Commentaries - June 2011

Finding havens in the sonnet

Richie Havens on Greenwich Street in Tribeca today, reading The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet. [Photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald.]

Maggie's Pen

Maggie O'Sullivan: Video portrait

Maggie had just arrived in New York and came by my place after visiting Steve Clay. She was in the U.S. for the Bob Cobbing festival at Penn. We talked about Bob's generous spirit but also how generally inhospitable she found England, which often has greeted artists like her with a colossally cold shoulder. Maggie remembered that I always wrote my poems by hand and with a fountain pen, if possible. Or used to anyway. I gave her my favorite current pen, the Impact Gel writer.

Wieners by night (PoemTalk #43)

John Wieners, "The Acts of Youth"

John Wieners at the Odessa Restaurant, New York City, November 1993. Photo by Allen Ginsberg.


Ammiel Alcalay, Gary Barwin, and Danny Snelson joined Al Filreis to talk about a poem by John Wieners for which we at PennSound have two recordings. The version used as the basis of this PoemTalk discussion was part of a brief two-poem performance at the Poetry Project in New York, in 1990. (He also read "Confidence" that day.) “The Acts of Youth” was written in the early 1960s and published in Wieners's second book, Ace of Pentacles, in 1964.

Jerome McGann on Poe's publishing scene

Here’s an excerpt from a talk Jerome McGann gave at the Kelly Writers House on April 4, 2011. You can watch the video recording of the entire talk here — and, while you’re at it, grab the code that will enable you to embed the video on your blog and web page. Go to the Kelly Writers House web calendar for more information about the event and for links to the audio recording. While McGann was with us at the Writers House, he joined me and two others to record a PoemTalk episode about a poem by Poe — an episode to be released later.


The Chomskybot, which I've been using for years, recently located to a new server. So I've changed my links variously and found a renewed fascination for what it does to and with the language of Noam Chomsky. Chomskybot takes sentence parts from Chomsky's linguistics writings and organizes them into randomly formed paragraphs.

It works by what its programmer and others call the “American Chinese Menu” principle, viz. One from Column A, One from Column B. There are four sets of phrases: Initiating Phrases, Subject Phrases, Verbal Phrases, and Terminating Phrases The program, called ”Foggy,” simply selects one of each, at (pseudo-)random, and then strings them together into a sentence. Five sentences make a paragraph. Foggy never even gets down to the word level; everything is phrases, and most of the phrases don't mean much. “In this,” says the programmer, ”foggy resembles a large proportion of real language.”