Commentaries - January 2014

Self-abolition of the poet (Part 2)

The Humours of Hob at the Country Wake in the Opera of Flora / Friendly as a Ballad Singer at the Country Wake. Engraving After John Laguerre, by Claude Dubosc, 1725-1750

Some of our respondents have objected that the preceding post on the self-abolition of the poet assumes, wrongly, an essential link between the poetry and literacy. This is a good point, and one we had intended to address eventually. Oral poetry has, it’s true, existed alongside and inside literate poetry for thousands of years, and there is every indication that poetry — defined broadly as the patterning of speech — is a primordial set of mnemonic techniques that cultures have used to transmit and conserve important information since long before the advent of writing.But the point of the earlier post was to demonstrate that the emergence of poets and poems — particular authors attached to particular written creations — was a product of literate class societies, societies with a complex division of labor, with something like a state and with a division between commoners and elites. We’re going to stand firm on this point, with the added complication that, in many cases, the poetry that played the role of glorifying, consecrating and mythologizing such class societies was also oral (see, for instance, the Bardic tradition). In this regard, the presence or absence of writing is not really determinative it’s merely an index.

Red Shout!: A description

by Samuel Solomon

LA Liberation School Calendar, July 2013
LA Liberation School Calendar, July 2013

Red Shout! was a month long, four-part reading series held each Friday night as part of the LA Liberation School.  But Red Shout! was, properly speaking, also just a part of the day, the conclusion of the Liberation school week, so to speak. Red Shout! took shape, then, in the context of a set of practices that diverged from those of the bookstore, gallery, and house reading series.

The LA Liberation School was/is a free university project that ran formally for the month of July 2013 in a live/work warehouse on the border of East and South Los Angeles. It has since transformed into a loose network of reading groups and organizing meetings held in various locations (I have since been away from Los Angeles and so have not been able to participate). Those who facilitated the School's operations tried to create a space that would escape the segregation that characterizes other public education projects and to create material practices to hold better space for thinking. 

Charles Reznikoff's "Amelia": A case study by Richard Hyland

Richard Hyland, Distinguished Professor, Rutgers Law School, Camden, New Jersey, has compiled the fullest account of the sources of a Charles Reznikoff poem, together with a detailed commentary on the Amelia Kirwan case and the poem Reznikoff wrote based on this case. Many of Reznikoff's poems, especially those in Testimony, are based on legal records. But there has been little research on the exact relationship between the legal record and the poem, with the general assumption that Reznikoff used only language from the legal records, cutting away but not adding any of his own words. The key to Reznikoff's aesthetic is his selection and condensation of the source materials. 

Surely Reznikoff is a paradigmatic poet for all documentary and source-based poetry of the 20th century and exemplary for many of us who use appropriated or found material in our work.

Starting from lull

Jill Richards' 'Distribution Series'

Marilyn Buck

Ronald Paulson's The Art of Riot in England and America is a small, thin book. Its concerns are mainly with art, with nineteenth century pictorial representations of riot. In it Paulson attempts a taxonomy of riot so as to understand its festivities, its seditions.

I have read Paulson’s book several times in the last few years. At moments frustrated with how it seems too ecumenical. At other moments frustrated because when it gets to the literature his examples feel a little tired (and so male): Norman Mailer, Nathanael West, George Romero, etc.

Thomas Meyer — From the Beowulf translation: 'Fit Nine'

Portrait drawing of Thomas Meyer by David Hockney
Portrait drawing of Thomas Meyer by David Hockney

[NOTE.  After two years in public view (the project goes back some forty years before that), Thomas Meyer’s translation/transcreation of the Beowulf poem stands out as an extraordinary example of the transposition of a major poem from one language or epoch to another.  It’s my contention further that translation, as here, can serve as a form of composition, to make a new work in which the presence of the old is a necessary underpinning or shadow, as in the words of Gertrude Stein, rather than Pound in this instance: “As it is old it is new, and as it is new it is old, but now [she adds] we have come to be in our own way, which is a completely different way.”