Al Filreis

Herman Beavers, the tundra of yes

A review of 'Obsidian Blues'

Herman Beavers reading from 'Obsidian Blues' at the Kelly Writers House, September 2017

Obsidian Blues, to quote Herman Beavers quoting Ralph Angel, is itself “a still life and a way to get home again.” The poems in this powerful collection often present still lives of stilled lives. The speaker can see “Apples. / The way the light / betrays them” in a poem,“Obsidian Blues 43,” about a guitarist whose stringy wail (“strings judding like a systolic ghost swaggering”) sings a song of variation that reqpeatedly requires renaming. One such tentative title is “Still Life with Guitar and Heartstrike”; another is “Landscape with Skull and Banjo.” 

On September 9, 2017, at the Kelly Writers House, Herman Beavers read poems from his new book, Obsidian Blues. HERE is a link to the video recording of the event, and HERE is a link to the audio-only recording.

The Kafka revival of 1960: Guilt, absurdity, forestalled post-trauma

Chapter 2 of my current book project — titled 1960: The Politics & Art of the Avant-garde — is about the delayed (post-traumatic) response to the mass killings of World War II precisely fifteen years later. Here, in presenting one section of this long chapter, I'm not going to describe in any detail why I think it took fifteen years before such a reckoning could occur. As I did my research and reading, I did discern such a rather sudden interest, saw it in fact everywhere. In this section I turn to a certain revival of Kafka in 1960. From this one can probably get a sense of the larger argument.

The dark containers (PoemTalk #117)

Larissa Lai, 'Nascent Fashion'

Left to right: Colin Browne, Daphne Marlatt, and Fred Wah.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Larissa Lai’s poetry here “is on the move between things,” as Fred Wah puts it in this episode of PoemTalk, for which Al Filreis also gathered Daphne Marlatt and Colin Browne to discuss Lai’s long poem Nascent Fashion (published together with several other long poems in Automaton Biographies). Fred, Daphne, and Colin were on tour together as a Western Canadian trio for readings and events along the US east coast. Fortunately for PoemTalk and Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia was one of their stops.

John Ashbery in conversation with Bruce Kawin, WKCR radio, May 5, 1966

Transcription by Gregory Dunne

For years I have been listening to an interview on WKCR radio, recorded on May 5, 1966, in which John Ashbery did something he rarely did — a close reading or "explanation" of a poem. In this rare instance, it was "These Lacustrine Cities." The whole interview lasts 27 1/2 minutes, but toward the beginning Ashbery reads the poem for interviewer/host Bruce Kawin, after which the poet discusses it for 13 minutes. I am compiling this note during the weekend of John Ashbery's death. I found myself pondering this portion of the poet’s disarming talk about his poem:

“Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.” Well again, you have two conflicting things, three really: disappointment and tears, kind of combining to make something rather beautiful and pleasant to look at, like a rainbow. In other words, a final contradiction, which is one of many, which this poem is made up of, and which life and history are made up of.

For years I have been listening to an interview on WKCR radio, recorded on May 5, 1966, in which John Ashbery did something he rarely did — a close reading or “explanation” of a poem. In this rare instance, it was “These Lacustrine Cities.” The whole interview lasts 27 1/2 minutes, but toward the beginning Ashbery reads the poem for interviewer/host Bruce Kawin, after which the poet discusses it for 13 minutes, after which the poem is recited again.

I am compiling this note during the weekend of John Ashbery’s death. I found myself pondering this portion of the poet’s disarming talk about his poem:

“Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.” Well again, you have two conflicting things, three really: disappointment and tears, kind of combining to make something rather beautiful and pleasant to look at, like a rainbow. In other words, a final contradiction, which is one of many, which this poem is made up of, and which life and history are made up of.

Discussion of Elizabeth Willis's "Survey"

Elizabeth Willis at the Kelly Writers House

Today we are making available — through the ModPo site — a discussion, hosted by me, with Emily Harnette, Anna Strong Safford, and Amaris Cuchanski, of Elizabeth Willis's "Survey." It's one of the new poems in Willis's recent New & Selected Poemstitled Alive. This link

https://www.coursera.org/learn/modpo/resources/rdFga

— will take you inside the ModPo site, which is free and open (but one must enroll for access).

Here is a link to the text of the poem. And here is a link to the PennSound recording of Willis performing the poem (at Kelly Writers House).