Susan Howe’s recuperation of Emily Dickinson’s visual prosody marks a pivot point in American poetics, insofar as it calls attention to the long effaced but paradigmatically American enterprise of self-invention that Dickinson’s practice depicts. And in depicting her work, the picture is the work, hence the holograph images that for the most part replace block quotes in texts like Howe’s My Emily Dickinson and the essay from which I’ll cull this epigraph, “These Flames and Generosities of the Heart.”
This space is the poem’s space. Letters are sounds we see. Sounds leap to the eye. Word lists, crosses, blanks, and ruptured stanzas are points of contact and displacement. Line breaks and visual contrapuntal stresses represent an athematic compositional intention.
Howe, and by extension Dickinson, are reference points for discussing the work of Mark Booth, printmaker by training, a painter, who also works in sound and performance, but whose practice is in some sense reducible to writing.
On February 8, 2003, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club without prepared text or notes, Steve Bensonimprovised a long poem composed entirely of questions. His transcript of this performance later appeared in the book Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005) as “Did the lights just go out” [text]. Later, Steve McLaughlin created two excerpts from the full audio recording:
On February 8, 2003, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club without prepared text or notes, Steve Bensonimprovised a long poem composed entirely of questions. His transcript of this performance later appeared in his book Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005) as "Did the lights just go out" [text]. Later, Steve McLaughlin created two excerpts from the full audio recording:
Three nights later, then at the Kelly Writers House, Benson again improvised a long poem composed entirely of questions, and then he responded to questions from the audience. His transcript of this performance also appears in Open Clothes as "If you stop to listen to yourself think" and "Is your thinking about the words." A full audio recording of the event can be heard here. Again, Steve McLaughlin created excerpts:
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.
I love this screenshot of Steve Benson performing at Berkeley last year (from videos made by Konrad Steiner). With help from Steve himself, and then Mark Lindsay and Jenny Lesser, we at PennSound have just now added two video recordings of terrific Benson improvised (and quasi-improvised) 2009 performances, one at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York and the other at the "Medium and Margin: Multiplying Methodologies and Proliferating Poetics" two-day conference at the University of California at Berkeley (in the Maud Fife Room, Wheeler Hall). The introduction was given by Lyn Hejinian.
As noted, the videos were made by Konrad Steiner, and we at PennSound are grateful to Konrad, as well as to Steve Benson, for giving us permission to make these videos available.