Al Filreis was joined by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, Leonard Schwartz, and Mahyar Entezari for a discussion of three poems by Fatemeh Shams about the extremities of war, surveillance, and love in a time of authoritarianism. The poems appear in When They Broke Down the Door, published in 2016 by Mage Publishers with English translations by Dick Davis. We invited Shams and Davis to our Wexler Studio, where they recorded a number of poems (including our three poems) for her PennSound author page.
Note: This interview was transcribed by Michael Nardone from a radio interview originally conducted on November 24, 2003, on Cross-Cultural Poetics, KAOS 89.3 FM, Olympia, Washington. In this episode of Cross-Cultural Poetics (Episode #8: The Inferno), Canadian poet Robin Blaser discusses Dante’s Inferno in relation to the American-made “inferno” in Iraq.
In the fifteenth century, François Villon claimed the subjunctive mood for his vagabond verse with Si j’etais roi. In his book-length poem If, Leonard Schwartz returns to this conditional world of the subjunctive with a series of wise, vivid, and vulnerable questions, which the poet poses and then leaves unanswered — at least, apparently. More so than most poems, If invites readers to participate actively in its seemingly hypothetical world, underscored by the poet’s frequent invocation of we, our collective selves. In this deeply philosophical work, ontology and epistemology are made as human as hope and fear, and as necessary as wheelbarrows.
Let’s begin by making a distinction between “myth” and “mythology,” in which the latter term refers to a big coffee table book that espouses a belief in systems while claiming to catalogue all sorts of mythic material as it arose from some particular zone of the planet. Let’s say that the term “myth” is one that escapes mythology, because it is still in process, or at least that some myths have a chance of escaping the logos because they are still in process, and that these are the important ones for a live poetry.
Jenn McCreary, Joe Milutis, and Leonard Schwartz (the latter two traveling from the state of Washington) joined Al Filreis at the Kelly Writers House to discuss a poem/audiotext created by the radical Scottish poet Tom Leonard. The piece is part of a work called “Three Texts for Tape,” which was recorded by Leonard at his home in Glasgow in 1978 on the poet’s TEAC A-3340S reel-to-reel tape deck. The part of the project discussed in this episode of PoemTalk is “Shelley’s ‘Revolt of Islam.’”
When not long ago Pierre Joris joined host Leonard Schwartz for an episode of Cross Cultural Poetics (episode #253, entitled “Celan/Bronk”), I was all ears. Much of the discussion was about “The Meridian,” which is, for me, a crucial text. The audio recording of the program, which is aired live on a radio station in the state of Washington, has been brought over to PennSound. Now, as of today, it has been segmented (by Anna Zalokostas).
The conversation began with Joris’s account of the special difficulty of translating Celan’s famous speech (10:26): MP3. Then Joris described the sense of discovery and encounter in Celan’s work — and the “enlightening” experience of translating and making The Meridian: Final Version-Drafts-Materials (5:49): MP3. Joris also discussed “tremors and hints” of the compositional process, the transparency of Celan’s writing practice, and his aphoristic tendencies (4:53): MP3.
Joris has a striking way of describing Celan as a concentration camp survivor and his vexed and, one might say, traumatic relationship to the German language, and thus how careful he was when he wrote his response to having received the Buchner prize (5:05): MP3. Then, to my delight, Joris read some new translations of Celan’s aphorisms (0:46): MP3; and reminded us again of the richness of phrasing in The Meridian and concluded with a note on the daily work of poetry (2:14): MP3.
LS: Born in 1926, Robert Creeley is the winner of a Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1999, a Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by the Before Columbus Foundation in 2000, and a Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. From Black Mountain to wherever we are now, Creeley remains one of our most enduring and vital poets, “vital” spelled energetic and alive. His latest book just out this fall is If I Were Writing This from New Directions. I have him on the phone from Providence, Rhode Island where he is a distinguished professor at Brown University. Welcome, Robert.
RC: Thank you, Leonard. I hope the various beeps and gurgles (from the phone line) don’t throw us off.
LS: “Beeps and Gurgles” might make a good title for a new book.
RC: Yes, “and things that go bump in the night...”
Linh Dinh playfully and bitterly engages food, war, and race in a poem called “Eating Fried Chicken.” The poem appeared in his book American Tatts, published by Chax in 2005. For PoemTalk’s 51st episode, Thomas Devaney, Susan Schultz (visiting from Hawai'i), and Leonard Schwartz (visiting from Olympia, Washington) joined Al Filreis to talk about this work of apparently straightforward address yet tonal complexity.
I’m always interested in the physical, digital, and in-between spaces audio recordings document and inhabit. This playlist samples some combinations of various recording environments, paying a bit of attention to often overlooked aspects such as tape hiss and telephone distortion, as well as considering sonic contexts like the classroom and direct-to-digital readings.
Norman Fischer’s super-coherent overview of the book called Dementia Blog by Susan Schultz is a good way to begin: “Following the odd form of the blog, which is written forward in time but read backwards, it charts the fragmented disorienting progression (if this is the word) of her mother's dementia. Schultz sees through her family's personal tragedy to the profound social and philosophical implications of the unraveling of sense and soul: a deranged nation, so unmoored from coherence that it is unable to feel the difference between political rhetoric and the destructiveness of war.”
Leonard responds to the matter of Schultz’s discovery of dementia as poetic form and he quotes Schultz on this point: “Reverse Stein. Not insistence but repetition.” “Stein,” says Leonard, “who insists it’s not repetition, that there is no repetition” but Schultz reverses that, based on the neurological reality facing her. Is this repeal of Stein a “big breakthrough”? asks Al - to which Leonard replies that it’s not really a critique of Stein, because finally “this book honors a kind of indeterminacy as ethics.”
Jamie-Lee argues that for Schultz memory is community and the state of being without memory is isolation. In the post-Holocaust sense, we won’t understand, and cannot successfully convey, what we write down about the trauma we witness. Schultz nonetheless chooses testimony a mode, and blog as form, not so much because she believes in the efficacy of bearing witness but because she wants to be part of this community and to stave off remoteness.
Michelle follows this by wondering if we can understand such writing as lyric – as embodying the qualities of the lyric poem. How is Schultz “somehow both expressing something personal – relating it to herself, her mother turning into not-her-mother – and at the same time there’s the very public [function, so that] someone else with a mother with dementia might read this and relate. Thus there’s somehow that ability to both be lyrical and to be poethical at the same time.” Michaelle isn’t certain that the blog form is what makes that convergence possible, but she suspects it might be.
Al had already written about the book on his own blog, where he concluded, perhaps a little too cutely, that “[t]he illness is the medium” – and then pondered the project’s novelistic aspects:
As you read this work you go backwards into the daughter's recent past to a point just when the mother begins to lose a grasp on her past. Ironically, conventional novelistic progression is repurposed for the digital mode that would normally undermine it. As we move toward the end (the beginning: Susan's return home from a vacation abroad to deal with her mother's first crises), we arrive at wholeness. Not Pip realizing his realistic place in London, nor Emma right-sizing the world into appropriate family pairings, nor even Clarissa Dalloway's party bringing the whole fractured cast together, but a happy-ever-after that is a moment in time just before the decline begins. In the end are things as they were.
The book can be purchased through Small Press Distribution. It was published by Singing Horse Press in 2008. PennSound’s Susan Schultz page is here; she recorded nine sections, or blog entries, specifically for PennSound – including, of course, the two we discuss. For his radio show, “Cross-Cultural Poetics,” produced in the studios of KAOS-FM at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and made available through PennSound, Leonard Schwartz has interviewed Schultz several times. During the 180th show, he spoke with her about Dementia Blog and that interview is very much worth hearing along with this PoemTalk.