism has brought more warring. The convergence of the three forms a “web.” “A hole [has been] torn in the fabric of the world.” News travels bodily; leaders fail to lead; beetles pierce bark; a demonic mouse – “wee” and yet terribly efficacious – compounds the morbidity to the point of body-snatching. It happens as an ecological, medical, and political simultaneity, and the speaker is not in a state to be much concerned about keeping the categories separate. Thus the poem is itself “the whole infernal weave” – a quality more obvious in this eighth section of the poem than in others.<--break- />

Our talkers, Burt especially (a great admirer of Tarn), found this verging on didactic. And yet Burt, Erin, and Marcella all acknowledge that what’s actually causing the sense of didacticism is the “unravelling” of the poem’s lines and thematic focus.

Burt, Erin, and Marcella each take a turn, toward the end of the discussion, in an effort to relate Tarn’s career-long interest in ethnopoetics to the ecopoetics of the Dying Trees sequence. Indeed, then, they ponder the two categories in general relation.

Back in our poem, “Ghosts” walking among the dying trees get the last word (quoted in the final lines of the poem):

              “those days,
those days you took no notice of, counting them poor,
dispersing them among the memories you could not value
at their truth worth, you could not recognize enough to feel:
who knows if these few days, these very days, were not
those ones lived together here, the only paradise?”

Tarn, an eminent anthropologist as well as a poet, finds a speaker at the apparent end of the world and has him describe a paradise lost; the verb is lived, not live.

- - -

In 2003, Jacket published two sections of Dying Trees, the 7th and 9th. The 9th, entitled “Golden Globes of Hopefulness,” was also recorded during the Kelly Writers House reading mentioned above. Jacket also published Tarn’s review of a book about Robert Duncan and illness. And Jacket 39 included a wide-ranging feature of essays and commentary on Tarn’s work overall.

PoemTalk #42 was directed and engineered by James LaMarre, and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin.

Into the Field: Andrew Zawacki

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I meet Andrew Zawacki in this episode of Into the Field, recorded on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens. Zawacki teaches in the creative writing program at UGA, and holds degrees from the College of William and Mary, Oxford, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and the University of Chicago. His books of poetry are By Reason of Breakings (University of Georgia Press, 2002), Anabranch (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), and Petals of Zero Petals of One (Talisman House, 2009). Zawacki's writing has appeared in The New YorkerThe Nation, and The New Republic, as well as in many anthologies and journals. We talk about his ambivalence toward his role as a "professional" poet, and discuss what he's learned from his students over the years. The show begins with a reading from his long poem "Georgia," which explores his sense of cultural alienation after moving to Athens in 2005.

You can find more of Andrew Zawacki's poetry and criticism on his website.

Ezra in Venice (PoemTalk #41)

Ezra Pound, Canto III

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This time PoemTalk took on Canto III of Ezra Pound’s epic, The Cantos. For such a daunting task we gathered Kaplan Harris (who came from far-western New York State for the occasion), Richard Sieburth (the brilliant NYU Poundian, who interrupted a sabbatical to lend a hand), and Philadelphia’s own (and, originally, Brooklyn’s own) Rachel Blau DuPlessis.

We began by considering what Al – for lack (at the moment) of a better word – calls the four or five “blocks” of topical segments that Pound typically brings together in a collage of historical materials and genres. We work through these, explore the associations, and find our way back to Pound himself (presented in the first “I” of The Cantos), remembering himself young, penniless, ambitious, shut out of rightful civic entry – like The Cid, a hero of this poem; and perhaps, too, like (but also unlike) Robert Browning (who makes a slant appearance).

The third canto was drafted around 1917 and published between hard covers in 1924-25. Although Pound recorded several performances of other cantos through the years, he did not record this poem until the summer of 1967, when he was 81. The voice you hear in the PennSound recording is frail, although Kaplan and Richard both remind us that Pound is, even here, putting on the performance of weak retrospection (a specialty, as a matter of tone and also content, of the final cantos which he had been writing not long before this). What is remarkable is that the poem contains a memory already (when it was written) of a very early moment for the poet (1908), and now, nearly sixty years later, we hear the old poet remembering the memory. There are moments – words re-uttered – when he certainly comes alive through emphasis and what one might call “deep memory.”

We urge you to listen hard for Rachel’s terrific riff on the importance of Pound’s deployment of the “genre circus,” and of Pound’s late “my notes do not cohere” problem. “Notes” in themselves, are one of the many genres deployed, says Rachel.

And listen all the way to the end here, folks. In his “final word,” Richard treats us to a marvelous description of the role played in Pound’s complex conception of the poem by the hyper-desired figure of Inez de Castro, lover and posthumously exhumed and declared wife of King Pedro I of Portugal (in the 1350s). At left: Inez de Castro.

Richard Sieburth is also the author of “The Sound of Pound: A Listener’s Guide,” which is the most authoritative account of the recorded voice of the important modernist. The essay was written for PennSound and is linked from PennSound’s Pound page. Just to be clear: PennSound’s Pound page includes every recording of Pound reading his poetry that we know exists. As you will see from the credit lines and acknowledgments on that page, we depended on the kindness of many people to produce such a collection.<--break- />

Steve McLaughlin both engineered this 41st PoemTalk and also, as always, edited it.

Into the Field: Ben Friedlander

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In this inaugural edition of Into the Field, I talk with Benjamin Friedlander at his home in Bangor, Maine. Friedlander is a poet, critic, teacher, and member of the Flarflist Collective. He currently teaches at the University of Maine. Friedlander reads a selection of poems originally posted on the Flarflist, as well as several from his book A Knot Is Not a Tangle (Krupskaya, 2000). In our interview, he discusses his years spent living in two of the major meccas of experimental writing in recent decades: San Francisco in the 1980s, and Buffalo in the ’90s. We also talk about his use of the tools of Flarf to do the work of elegy, and his interest in widely forgotten poets of the nineteenth century.

Loss in reverse (PoemTalk #40)

Susan Schultz, 'Dementia Blog'

Susan Schultz and her mother
Susan Schultz and her mother

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Norman Fischer’s super-coherent overview of the book called Dementia Blog by Susan Schultz is a good way to begin: “Following the odd form of the blog, which is written forward in time but read backwards, it charts the fragmented disorienting progression (if this is the word) of her mother's dementia. Schultz sees through her family's personal tragedy to the profound social and philosophical implications of the unraveling of sense and soul: a deranged nation, so unmoored from coherence that it is unable to feel the difference between political rhetoric and the destructiveness of war.”

For our 40th episode of PoemTalk, we gathered Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Michelle Taransky and Leonard Schwartz and discussed two relatively early blog entries in this work.

Leonard responds to the matter of Schultz’s discovery of dementia as poetic form and he quotes Schultz on this point: “Reverse Stein. Not insistence but repetition.” “Stein,” says Leonard, “who insists it’s not repetition, that there is no repetition” but Schultz reverses that, based on the neurological reality facing her. Is this repeal of Stein a “big breakthrough”? asks Al - to which Leonard replies that it’s not really a critique of Stein, because finally “this book honors a kind of indeterminacy as ethics.”

Jamie-Lee argues that for Schultz memory is community and the state of being without memory is isolation. In the post-Holocaust sense, we won’t understand, and cannot successfully convey, what we write down about the trauma we witness. Schultz nonetheless chooses testimony a mode, and blog as form, not so much because she believes in the efficacy of bearing witness but because she wants to be part of this community and to stave off remoteness.

Michelle follows this by wondering if we can understand such writing as lyric – as embodying the qualities of the lyric poem. How is Schultz “somehow both expressing something personal – relating it to herself, her mother turning into not-her-mother – and at the same time there’s the very public [function, so that] someone else with a mother with dementia might read this and relate. Thus there’s somehow that ability to both be lyrical and to be poethical at the same time.” Michaelle isn’t certain that the blog form is what makes that convergence possible, but she suspects it might be.

Al had already written about the book on his own blog, where he concluded, perhaps a little too cutely, that “[t]he illness is the medium” – and then pondered the project’s novelistic aspects:

As you read this work you go backwards into the daughter's recent past to a point just when the mother begins to lose a grasp on her past. Ironically, conventional novelistic progression is repurposed for the digital mode that would normally undermine it. As we move toward the end (the beginning: Susan's return home from a vacation abroad to deal with her mother's first crises), we arrive at wholeness. Not Pip realizing his realistic place in London, nor Emma right-sizing the world into appropriate family pairings, nor even Clarissa Dalloway's party bringing the whole fractured cast together, but a happy-ever-after that is a moment in time just before the decline begins. In the end are things as they were.

The book can be purchased through Small Press Distribution. It was published by Singing Horse Press in 2008. PennSound’s Susan Schultz page is here; she recorded nine sections, or blog entries, specifically for PennSound – including, of course, the two we discuss. For his radio show, “Cross-Cultural Poetics,” produced in the studios of KAOS-FM at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and made available through PennSound, Leonard Schwartz has interviewed Schultz several times. During the 180th show, he spoke with her about Dementia Blog and that interview is very much worth hearing along with this PoemTalk.<--break- />

[A few days later: we’re glad to see that already this discussion and of course the book itself are being recommended in a letter to the editor of Slate in response to an article about the experience of living with someone suffering from dementia.]

PoemTalk’s 40th episode was directed and engineered once again by James LaMarre and edited as always by Steve McLaughlin. Next time on PoemTalk: Richard Sieburth, Kaplan Harris and Rachel Blau DuPlessis talk with Al about the third canto of Ezra Pound. Stay tuned for that one.