Anne Waldman, 'To the Censorious Ones' ('Open Address to Senator Jesse Helms')
Orchid Tierney, Stacy Szymaszek, and Pierre Joris joined Al Filreis to discuss a poem by Anne Waldman sometimes called “To the Censorious Ones” (occasionally with the subtitle “Jesse Helms & Others”) and sometimes in performance called “Open Address to Senator Jesse Helms.” It's been published most prominently in In the Room of Never Grieve: New and Selected Poems 1985-2003 (Coffee House Press; p. 239). The recording available through Anne Waldman’s PennSound page comes to us from the Naropa Audio Archive, a collection of live performances given at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics between 1974 and 2002. From internal and contextual evidence, the PoemTalkers date the performance to around 1990, the time that the Culture Wars, waged by congressional conservatives such as Helms, focused on performance art (among other apparently seditious forms), especially that which had been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Our discussion ranged across many topics. Among them: Waldman's ongoing work as a cultural activist; belief by her, and others, in the “magical efficacies of language as a political act”; poets’ support for alternative art communities; the relationship between the work of curating and institutionally “making” poetry spaces and the poems that arise from such work; the feminist project of “thrusting into [the censor’s] point of view,” a gesture in equal parts writerly and political; and the importance of reasserting myths of the woman rising from below, coming up, coming back, and opening the box. Ultimately, we decide, the very question of “artistic merit” (that vexed — and, as it turns out, hypocritical — phrase in the NEA charter) is answered in this poem through its own responsive performative daring. In art that tempts the censors to repeat their censorious work, is merit really still relevant? Political response emerges as one way to deal with the problem of aesthetics!
This 76th episode of PoemTalk was engineered and directed by Steve McLaughlin and edited by Allison Harris. Next time on PoemTalk: Jessica Lowenthal, Michelle Taransky, and Dee Morris join Al Filreis at the Kelly Writers House to talk about two poems performed by Lorine Niedecker as recorded in 1970 by her friend Cid Corman.
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Steve Roggenbuck is a twenty-six-year-old Internet poet from rural Michigan. He has spent the last several years giving readings and talks all over the country, sleeping on couches, selling books and t-shirts, making thousands of friends. His full-length collections are CRUNK JUICE (2012) and IF U DONT LOVE THE MOON YOUR AN ASS HOLE (2013), both released in the public domain and available at steveroggenbuck.com. He recently founded Boost House, a publishing collective and actual house in Brunswick, Maine. You should follow Steve on Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.
Will Alexander, 'Compound Hibernation'
Tracie Morris, Kristen Gallagher, and Michael Magee gathered together in PoemTalk’s garrett studio to discuss a poem by Will Alexander: “Compound Hibernation,” published in Zen Monster, then performed at least once at a reading (Alexander’s Segue Series performance at the Bowery Poetry Club in March of 2007), and then collected in the book Compression & Purity (City Lights, 2011). The text of the poem is now available at the Poetry Foundation site, reproduced with the poet’s permission. The recording of the poem in the Segue event is available, also with permission, at PennSound’s Will Alexander page.
The group began by discussing the poem’s relationship to the Ellisonian strategy (or condition) of invisibility, in which one “ingest[s] ... a blackened pre-existence” through a glaring, nine-sun-sized brightness while maintaining the feeling that “Those who glance about me / ... cannot know me.” Its poetics — or “galvanics” — presents a speaker residing in “a pre-cognitive rotation” in an “invisible tremor” yet made of a complex compound, and “aloof” because of such “interior compounding.” Mike Magee observes that Alexander is attempting to locate the speaker “in an other-wordly space,” possibly inside the sun, the ur-source of our light. Tracie Morris adds that magic (including sleight of hand) is about dispersing light, teaching us the misdirection of seeing, “making you distracted by not seeing what is in front of you.” For Kristen Gallagher, all during the discussion, Alexander’s interest in surrealist writing practice seemed not just important to our following, or not following, the words of the poem, but helpfully connects with the magic of distracted vision Tracie sees in misdirected (in)visibility. (Kristen later notes that relevant here is Alexander’s work on Haiti and specifically voodoo; from that one sees here the poet’s engagement with an identity established not by denotative declaration but through “possession,” a non-Western tradition of declaring selfhood that doesn’t presume location.) Tracie adds that writing about space becomes here a strategy of talking about blackness — space being a site pre-existing, an imagination "before racism," a sphere not predicated on whiteness. “Before light there was space.” Mike notes that one senses from such an aesthetically eccentric (as perhaps distinct from concentric) poem, as too from the poems of Harryette Mullen (whom he quotes), that “‘it's dangerous to be the only one,’ so you try to figure out a way to be both inside and outside the circles.” And “Compound Hibernation,” Mike feels, is a very canny poem in that way.
Following the PoemTalk discussion, Tracie Morris wrote an additional note on this poem; Jacket2 is pleased to publish that short essay here.
PoemTalk this time was directed and engineered by Steve McLaughlin, created and produced by Al Filreis as always, and edited by Allison Harris, whom we gladly welcome once again to the PoemTalk community as the new editor of the series. PoemTalk is cosponsored by PennSound at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, the Kelly Writers House, and the Poetry Foundation.
David Abel visited the Kelly Writers House recently in order to record his poems for PennSound (his PennSound author page will be available soon), to check with us about our progress in digitizing a box of rare recordings on cassette he has given us for adding to the PennSound archive, and to participate in a recording session of PoemTalk (on a poem by Muriel Rukeyser), to be released later. Among the cassettes are readings by David Rattray and Gene Frumkin. Al Filreis spoke with David about his own poetry (particularly in Float, published by Chax in 2012), about his work as bookseller, convener of poetry communities (through readings series, etc.), librarian, and editor/publisher. They also discussed the poems and lives of Rattray and Frumkin. The interview was engineered and then edited by Zach Carduner.
A 9-minute excerpt from a recent reading
PennSound podcast #39 is devoted to Ann Lauterbach — a nine-minute excerpt from a reading she gave at the Kelly Writers House in November of 2013. Allison Harris introduces and hosts. For a full video recording of the reading and/or a full audio recording, see the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry. Charles Bernstein introduced the event, and a few seconds of his remarks can be heard in the podcast.