Commentaries - November 2011

Pastoral and race

Ann Seaton at the Writers House

Ann Seaton of Bard College speaks about pastoral and race during a Q&A session after her presentation on "Pastoral Origins" at the Kelly Writers House on September 26, 2011. Here is a link to more information, including links to both the full audio and video recordings of the program. 

Espians, inaugural issue, 2011 (pdf)

from English Poetry Studies Institute, Sun Yat-sen University, China

pdf of first issue

Barrett Watten, 1999

Photo from the Poetry Project

In this 1999 reading, Barrett Watten collages poetry and criticism from 1-10 (1980), Bad History (1998), Poetics Journal 10: “Knowledge” (1998), and criticism eventually collected in The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (2003).

Barrett Watten
The Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, November 15, 1999
Introduction by Carine Daly

  • Mode Z (1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Non-Events (stanza 1; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • “Does poetry have any knowledge […]” (“What I See in ‘How I Became Hettie Jones,’” Poetics Journal 10: “Knowledge,” 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 2 and 3; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Bad History IV: “Museum of War” (Bad History, 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 4 and 5; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • “It is important that the graphically modified noun language […]” (The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics, 2003)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 6 and 7; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Bad History X: “The Executor” (Bad History, 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 8 and 9; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • “There is a competing possibility […]” (“What I See in ‘How I Became Hettie Jones,’” Poetics Journal 10: “Knowledge,” 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 10 and 11; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Bad History Section E: “Event” (Bad History, 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 12 and 13; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts […]” (The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics, 2003)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 14 and 15; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Bad History XIX: “Free Trade” (Bad History, 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 18 and 19; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Bad History XXI: “Vulture” (Bad History, 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 16 and 17; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)
  • Bad History XXII: “Fantasia” (Bad History, 1998)
  • Non-Events (stanzas 18 through 25; 1-10, 1980; Frame (1971-1990), 1997)

Watten begins with “Mode Z,” the first poem in 1-10, the book strategically chosen to begin the non-chronological Frame (1971-1990). Watten adapts this organizational gesture to the composition of the poetry reading. “Mode Z” consists of New Sentences calling for the clearing of the past and the agency to construct the present: “Could we have those trees cleared out of the way? / And the houses, volcanoes, empires?” “Prove to me now that you have finally undermined / your heroes [….] Start writing autobiography.” Its repetition in 1999 reaffirms its permanent revolution, self-critically exceeding Watten’s own subjectivity, since in the nineteen years since 1-10 a new generation of poets has developed with Watten as a hero to be potentially undermined, evidenced by the adulatory introduction by the younger Carine Daly.

This is the color of my dreams

Philippe de Montebello — whose long career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art spanned nearly a third of the institution’s entire history — retired a few years ago after more than thirty-one years as director. At the time of his reitrement the curators of the various departments each dug around in their collections and chose to feature acquisitions made during the de Montebello years, their favorites. And that's one of the exhibits I saw with my wife Jane in late December 2008.  Some pieces were chosen more because the story of the acquisition is fascinating than because the artwork itself is tops. So the show was a hodge podge, arranged, room by room, according to the date the work came to the museum rather than its year of creation. Exhibit goers got a bit of whiplash moving from the 18th-c. wooden bust of a powerful Russian politician to Segovia's favorite Spanish (actually Austrian) guitar to some Tahitian faces drawing by Gauguin in 1899.

Martha King on reading Paul Blackburn

From Jacket #12 (July 2000)

Painting of Joan and Paul Blackburn by Basil King (left); Martha King (right).

Note: This article by Martha King was based on a presentation she gave at a panel on Paul Blackburn, at the Poetry Project in New York, in 1991 [?]. Other panelists included Armand Schwerner, Edith Jarolim, Robert Creeley, and David Abel. (The references are to Edie Jarolim’s edition of Blackburn’s Collected Poems.)

When I told Basil [King] I’d been asked to talk on Paul at this panel he asked me what I wanted to say — we were walking down the street in our Brooklyn neighborhood — my answer popped out: ‘that strange hollow voiced singer of the city.’ On the theory that first thought might just be best, I’ll start there.

So why was my first thought “hollow.” It means empty in the middle. Like the woodwinds. Their sound comes from that. It’s a very old thing to think of a poet as a reed. Missing at the core. And therefore what is taken in will be released reverberating, as song.

But Blackburn’s been savagely critiqued for this quality. By people who have freely crossed the lines between reading the text and psychoanalyzing the writer. I mean even to the unbelievably grotesque suggestion — by Clayton Eshleman in his essay “The Gull Wall” — that Paul wouldn’t have died of cancer if he’d been able to overcome his negative feelings about women.