IN THE first election year that mattered to me, 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, my country killed hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia, and Richard Nixon was elected president. In the decades that followed, I have always been unhappy with the leadership and direction of this country, usually very unhappy.
I was born a believer in peace. I say fight for the right. Be a martyr and live. Be a coward and die.
— Susan B. Anthony speaking in Gertrude Stein’s “The Mother of Us All”
For six evenings in October 2018, the Mile-Long Opera was performed for free on the High Line, starting at 7:00 p.m. That time is significant: the opera was billed as “a biography of 7:00 p.m.” because the libretto and accompanying texts were based on interviews with hundreds of New Yorkers about the meaning of the hour when day gives way to night.
“No we don’t talk, but people get to know each other just by walking past each other all the time.”
The study of how poems travel — and how they change — calls for some discussion of the relationship between author and reader. How do poets themselves define or at least imagine this relationship? What do they do to ensure that their work reaches their audience? And what happens then?
Few poets have paid more attention to their audience than Walt Whitman. Matt Cohen’s book Whitman’s Drift: Imagining Literary Distribution, published earlier this year by the University of Iowa Press, explores the topic from the combined perspective of reception studies, media studies, and book history. The “drift” in the title refers to the pattern of distribution of Whitman’s work in his lifetime and after — something not easy to capture empirically or to grasp conceptually. For Cohen, the word implies uncontrolled, unsystematic, but not entirely haphazard movement, “the nexus of the textual-formal and distributional form in his work, coupling a range of methods of dissemination with poetic technique and the physical design of books.” As his study shows, distribution as much as production was central to Whitman’s desire to connect with his readers.
An alien man-boy, Evan Kennedy. Already starting his poetic career with two pretty good books, then with a giant leap comes the third, Terra Firmament. Now another — this time a mega-leap on all fronts — a book he calls The Sissies.
The speaker of “Survey,” a long poem among the “New and Uncollected” of Elizabeth Willis’s Alive: New and Selected Poems, illustrates public interest and personal exposure combining to make an American lyric.
The speaker of “Survey,” a long poem among the “New and Uncollected” of Elizabeth Willis’s Alive: New and Selected Poems, illustrates public interest and personal exposure combining to make an American lyric. As the title suggests, the poem responds to an easily imagined questionnaire ranking priorities and concerns with a list of wishes and worries, two of perhaps the most private and maligned categories of our Just Do It culture in which both wishes and worries are judged as failures of will.
Bio-poetics is an art form not interested in some Modernist purification of the tribal dialect but instead in a creative mongrelization of the planetary genome. In Grammatical Man, Jeremy Campbell refers to “basic resemblances between genes and language that are beyond dispute” — also beyond dispute are the resemblances between living organisms at the level of their molecular components.
In this 5-minute video excerpt from the recording of a 90-minute live “ModPo” webcast on aleatory poetry, Amaris Cuchanski, Emily Harnett, Max McKenna, erica kaufman and Lily Applebaum each take a turn discussing the Whitmanian mode as it can be discerned in contemporary poetry. To view the entire video, click here.