Our endless ear (PoemTalk #124)

Jack Kerouac, 'Old Angel Midnight'

From left to right: J.C. Cloutier, Michelle Taransky, Clark Coolidge.

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J. C. Cloutier, Michelle Taransky, and Clark Coolidge joined Al Filreis to talk about Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight, a sprawling work of prose poetry consuming forty pages of the Library of America Kerouac: Collected Poems. A recording of Kerouac performing the first page is available here. His model was Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Up late in the Low East Side, he listened for sounds coming through a tenement window from the court below and made words of them. Such making is the plot of the book. The effort sometimes results in what Clark Coolidge has called “babble flow.” Old Angel Midnight is an interlinguistic record of voices augmented by “neologisms, mental associations, puns and wordmixes” and “nonlanguages.”

Solidarity Texts

Cover of Solidarity Texts, untitled, by M. NourbeSe Philip.

Begin again: that was the advice of the Benedictine monk John Main, founder of the Christian silent meditation movement in the West, to those who found themselves floundering in their commitment to the daily task of meditating. It is an idea that is strangely comforting — to begin again — in all the contradictory impulses of that phrase, for a beginning is new in its never-been-here-before quality and resists the idea of repetition nestled at the heart of again. But that is what we must do in the face of the tsunami of the attacks bearing down on all those committed to a fair and equitable society — begin again and again and again

Echo's echoes, or what to do with Vanessa Place

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Above: a portion of Alexandre Cabanel’s ‘Echo,’ 1874, oil on canvas, 38 1/2 x 26 1/4" (97.8 x 66.7 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Echo repeats. Her practice, in eviscerating ecce, exposes the human. For her repetitions point to the obscene, that which we push off-scene, the refuse we refuse in order to make being — our human being — be. “Ergo, echo,” Vanessa Place has said of herself. But if, on the one hand, Echo adds to our artifacts, augmenting our understanding — Echo ergo sum — she does so through what she removes, withdraws, or lacks — Echo ergo subtract, so to speak. Through this double movement, Echo’s repetitions become the paradoxical indicator of excess. 

I wrote about poetics of radical evil,[1] and there must be an art of the same kind. Art that is willing to be affirmatively evil, not immoral exactly, but as a work of malfeasance, not for the polemic or didactic turn, showing that certain things are bad, stupid, etc, that’s easy enough, and sadly it seems one is expected to say these things, which is another form of obscenity, but for a more primal acceptance. This too is our artefact, this too, too human.

'Really, music was the cause of it'

Interview with Russell Atkins, June 2, 2016, at The Grand Pavilion, Cleveland, Ohio

This image is from Atkins’s unpublished score “Objects for Orchestra.” The dedication is to Aunt Mae, Atkins’s mother’s sister with whom he lived for many years. Image courtesy of Russell Atkins.

The poet Russell Atkins falls through all of the cracks of postwar art history.[1] Living in Cleveland, outside the geographic centers of the art and publishing worlds; caught between modernism and the postwar avant-garde; publishing in small press journals; writing generically indeterminate concrete poems, essays, and operas. In terms of medium, his work belongs to music history as much as to literary history. Politically, he is located simultaneously in the avant-garde, behind the times, and outside the Black Arts Movement.

Note: The poet Russell Atkins falls through all of the cracks of postwar art history.[1] Living in Cleveland, outside the geographic centers of the art and publishing worlds; caught between modernism and the postwar avant-garde; publishing in small press journals; writing generically indeterminate concrete poems, essays, and operas. In terms of medium, his work belongs to music history as much as to literary history. Politically, he is located simultaneously in the avant-garde, behind the times, and outside the Black Arts Movement.

'Power in all its minor forms'

Two Takes on Alli Warren's 'I Love it Though'

Two Takes on Alli Warren's 'I Love it Though'
Photo at left courtesy of All Warren.

In I Love It Though Warren thinks about how we manage to live without finding it necessary to lie to ourselves or each other about how we’re living, even after hedges enclosed the commons, even as our bosses email us all the time. She thinks about how we manage to love and care for our friends, have desires, and sometimes see to their satisfaction, how we find pleasure in resisting the scenes and actions where we’ve been told all pleasure waits; in working for and spending money.

I.

I read this quote from a twelfth-century verse chronicle by Wace, Roman de Rou, wherein he paraphrases the displeasure expressed by some local serfs at the neighboring nobility’s incorporation of the noncultivated lands that for these serfs had previously been a collective resource, writing, “We can go to the woods and take what we want, take fish from the fish pond, and game from the forests; we’ll have our will in the woods, the waters, and the meadows.”

A quiver of chapbooks

A review of 'New-Generation African Poets'

This chapbook box set is the third in an annual series. They are a project of the African Book Poetry Fund, which also supports an impressive constellation of poetry prizes, poetry libraries in African cities, and book publishing — full-length collections by new poets, as well as collected or new and selected works by such major African poets as Ama Ata Aidoo, the late Kofi Awoonor, and Gabriel Okara. Having titled the first two sets Seven New Generation African Poets and Eight New-Generation African Poets, coeditors Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani were forced by the fact that this third iteration also features eight poets to settle the issue of naming. 

This chapbook box set is the third in an annual series, first published in 2014 by Slapering Hol Press and taken on by Akashic Books as of 2015. The box sets are a project of the African Book Poetry Fund, which also supports an impressive constellation of poetry prizes, poetry libraries in African cities, and book publishing — full-length collections by new poets, as well as collected or new and selected works by such major African poets as Ama Ata Aidoo, the late Kofi Awoonor, and Gabriel Okara.

Words that bleed music

Postbop jazz in the poetry of Amiri Baraka and Nathaniel Mackey

Left: Nathaniel Mackey at Vision Festival, New York, 2015, courtesy of Nathaniel Mackey. Right: Amiri Baraka at the Malcom X Festival, San Antonio Park, Oakland, California, May 2007. Photo by David Sasaki via Wikimedia Commons.

In his preface to Blue Fasa (2015), Nathaniel Mackey reflects on what is arguably the key preoccupation in his oeuvre: the relationship between music and language. Mackey’s comments emerge out of a sense of disquiet with the way the two modes of communication are often presumed remote from the other by today’s artists and scholars.

'The protests became a poem'

Liu Waitong's 'Wandering Hong Kong with Spirits'

Photo of Hong Kong (right) via Wikimedia Commons.

What is it to be a Hong Kong poet writing now? Specifically, a Hong Kong poet who grew up over the border in Guangdong, who has lived also in Beijing; whose poems register the pull of other cities from Lhasa to Paris, and the pull of China not only as a literary inheritance all the way back to Zhuangzi, but also as a geopolitical giant changing daily even as Hong Kong itself changes? For Liu Waitong, it means to be accompanied always by ghosts. But it means also to seek them out and keep them company in turn — to haunt with them.