The idea of a ‘Geomantic Riposte’, a response that attempts to transplant the energy of one poem into another, is not out of keeping with poetry that abounds like so many persistent verbal ‘forms’ (small depressions of our prairie jackrabbits) and even defiant forbs across the vast and diverse landscape in Canada. This ‘Idea of North’, to use Glenn Gould’s term, is not just about the tonic of performance or the stern dominant of major city centres. Even at remote interstices, the conversation is always continuing, sometimes in a communal sense and other times in the manner of a furtive sonata or partita about to be launched into space. Geomantic Ripostes is therefore a glimpse through a window on the very liminal of a poet’s life, one that is made up of murmurs, music, silences, sudden yips, rests, and occasional fermatas. As such, this series is a curation of thirty six poetry books published in Canada, along with more than a bit of interior talk they have brought about.
Lorna Crozier hails from Swift Current, Saskatchewan and admits to storing up the province in her bones and blood, even in her residence in Victoria, BC. Her passion for the craft of poetry extends to her teaching and through her involvement in various social causes and Margaret Laurence has called her “a poet to be grateful for.” Crozier’s The Book of Marvels is an astute and witty examination of the very lively life of everyday objects.
The Book of Marvels by Lorna Crozier (Greystone Books, 2012, page 65)
AT FIRST you thought you’d plant it with the rest. But
you were defeated by its fragility and the stem’s refusal to
grow. The bulb turned out to be insensitive to spring and,
though half its name was light, sunshine meant nothing to
it. Glass made it glimmer like a living thing, but you soon
discovered it was not. Why call the object bulb, then?
Geomantic Riposte: Headline
Undawned upon until stolen personally
glossed as the kind of staff that is not
a talking stick
paper says all the pawnshops in Rider Nation
were talked to
a few gems were pocketed
but the staff reappeared in church
only slightly worse for wear
In the police photo, in the shape of a question mark
CFP: The 3rd Convention of the Chinese/American Association for Poetry and Poetics, Shanghai, China, Dec. 18-19, 2014
The 3rd Convention of the Chinese/American Association for Poetry and Poetics will take place in Shanghai from December 18 to19, 2014. This convention will be hosted by Shanghai University and co-sponsored by Central China Normal University, Foreign Literature Studies, Forum for World Literature Studies, University of Pennsylvania, and China Three Gorges University. Papers are called from scholars all over the world.
I. Conference Topics
1. Modern and contemporary poetry and poetics
2. Meaning/politics of poetic form
3. On and off the page: Poetry, society, culture
4. Poetry in the genealogical perspective: the evolution (and devolution) of poetic genres
5. Poetry and poetics in the context of comparative literature and comparative arts
6. Poetry in the global context: Diffusion, exchange, conflict
7. Poetry and new media
8. Poetics of translation
II. Important dates:
1. By June 1, 2014 Submit conference paper proposal and confirm over issues about your attendance and lodging.
2. By October 1, 2014 Submit the full text of your conference paper, including abstract and the author’s info.
3. December 17, 2014 Conference registration
4. 8:30am, Dec 18—5:30pm, Dec 19, 2014 Conference
III. Registration Fee: RMB900/person, or USD145/person, with 4 meals included.
IV. Conference publications:
Proceedings of the conference will be published and quality papers will be published in Foreign Literature Studies or Forum for World Literature Studies.
V. Contact us:
Prof Luo Lianggong, Central China Normal University （Phone: 86-138 8606 7048）
Prof Zhu Zhenwu, Shanghai University (Phone: 86-189 1801 8689)
A good example of the future that poetry once imagined for itself can be found in the first act (sometimes prologue) of Brecht’s great play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Brecht is an outstanding lyric poet, but his most poignant reflections on poetry and poetics might be found within the plays, which famously employ lyric elements to disrupt the mimetic anesthesia of conventional theater. In the framing prologue to TCCC , a government official, an “expert” (or in some translations, “delegate”), possessor of a certain technical and scientific knowledge, mediates a dispute between two Soviet agricultural collectives who want to use the same valley. But in contrast to the justice on display in the rest of the play – even the justice of the holy-fool Azdak — the “expert” does not autocratically decide the fate of two collectives, but rather facilitates their reconciliation. Through reasonable deliberation and debate, the goat-herding “Galinsk” commune decides, despite its misgivinsg, to renounce the valley from which it was displaced during WWII and to let the “Rosa Luxemburg” fruit-growing commune use the landfor its irrigation project. The needs of the whole society are put first, we are shown, and the result will be that, in addition to the Galinsk goat cheese both communes will benefit from Rosa Luxemburg’s wine.
This is not simply a celebration of a free people freely planning its future. It is also a celebration of the role that art, and particularly poetry, plays in that freedom. Alongside the figure of the expert who helps facilitate the decision, there is the essentially homologous “Singer,” Arkadi Cheize, who “knows 21,000 verses by heart.” The main action of The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play within the play, adaptated from the ancient Chinese and rehearsed by the Luxemburg commune under the supervision of the Singer. The commune performs the adapted play as an allegorical reflection upon the wisdom of leaving the valley to its irrigated orchards. Though the finished play can’t itself be a vehicle for the working-out of the disagreement, already concluded, one is lead to believe that it could have been, had no agreement been reached. The Singer and Expert therefore play structurally similar roles as facilitators. The technical knowledge of the Expert is matched by the vast mnemonic recall of the Singer. Brecht’s play contains a typically lucid affirmation of the fundamentally necessary role that art – here metonymized by poetry and “song” – must play in the planning of the new society:
The Old Man left: We rehearsed the play under his direction. It is very difficult to get him, by the way. You and the Planning Commission should see to it that he comes north more often, comrade.
The Expert: We are more concerned with economy.
The Old Man left, smiling: You arrange the new distribution of grapevines and tractors. Why not of songs, too?
Tout se résume dans l'esthétique et l'économie politique! Indeed, there is a hint, in the structure of the play, that “song” is fundamentally a mechanism for the redistribution of material necessities. When we spoke in a preceding post, about modernism as a project for the “realization of poetry,” this is what we meant. Poetry in Brecht’s play has become a resource of the collective, an entirely functional mechanism by which a community comes to understand itself and its place in the world. Of course, Brecht’s vision is not entirely distinguishable from what we have described as the alternative project for poetry, the“abolition” of all the specific instances of poet and poem and dissolution of poetry into the field of everyday life. We note a return to the oral tradition, here, in the figure of the Singer, who, although he has a name, and a renown commensurate with his virtuosity, seems famous not for the originality of his creations but the extent and versatility of his repertoire. His “play with songs, in which the whole kolkhoz takes part” blends together the lyric and the dramatic in ways that break sharply with the type of author-reader relations of current poetic practice. It is a production both individual and collective, traditional and modern, in which “wearing the old masks,” the new, modernizing collective and its audience find that “the voice of the old poet. . . sounds well in the shadow of Soviet tractors.”
Needless to say, nothing like this ever existed in the Soviet Union of the 1940s. Disputes of the sort treated in the prologue would have certainly been decided through the autocratic decision of experts and party cadre. Haunting the prologue is the fact that these communes were created through a process of forced collectivization – socialist “primitive accumulation” – in which millions died from famine or direct state violence. Brecht’s prologue is, in this regard, Stalinist smokescreen. While there might have been some excuse for this kind of rosy view of the Soviet Union in the 20s or 30s, by this point, there really wasn’t. If you didn’t already know better, you likely never would.
Looked at separately from the cognitive dissonance introduced by actually existing socialism, however, the image that Brecht presents of a harmonized art and society is, well, sort of appealing. With its emphasis on free association and autonomy, it is consonant with the ultraleft and anarchist perspectives we consider to be the best of historical communism. The play is a left variant of what we have described elsewhere as the essence of Modernism: “a vision of modern society fundamentally improved and transformed by its submission to a modernizing set of aesthetic values and techniques.” But for all its appeal, Brecht’s future can’t be ours. Modernism was premised upon the possibility of an alternate course of modernization, a development of the technical capacities of society with the help of singers and experts that would redound to the common good. But today, few think that the problems we face can be solved through some new round of modernizing planification. Modernization has happened, and the result has been a world that seems, now, more resistant to humanization, more opposed to the common good. Those of us who can imagine a future of freedom and the full expression of human potential do so, it seems, not as the continuous extension of present developments, but as a break with them. Though technical expertise and irrigation projects and poetry and girls on tractors will no doubt play a part in such futures, as people try to find their way out of the mess capitalism has left us, the unity of poem and plan belongs to another age.
[Written in the process of reading Mikhl Likht’s Protsesiye/Processions along with the translation from Yiddish by Ariel Resnikoff & Stephen Ross, while following the procedures set earlier in The Lorca Variations. A tribute both to Likht & to his language.]
Wandering in the wasteland
I saw the snakes smile
their dusty skins
the weak reproach
of someone’s membranes
dust kicked up
whose pale eyes
match your own
we live with
face to face
& the fire
Pan plays for them
brutes that the sun
rains down on
that the time allows
from the bottom up
that the dust
atop a mountain
are hammered down
stone after stone
ignites the air
atop a mountain
in a show
stones touching stones
& casting shadows
stones in heaps
the luck of brothers
fire in the sky
a heap of stones
& how a hammer
like a kiss
a kiss or something
a ritual of blood
driving all creatures
whom a genie
fills with love
with hate –
leaving her prey
to what they aim at her
down to the basest
or in scum
there is magic
in the place
where blades glint
hopes still live
deep in the vortex
the long stretches
air so thick within
in the season’s calm
we cut through
with a pair
a zephyr floating
something to envy
skulls that time
has left behind
on their bellies
up from the depths
from a stone
grass covers earth
in the sea
Bernstein chants 73 through 75 in "1 to 100" (1969)
Through ARLO (Adaptive Recognition with Layered Optimization), enabled by the HiPSTAS (High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship) project headquartered at the Information School of the University of Texas at Austin, I sought to visualize the later passages of Charles Bernstein's chanted/screamed list or counting poem, “1 to 100” (1969). Thanks to Chris Mustazza, Tanya Clement, David Tcheng, Tony Borries, Chris Martin, and others, I am finally learning how to use ARLO to some rudimentary effect. Every single PennSound recording is now available in a test space to which ARLO can be applied by researchers, including myself, associated with the project. We are just beginning. HiPSTAS has received two NEH grants to make all this possible, and PennSound is a founding archival partner. Through Jacket2 we hope soon to create a special ongoing commentary space where PennSound-affiliated digital humanities scholars using ARLO can first learn to visualize and then create stable critical vocabularies for describing the sound of poetry as recorded. In this critical method, textual presence and reference are not necessary — although the emergent methodologies don’t seek ideologically to exclude the text as a parallel or ancillary or even a kind of control against the reading of a visualized soundform. We aim to see the sound of a poem performed, and, where possible, to start from scratch in effecting a method of close listening akin to, but not dependent upon, nor derived except conceptually from, close reading. In order to see what happens to the poet’s voice when Bernstein talks, chants and then, in essence, screams “1 to 100,” I chose numbers 73 through 75, at a point in the poem when the voice has begun to move from worded speech to much-purer-than-usual noise — a move we can take to mark a transformational moment in Bernstein's sense of his poetic vocation. ARLO enables one to make a .wav copy of the selected passage and here it is. The enunication of “seventy” in the articulation of each of these three numbers keeps the poet in the realm of words, while the stretching of the open-vowel-dominated single digit (“threeeeee,” “fooooooour,” “fiiiiiiiive”) attached to each iteration of the decade, is what moves the poet toward his endpoint of sound-without-sense. (Below at left you see the ARLO visualization of “73” only and can see the “3” stretched to the point where it meets the start of “74.” The greatest vocal disturbance occurs at “ven-ty” in “seventy,” followed by the release of the stressed yet breathed syllable “three.” Ty-fiiiiive makes for an odd iamb, with the stress eventually linking to the next number’s first foot in such a way as to dampen its own stress. Above at right one sees the ARLO settings here, including the very low damping factor. Obviously this kind of elision is extremely exaggerated and rare when a poem's words are uttered at such deliberate intervals; this kind of hyperextended elision happens routinely in song but very rarely in poetry.) Yet there is strong sense here, since listeners know exactly what is ordinately coming. Narrative expectation, we might call it, is the quality of listening here that draws the sound back to speech. Yet despite the strong pull of numeration, it's at this point in the piece that one begins to forget or neglect intrinsic finality in favor of the chant’s anti-teleological effect. ARLO enables me to minimize the damping of the sound, so that the stretched digits can be seen and visually compared as Bernstein moves to the Zukofskyian upper limit of music in his journey as a young poet away from the lower limit of speech — away from the semanticism of the poetry against which he had begun to rebel. The poem's resistance to teleology is best apprehended through its sound; its textuality, such as it ever was, moves in the other direction.