Editorial note: The following conversation has been adapted and edited from episode 38 of PoemTalk, recorded December 9, 2010, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and transcribed by Michael Nardone. The episode discusses the poem “I’d Like to See It” from Norman Fischer’s Turn Left in Order to Turn Right (O Books, 1989). Fischer is associated with the Bay Area Language poets and is the former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center.
Laynie Browne is one of our finest poets working in the mode I am calling contemplative poetry. By which I mean not necessarily a poetry that is contemplative in the religious sense (though yes, inescapably there is also that in Laynie’s work) but rather in the compositional sense, that is, writing itself, language itself, composition itself.
A sense of community is everywhere apparent in the poetry world — the desire to share and promote what is offered widely, and to make of poetry a means to transform minds, hearts, and social practice. Fortunately or unfortunately, it can be difficult in all this to find a space quiet enough for a contemplative spirit, an exploratory sense, in the poem, of working through what’s real in how to respond to a world in and through language. For me the value of this is much more than personal, more than the pleasure it affords.
“The Astonishment Tapes will now take its place within the growing field of international research about postwar American poetry's important contribution to world literature. Miriam Nichols has once again done exceptional scholarship.” —Peter Gizzi
“One of the great pleasures of this book is the glimpse it gives of another, more private Blaser than one we encounter in his collected poems and essays.” –Ben Friedlander
Norman FIscher's Experience is the fruit of a life’s work in Zen (and other religious practice) as well as in poetry. It is mature, syncretic, wide-ranging, and open-hearted. Fischer is able to find common ground between Judeo-Christian and Buddhist beliefs or between Zen and the writing life without eliding the differences and contradictions. When he says that, in a certain type of Zen meditation, ‘you allow the phrases to come forward to you as if they were alive,’ I (as a poet) know precisely what that means. In these essays, Fischer accomplishes it.” —Rae Armantrout, author of Versed, Just Saying, and Itself
How many poetries are there; how many could there be? The poetry of investigation, the poetry of protest, personal poetry, national poetry, international poetry, documentary poetry, poetry of war and peace, emotional, environmental, philosophical, identity poetry. And what’s at the root of all these poetries, if anything?
Let’s begin with the title A Mammal of Style, which of course echoes the Chicago Manual of Style, someone’s notion of the proper and correct way of rendering sensible sentences in the English language.
I was unfamiliar with the poetry of Burt Kimmelman when Jacket2 asked me to take up the assignment of writing about Gradually the World: New and Selected Poems, 1982–2013. Reading, rereading, pondering the volume — which is a life — has been an education for me in poetry’s use as engagement with writing as a means of being in the world. Why, after all, is anyone writing? Of necessity, I suppose, to figure out how to survive in — even appreciate — being alive temporarily in a world. Kimmelman’s poems surely serve that function for him and his readers.
From the beginning of my writing, I have been concerned with (floored by) the fact of a word, or a letter, as a thing, a physical, elemental, thing — and the act of contemplating such a thing. In the late ’60s, I noticed the poems of Aram Saroyan — one word, say, “crickets” — printed repeatedly in a single column, in Courier type, down the page. My first works were less poems or writing per se about something than memorials to the fact of words, that they appear and seem to signify.
We at PennSound are beginning to analyze quantities and types of downloads from our archive. From time to time we will have something to say about what we discern in such analysis. For now, this fascinating and not-quite-explainable factoid: since January 1, 2014, one of the five most-oft downloaded MP3 recording from PennSound has been a poem by Michael Palmer, performed at Buffalo in 1990: “Recursus to Porta” (3:34): MP3. And the poet whose PennSound recordings were most frequently downloaded during this time has been Norman Fischer.