Stephen Metcalf, Anna Strong Safford, and Ahmad Almallah joined Al Filreis to talk about one of the most well known poems in English of the twentieth century — Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” What hasn't already been said about this poem? Well, to our ears at least, this conversation goes in several unusual and, we think, fascinating new directions. What exactly is the nature of the poem’s (or anyway the speaker’s) cultural conservatism? Can the wall really be read geopolitically? Is it more about what is being walled out than walled in? Do the stalwart iambs themselves form a wall that is hard for readers to get across? Are the gaps in the wall wide enough for new readers to get through?
Stephanie Burt, Bonnie Costello, Anna Strong Safford, and Al Filreis met up at the Woodberry Poetry Room in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to record a special episode of PoemTalk about Tonya Foster’s A Swarm of Bees in High Court. A section of that book, published in 2015 by Belladonna*, is a sequence of haiku pairs. The group focused on five pairs — those on pages 38, 39, 42, 46, and 50. The haikus on page 50 form the final entries in a long part of the book titled “In / Somniloquies.” Tonya Foster made a special recording of these poems just for use in this PoemTalk episode; they will also be added to her PennSound page.
Al Filreis convened Selena Dyer, Jonathan Dick, and Jerome Rothenberg to talk about three poems in Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras. The three poems can be found here. One of them is number 49 in the series, and there is a complicated history of performances. At Birkbeck College in London, McClure, performing some tantras, offered a brief commentary on 49 and then played a famous earlier recording in which he performed the poem (in 1964 and again in 1966) at the San Francisco Zoo in the lions’ house. Each time the lions roared in response.
Kate Colby, Davy Knittle, and Charles Bernstein convened with Al Filreis, PoemTalk’s producer and host, to talk about Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal and to focus in particular on two pages (or prose poems, or journal entries). The two entries are those composed on April 1 and April 4. The version of the two poems available online at Eclipse (based on the 1978 Angel Hair edition) has also been reproduced here for the convenience of Jacket2 readers. A new edition of Clairvoyant Journal published in 2014, discussed toward the end of the podcast, is described here by Patrick Durgin.
Tracie Morris, Danny Snelson, and Marjorie Perloff joined Al Filreis to talk about one of Charles Bernstein’s early poems, “As If the Trees by Their Very Roots Had Hold of Us.” It originally appeared in Senses of Responsibility (1979) and in 2010 was chosen by Bernstein to be included in All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems. We know the writing of the poem dates at least to 1977, which is when he performed it at a reading at the Place Center in New York (on December 18); he read that day with Kathy Acker.