Commentaries

From 'Eclipse' by Joe Safdie, with a note on its poetics by the author

A sunrise, the sun’s course, a sunset are marvelous to no one because they occur daily. But solar eclipses are a source of wonder because they occur seldom, and indeed are more marvelous than lunar eclipses, because these are more frequent. Thus nature shows that she is not aroused by the common ordinary event, but is moved by a new and striking occurrence. Let art, then, imitate nature, find what she desires, and follow as she directs. — Frances Yates, The Art of Memory

Do you have an extra cigarette?

image of a long road that fades into the distance taken from inside a car
long road

Have you ever heard Aram Saroyan read his poem “Biography”?[1] It is a poem in which he recites every year from his birth to the current year in his usual steady, calm cadence. I’m a bit fascinated with this poem; I seem to bring it up often. It really can’t be beat. It’s a pure poem. I heard him read it in 2007 (I think) at Poet’s House in New York. There are a hundred things to say about the poem, how the simplicity of it belies the fact that it describes something huge, i.e.

Test of Poetry: Five translations

Charles Bernstein, Norbert Lange, Ernesto Livon-Grosman, Collective à Royaumont, Haroldo de Campos,  and Leevi Lehto

A Test of Poetry

“A Test of Poetry” was written in 1992 and published in My Way: Speeches and Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1999). The poem is based on a letter from the Chinese scholar Ziquing Zhang, who translated poems from Rough Trades and The Sophist for Selected Language Poems (Chengdu, China: Sichuan Literature and Art Publishing House, 1993); quotations from the poems are italicized.  It seemed to me that Ziquing Zhang’s questions provided both an incisive commentary on my poems and also raised a set of imponderble yet giddy, not to say fundamental, translation issues. Several  poets have take up the task of translating this poem, and we here compile the results: Norbert Lange into German, Ernesto Livon-Grosman into Spanish, Collective à Royaumont dans le cadre de l’Atelier Cosmopolite into French (originally published as a pamphlet by Format Américain), Haroldo de Campos into Portuguese, and Levi Lehto into Finnish.

Monastiraki in Montreal

One of the real delights of my recent visit to Montreal: visiting Monastiraki and meeting Billy Mavreas. Above is a photo of Billy in the shop. The offer fine prints, art and gig posters, small press, zines, and art objects by some of Montreal’s most unique artists. Overflowing with paper ephemera and vintage found treasures, the space is an assemblage of things Billy and his colleagues love. The shop has been very supportive of the community of experimental poets.

Amiri Baraka's 'Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . .'

Cover of 'Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . .'

Amiri Baraka’s Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . . (1961) addresses writing in the context of suicidal fantasy. The title refers to a possible suicide note, one that emerges in concert with what may be a life’s work, manifested in twenty volumes. The voluminous, nearly encyclopedic note is projected into the future.

Amiri Baraka’s Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . . (1961) addresses writing in the context of suicidal fantasy. The title refers to a possible suicide note, one that emerges in concert with what may be a life’s work, manifested in twenty volumes. The voluminous, nearly encyclopedic note is projected into the future. “This is just the preface,” the title flirts.