Commentaries - April 2011

How I got here, and where we're going

Or, welcome to Jacket2

The author's much-loved and well-worn copy of the Collected Ginsberg.

It feels very fitting to write this opening note on April 5th, the fourteenth anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s death.  Certainly Ginsberg spent the majority of his life as an ardent and innovative advocate for the cause of poetry, in a manner not dissimilar from that of John Tranter, whose Jacket Magazine (born within six months of the poet’s passing) we now carry on into the future as Jacket2.  However, Ginsberg has a more personal significance for me because I can honestly say that without having encountered his work around the age of fourteen or fifteen I wouldn’t be here today working at Jacket2 and PennSound, as a poet and a scholar, as a socially and politically-conscious human being.  Instead, I’d likely be a doctor or a music journalist or something far more lucrative and life-affirming than this strange life I’ve stumbled into; most days, however, I’m very happy with the choice I’ve made.

The strange thing though is that I really have no idea how I came across Ginsberg’s work in the first place.  I know that my mother dutifully trudged out to a Waldenbooks in a mall somewhere in the Philly suburbs to buy a copy of his Collected Poems 1947-1980 (pictured above) as a Christmas present, and I’d guess that I’d requested it after coming across a story on the poet in Spin or Rolling Stone (both of which I read faithfully at the time).  What I do know for certain is that I devoured the collection with tremendous fervor, loving not only the clear-cut classics like “Howl,” “America,” “A Supermarket in California” and “Sunflower Sutra,” but also the offbeat pieces that showed me things I’d never realized poetry could do before: the intense collage-work of “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” the rabid chant of “Hum Bom,” the novel constructions behind poems like “I Am a Victim of Telephone,” “Grafitti 12th Cubicle Men’s Room Syracuse Airport” and “Junk Mail.”  As you can tell by the photo above, the spine bowed mercilessly by dozens of bookmarks (the yellow ones torn from a comment card for the local theme restaurant, Nifty Fifty’s, the blue ones scraps from a college bluebook cover), I had a lot of favorites.

Newly available 1952 Robert Duncan reading from the archive

Robert Duncan

Nancy Kuhl and her colleagues at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, have been discussing with us at PennSound for many months the treasure trove of recordings that Lee Anderson had made and collected and eventually donated to Yale. First the Beinecke folks have begun to preserve the recordings by transferring them from old media to digital files. Then, happily, through a pilot project with PennSound, we are together making a selection of them available for everyone. The first of these readings is was given by Robert Duncan and recorded in 1952. Today for the first time, PennSound and the Beinecke together make available segmented files of 12 poems Duncan read that day. Here is your link to PennSound's Duncan page and this new recording.

Dear readers

This is an invitation to correspond.

I have a complicated and too often angsty relationship with the territories known as “the internet”—not to mention a complicated and too often angsty relationship with the territories known as “writing.” I avidly (if not-so-speedily) write letters and postcards to send through the actual physical through-snow-and-rain post (hooray for mail carriers and their snazzy racing-stripe pants!),

In which metaphors for poetry communties, and for writing about them, abound

I'm hopelessly devoted to the downtown Oakland YMCA, with its spin classes spinning next to morning tai chi, basketball games in the gym followed by African dance class. I love the late afternoon afterschool program sounds, double dutch in the mind-body studio. There’s free childcare, coffee in the lobby, wheelchairs, a mentoring program, book exchange, elevators, and financial aid. It’s basically sliding scale, a utopia. Its members are multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, like the city it is part of. Bodies at the Oakland Y tend not to be all that beefcake, nor all that svelte. Or, there are as many bodies as there are genders and generations. In a culture that is so persistently fucked up around bodies, being in the locker room at the downtown Oakland YMCA feels like some kind of psychic survival tactic, being with so many other naked sweaty bodies, not images, blemished and muscular and round, people icing their knees, rubbing oils into the skin, blow drying their hair, not blow drying their hair, having conversations. It’s not a space where anyone can be only with others who are like themselves. I want to say it’s one of the only spaces like this in the city where I live, but that’s just an idea, anecdotal, probably my blind spots talking.

In which the reader is introduced to a man of humanity

Dear Readers,

Iʻll say it again: blogging is dead. Thus, my 2011 resolution to Facebook everyday. As my 2,000 closest Facebook friends can attest, Iʻve been keeping that resolution with aplomb.

This is not blogging, letʻs get that straight. This is what we call "Commentaring." As the mutiracial doctor says: "It is difficult to get the news from the Poetry Foundation Harriet Blog, yet Facebookers update their statuses miserably everyday for the lack of what is Commentaried upon there." 

Iʻm told this first post should gently hook, dear reader. So as all good writers "of color" know, the best way to get attention in this here "Po-Biz" is to "drive by" (as one white-american critic recently phrased it) in a traditionally white institutional space and take down a well-endowed white poet, preferably a straight white male poet, and preferably a straight white male poet who writes "racially complex" poems.

I can see it now: