Commentaries - October 2018

Do you have an extra cigarette?

Have you ever heard Aram Saroyan read his poem “Biography”?[1] It is a poem in which he recites every year from his birth to the current year in his usual steady, calm cadence. I’m a bit fascinated with this poem; I seem to bring it up often. It really can’t be beat. It’s a pure poem. I heard him read it in 2007 (I think) at Poet’s House in New York. There are a hundred things to say about the poem, how the simplicity of it belies the fact that it describes something huge, i.e.

Test of Poetry: Six translations

Charles Bernstein, Norbert Lange, Ernesto Livon-Grosman, Collective à Royaumont, Haroldo de Campos,  Leevi Lehto, and Gizem Atlı 

A Test of Poetry

“A Test of Poetry” was written in 1992 and published in My Way: Speeches and Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1999). The poem is based on a letter from the Chinese scholar Ziquing Zhang, who translated poems from Rough Trades and The Sophist for Selected Language Poems (Chengdu, China: Sichuan Literature and Art Publishing House, 1993); quotations from the poems are italicized.  It seemed to me that Ziquing Zhang’s questions provided both an incisive commentary on my poems and also raised a set of imponderble yet giddy, not to say fundamental, translation issues. Several  poets have take up the task of translating this poem, and we here compile the results: Norbert Lange into German, Ernesto Livon-Grosman into Spanish, Collective à Royaumont dans le cadre de l’Atelier Cosmopolite into French (originally published as a pamphlet by Format Américain), Haroldo de Campos into Portuguese,  Leevi Lehto into Finnish, and Gizem Atlı in Turkish (orginally published in Buzdokuz).

Monastiraki in Montreal

One of the real delights of my recent visit to Montreal: visiting Monastiraki and meeting Billy Mavreas. Above is a photo of Billy in the shop. The offer fine prints, art and gig posters, small press, zines, and art objects by some of Montreal’s most unique artists. Overflowing with paper ephemera and vintage found treasures, the space is an assemblage of things Billy and his colleagues love. The shop has been very supportive of the community of experimental poets.

How many poets does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I have one [PG] fantasy of reading poems in comedy clubs and telling jokes at poetry readings. Why waste a fantasy on it? Why ruin a good comedy night for those unsuspecting patrons? I don’t know. I don’t want to answer those questions. They’re rather aggressive, if you ask me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s okay. I’d rather explore what that might do, in my mind, to read funny poems, funny poems that are often also quite sad, on stage, against a brick wall, beneath a blinding Klieg or two, alone. The set up sounds like a firing squad.

Jerome Rothenberg: Talking with David Antin

[Remarks prepared for presentation at the conference “David Antin: Talking, Always Talking” September 27, 2018 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, in connection with the revival of Antin’s 1988 “Sky Poems” as an exercise in the poetics of sky-writing.]