Jena Osman

'Chain' interview (pt. 1) and statement for OEI

Chain Letter icon, Chain no. 1, designed by AnJanette Brush
Chain Letter icon, Chain no. 1, designed by AnJanette Brush

Opening an email conversation on Chain with editors Spahr and Osman, I sent the following two introductory questions:

1) In the final issue of Chain, you note that the intellectual (and actual) climate in Buffalo prompted you to begin the magazine. The first issue — one of only three edited while you were both in Buffalo — presents a brilliant response. Originally slated to publish writing by women, Chain no. 1 features an editorial forum on editing magazines, a transcription of a panel on the ethics of small press publishing, and a series of poems composed via chain letters. Perhaps we can begin with a conversation on your plans for this first issue. What role did you see Chain performing in the poetics community at the time, in Buffalo and further afield?

2) The editorial forum in the first issue is particularly illuminating — offering a fascinating survey of female editors on gender and the work of editing. You interrogate the format of Chain itself in a following section entitled “Editors' Notes: Frameworks,” writing:

It is impossible to make a frameless frame (although that is the vision from which this project derived). We have instead begun the journal with a forum that takes a look at how and why journals are created and in what ways questions of gender have informed those decisions. It sounds absurd to edit a journal that's about the editing of journals — a nightmare of self-reflexivity — and yet it is a way of creating a body that shows its own skeleton.


How do the preliminary editorial statements from the first issue read to you now? Opening with this intensive self-reflexivity, in what ways did surveying experienced editors inform your own editorial position(s)?

In response, I was cheered to learn that these questions in particular were addressed in a short statement the editors penned for OEI magazine. We've decided to reproduce that document in full here. The statment can be read as a retrospective introduction to Chain from the persepective of 2008, resurfacing along with the magazine online today.

Some facts about 'Chain'

Craig Dworkin, "Fact" from Chain 12, 2005 [rendered from JPG to PDF to JPG]
Craig Dworkin, "Fact" from Chain 12, 2005 [rendered from JPG to PDF to JPG]

In the final issue of Chain — which I am thrilled to launch on the newly redesigned Reissues platform — editors Juliana Spahr and Jena Osman begin by sharing some facts about the magazine. Perhaps the best summary of the journal's output, I'd like to reproduce “Some Facts About Chain” in its entirety here. You can find the full issue — placing this segment in conversation with the contents of the “facts” issues of the magazine — here.

Some Facts About Chain . . .

Year founded: 1994.

Total number of pages printed: 3,712.

Topics . . .
1. Gender and Editing
2. Documentary
3. Hybrid Genres (double issue)

Obscure things have already been said (PoemTalk #53)

Joan Retallack, "Not a Cage"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

One day Joan Retallack decided it was time to discard some books and journals from her personal library. Among them were Martin Buber’s I and Thou; a collection of short stories by David Kranes (Utah Press, 1979) called Hunters in the Snow; a 1974 volume of poems by Richard Howard; a published interview with Rita Dove; 1981 issues of The Socialist Review and Georgia Review; an issue of the Chicago Review that included an important line of Dante; books of poetry by Maxine Kumin, Ai, Burt Hatlen and Thomas McGrath; a 1988 number of Gargoyle magazine in which was published a poem by Angel Gonzalez beginning “The most obscure things have already been said”; Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch; Explanation and Understanding by Georg Henrik von Wright (Cornell, 1971); and others. This act of elimination, which on the contrary turned out to be a recycling and an archiving, produced a poem she came to call “Not a Cage,” after John Cage.

Obscure things have already been said (PoemTalk #53)

Joan Retallack, 'Not a Cage'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

One day Joan Retallack decided it was time to discard some books and journals from her personal library. Among them were Martin Buber’s I and Thou; a collection of short stories by David Kranes (Utah Press, 1979) called Hunters in the Snow; a 1974 volume of poems by Richard Howard; a published interview with Rita Dove; 1981 issues of The Socialist Review and Georgia Review; an issue of the Chicago Review that included an important line of Dante; books of poetry by Maxine Kumin, Ai, Burt Hatlen and Thomas McGrath; a 1988 number of Gargoyle magazine in which was published a poem by Angel Gonzalez beginning “The most obscure things have already been said”; Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch; Explanation and Understanding by Georg Henrik von Wright (Cornell, 1971); and others. This act of elimination, which on the contrary turned out to be a recycling and an archiving, produced a poem she came to call “Not a Cage,” after John Cage. <--break- />

What is a question?

Image by Eric Baus

This playlist is comprised of recordings related to questions. Bhanu Kapil, in her recent post on Harriet, Notes on Mutation, asks: “What is a question? How do questions work in your writing?  What do they perform?  What happens when you ask them?”  Today’s commentary might be considered an appendix to Kapil’s post, paying particular attention to the relationship between composition strategies, recording technology, and public performance. I’m also interested in grouping these recordings together in a playlist so that the questions from one piece might circulate through the others.

I’ll begin by quoting more from Kapil’s notes: “A question: Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it.  As a mode of enquiry that’s also, linguistically, founded on doubt, on not having the words for what happens at the end of a relationship, the question seals space*.” I have excerpted a portion of Kapil’s comments contextualizing her own book of questions, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, from her Kelsey Street Press audio page. At one point in her discussion, Kapil describes the weaving together of the disparate material she has gathered from interviews as well as from her own answers to her questions as “a shared space for voices.”  On PennSound, you can listen to an excerpt from The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers recorded in 1999 at the Left Hand reading series in Boulder.

Finding the Words (PoemTalk #37)

Jena Osman, "Dropping Leaflets"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

For an event held at the Writers House on November 7, 2001, Jena Osman composed a new poem--one might say thus that it's an occasional poem. The occasion was given the overall title "Finding the Words" (as in: how can writers find words to bespeak a response to 9/11?) and Osman's poem was "Dropping Leaflets."

Here is verbatim what Osman said as she introduced the poem at the Writers House: "The title of this program is 'Finding the Words.' Every day I look in the newspapers. I keep sensing the presence of what's not being told... 'Help me come up with a strategy to get through this white noise.' I don't have that strategy, except to call attention to components of that white noise so we can hear it for what it is. In the spirit of Marianne Moore, who often incorporated what she was reading into her poems, I'm going to read a piece made of words I found when I read transcripts of press conferences given by Bush, Ridge, Rumsfeld, and Cheney in the last few days. I read the transcripts, printed them out, I tore them up, and then I stood on a chair, and then I bombed my office floor with them as if they were leaflets and the leaflets told me what to do. So this piece is called 'Dropping Leaflets.'"

The text of the poem is given here. It was published subsequently in a book, An Essay in Asterisks (Roof Books, 2004). The recording made on November 7, 2001, is available on Osman's PennSound author page and linked here.

Al Filreis convened Mark Nowak, Emily Abendroth and Jessica Lowenthal to talk about this poem and more generally some aspects of documentary poetics. They considered, among other things, what happens to such a historically specific writing when some of the context fades as a memory - and whether the aesthetic qualities of the poem become a primary impression. And yet the poem's rhetoric--if that's the right term for a poem constructed of found phrases--speaks to the very question of how we can make ourselves heard in all the centralizing, nationalistic white noise at such a moment.

Finding the words (PoemTalk #37)

Jena Osman, 'Dropping Leaflets'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

For an event held at the Writers House on November 7, 2001, Jena Osman composed a new poem — one might say thus that it’s an occasional poem. The occasion was given the overall title “Finding the Words” (as in: how can writers find words to bespeak a response to 9/11?) and Osman’s poem was “Dropping Leaflets.”

Here is verbatim what Osman said as she introduced the poem at the Writers House: “The title of this program is ‘Finding the Words.’ Every day I look in the newspapers. I keep sensing the presence of what's not being told... ‘Help me come up with a strategy to get through this white noise.’ I don't have that strategy, except to call attention to components of that white noise so we can hear it for what it is. In the spirit of Marianne Moore, who often incorporated what she was reading into her poems, I’m going to read a piece made of words I found when I read transcripts of press conferences given by Bush, Ridge, Rumsfeld, and Cheney in the last few days. I read the transcripts, printed them out, I tore them up, and then I stood on a chair, and then I bombed my office floor with them as if they were leaflets and the leaflets told me what to do. So this piece is called ‘Dropping Leaflets.’”

The text of the poem is given here. It was published subsequently in a book, An Essay in Asterisks (Roof Books, 2004). The recording made on November 7, 2001, is available on Osman’s PennSound author page and linked here.

Al Filreis convened Mark Nowak, Emily Abendroth and Jessica Lowenthal to talk about this poem and more generally some aspects of documentary poetics. They considered, among other things, what happens to such a historically specific writing when some of the context fades as a memory — and whether the aesthetic qualities of the poem become a primary impression. And yet the poem’s rhetoric — if that's the right term for a poem constructed of found phrases — speaks to the very question of how we can make ourselves heard in all the centralizing, nationalistic white noise at such a moment.<--break- />

Outside the box (PoemTalk #31)

Robert Grenier's 'Sentences'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Five hundred cards in a box: on each is typewritten a few words or phrases of poetic writing. This is Robert Grenier’s Sentences. Al gathered Joseph Yearous-Algozin, Jena Osman, and Bob Perelman to talk about this complex work. As Jena notes several times, there’s something odd about producing an audio discussion about a oral reading or performance by Grenier from a work that was and is so closely associated with a material text-object. A text-object that indeed has become famously central to people’s response to the writing in it. So one question immediately is on that count: by performing the work (and by doing so with such comic pleasure, and even, at times, with such schtickiness), is Grenier signaling to us that our focus on the object is misleading — that Sentences is meant to be always somewhat and variously unmoored from the codex book and the normally printed-on-page poem? All the PoemTalkers, led by Bob, want to discuss in some way how and why Robert Grenier always forces us to think about the most fundamental qualities and definitions of poetry. And surely this is good in itself.

In October 2006 Charles Bernstein interviewed Grenier for the “Close Listening” program. During that discussion Grenier reads from and discusses a few of the cards from Sentences, including “Bird / I wonder if I do,” a representation of birdsong that occupies the PoemTalkers for a few minutes and causes Bob Perelman to look back on his own critical effort to comprehend Grenier. In the second of a two-part interview with Grenier, Al, Charles, and Michael Waltuch discuss the actual construction of Sentences, a project in which Waltuch played a role. If you listen to the interview you’ll get to hear Waltuch and Grenier talk together about that moment.

The remarkable performance of a selection of cards from Sentences that serves as the basis of our PoemTalk discussion was given at the Poetry Project, at St. Mark’s Church, in New York, in April 1981. PennSound’s Grenier author page includes a full recording of that reading. One of the two excerpts featured in PoemTalk, the one beginning “CONCEPTS / they see us,” has been made available as an excerpt also on Grenier’s PennSound page.<--break- />

Outside the box (PoemTalk #31)

Robert Grenier's "Sentences"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Five hundred cards in a box: on each is typewritten a few words or phrases of poetic writing. This is Robert Grenier's Sentences. Al gathered Joseph Yearous-Algozin, Jena Osman, and Bob Perelman to talk about this complex work. As Jena notes several times, there's something odd about producing an audio discussion about a oral reading or performance by Grenier from a work that was and is so closely associated with a material text-object. A text-object that indeed has become famously central to people's response to the writing in it. So one question immediately is on that count: by performing the work (and by doing so with such comic pleasure, and even, at times, with such schtickiness), is Grenier signaling to us that our focus on the object is misleading--that Sentences is meant to be always somewhat and variously unmoored from the codex book and the normally printed-on-page poem? All the PoemTalkers, led by Bob, want to discuss in some way how and why Robert Grenier always forces us to think about the most fundamental qualities and definitions of poetry. And surely this is good in itself.

In October 2006 Charles Bernstein interviewed Grenier for the "Close Listening" program. During that discussion Grenier reads from and discusses a few of the cards from Sentences, including "Bird / I wonder if I do," a representation of birdsong that occupies the PoemTalkers for a few minutes and causes Bob Perelman to look back on his own critical effort to comprehend Grenier. In the second of a two-part interview with Grenier, Al, Charles, and Michael Waltuch discuss the actual construction of Sentences, a project in which Waltuch played a role. If you listen to the interview you'll get to hear Waltuch and Grenier talk together about that moment.

The remarkable performance of a selection of cards from Sentences that serves as the basis of our PoemTalk discussion was given at the Poetry Project, at St. Mark's Church, in New York, in April 1981. PennSound's Grenier author page includes a full recording of that reading. One of the two excerpts featured in PoemTalk, the one beginning "CONCEPTS / they see us," has been made available as an excerpt also on Grenier's PennSound page.

Marianne Moore's 9/11

'Finding the Words'

About eight weeks after the September 11 attacks, the Writers House and Rosenbach Library collaborated on an event held at the Writers House featuring, of all things, the modern American poet Marianne Moore. Moore's 9/11, if you can imagine that. Well, it turned out well, I think.

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