PoemTalk travelled to Bard College, where we gathered with Charles Bernstein, Pierre Joris, and Bard’s own Joan Retallack to talk about Jackson Mac Low's Words nd Ends from Ez (1989). The project was composed in ten parts, one part each for sections (sometimes called “decades”) of Ezra Pound’s lifework, The Cantos. We chose to discuss the penultimate part of Mac Low's diastic written-through work, a poem based on phrases, words, and letters drawn from — and in some sense about — Pound's near-final cantos, Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII. Mac Low’s constraint, for which he preferred the term “quasi-intentional” to the term “chance,” involved the letters forming the name E Z R A P O U N D. Words, phrases, and letters were extracted from the original cantos based on those letters and on their placement within words. Charles, Pierre, Joan, and Al Filreis explain this in detail, although we cannot quite agree as to whether Mac Low was being absolutely strict in the application of the diastic method. As Bernstein notes several times, this particular procedure is one of the more complex Mac Low used. Nonetheless, it’s the sense of the group that when semantic meaning seems to be created, it has about it, as Pierre Joris happily notes, the special pleasure of serendipity, and means all the more.
Ecopoetics as remaking the household (oikos) may entail moving out of the house altogether, a shift from home-making to camping. For instance, in a remarkable (and painfully ironic) appropriation of refugee architecture, an urban tent city lines the median of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv—middle class Israelis protesting the high cost and scarcity of housing. (There are plans afoot for a similar occupation of Wall Street.)
One of the best “art shows” I saw in recent years was the exhibit Into the Open, the official United States representation at the 2008 Venice Biennale. (I caught it at the New School, in NYC; the Slought Foundation also ran it in Philadelphia.)
This show indicted modernist architecture as “an aesthetic style—an abstract form in a landscape, photographed aerially and devoid of social relations[, whose i]conic buildings, formalism, and myopic obsession with the upper class . . . became the hallmarks of much American architecture.” Into the Open’s installations ask architecture “to mitigate its current celebrity obsessed approach, encouraging instead a new type of collaborative thinking about design and space that highlights local, periphery, and even edge conditions.”
The Meridian speech is one of Paul Celan's key works. This meticulous, fascinating, and, finally, compelling edition begins by unlocking what seems to be the work's multifoliate nature. Ultimately, though, and with the help of Pierre Joris's eloquent translation, we discover that that under the many surfaces of this magisterial essay is an abyss of poetic thinking struggling to emerge into the light of our encounter.