One October 11, 2012, I hosted a debate on Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Well, not quite a debate, but I knew that I, sitting in the middle of four poets, would be on the fence, as it were, with two on a side. The live webcast, hosted by the Kelly Writers House, was associated with the 36,000-person free online course "ModPo," and was viewed synchronously by dozens in the room with us and thousands watching digitally around the world. We made a recording immediately afterward, and have posted it to YouTube here (1 hour, 9 minutes). (And here is a recording of Frost performing the poem. We began our discussion by listening to it; the performance is certainly important to at least the beginning of the debate.)
The differences between the sides, two versus two, didn't really emerge until the end of a fascinating discussion, but they did indeed emerge, Rachel Blau DuPlessis first finally expressing concerns about the attitude of the poem’s speaker, then Bob Perelman joining the view, pointedly. To be sure, all four poets — Bob, Rachel, and John Timpane and Taije Silverman — spent much of the time assembling a full close formal (and meta-poetic) reading of the poem. Its thematics — and politics — derived, as is apt, from the poem's quality as itself an instance in form of the speaker's impulse to have and also to keep apart from the stilled human object of his beautiful but empty annual cultural rite. Later John Timpane thought some more about his own position on the poem’s speaker; I'm pleased that he has given me permission to publish his statement here.
I wanted to do this special feature for Jacket on the work of Bob Perelman because I noticed a dearth of writing available on the internet about his work. There is a fair amount written about Language Poetry in general, and more if you have access to the search engines JSTOR, Project Muse, etc., or if you know how to search recent dissertations. But even then, I was surprised to find fewer essays focusing on Perelman alone than I had hoped for.[...] So I decided to edit a collection, and a special issue of Jacket seemed the obvious choice. I knew their editors liked this kind of work and, rather than edit a book, I chose the format of easily accessed online materials to best serve the largest audience. Books take forever and not many people buy them anymore. I wanted people to have access to this as soon as possible and for free. — Kristen Gallagher, from her Introduction
[»»]Kristen Gallagher: Introduction [»»]Bob Perelman: Biographical Note [»»]Rae Armantrout: Bob Perelman’s Grammatology [»»]Charles Bernstein: The Importance of Being Bob [»»]Louis Cabri: Poems [»»]Al Filreis: The President of This Sentence: Bob Perelman’s History [»»]Kristen Gallagher: Teaching Bob Perelman’s “The Story of My Life”
In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.
It’s 1995. January 1. Ron Silliman, who had carefully planned this daily yearlong writing project, begins to write the first of what will be fifty-two sections of a series going under the title “You.” He worries about the war in Chechnya, and writes a sentence on that, and about acid rain, and that gets a sentence. He remembers his dreams. He overhears intellectual coffeeshop talk. It’s cold outside.
This would be the twenty-fifth book of The Alphabet; in the Alabama edition of that major assemblage, twenty-five years in the making, “You” begins on page 903, a long way in. Fifty-two sections, one for every week of 1995, each consisting of seven daily prose paragraphs, typically one, two, or three sentences each day. You write what you see, what you overhear, what news local (floods) or world (wars) occurs to you or impresses you, what you remember, what you know or think you know during these days. In one “You” is the diary in New Sentences of a year.
From left to right: George Economou, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Bob Perelman. See this 2009 interview with Nemet-Nejat conducted by Kent Johnson, published in Jacket issue 37. And listen to Nemet-Nejat’s six-minute reading at a program on “new European poets” in 2008: MP3.
Lisa Robertson, Jeff Derksen, and Bob Perelman joined Al Filreis to talk about a poem in a sixteen-poem series by Fred Wah going under the title “Discount Me In.” That series and several others were brought together in a book called Is a Door. Our poem, “Race, to go,” is the first — a proem of sorts — in the “Discount Me In” group, and we have occasion during our discussion to talk about the several valences of discounting. I don't count. The census misses me because I fall between the cracks in racial categories. The neo-liberal moment has cheapened me. Both positively and negatively racially charged language around food, freely punned and intensely oral, turns casual by-talk into rebarbative backhand (creating an effect distinctly pleasurable) and brings into the poem the entire story of official Canadian multiculturalism.