Adrienne Rich, 'Wait'
When Adrienne Rich wrote the poem “Wait” she and many Americans and others were awaiting the start of what seemed an inevitable war in Iraq, in March 2003. The PoemTalk crew — Jessica Lowenthal, Linh Dinh, Randall Couch and your convener-host Al Filreis — couldn't wait (as it were) to get going on this terrestrial poem. Is it a personal is political poem? The soldier, after all, looks at his or her wedding ring and thinks about why s/he wasn’t told...but not told what? Is it a make love, not war poem? Is it a political poem at all? The Iraqi desert is “no place for the little lyric.” The gang variously wonders if the poem had something large to contend about lyric’s talent for reminding us of reasons why war is inhuman? Randall thinks it isn’t much of a war (or antiwar) poem; its strengths diminish as it gets more clearly into its political subject; in the end it closes off “with a click.” Linh prefers a less formalistic approach. Jessica and Al riff on the 1930s-style “hobos in a breadline” genre: its reputation for conservative form carrying radical content. Is this a formally conservative poem? If so, there’s an irony, for sure. The PoemTalkers can only agree that such a question is open, making the poem all the more interesting (and in that sense it’s a meta-poem, a poem about the problems of political poems).
In paradise every
the desert wind is rising
in hell there are no thoughts
is of earth
sand screams against your government
issued tent hell's noise
in your nostrils crawl
into your ear-shell
wrap yourself in no-thought
wait no place for the little lyric
wedding-ring glint the reason why
they never told you
PennSound’s collection of Rich recordings offers downloadable mp3s of three reading, including her 2005 performance at the Kelly Writers House, where she read a bit from The School among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004, including "Wait". She also gave a 32-second introduction to our poem.
PoemTalk #2 was recorded in Studio 111 at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, produced by Al Filreis and Mark Lindsay. Steve McLaughlin was our sound editor and we had help from that talented soundhead, Curtis Fox. We're grateful to Adrienne Rich who agreed, when she visited in 2005, to recite “Wait,” a favorite of the Writers House-affiliated students.
William Carlos Williams, 'Between Walls'
Can such a brief bit of writing — William Carlos Williams’s “Between Walls” — be a “campaign poem,” as host Al Filries at one point in PoemTalk#1 suggests? Saigon-born poet Linh Dinh (Jam Alerts) insists that it is a garbage poem and prefers not to claim for it such large literary-political territory. Williams is “flirting” with the poetic, but never quite gets there. Teacher, editor, poet, translator, college administrator Randall Couch sees greater awareness of the poetic line in the poem as printed on the page than in the way Williams read the poem at public readings. Linh and poet Jessica Lowenthal (As If In Turning) see and hear two different poems. Al keeps wondering if the poem can be negative (be about nothing) and yet at the same time produce something and point toward this bit of shining broken modern shard to discover, or re-discover, life. To Al and Jessica it is positive (“lie / cinders / in which shine”) but Linh insists with pleasure that Williams is being neutral — just a snapshot of an urban scene. As such, the poem has had a huge influence on poetry and photography since its first publication in 1934. Yet can any artist today get away with so straightfoward and seemingly objective a mere observation?
the back wings
will grow lie
in which shine
pieces of a green
We at PoemTalk were celebrating Williams’s 124th birthday a little while back when we noticed several bloggers seemed to feel it necessary on that very day to “avoid[...] the urge to romanticize” WCW. The blogger who creates Caught in the Stream led the way, pondering — and then rejecting as untrue — the distinction between Walt Whitman’s long-lined sentimentality and WCW’s succinct and seemingly exclusive focus on things. We delighted at the way respondents to the blog weighed in on one side or the other. But on our cake, at least, we held an extra candle for Walt, sensing that the two poets are very much in the same line.
PennSound’s Williams page has the complete recordings, every last one so far as we know. Including, of course, the three recordings of the poet reading PT’s first poem, “Between Walls.”
PoemTalk #1 was recorded in Studio 111 at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The show was produced by Al Filreis and Mark Lindsay, and was directed and edited by Steve McLaughlin with help from Curtis Fox.