Truth flies (PoemTalk #113)

Robin Blaser, 'A Bird in the House'

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Brian Teare, Jed Rasula, and Kristin Prevallet joined Al Filreis to talk about Robin Blaser’s “A Bird in the House.” The poem dates from the late 1980s or possibly the early 1990s. The text of the poem is now available at the Poetry Foundation. Blaser’s PennSound page includes two performances — one from a reading he gave in Buffalo in September of 1993, the second from a visit to the Writers Institute in Albany on October 26, 1994. The version we hear for our discussion is the one made in Albany; we chose this in part because there Blaser set up the poem with a short introduction. The group marvels at how Blaser manages to take the idea of Other (that which is, like the bird in a house, “otherous”) into an expanded field that is nonetheless domestic.

The author and authority

Daniil Kharms and the Russian Absurd

“Like Gogol’s independent nose, Kharms’s nudge becomes shove as he punctuates discourses on faith or sex with grotesqueries, including the ultimate grotesque, death.” Major Kovalyov’s nose as depicted in The Metropolitan Opera in New York’s production of ‘The Nose,’ October 2013. Photo by Bengt Nyman.

As some of us are coming to know, the absurd may be characteristic of authoritarian regimes. If so, then the reading of Daniil Kharms is quite urgent in our day. When all norms are violated, it may be that only the absurdist pen can accurately swath through the fuzzy edges of alternative facts and fake news. Russian Absurd is thus a book for our age. With a devoted following in Russia and a growing cult of readers in the United States, writer Daniil Kharms (pen name of Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachev, 1905–1942) is achieving a fame that would have surprised him.

As some of us are coming to know, the absurd may be characteristic of authoritarian regimes. If so, then the reading of Daniil Kharms is quite urgent in our day. When all norms are violated, it may be that only the absurdist pen can accurately swath through the fuzzy edges of alternative facts and fake news. Russian Absurd is thus a book for our age. 

Total translation

Navajo song and the story of US modernism

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In her deconstruction of Mary Austin’s ‘The American Rhythm,’ Leah Dilworth argu
In her deconstruction of Mary Austin’s ‘The American Rhythm,’ Leah Dilworth argues that modernists held American Indian culture to be fundamentally analogous to that of ancient Africa and China. Above: Austin's 'American Rhythm,' Eda Lou Walton's 'Dawn Boy,' and 'Navajo Songs,’ 1933 and 1940 field recordings from settlements in New Mexico and Arizona courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

American Indian culture attracted many white poets to the Southwest in the early and mid-twentieth century. Educated in Anglo American traditions, but compelled by the modernist urge to develop new poetic forms, poets from Mary Austin to Jerome Rothenberg went to great lengths to represent what they were hearing and feeling. D. H. Lawrence wrote of his experience of Hopi dance, and he and Witter Bynner composed lyrics purportedly inspired by the Taos Pueblo. In American Rhythm, Austin “re-expressed” the music of several peoples, including the Paiute and Shoshone, and in Red Earth, Alice Corbin Henderson claimed to write “from the Indian,” naming the San Ildefonso and Tesuque pueblos. 

American Indian[1] culture attracted many white poets to the Southwest in the early and mid-twentieth century. Educated in Anglo American traditions, but compelled by the modernist urge to develop new poetic forms, poets from Mary Austin to Jerome Rothenberg went to great lengths to represent what they were hearing and feeling. D. H. Lawrence wrote of his experience of Hopi dance, and he and Witter Bynner composed lyrics purportedly inspired by the Taos Pueblo.

At the surface of days

A review of Rebecca Wolff's 'One Morning—'

One Morning— is a book about surfaces, about their complexity, inescapability, transience. Here, there may be no other art but the ekphrastic. In the famous Platonic scheme, where eternal forms are represented imperfectly in the world, nothing could be intellectually lower than ekphrasis. But maybe no other sort of knowledge exists. This is the suspicion of One Morning—, that there might be no other truth than the perception of surface, one surface indicating another, and the translation from one kind of surface into another kind.

One Morning— is a book about surfaces, about their complexity, inescapability, transience. Here, there may be no other art but the ekphrastic. In the famous Platonic scheme, where eternal forms are represented imperfectly in the world, nothing could be intellectually lower than ekphrasis. But maybe no other sort of knowledge exists. This is the suspicion of One Morning—, that there might be no other truth than the perception of surface, one surface indicating another, and the translation from one kind of surface into another kind:

The shape of the vigil

Cassandra Cleghorn's 'Four Weathercocks'

Photo by Kevin Bubriski.

The shapes in “Macondo,” which open the first section of Cassandra Cleghorn’s first collection Four Weathercocks, are obscure and drenched in oil. As they wash onto shore “flayed and stifled,”[1] they are pushed and pulled by the tide, but never named. We are given wings, feathers, pouches, and “a black eye bright in a face of black sheen,” but never the species. Even their heartbeat goes undefined, appearing as a “small throb” pinned to the speaker’s lap. Meanwhile, “lost farmers” spread straw along the shoreline, trying to soak up the oil.

On Etel Adnan's 'The Arab Apocalypse'

From page 7 of ‘The Arab Apocalypse,’ which Etel Adnan began writing in January
From page 7 of ‘The Arab Apocalypse,’ which Etel Adnan began writing in January 1975 in Beirut, two months before the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War.

L’Apocalypse arabe is composed in French by the Arab American poet Etel Adnan. It was published in 1980; Adnan’s English translation appeared in 1989. Of the several rubrics under which The Arab Apocalypse may be read — visual poetry, surrealism, translation, postcolonialism — its work of witnessing most commands my attention. Not least because it was written in response to and in the immediate context of the Lebanese Civil War (which broke out in 1975), but also because these other strands (the visual, the surreal, etc.) make the act of witnessing a provocative challenge to any notion of stability that may — innocently or otherwise — attend questions of representation in literatures of witness.

Mike Hennessey picks five PennSound recordings

PennSound podcast #54

Michael S. Hennessey

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Michael Hennessey, one of the founding participants of the PennSound archive, and now its editor, stopped by the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House a few months back. He and Al Filreis played and discussed five recordings Mike chose from among the tens of thousands of recordings available in the archive: Bernadette Mayer, “Chocolate Poetry Sonnet”: LINK; Allen Ginsberg, “After Lalon”: LINK; Lew Welch, “A Round of English”: LINK; Harryette Mullen, “Sleeping with the Dictionary”: LINK; and Tuli Kupferberg, “The Hidden Dissuaders”: LINK.

Rootless places: Núñez, Queyras, Dunham

Orchid Tierney

J2 reviews editor and commentator Orchid Tierney reviews tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, Barking & Biting by Sina Queyras, and Cold Pastoral by Rebecca Dunham. Of tasks she writes, in part: “Núñez’s poems chronicle the peripheries of a Cuban homecoming while exploring the porousness of identity and nationalism so marked by a feeling of loss. ‘[I]dentity lurks,’ writes Núñez, ‘like a forgotten ring in a public bathroom.’ These poems are lucid, nomadic but not driftless in local memory as they prowl the geographies of migrant return and exile.”

J2 reviews editor and commentator Orchid Tierney writes on three poetry titles from this year and last.