Not detainable (PoemTalk #130)

Gwendolyn Brooks, 'Riot'

From left: Amber Rose Johnson, Tonya Foster, Davy Knittle

Amber Rose Johnson, Davy Knittle, and Tonya Foster joined Al Filreis to discuss the poem “Riot” by Gwendolyn Brooks. “Riot” is the title poem in the (now rare) chapbook published by Dudley Randall’s Detroit-based Broadside Press in 1969, and has been collected variously, including in the book Blacks (1994). The Eclipse site offers a PDF copy of the original Riot chapbook. The recording used as the basis of this PoemTalk conversation comes from a reading Brooks gave at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City on May 3, 1983. 

A conversation between poet-grammarians

Excerpts

Photo of Serena Chopra (left) by Kasey Ferlic. Photo of Aditi Machado (right) by Siddarth Machado.

We speak, in this cointerview, of our books — Serena Chopra’s Ic (Horse Less Press, 2017) and Aditi Machado’s Some Beheadings (Nightboat Books, 2017) — of epiphany and performance, the sociopolitical import of the line break, of decapitation, autoeroticism, and the sensorium. In so speaking, we discover that we are both, and proudly, grammarians.
 

I mean the sign 
Is fucking full of it[1]

When two matters interact should I hope to keep my skin.[2]

Continuing a body

A review of Bhanu Kapil's 'entre-Ban'

Bhanu Kapil (right) with Lucas de Lima at Kelly Writers House, September 27, 2016. Photo by Writers House staff.

What is Ban?” The poet imagines an answer, asserting (among other things) that Ban “is a warp of smoke.”

Bhanu Kapil’s 2015 book Ban en Banlieue is a novel of meandering lists. The second (and largest) section of the book, titled “Auto-sacrifice (Notes),” is one such list, and it includes other lists within itself. The notes are less notes than collapsed vignettes offering insight into historical trauma and the creative process of articulating harm both physical and emotional. The notes work together to create a ragged narrative, one that seems contingent on a certain character — “Ban” — but also independent in itself.

Disambiguating rape culture

Lynn Melnick’s nouns

Photo of Lynn Melnick (left) by Timothy Donnelly.

Gertrude Stein never trusted nouns. She was wary of their tendency to fossilize meaning, even as she relished their potential to be magnetized: “Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting, with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun.”[1] Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence, eighty years later, takes up this ambivalent and vexed embrace of nouns in the space of rape culture, where adoring and wanting cross use and abuse as matters graver than grammatical concern.

Begin again

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“Many knew that no matter what they did, if they moved through a public space, it would have to be deliberate, and their bodies would be read as a statement.” Above: image of a public square in Florence by Samuli Lintula, via Wikimedia Commons.

Think back to the last time you marched — when you moved deliberately through a public space, when you used your body not just to get from one place to another but to be a statement, when you had to be keenly aware of the larger body you moved within and the body you moved against. If you’ve never marched before, go out now and try it. Now think back. Begin again. 

Think back to the last time you marched — when you moved deliberately through a public space, when you used your body not just to get from one place to another but to be a statement, when you had to be keenly aware of the larger body you moved within and the body you moved against. If you’ve never marched before, go out now and try it. Now think back. Begin again. Be aware of your body in this public space. Are you cold? Are you hungry? Do you carry a sign? Is it heavy? Does it block the view of the people behind you? Are you walking?

Michael Heller, 'The Chronicle Poet'

“Writing is figured here as a painstakingly physical yet frail endeavor, its repeated efforts sometimes fruitless: ‘pulling syllables clean, like freeing / old nails from plaster.’” Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The poetry of Michael Heller appears deeply sensitive to the achievements identified with the poet Charles Reznikoff, a mentor for Heller who brought to the textual horizon of the twentieth century an unprecedented form of testimonial poetics. The dualism Reznikoff breathed into verse poised between narrative and song grew from the condition of a poet who sought to reconcile poetic discourse and the records of historical and judicial import to which he persistently turned over the course of his life. 

 There are no sagas — only trees now, animals, engines: There’s that.  — William Carlos Williams

To write poems is not enough if they do not keep the life that has gone. — Louis Zukofsky

'Sounds heard when the ear is pressed to the walls'

A review of Gaspar Orozco's 'Autocinema'

“Like the role Lynch plays in ‘Autocinema,’ this idea of projector and screen is refracted, complex, unanswerable. Whatever the projector is, the films land on unusual, intimate surfaces.” Image modified from a photo by WiNG on Wikimedia Commons.

The poem, like the air current in the diner, is “both precise and abstract.” It’s a physical space which we can relate to — the muggy air, the trembling page, the big window — but, as in much of Autocinema, it is also static: a mindspace where the reader herself is the “black ant imprisoned in a chunk of ice.” 

Know that all of Nature is but a magic theater, that the great Mother is the master magician, and that this whole world is peopled by her many parts. — Upanishads 

Belief in iterative growth, a breath work

"A bolt in response to a call. It gathered and branched and struck. Like lightning answers thunder, which is to say, simultaneously." Photo by YVSREDDY, via Wikimedia Commons.

Like these texts, the Women’s March seemed instantaneously precipitated out of a loose host. A bolt in response to a call. It gathered and branched and struck. Like lightning answers thunder, which is to say, simultaneously. 

Like these texts, the Women’s March seemed instantaneously precipitated out of a loose host. A bolt in response to a call. It gathered and branched and struck. Like lightning answers thunder, which is to say, simultaneously. We were asking and answering in the streets and through our screens, the question

HOW DO WE END THE TRAGEDY OF OUR ATOMIZATION? / HOW DO WE END THE TRAGEDY? — Anne Boyer[1]

'Walking out the right door'

A review of Richard Blevins's 'The Art of the Serial Poem'

Photo of Richard Blevins (right) by Martha Koehler.

For nearly forty years, the poet Richard Blevins has been a fortuitous and immensely productive figure in contemporary American poetry. Blevins’s project is one securely grounded in the work of his modernist forebears: Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Olson (whose compass is never far from Blevins’s map of “Amerika”). 

And, words, word, words
all over everything. 
— Charles Olson[1

What exactly are the demands of my art?
— Richard Blevins[2]

'Pulverized language'

Bill Berkson in conversation with Carlos Villa

“There’s another kind of poem […] where there’s a kind of interchange between […] scratching around with the words or following the word, and some sense of what’s actively present in the environment, like the fog bank is very Bay Area. Especially if you are living in the country and the fog envelops you. You have no point of reference.” Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Note: The following conversation between poet Bill Berkson (1939–2016) and visual artist Carlos Villa (1936–2013) was recorded on September 4, 2004, in San Francisco at the KUSF studios. It was transcribed by Michael Nardone and edited for publication. Audio recordings of this interview can be found here and here.