Two very different Cageans

Jena Osman and Kenneth Goldsmith in conversation

Jena Osman, John Cage, and Kenneth Goldsmith


On December 9, 2004, Al Filreis brought together two very different Cageans — Jena Osman and Kenneth Goldsmith — for a conversation with the students of his Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course. This was the first time that Osman and Goldsmith were recorded together, for beyond their shared interests in John Cage’s aesthetic and documentary poetics, they are very different poets. Osman is known for her disruptive, experimental poetics — collaging and intervening in existing texts — while Goldsmith’s works are defined by their uncreativity, where the texts are presented whole.

This podcast features a sixteen-minute excerpt of the Osman-Goldsmith event, edited by then-student Andy White. First, we hear from Goldsmith, explaining the hubub that resulted when his book Soliloquoy was first introduced. Soliloquoy is an unedited document of every word Goldsmith spoke during one week in 1996 (he wore a hidden, voice-activated tape recorder and transcribed the results). In the discussion that follows, Osman and Goldsmith hash out the political nature of language (“Language is just charged matter,” Goldsmith says), the presence of choice and intervention in the work of Cage and Jackson Mac Low, the inability of poetics to be truly uncreative, and the power of form and structure in poetry. The full recording of the event is available on PennSound.

Whelm lessons (PoemTalk #60)

Clark Coolidge, 'Blues for Alice'


Brian Reed (in from Seattle), Maria Damon (Minnesota), and Craig Dworkin (Utah) joined Al Filreis at the Writers House (Philadelphia) in a rare and — we think — rather fluid convergence of poetic minds prepped to figure out how to talk about an instance of verse bebop. The bop was Charlie Parker’s, as a model for languaged sound (by poet Clark Coolidge), and the template song was “Blues for Alice” (Coolidge’s poem uses the title), and among the possible Alices are Alice Coltrane, Alice Notley, and Alice in Wonderland. We speculate about Alice Coltrane and Alice in Wonderland, but as for Notley: Brian Reed finds evidence that Coolidge meant to dedicate his poem version of the standard bop dedication indeed to Notley. This leads Maria Damon to wonder about all these women dedicatees – these recipients or objects of blues syllabics — in light of such strong male performative struggles, or attempts to “get in on the try,” managed by creative men: Coolidge and Parker, or course, but perhaps Ted Berrigan too, and surely also Jack Kerouac, whose bop-inspired babble flow is very much part of the PoemTalk conversation. The key source for Coolidge’s working out of Kerouac is his important 1995 article published in American Poetry Review on Kerouac’s babble flow and his improvisation generally.

So let’s line up your sources for a full appreciation of this discussion. For especially studious PoemTalk listeners, we might even suggest that you reckon with these materials in this order. First, listen to one of the available recordings of Charlie Parker performing “Blues for Alice.” Then of course read Coolidge's poem (below and also here). Then read at least part of Coolidge’s essay on Kerouac. Then, finally perhaps, read Ron Silliman’s overview of the importance of Coolidge’s critical approach to Kerouac as an aid to our understanding of an “enormous sense of dedication to craft and to the idea that the meaning of form is intimately connected to what you can do with it”; Silliman is talking about Coolidge’s Now It's Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & the Sounds.

Or, alternatively, forget all those ancillary materials; maybe we should all critically “Step down off our whelm lessons.” Perhaps in the end PoemTalk’s 60th episode will serve best as a model for how the meaning of a poem consciously worded from improvised sound can be conveyed through a close reading of its sounds without the producers of such a reading ever shying away from biography, discography and the specific literary histories of influence.

Our engineer for this episode was Chris Martin and our editor, as always, is the incomparable Steve McLaughlin. We wish to correct information conveyed in the discussion: Rachel Blau DuPlessis was indeed the source of the reel-to-reel recording, which she held for many years and then gave to PennSound, whereupon it was digitally converted; she was part of the 1985 symposium at Temple University where Coolidge performed, but did not make the tape.

Blues for Alice, by Clark Coolidge

When you get in on a try you never learn it back
umpteen times the tenth part of a featured world
in black and in back it’s roses and fostered nail
bite rhyme sling slang, a song that teaches without
travail of the tale, the one you longing live
and singing burn
It’s insane to remain a trope, of a rinsing out
or a ringing whatever, it’s those bells that . . .
and other riskier small day and fain would be
of the soap a sky dares
                                               but we remand,
that we a clasp of the silence you and I, all of
tiny sphering rates back, I say to told wall, back
and back and leave my edge, and add an L
Night is so enclosed we’ll never turn its page
its eye, can be mine will be yours, to see all the people
the underneath livid reaching part and past of the lying buildings
the overreacher stops and starts, at in his head, in
in her rhythm
that knowledge is past all of us, so we flare and tap
and top it right up, constant engage and flap in on
keeping pace, our whelming rift, and soil and gleam
and give back the voice, like those eary dead
Step down off our whelm lessons and shortly fired
enter the bristle strum of Corrosion Kingdom
where the last comes by first ever ring, every
race through that tunnel of sun drop and pencil
in the margins of a flare, of higher wish than dare,
the stroked calmings of a line will spin and chime
in blue quicks of a dream blues, the chores
of those whispering gone crenulations
To meet a care is to dial redeem
and we limp in the time sound balms
so out of kilter is my name in the sun, and I win
in the moon and you sing in that other spelling of win
the way a blue is never singular

Yankee go home (PoemTalk #59)

Paul Blackburn, '7th Game: 1960 Series'


Paul Blackburn performed his poem “7th Game : 1960 Series,” which had been written in 1960, on or near the first day of the 1971 baseball season, during a reading he gave at SUNY Cortland. The poem was later republished in Blackburn’s Collected Poems (here is a PDF copy). The New York Yankees (Blackburn’s team) were heavy favorites in their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and vastly outscored the underdogs in the seven games. But the Pirates won on a home run by a light-hitting second baseman in the final at-bat of the final game (what we now call a “walk off”). As Blackburn introduces the poem, the Cortland audience laughs; listeners to the audio-only recording now might be confused by this, but we think you can safely guess that Blackburn had just put on his Yankee cap.

Ron Silliman, Daisy Fried and Joel Lewis join Al Filreis to talk about this poem, and about Blackburn’s poetry generally. Ron looks closely at 1960 as a year during which Blackburn, usually prolific, wrote almost nothing, our poem being just one of a handful he produced. Is there anything in this poem that helps us understand its compositional context as a time of reticence? Joel contributes, among other things, a rather precise sociological reading of the Cortland student body of the moment the poem was performed, the politics of that moment, at the end of the Sixties, being relevant to the story of 1960 being told in its lines.  Daisy discusses baseball as “a numbers game,” and observes the poem’s use of baseball’s numbers as ideational and peri-metrical markers — offering a poetics of a sort.  All four talkers worked through the image of Fidel Castro, who struck us as an important figure here, although shadowy and subtextual. Castro was of course still very popular at the time the poem was composed, a threateningly attractive cultural force as well as a talented baseball player, and his final emergence coincides with the end of the imperial reign of the Yankee, who now must go home despite retaining much greater firepower than the light-hitting small-time opponents, among them an explosive, soon-dominant Caribbean, Roberto Clemente, whose proud subversion of the Yankees was more potent than that of the accidentally powerful Mazerowski.  Reading out these political valences — and aren’t we always reading baseball allegorically? — it is hard to discern which side Blackburn is on. Our understanding of his celebration of the exclusive focus of the male New York fanatics, whose temporary obliviousness to the pretty young underage girls (“jailbait”) who pass them by, is complicated by the prospect of the gaze naturally returning to its focus once the dynasty has finally been destroyed. Is that a reason to cheer, not lament, the end of the Yankee? Is that a reason to stand on the Left either in ’60 or ’71?

Chris Martin was our engineer once again for this episode of PoemTalk, Al Filreis the show’s organizer and producer, and Steve McLaughlin, as ever, its one and only editor.

Tired, poor, huddled, gentrified (PoemTalk #58)

Bernadette Mayer, 'The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty'

Bernadette Mayer, Emma Lazarus, Lady Liberty


Most of us who have read Bernadette Mayer's poem, “The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty,” encountered it in Andrei Codrescu's anthology American Poetry since 1970: Up Late (1987), where it was joined by her “Laundry & School Epigrams” (written in the same spirit) and eight of her other poems. PennSound’s recording of “The Tragic Condition” comes from an Ear Inn reading that took place in October of 1988. 

For this episode of PoemTalk, Al Filreis convened Anne Waldman, Julia Bloch, and Katie Price to talk about this poem and Mayer’s approach to tragic conditions generally. <--break- />

As we note from the start, the poem’s subtitle is “A Collaboration with Emma Lazarus” and it begins by appropriating lines 10 through 14 of the famous Lazarus sonnet, “The New Colossus” — lines spoken by the giant statue, the “Mother of Exiles” that now stands in the harbor of New York, Mayer’s own beloved wretched town. Here is Lazarus, the appropriated lines in italics:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

PoemTalk this time was experted engineered by Chris Martin, produced by Al Filreis, co-sponsored by the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, PennSound, the Kelly Writers House and the Poetry Foundation — and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin.

Into the Field: Joey Yearous-Algozin

Joey Yearous-Algozin is a full-time man of letters living in Buffalo, New York. He’s a Ph.D. candidate in the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics Program, co-editor of the journal P-Queue, and a member of the TROLL THREAD publishing collective. Joey’s books include The Lazarus Project: Friday the 13th (Gauss-PDF, 2011), Poor (Minutes Books, 2012), The Lazarus Project: Alien Vs. Predator, The Lazarus Project: Faces of Death, The Lazarus Project: Night and Fog, and Buried (TROLL THREAD, 2011–12). You can find his essay on the street performances of Hannah Weiner, “No One Asked You,” in Wild Orchids.

Incidentally, you should subscribe to Into the Field in iTunes or via RSS if you haven’t yet. I’ll be posting a ton of new material this fall.