For this 154th episode of the PoemTalk series, Al Filreis remotely convened Simone White, Kate Colby, and Angela Carr to talk about a prose poem by Elizabeth Willis, “The Similitude of This Great Flower.” The poem was first published in the Cordite Poetry Review in January of 2008. Our recording of the poem comes from a Close Listening session hosted by Charles Bernstein on March 17, 2008.
Simone White, Dixon Li, and Jo Park joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House to discuss two poems by Terrance Hayes from his book Wind in a Box (2006). The poems are “MJ Fan Letter” and “RSVP,” and the texts are connected. The first begins with an address to Michael Jackson (“Dear K.O.P,” or King of Pop) and the second begins “Dear Michael,” although the opening of that versified fan letter is crossed out — single-line excising that makes it easy nonetheless to see and read what is meant to be excluded or second-guessed. And when the cross-outs finish in that passage of the second poem, the writing starts again with “Dear K.O.P.” We hear layerings of speaker, addressed figure, voices, subjective imaginings, and fantastic substitutions.
Kristin Prevallet, Simone White, and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge joined Al Filreis to talk about Barbara Guest’s poem “The Blue Stairs,” title poem of the book published in 1968. It can be found on pages 61–63 of the Collected Poems, edited by Hadley Guest and published by Wesleyan in 2008, fifty years later. PennSound’s Barbara Guest page is, we think, a thing of beauty, featuring more than a dozen readings across decades, each reading-length recording organized into poem-by-poem segments. The Guest author page includes three different performances of “The Blue Stairs,” the first given at the Library of Congress in June of 1969; the second a studio recording made in 1984; the third in 1996.
One interlocutor of Simone White’s 2016 collection of poems, Of Being Dispersed, is the 1968 collection by Objectivist poet George Oppen, Of Being Numerous. Oppen’s titular long poem, which is the bulk of the collection, is concerned with the development of language to address the condition of living in the multitude. Section three of the poem begins:
Simone White, Kyoo Lee, and Gabriel Ojeda-Sague joined Al Filreis to discuss a passage from Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. The discussion follows Rankine's extrordinarily synthesis of various huge issues: illness and death, memory loss and the misery of forgetting, the ubiquitous frame-setting of television, incarceration, police violence, useful and useless language, antidepressants, and the poem as a social assertion of “here.”
Rachel Zolf, Eileen Myles, and erica kaufman joined Al Filreis to talk about four short poems from what was then an unpublished typescript of a new book by Simone White. The book is Of Being Dispersed, now available from Futurepoem. White performed these and other poems from the collection at a Segue Series reading at Zinc Bar in New York on January 11, 2014. The work responds in part to George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous. Numerousness, pluralism, plenitude of subjects, objects, and sources, are certainly inclusive influences — but are also extended and even defied here by the agony and ferocity of dispersal, the sexual and racial sense of being pushed out.
Simone White, Sophia Le Fraga, and Andrew Whiteman joined Al Filreis to talk about Ed Dorn’s “The Sundering U.P. Tracks.” A political reading of the poem emerges through the discussion, as they group situates it as a late-1960s reflection on a slightly earlier moment of realization and radicalization: the turning-point summer of 1965, when Dorn’s collaborator, photographer Leroy McLucas, arrived in Pocatello only to discover that he was to be housed on the other side of the tracks. The racial trope and idiom of the US East reverts to its literal origins in the making of the US West. And there it is: the key fault line, a built-environment actuality and metaphor. Dorn here is ready rhetorically and politically for a counter-expansion that rereads American generations of Manifest Destiny, monopoly, segregation, and local oligarchy on one hand, and, on the other, “summer firebombs / of Chicago.”