PennSound podcast #49, with an introduction by Harris
This interview tracks my genesis and early development as a poet and intellectual. My artistic and cultural education occurs during the late 50s, the 60s and the early 70s and takes place primarily in and around academic institutions: the liberal college, Antioch, which is in my hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the nearby black state university, Central State, in Wilberforce, and the story, if not exactly concluding, comes to “a momentary stay against confusion” at Stanford University in Northern California where I did my MA in creative writing and a PhD in English.
My main education came mostly from students, not professors, because the students were in contact with what was happening in the culture. This was the time of the New American Poetry, the postwar avant-garde movement, and free jazz, the radical new black music. Even though I was not a student there the students at Antioch and what I read there taught me about the New American Poetry and at Central I learned a little about free jazz. Well, heard it anyway. Listening to it with a group of black militant students, I found it incoherent; they didn’t. It would take me years to make sense of it. Also at Central I met the future black philosopher Leonard Harris — no relation — who not only became a prominent black philosopher but was one of pioneers of the emerging field of black philosophy. At both Antioch and Central I edited student literary magazines, Trinculo at Antioch and Gem at Central. At Stanford my understanding of the New American Poetry and experimental writing deepened: not only by my talking with fellow students and Al Young but also by meeting the black novelist, Ishmael Reed. There I was associated with the black student magazine, Brilliant Corners, named after a Thelonious Monk tune and edited by Bob O’Meally, an undergraduate. Among others it published Nate Mackey, Robert Stepto, Al Young, Jon Eckels, Johnie Scott and me.
Even though I had wonderful teachers, including the poet Wendell Berry, the modernist poetry scholar, Al Gelpi and poet-critic Donald Davie, once again most of my real schooling came from the students. Nate Mackey, now a major poet, Bob O’Meally, now a major jazz scholar, and the amazing Al Young taught me about jazz. Al wasn’t actually a student but a Jones Lecturer, a teaching fellow at Stanford, but he hung out with us. As important to my jazz education as these folks was one book, Amiri Baraka’s Blues People, which I read in 1967 in Yellow Springs simply because I was reviewing it for the liberal journal, The Antioch Review. It became my bible and I knew it well before I knew the music well. My Stanford friends helped complicate its story. At Stanford my understanding of the New American Poetry and experimental writing deepened. Not only by talking with fellow students and Al Young, but also meeting the black novelist Ishmael Reed. Al Young being our literary ambassador had introduced us to him. After hearing Reed read I remember a fellow black graduate student — I think, Fred Johnson — say, “I want to write like that, not like Richard Wright. I am sick of naturalism.” Ish opened up new worlds for us. And so did his experimental multicultural lit magazine, Yardbird Reader. “Yardbird” is the nickname for famous bebop saxophonist, Charlie Parker. (The journals’ titles, Brilliant Corners and Yardbird Reader, reflect the centrality of the music to the literature.) The Reader published such people as Jeffery Paul Chan, Amiri Baraka, Nate Mackey, Anne Waldman, Jay Wright, Simon Ortiz, and me. Reed was from that other world — Berkeley — where black writers wrote wild stuff and college students got involved in tear gas-filled uprisings. I hope my encounters with these times, the shifting social and political attitudes, the people, the New American Poetry, the New Black Writing, bop, post-bop and free jazz, will throw some light on them for both me and the listener. I certainly wasn’t the center or at the center, but I have lived through some important cultural and social moments.
PennSound podcast #48
On March 18, 2015, Canadian poet Rachel Zolf visited Philadelphia and the Kelly Writers House and came into the Wexler Studio to record a conversation with Brian Teare. Zolf and Teare discussed Zolf’s most recent book, Janey’s Arcadia, which Teare described in his introduction to Zolf’s reading at Temple University in November 2014 as a work that “situates us in a Canadian national history in which the ideology of nation building prescribes genocide for indigenous people, and enlists all its settler-subjects in the campaigns of conversion, dislocation, assimilation, and disappearance.” Zolf created a film, a sound performance, and a number of polyvocal actions related to Janey’s Arcadia and has written recently about the “mad affects” generated by the reading/audience event.
Rachel Zolf’s five full-length books of poetry include Janey’s Arcadia (shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award), Neighbour Procedure, and Human Resources. She has taught at the New School and the University of Calgary and is completing a PhD in philosophy at the European Graduate School. Teare, an assistant professor of English at Temple University, is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Companion Grasses, as well as a number of chapbooks. He also makes books by hand in Philadelphia for his micropress, Albion Books.
This interview was recorded in the Wexler Studio at Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia on March 18, 2015, and you can read a transcription of it in Jacket2 here.
Kathy Acker, 'The Diseased' & 'The Slave Trader'
PoemTalk took its show on the road this time. Al Filreis convened with Maria Damon, Catherine Wagner, and Kaplan Harris in Greenwich Village, New York City, before a wonderfully responsive live audience, to talk about two poems Kathy Acker inserted into the middle of her novel Blood and Guts in High School. These are poems written “by” Janey Smith, the 12- or 13-year old central character of the story. Those with copies of the book will find our two poems on pages 103 and 105: “The Diseased” and “The Slave Trader” (or “To Slave Trader”). Texts are presented here, below. The novel was published in 1978, and on November 13 of that year Acker read with Lorenzo Thomas at the Ear Inn as part of the Segue Series. She performed our two poems in addition to excerpts from Janey’s “Persian Poems,” as well as several other pieces. As we listened to “The Diseased” we included Acker’s introduction, in which she fascinatingly — and in character, you might say — sets up the context for the intrusion of these poems into the prose of the novel.
The book is more than a novel, of course, as we note. It is a mash-up of different genres, and at one point the group creates a long and even then incomplete list of the genres at work. Moreover, Acker invites us to wonder if she herself is a mash-up. The poems are translations of the love elegies of Sextus Propertius. They are at points so literal that Janey/Acker preserves the Latin word order in the English. Janey says elsewhere in Blood and Guts that translation is a crying out in response to pain. Janey has written a book report on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and the text of the paper is included (of course) in the novel. It is, the group observes, a perfect summary of the text yet written in “the monosyllabic, resentful, crude style” of the heretical proto-punk girl. Acker turns Hester into Janey and there you have it: the punkification of the sort of internal exile Hawthorne was exploring. Referring to Dimmesdale as a fool, Janey writes: “Teach me a new language, Dimwit. And language that means something to me.” That impulse to want to recreate language in the context of eros and taboo, and of the social underworld, is a utopian aim to which Acker dedicated her life and work. “The whole thing about punk,” Maria Damon notes, “is that you do brilliantly ambitious things very stupidly.” Our discussion keeps returning to the details of the amazing effects created by this disjuncture.
We are delighted to add to the main PoemTalk session a bonus track — nine minutes of conversation with the audience, an excerpt from the open discussion that followed the main session: MP3.
This live-audience PoemTalk was recorded at the Hudson Park Library branch of the New York Public Library at 66 Leroy Street in lower Manhattan, where librarians have been serving the entire public without any discrimination since 1906 and where Marianne Moore worked as a library assistant from 1921 to 1925 (her commute to the job was a total of 42 steps). We are grateful to Alexandra Kelly and Miranda Murray of the NYPL staff. PoemTalk’s regular director and engineer, Zach Carduner, traveled to New York from Philadelphia with all his equipment, set up elaborately and skillfully obtained a clean sound despite some acoustical challenges. What challenges remained in the initial audio were met by the talents of our now-regular editor, Amaris Cuchanski.
The edition of Blood and Guts in High School we used — the pagination of which we refer to in the discussion — is the 1984 Grove Press book, identical in its hardcover and paperback editions (the hardcover ISBN is 0-8021-3193-X). Here is the text of the poems as they appear in the novel:
To Slave trader
Are you really crazy, doesn’t you my love mean anything to?
Do you think I'm than icy more frigid Illyria?
To you so valuable, whoever she is, does that girl seem
That without me controlled by the winds to go you want?
You hear can the raging of oceans under bridges,
brave? on hard cold floor how to sleep you can know?
you, delicate and scared, survive chills and frosts
you can, not used to the slightest snow?
Let winter's be double the length of solstice
let be dead ‘cause of late the sailors Pleiades
let no your from the Tyrrhenian be freed ropes muck
let not unfriendly my throw away winds pleas!
But, let there be no double winter dead winds,
if you on a speeding carry away the waves ship
from me prisoned on this empty and allow shore
you horror with clenched to threaten wrist.
But whatever happens whatever I, horror, you owe,
I hope Galatea brings you luck
may be sailed-by Ceraunian cliffs by oar felicitous
let in Oricos with calmness.
Me no one will take away from you
but I, life, in front of your house bitter puss will keep screaming
and not I may fail ever sailor to ask passing-by,
‘Tell me, in what port in prison my boy is?’
and I will cry, ‘It’s possible on Atracian he's set down shores
or it's possible in Hylaeia, he my future is.’
I want all of you out there to shut up.
I'm going to live the ways we want to live.
What do you want of me now?
Liver, blood, guts?
The only thing left is madness.
You too’re gonna drive yourself to the pits:
You're gonna walk on coals through blazing fires:
You're gonna drink down the world's most painful poisons:
That's what wanting love is.
My man isn't like other men.
He can keep you in prison.
He can make you do anything.
I know why all of you want him.
But worse, what happens
if my Slave Trader
for some stupid reason
happens to like you?
Then you’re screwed:
no more sleep
Nor will he let you keep your eyes.
He compulsions alone can fetter forces wildness.
How many times a spineless being you'll run to
all the weaky friends you formerly despised,
tremulous sorrow will arise with tears shuddering
warts and pimples and fleas’ll appear on your skin
all your wishes’ll go, words are no more,
you'll never again now who you are.
You'll learn to serve him, girl, to be whatever he wants,
to disappear whenever he wants you to go.
You'll learn why people who want, want to die
why the whole world are lies.
Your rich parents ain't helping:
cause Love's more powerful than social climbing.
But if even small you have given footsteps of your failure
how quickly from such a reputation you will be a murmur!
Not I then I will be able to comfort to bear to asking you
‘Cause I'm sick too.
At this point sicker than you.
My disease is forever.
I know no comfort.
Since we're both maniacs,
let’s be nice to each other.
I myself want to live.
I want to burn.
all I ask is no one loves me
Emily Dickinson, 'She rose to His Requirement' & 'Wild Nights - Wild Nights!'
For the eighty-seventh episode of PoemTalk, Michelle Taransky, Cecilia Corrigan, and Lily Applebaum joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House to talk about two poems by Emily Dickinson, “She rose to His Requirement” and “Wild Nights — Wild Nights!” Texts of the poems can be read here and below. A recording of Susan Leites performing “She rose ...” is available at PennSound’s Emily Dickinson Birthday Celebration page, as is Jan Heller Levi’s performance of “Wild Nights!”
The discussion ranged across many related topics, among them the intentional re-engineering of the gendered pronoun; the excitement of wanting Dickinson’s poems to be complicated; the tossing out of the tools that get you to safe harbor and the conception of writing as being at sea; linguistic constraint as sexiness; the power of unidiomatic language; marriage as disabling awe; the unsaying or un-mentioning of hidden amplitude; the poem as itself work; metrical irregularity as a form of “busting” social requirement; resistance to poetic distribution as triumph and not gender tragedy; and mooring as a form of sexuality. (Above, left to right: Michelle Taransky, Cecilia Corrigan, Lily Applebaum.)
We hope that PoemTalk listeners who enjoy this new discussion will go back to episode #32 to hear Jennifer Scappettone, Marcella Durand, and Jessica Lowenthal talk about Susan Howe’s reading of “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun.”
This episode of PoemTalk was directed and engineered by Zach Carduner, who coordinates the Wexler Studio, and was edited by Amaris Cuchanski.
She rose to His Requirement — dropt
The Playthings of Her Life
To take the honorable Work
Of Woman, and of Wife —
If ought She missed in Her new Day,
Of Amplitude, or Awe —
Or first Prospective — Or the Gold
In using, wear away,
It lay unmentioned — as the Sea
Develop Pearl, and Weed,
But only to Himself — be known
The Fathoms they abide —
PennSound podcast #47
The poet and translator Yosuke Tanaka visited Philadelphia and the Kelly Writers House in late 2014. The purpose of his visit was threefold: to join a scientific conference on cell biology; to see the Writers House in person after spending much time there virtually as a participant in the open online course called “ModPo”; and to sit down in the Wexler Studio with Ariel Resnikoff to talk about contemporary Japanese poetry. (His visit with ModPo’s teacher-curator Al Filreis resulted in a nine-minute video conversation about the experience of modern and contemporary American poetry from the point of view of a Japanese participant.)
Tanaka was born in Tokyo in 1969 and made his debut as a poet in the prestigious literary magazine Eureka at the age of nineteen. So far, he has published two poetry books, A Day When the Mountains are Visible in 1999, and Sweet Ultramarine Dreams in 2008.
Ariel Resnikoff is a poet, translator, and critic; has interviewed Jerome Rothenberg, among other writers; contributed “a test of Jewish American modernist poetics” in the Zukofskyian mode; and published poems in Eleven/Eleven, The Oxonian Review, Matrix Magazine, and Scrivener Creative Review. One of his major interests is the translation and study of the work of Yiddish American modernist poet Mikhl Licht.
Amaris Cuchanski introduces the podcast, part of the ongoing PennSound Podcasts series. Julia Bloch, who joined Ariel and Yosuke in the studio, welcomes them and introduces the conversation.
About Yosuke Tanaka, Yasuhiro Yotsumoto has written: “[He] writes about climbing mountains, riding a bicycle in a city while singing ‘Rally-ho’ and of feeling the moist air in the anticipation of summer rain. He also writes about food and of the sensation of tasting it. All of these materials are to him nature, which seems to be the main source of his creativity. And in his day job, he continues to deal with nature in the same way as in his poems by mixing old and new: he is a scientist specialised in the field of molecular cell biology.”
Below is a translation of the second poem Tanaka reads in the recording, “Salted Mackerel and Girl,” provided by the author.
Salted Mackerel and Girl
I haven’t written about them yet
I haven’t written about that either
I haven’t described them at all
I haven’t said anything about it either
Am now thinking about wheeled luggage
Those bags with wheels that people drag all over the city
Where do they go with them?
They drag them bumping up staircases into train stations
I imagine, they are carrying suits to transform strange creatures
They will wear them
To transform into unusual characters
To feel their honey-like ecstasies
At home, at the office, on the stage,
That is where they must be headed
Dragging their wheeled luggage
Are frequently seen
Especially young girls are wearing white masks
The natural disaster
That sort of situation, in these days, somehow
Inside the mask
You found a salted mackerel lying about
Having deep dark circles under her eyes
The shadow of death was already on her face
She was grown up in a honey-like family
Despite of such a strict
Upbringing, she was spoiled
In the end
I’m the good girl kept in cotton, wearing a white mask,
Why are you bitching me out?
We are packed into lots of wheeled luggage
Loaded on a wheeled box
That runs on tracks
To and fro
With murderous speed
He wears a black mask and a black hat and hides his face
He covers himself with a black coat
He stays at the corner of the car and looks at me
He darts strange glances at me
He must be a poet
He wears a lot of inlaid
Silver rings on his fingers
But his weird imagination is suddenly broken
When he notices a salted mackerel,
All the cells of the fish
Have shrunken in the salt
And what’s more
It is totally covered in white salt crystals
Coming out of the white lump
Salty drops spill over the burned summer asphalt!
Exposed to the strong rays of the sun
The lump of mackerel is burned, with love,
Scattering salt and oil
And all too soon
To be covered with ash and mud
Strange creatures wearing worn-out clothes
Rise up from the mud
One, two, three …
Extending their hands
And circle with extraordinary speed
You know, they are the spirits of the mackerel,
They are the spirits of the salted mackerel,
Are they an omen to disaster?
One, two, three …
The spirits of
Circling, with extraordinary speed
Extending her hairy hands
Like a primitive man
Threw away her white mask
And joined in the circle of dance
She is given, a salted
Of her own
Ring of dance
By the weird
Depths of the world
Should be altruistic
Like the mackerel, all the time.
Only with the altruistic ways of life,
Your world will draw
The most natural curve, said they.
Alas, she suddenly felt
An unearthly salty taste in her mouth
An indescribably fishy, bitter odor
Clung to her nose,
Her eyes rolled back,
She fell on her back
On the land of honey!
Oh, she fell because
The raw extract of the mackerel
Mistakenly entered into her mouth
Oh, it made her finally
Recover from the edge of death
She roars and roars and roars
The revival of
(You are still talking about salted mackerel, right?
One, two, three …
One, two, three …
(translated by the author, with the kind help of Jeffrey Angles)