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)
Tyrone Williams, 'Written By H'Self' & 'Cant'
Alan Golding, Lily Applebaum, and Herman Beavers joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio at the Kelly Writers House — the first time PoemTalk recorded in the new studio — to discuss two short poems by Tyrone Williams that appear in the book published by Omnidawn in 2008 called On Spec. The two poems appear in the book’s first section, called “Eshuneutics.” “Written By H’Self” [text] is the first poem in the section and the very first in the book. “Cant” [text] appears fourth in the book. We based our discussion on the recording of the two poems, available with many others on Williams’s PennSound author page, made during a reading he gave in the Segue Series at the Bowery Poetry Club in December 2007, prior to the book’s publication.
These densely allusive poems meant that our first task was to peel back at least some of the layers of referentiality; yet the layers overlap, are torqued, punned, entendred, homophoned, and doubly and triply and quadrupally historicized — sometimes in one word or phrase, conjuring social, geographical, historical, juridical, psychological, musical, poetic, theoretical registers. Among the allusions we trace: Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”; the Washington/DuBois debate over the “Talented Tenth”; the “one-drop” racial rule; the John Henry Complex; the Cumberland Gap as an escape route; the Gap (source for jeans) and marketing fetishes; the folkloric figure of Stagger Lee, who murdered for the swiping of his Stetson; the Happy Feet of African American dancers and Disney animationists; the signature of the slave narrativist, needed to “prove” her and his capacity for self-authoring; Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition speech of 1896; “Terrible Tom” with his three historical personages, including the blind autistic musician whose race and music are categorically indecipherable; the historical relegation of black musicians to vernacular music; and Moby-Dick. After all this, Herman Beavers contends that Tyrone Williams “sings the holes in history” and indicates ways in which “History with a capital H is not adequate to talk about all this stuff.” And what alternatively can be adequate? Well, we’d argue: poetry — indeed, poems as specific and yet as capacious as Tyrone Williams’s.
Our director and engineer for this eighty-sixth episode in our series was Zach Carduner. Our editor was Amaris Cuchanski. And we at Kelly Writers House and PennSound sent a sweet thankful shout-out to Gary and Nina Wexler for making our dream of a recording studio here a reality.
PennSound podcast #43
Amaris Cuchanski has edited and now introduces a 20-minute excerpt from a one-hour recording made of an October 17, 2012, event at the Kelly Writers House featuring conceptualist writing by women, celebrating the publication of I'll Drown My Book. This excerpt is episode 43 in the PennSound podcast series. You can hear the entire recording — and indeed watch a video recording — of the event by visiting the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry and by visiting the speak PennSound page created for the audio recordings, which have there been segmented.
Nicki Resnikoff attended the event and was asked by the staff of the Writers House to describe what she witnessed. This is what Nicki wrote:
On Wednesday October 17th, the Arts Cafe was filled with members of the KWH community for what turned out to be a night of poetry — and laughter — as Laynie Browne hosted a reading from the recently released anthology of women’s conceptual writing, I’ll Drown My Book. Editor Browne took the podium to give a brief introduction to the anthology. She explained that the editors put this collection together with the intent of “opening, not binding, the term conceptual writing.” Browne then gave a brief introduction to each of the five readers for the night, mentioning some of their accomplishments and credentials. Each of the featured poets read from their own contribution to I’ll Drown My Book, as well as a selection from the anthology by another poet. Lee Ann Brown read three poems from her project “Philtre,” which she wrote while experiencing artwork created by others. She then read a piece in the anthology from Redell Olsen’s Punk Faun. Brown chose this selection as a companion to hers as it “takes poetry into the realm of art and performance in a very real way.” Rachel Blau DuPlessis read her piece “Draft 98: Canzone,” which she said came from a “realm of cultural pillaging.” Her other selected reading from the anthology was from Norma Cole’s “Collective Memory.” Jena Osman read from “Financial District,” which was first in her book Deborah Richards. Kristen Prevallet opted not to read from her piece in the anthology, given its essayistic form. In order to “convey the heart of it,” she called up a volunteer to whom she explained the essay. The volunteer then summarized this for the audience, calling the work “a take on space.” Prevallet also read from “Public Sphere and Private Space” by Rachel Levitsky. Cecilia Vicuna closed out the program. She gave no introduction to her energetic reading other than silently smoothing her clothes and hair while the room waited for her bilingual presentation. After performing two pieces, Vicuna took the time to note that all of the pieces of the night were connected by the idea of time travel, and to address her colleagues saying, “It was so incredibly beautiful to hear you all.” Vicuna then opened the anthology to show her contribution: abstract drawings, which she proceeded to “read” to the audience.