William Bronk, 'Finding Losses'
Julia Bloch, Joseph Massey, and Michelle Gil-Montero joined Al Filreis to discuss four four-line poems by William Bronk. The four were selected from Bronk’s book Finding Losses, which was published by Elizabeth Press in 1976. PennSound’s Bronk page presents two recordings, both done in the fall of 1978. Performances of “The Inability,” “On Being Together,” “The Rapport,” and “Names Like Barney Cain’s” can be heard in the recording made by Verna Gillis in Hudson Falls, New York, on October 13, 1978.
Al asks Joe Massey — a poet influenced by Bronk — if the inability to write fictively (“Make believe”) in “The Inability” corresponds to an inability to relate, to touch, to love as presented in “On Being Together.” Joe responds by describing Bronk’s utter rejection of the pathetic fallacy. The world is unabettably bleak, and that desolation will not be lessened by the writer’s act of “compar[ing] trees to what it means to be human.” Indeed, all four of these poems, Julia adds, identify “an honest acknowledgement of how deep and challenging intimacy can be,” and that challenge not only extends to poetry but is at the heart of it. Michelle agrees, and turns back to “On Being Together,” the poem about trees, describing it as presenting the fundamental “problem of proximity,” which is a problem of being, but also one of representation. Bronk’s persistent understanding of this problem, Joe says, is chiefly why he is to be admired — for believing that he, despite a powerful urge to write, is “unable to say anything that is definite.” The powerful utterance of the word “nothing” at the finale of “Names Like Barney Cain’s,” a poem about what’s left when only a name remains, testifies to such unfixed doubt.
This ninety-ninth episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Zach Carduner, and edited by the very same Zack Carduner. PoemTalk is cosponsored by the Kelly Writers House, the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, and the Poetry Foundation. The next PoemTalk will be our 100th; such a centenary provides the occasion for us to gather together eight poets who have joined us for PoemTalk previously, for an extended conversation that features retrospectives on sixteen episodes, and on the series overall. Look for that episode in May 2016.
She wants me to say something pretty to her because
we both know the unabettable
bleak of the world. Make believe, she says,
what harm? It may be so. I can’t. I don’t.
ON BEING TOGETHER
I watch how beautifully two trees
stand together; one against one.
Not touching. Not awareness.
But we would try these. We are always wrong.
There’s a dead dog at Barber’s Bridge
tied to a tree and two ugly stories why.
Make your own choice; either could be.
Hearing, seeing, I believe both of them.
NAMES LIKE BARNEY CAIN’S
Two locks on the Feeder are named for him.
I have asked and nobody knows who he is.
Alexander, Alfred, Quetzalcoatl,
nobody, nowhere, never, nothing.
PennSound podcast #55
CAConrad returned to the Kelly Writers House on January 27, 2016, to visit the Wexler Studio to speak with Julia Bloch and to read from ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness, which appeared from Wave Books in 2014, as well as a number of new works generated from his ongoing performative and pedagogical practice of somatics and ecopoetics. CAConrad grew up in Pennsylvania and is the author of seven books, including ECODEVIANCE, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon, The Book of Frank, and Advanced Elvis Course, all of which explore the place of poetry in social and political life. Eileen Myles wrote in 2010 in Jacket,“he’s the poet who always changes the room he enters. He’s poetry’s answer to relational aesthetics. Which is the movement camped out now at the center of the art world in which the audience becomes the inevitable workings of the piece.”
Conrad was a 2011 Pew Fellow and a 2015 Headlands Art Fellow, and has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, Banff, Ucross, and RADAR. He is currently living in Asheville, North Carolina. Conrad’s commitment to a poetic practice that can manifest change is legible as much on the page as it is in the actions and community workshops he leads around the country. When asked by the Pew Center in 2014, “If you could collaborate with anyone alive today (someone you don’t know personally), who would it be?” Conrad answered, “I want to write some poems with the President of the United States, to apologize together for the millions of lives we rip to shreds with bullets, bombs, and drones. Three children die of war-related injuries every single day in Afghanistan. Then I want to write poems with him in the broken streets of Philadelphia and Detroit. […] THEN I want to write poems with him in the hills of Tennessee where my boyfriend Mark (aka Earth) was murdered. To this day, the police have written off his death as a suicide because they can’t be bothered to investigate a hate crime. No one but the president will do.”
James Weldon Johnson, 'O Southland!'
Herman Beavers, Salamishah Tillet, and Chris Mustazza joined Al Filreis to discuss James Weldon Johnson’s “O Southland!” Johnson made a recording of this and a few other poems late in his life in December 1935 at Columbia University, as part of a project led by George W. Hibbitt and W. Cabell Greet, lexicologists and scholars of American dialects. The sound of the recording was imprinted on an aluminum platter, dubbed to a reel-to-reel tape in the 1970s by the Library of Congress, and recently rediscovered by Chris Mustazza during investigations on behalf of PennSound. The James Weldon Johnson author page was added to PennSound and announced in Jacket2 in November 2014.
“O Southland!” was published in The Independent in 1907 and again in W. E. B. DuBois’s Horizon in 1908, and was probably first encountered by most of Johnson’s contemporary readers in his book Fifty years & other poems (1917) or in The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which Johnson himself edited. The PoemTalk conversation here speaks to the depth of Johnson’s rhetorical, idiomatic, metrical, and strategic influence on civil rights in later decades. The extent of this influence — and the centrality of Johnson’s “call” for us to hear “The mighty beat of onward feet” — seems to be disclosed fully only upon close listening; those “feet” are civic marchers and metapoetic notes toward the inexorable work of the poem as poem. The formal poem is not at all itself the “musty page” to which so many southerners “cling,” but stands as its new, adamant contradiction. Pictured above, left to right: Chris Mustazza, Salamishah Tillet, Herman Beavers.
PoemTalk episode #98 was directed and engineered by Zach Carduner and Ari Lewis (Ari has been on the Wexler Studio team but this was her first PoemTalk — we welcome Ari) and edited by Zach Carduner. Next time on PoemTalk Al will be joined by Joseph Massey, Michelle Gil Montero, and Julia Bloch to discuss four short poems by William Bronk. PoemTalk is cosponsored by PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, and the Poetry Foundation. You can subscribe to PoemTalk through iTunes.
PennSound podcast #53
Brian Teare came back to the Kelly Writers House on October 30, 2015, to speak with Jaime Shearn Coan about his new collection of poetry, The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, published in 2015 by Ahsahta Press. Shearn Coan describes Teare’s collection as one that imagines “how to language what is un-languageable.” In this PennSound podcast, Teare and Shearn Coan talk about writing out of chronic illness, the book’s engagement with the work of American abstract painter Agnes Martin, and how poetry explores what sorts of shared communal narratives are possible.
Brian Teare, who conducted two interviews in the Wexler Studio in spring 2015 (Rachel Zolf, PennSound podcast #48, and Brent Armendinger, PennSound podcast #51), is an assistant professor of English at Temple University and the author of five books of poetry, including The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven and Companion Grasses, as well as a number of chapbooks. He also makes books by hand in Philadelphia for his micropress, Albion Books.
Jaime Shearn Coan lives in Brooklyn, New York. His writings on dance and performance can be found regularly in The Brooklyn Rail. Jaime has been in residence at Poets House, VCCA, Mt. Tremper Arts, and the Saltonstall Foundation, and is the recipient of a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant. A PhD student in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, Jaime teaches at Hunter College and serves as the 2015–2016 Curatorial Fellow at Danspace Project. His poetry chapbook, Turn It Over, was published by Argos Books in 2015.
A transcription of this conversation can be found here.
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Angela Genusa is a writer and artist, formerly of Austin, Texas and now living in Louisiana. Her recent conceptual works include Simone’s Embassy (Eclipse Editions, 2015), Spam Bibliography (Troll Thread, 2013), Tender Buttons (Gauss PDF, 2013), and Jane Doe (Gauss PDF, 2013). Angela’s writing has also appeared in Abraham Lincoln, Jacket2, The Claudius App, EOAGH, P-Queue, McSweeney’s, the Post-Digital Publishing Archive, and Library of the Printed Web. She is currently a member of the collaborative writing group Collective Task, and you can find more of her work on her personal website. We spoke via Skype in July 2014.