Commentaries - March 2011

On Lists and Democracy

Studying the Constitution with Hannah early this morning. Fell in love once more with the words "ratify" and "enumerated." Civics is language and possibly also vice versa. Enumerated = explicit. Think about that--that and the importance of lists there. To list is to count (to matter), to make power. An implied power is anything that is not listed.

Asking Creeley about Williams

Robert Creeley as a Kelly Writers House Fellow, 2000

Interview and discussion in April 2000:

Now back to Williams, your initial response to Williams — according to something you said at Camden in December [1999] — was that what mattered to you in reading Williams, particularly The Wedge, was that the work was driven by anger. This is what, at least, Ron Silliman posted to the Buffalo poetics listserv afterwards. And then he went on to comment at how Williams had a huge impact on him as well, but it was a very different Williams. So, if anger is not quite operating as much, what’s your Williams now? How does Williams animate you now?

Back to Ron’s point, that that wasn’t the Williams he read, he reads the later Williams.

The Desert Music.

Yeah. Which is not an unangry poem, so to speak. But it certainly isn’t nearly as angry as the poems he was writing in the thirties or twenties. Spring and All, for example. Or the “Descent of Winter,” or “March First.” Many of the early poems are really angry, and their emotional base is their revulsion and anger at the world he finds around him.

So, now when you look back at Williams, how does it feel?

Well, it feels very much like my own life. I, when young, felt a dismay, let’s put it, that such things as the Holocaust or the Second World War or the depression or many other factors in one’s real life, that these could be so unremarkable to the body politic, that it seemed not to matter.

Tribute to Barbara Guest

We at PennSound have now segmented the entire audio recording made of the Barbara Guest Praise Day Tribute at The Bowery Poetry Club, October 21, 2006. These people performed selections of Guest's poems, offered interpretations of them along with reminiscences: Lewis Warsh, Marcella Durand, Charles Bernstein, Africa Wayne, Charles North and Erica Kaufman. The event was hosted by Kristin Prevallet. Anna Zalokostas has nicely arranged all the readings on our Barbara Guest author page. Lewis Warsh, for instance, remembered Guest in connection with The New American Poetry of 1960. Africa Wayne read "Negative Possibility." Charles North read "Roses." Lytle Shaw read "Sante Fe Trail." And much more.

On the Hotel Wentley Poems

John Wieners

I admire and am often mesmerized by the poems of John Wieners because they presuppose a music exhilirated--made absolutely alive--by deprivation and, at times, by self-destructiveness. They are "the score of a man's struggle to stay with what is his own."

The Hotel Wentley Poems, Wieners's first book (1958), are available online--all of them. This is a book that should be read in one sitting, and it offers a powerful reading experience. Not quite Beat (although he was feeling beat--out of it, not beatific--and he was in San Francisco at the time he wrote these poems in successive days) and not quite Black Mountain, the poems can be placed in their time and aesthetic context with some pleasure taken by the placer; but they do really well as more generally "New American" or, frankly, contextless, or in the similar/different context of love poetry across the literary ages. I have two favorite passages. One is the seventh and final section of "A poem for painters" and the other is a passage near the end of "A poem for museum goers." The latter movingly situates the speaker (a writer--the author of these very poems) both in the history of art (the art of lovers leaving lovers) and in the desolate present room at the Hotel Wentley, the room of the poem.

A Humument, the App

Tom Phillips Adapts to the iPad

A Humument App as made available on Facebook.

Yes, Tom Phillips' A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel is now available as an iPad application. I bought a few months ago  ($7.99 in iTunes) and have spent hours reading and looking and exploring its "oracle feature." Using a chosen date and a randomly generated number the oracle will cast two pages to be read in tandem. You may receive direction, encouragement or warning. The Find wheel spins through the book to quickly navigate the pages visually and find your favourites. Email your personal choices or oracle reading to friends.