I tasked myself with saying one or two things I know about grief and loss and why so many people feel the compulsion to write through them. As an essential motivation for writing, especially poetry, loss events appear to make us both speechless and verbose. I’ve been there, I keep being there. I’ve written a “grief book” a few times now and frankly, I can’t say I find that its product is catharsis or repair. Irritatingly circular, I’d describe it instead — a marathon in a six-inch arena.
Al Filreis brought together Bethany Swann, Henry Steinberg, and Caroline Bergvall (who was then completing her residence as a Kelly Writers House Fellow) to talk about four poems Caroline and Al had selected from Sawako Nakayasu’s book Some Girls Walk into the Country They Are From (published in 2020 by Wave Books). The four poems: “Girl A’s Peanuts and Girl D’s Mouthful,” “Gun,” “Girl in a Field of Flowers,” and “Ten Girls in a Bag of Potato Chips.” This last poem — “Ten Girls” — is also presented in the book in a French translation by Geneve Chao and a Japanese translation by Miwako Ozawa. Our recordings were made by Sawako Nakayasu just for PoemTalk, for which we are grateful, and we are also pleased to have recordings of French and Japanese translations by Chao and Ozawa.
During an interview from the afterlife, Jack Spicer tells Hoa Nguyen that in making a poem, “you start with a syllable machine and see what ghosts you catch.” Similarly, Bergvall’s Alisoun Sings channels a polyphonous “voice-cluster” of pop stars and feminist icons of art and literature. Bergvall and Alisoun form a “collective poesy” (104) through queer networks of affiliation to explore pleasure’s physical and linguistic role in disbanding the national ties that constrain us.
During an interview from the afterlife, Jack Spicer tells Hoa Nguyen that in making a poem, “you start with a syllable machine and see what ghosts you catch.” Similarly spirited, Caroline Bergvall’s Alisoun Sings channels a polyphonous “voice-cluster” of pop stars and feminist icons of art and literature, all centered around Alisoun, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath.
Erín Moure has published eighteen books of poetry, a coauthored book of poetry, a volume of essays, a book of short articles on translation, a biopoetics (alongside the biopoetics of Chus Pato), and two memoirs. She is translator or cotranslator of nineteen books of poetry and two books of creative nonfiction (biopoetics) from French, Galician, Portunhol, Portuguese, Spanish, and Ukrainian, by poets such as Nicole Brossard, Rosalía de Castro, Chus Pato, Fernando Pessoa, and many others.
Caroline Bergvall is a writer, artist, and performer who works across artforms, media and languages. The recipient of many international commissions, she is a noted exponent of writing and performance methods adapted to contemporary audiovisual and contextual situations as well as multilingual identities and translocal exchange.
Click here to view a full-sized scan of the introduction Caroline Bergvall wrote to her poem “VIA” for the collection titled Fig (Salt Books, 2005). A ten-minute recording of Bergvall performing “VIA” is available at PennSound. Episode #64 of the podcast series PoemTalk is a discussion of “VIA.” I have published a note on two versions of the piece here. A twelve-minute video discussion of “VIA” produced for the open online course ModPo is available here.
I’ve been asked to comment on Ron Silliman’s excellent talk “Your Monsters Are Our Monsters: The Problem of Borders and the Nearness of the American Avant-Garde.” In Silliman’s “L-shaped talk,” the shape itself merits consideration.
“Hell is other people,” and that’s perhaps why Dante chose to write in the vernacular. Mary Jo Bang posits Dante’s choice of demotic Italian over more academic Latin as crucial to her more “pop” approach to the Inferno, as if Dante, in descending the circles of Hell, were literally playing out a necessary descent from the purities of high-culture into the noisy substrata of the low. But for a misreading of Benjamin, in which Bang posits his translational ethics as invested in “sharing what is common to all,” her approach partakes in Benjamin’s notion that, in the zombie “afterlife” of a text, one can only reanimate it through translation in ways that are impermanent and historical.
Amaris Cuchanski, David Wallace, and Laynie Browne converged on the Writers House one day recently to talk about a remarkable performance piece (later text) by Caroline Bergvall, “VIA.” In the piece, Bergvall intones forty-seven English translations of the opening tercet of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (1321): “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura / ché la diritta via era smarrita.” She arranges the translations alphabetically according to first word, from “along” to “when,” reciting the translator’s name and date after each. Our PoemTalkers discuss the poem’s pre-textual state as aural performance, the remarkable title which seems to connect every manner of issue and mode, the relative literary value and literary-historical place of individual verse translators, translation itself as inherently open, and, of course, the ur-relevance of Dante’s always-interpretable infernal foray into the experience of being lost in words.