Charles Bernstein's "Against National Poetry Month As Such"

Posted 4/1/2011 (link)

Rather than cook up another halfhearted April Fools' Day prank, I thought this first day of National Poetry Month would be better served by drawing our listeners' attention to Charles Bernstein's now-classic essay, "Against National Poetry Month As Such".

Fifteen years ago today, at the start of the first National Poetry Month, then-President Bill Clinton proclaimed that the occasion "offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today's American poetry." While these are noble sentiments, surely reflecting someone's idea of what a National Poetry Month could be, I don't know that many of us see a true "diversity of voices" (whether in regards to gender, ethnicity, politics, aesthetics, etc.) in the organized observance of the month, or in the field of contemporary poetry and poetics as a whole, even though the strides taken by many to inch closer to that all-inclusive ideal are heartening.

This is why "Against National Poetry Month As Such" is an illuminating text for me. While it's somewhat depressing to think that Charles' criticisms (written while I was but a wayward undergrad enchanted by Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Lew Welch and Gregory Corso) are still as pointedly correct now as they were then — perhaps even more so (cf. the recent poetry-themed issue of O, the Oprah Magazine) — they also clearly articulate the goals that, while not yet attained, we still might aim towards:

The reinvention, the making of a poetry for our time, is the only thing that makes poetry matter. And that means, literally, making poetry matter, that is making poetry that intensifies the matter or materiality of poetry — acoustic, visual, syntactic, semantic. Poetry is very much alive when it finds ways of doing things in a media-saturated environment that only poetry can do, but very much dead when it just retreads the same old same old.

I keep a printout of the essay taped up outside my office on campus (as a sort of talisman against poetic bad spirits), and I've enjoyed teaching it in a number of different contexts in different classes. The students usually catch on pretty quickly — save in one class, where the prevailing interpretation was that Bernstein was just jealous of other poets who were richer and more popular — and begin to understand that aesthetic choices can be self-defining in ways not unlike one's political orientation (or the preference for Bud Light over a craft-brewed hefeweizen).

To read Charles' essay — which was first published on the University of Chicago Press' website in April 1999 — click on the title above. You can hear an abridged version from NPR's All Things Considered (first airing April 19, 2001) here: MP3 (it's also available on PennSound's Bernstein / Radio page).

In Memoriam: Paul Violi (1944-2011)

Posted 4/3/2011 (link)

We're very sorry to pass along the news — as reported by The Best American Poetry's blog — that poet Paul Violi has passed away after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. In his note there, David Lehman lauded Violi as "a prince of a friend, a generous teacher, an inspiring poet," and observes that he "was perhaps the most consistently inventive poet of a singularly talented generation upon whom the legacy of Ashbery, Koch, and O'Hara rested not as a burden but an as impetus toward poetic originality and freshness of vision and language."

I've just created a new PennSound author page for Violi, housing our sole recording from the poet — an April 28, 1979 Segue Series reading at the Ear Inn, which I've also quickly segmented. We first added this (along with a number of other late 1970s Segue sets) in late October 2008, and the the thirty-four minute recording includes nine poems: Violi begins with "First Poem in a Long Time," and continues with "Dry Spells," "The Rape of Art," "Lux," "Short Circuit," "Moving Sequel," "Boredom," "A List for Charles North" and "The Tramontane Sonana."

All of us at PennSound send our sympathies to Violi's family, friends and readers at this time, and encourage our listeners to reconnect with his work through the aforementioned recording, Violi's page at the Electronic Poetry Center (where you can read a sampling of poems, along with interviews and critical writings by the poet), Violi's personal website, or, of course, your favorite collection of his work.

Kit Robinson on Incognito Lounge, 1990

Posted 4/6/2011 (link)

Poet Kit Robinson will be reading at the Kelly Writers House next Thursday, and to get our listeners primed for what will no doubt be a wonderful event, today we're highlighting a newly-added vintage Robinson reading that comes to us courtesy of Aldon Nielsen's Incognito Lounge (which aired on San José's KSJS from 1989 to 1995). Recorded October 19, 1990 at the Canessa Park Gallery in San Francisco, this thirty-five minute recording consists of "four poems that bear a kind of formal resemblance to one another in that they're all sorta medium-sized, but composed of smaller units." Robinson explains that "the first one ["The Dolch Stanzas"] was written some years ago, and the second two ["Dayparts" and "Pagination in Italy"] were written about six months ago, and the last one ["Counter Meditation," then called "Counter Meditations"] is in-progress."

On Kit Robinson's PennSound author page you can listen to a wide array of recordings from 1978 to the present, including five Segue Series readings (from 1978, 1982, 1983, 1993 and 2008), a 1979 appearance on In the American Tree, and sets from SUNY-Buffalo, The Kelly Writers House, Xavier University, Tucson's The Drawing Studio and Providence's Down City Poetry Series. There's also a PoemTalk podcast from last spring on Robinson's "Return on Word."

Jacket2 Launches

Posted 4/8/2011 (link)

A little over a year ago, John Tranter and Al Filreis first announced that Jacket would be moving to the University of Pennsylvania after its 40th and final issue at the end of 2010, to continue its mission as Jacket2. This morning we're incredibly proud to tell the whole world that Jacket2 has officially launched.

PennSound codirectors Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein will be permanent commentators on Jacket2, joining an all-star roster of guest commentators that includes Jen Hofer, Craig Santos Perez and Stephanie Young. Eric Baus will also be part of this inaugural group, and his work will be particularly exciting, from a PennSound perspective, as it will be directly focused on materials from our archives.

To get a sense of the direction that Jacket2 will take, you'll want to read Filreis' preface post, "J2 launches,", along with our "About Us" page, where you can not only see the full list of talented people involved with the project, but also our editorial policies. I've also posted a small note discussing some of the ideas and experiences guiding my work on the site. Most important of all, however, is the content itself, and to start things off, we've put together an amazing array of materials, including not only the sorts of articles, interviews and reviews that readers have come to expect from Jacket, but also a pair of international features and two ambitious archival projects. You can start exploring Jacket2's inaugural offerings by clicking on the title above.

New from Heatstrings: Jacques and Heller, 2011

Posted 4/11/2011 (link)

While we're all still very excited about Jacket2, and will be featuring some J2-centric content later in the week, we want our listeners to know that PennSound won't be suffering from a lack of attention — in fact we have some very exciting content lined up to be released in the near future. And today's highlighted recordings — a last hurrah, for the time being, for Aldon Nielsen's Heatstrings collection — are also quite exciting.

First up, we have a March 21, 2011 set from Geoffrey Jacques (shown at right above), from Penn State University. This fifty-one minute set "Professor Geoffrey Jacques is one of those creatures that supposedly doesn't exist anymore: the poet-critic," Nielsen states in his introduction, enumerating the various ways in which he'd interacted with PSU students during his visit before telling the story of how he first met Jacques (through Harryette Mullen, in Los Angeles). Jacques' set starts with a selection of poems from his collection Just for a Thrill (Wayne State University, 2005): "Bursting Out All Over," "Sepia-Toned Footage," "The Present Crisis," "Well You Needn't," "Giant," "Just for a Thrill," "Don't Blame Me," "Humoresque," "Evaluation," "Nostalgia" and "Mesopotamia." From there, he continues with a few excerpts from a new manuscript, The Orchestra of Wind Chimes, including "Some Parts of It," "Of," "Viewer's Life," "Nelson Rockefeller Sees Lenin," "Chance It," "July Nights," "That in the Air Doth Loom," "Proposition," "A Letter," "The Cilantro Generals," "Crossing Delaware Water Gap," "Extraganzas," "What Comes Between Them," "Rhetorical Questions," "Ode," "I Heard All the Music as if They Were Drums," before concluding with "Summer."

We also have a a February 24, 2011 set by Michael Heller (shown at left above), recorded at the University of Louisville — the opening reading of this year's Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. Heller begins this forty-eight minute set starts with his recent volume of selected poems, Exigent Futures (Salt Publishing, 2003), reading "In the Builded Place," Asthma," "The American Jewish Clock" and "For Uncle Matt." He continues with more recent poems — "Lecture With Celan," "Constellations of Waking" — along with selections from Eschaton (Talisman House, 2009), including "On a Phrase of Milosz," "My City," "Inflammation of the Labyrinth," "Stanzas Without Ozymandias," "Eschaton," "Into the Heart of the Real" and "Mother Asleep." His set concludes with excerpts from a collaborative work (with music by Ellen Fishman-Johnson), "This Art Burning."

Notes on PennSound: Sonic Thresholds

Posted 4/13/2011 (link)

As I mentioned in last week's announcement, Eric Baus will be a writing guest commentaries for Jacket2 under the title, "Notes on PennSound," the mission of which he succinctly describes as "creating playlists, segmenting and presenting individual pieces drawn from longer recordings, and pointing to resources that might otherwise be overlooked in such a large collection."

Today, we'll take a look at his recently-posted entry, "Sonic Thresholds," which "explore[s] the continuum between language, music, and other types of sound." He begins with a discussion of Nathaniel Mackey's Song of the Andoumboulou:

In Mackey's introduction to a 1997 KWH reading he discusses the poem's relationship to the Dogon funeral song of the same name, recorded by Francois Di Dio in 1974. Listen to Mackey's poem Song of the Andoumboulou: 18. I am always struck by this moment when, near the end of the Dogon recording, as the pitch from the horn wavers up and down, I hear an ambiguity between what could be perceived as a human shout and the sound of a musical instrument. It's this type of threshold point that has been in the back of my mind when I listen to poetry recordings lately.

To read his entire post, which also includes tracks by Christine Hume, John Taggart, Catherine Wagner, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Cecilia Vicuña, Alice Notley, Kate Greenstreet and Tom Raworth, click the title above or follow this link.

Additionally, congratulations are due to Eric, who's just been announced as the 2011 winner of the Center for Literary Publishing's Colorado Prize for Poetry. We'll look forward to seeing his collection, Scared Text in November.

John Richetti Reads Milton's "Paradise Lost"

Posted 4/14/2011 (link)

This past January, we unveiled a new Studio 111 session of John Richetti reading more than half of Shakespeare's collected sonnets, the latest of many sessions with the recently-retired UPenn professor. Last week, the tireless scholar returned to our studios for an even more ambitious project which we're proud to announce today: a series of extended excerpts from Milton's Paradise Lost. These five lengthy recordings, covering all or parts of Books 1, 2, 4, 9 and 12, run for more than three-and-a-half hours.

After a brief introduction that provides the history of Paradise Lost — which, Richetti observes, "is by common consent the greatest long poem in English" — and a succinct summary of its plot, he begins with a forty-five minute reading of all of Book 1, followed by Book 2, also in its entirety, which runs for just over an hour. Next comes a half-hour selection from Book 4 (it's first 534 lines) and all of Book 9 (also running for a little over an hour), before Richetti concludes with a brief section of Book 12, the poem's final lines.

In addition to Paradise Lost and the aforementioned Shakespeare readings, John Richetti's recordings for our site include The PennSound Anthology of Restoration and 18th-Century Verse (released in November 2009) and various recordings of works from Pope, Swift and Dryden, dating from 2007 and 2009, which are housed on his main PennSound author page. These recordings can also be found on our newly-reorganized PennSound Classics homepage, along with a fascinating array of vintage works reinterpreted by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Basil Bunting, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Caroline Bergvall, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and more.

Marjorie Perloff: Newly Segmented Incognito Lounge Interview, 1991

Posted 4/18/2011 (link)

We're all very excited that Marjorie Perloff will be joining us next week as the last of this year's Kelly Writers House Fellows, and we're sure that you are as well. To further whet your appetite, we've recently segmented Perloff's 1991 interview with Aldon Nielsen as part of his radio program The Incognito Lounge, which you can now hear on her PennSound author page.

This hour-long program was one of my favorite additions from last year, and much like Perloff's 2009 Close Listening interview with Charles Bernstein, it's a remarkably spontaneous and intimate recording, granting listeners the opportunity to eavesdrop on two brilliant and engaged conversationalists as they hold court on a variety of subjects, from Frank O'Hara to John Cage, Gertrude Stein and Wittgenstein to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. Moreover, as I noted in the original announcement of this recording, it's surprising to be reminded of a time when O'Hara, Blaise Cendrars and Guiseppe Ungaretti were all widely unknown and woefully out-of-print authors.

Perloff's visit to UPenn will take place over two days: at 6:30 PM on Monday, April 25th, she'll give a reading, and the following morning at 10:00 AM, she'll take part in a Q&A session hosted by Al Filreis. Seating is strictly limited for these events, so you'll need to RSVP (either by writing to or calling 215-573-9749) to ensure a space. If you're unable to attend you can still tune in live via KWH-TV (and can even take part in the Q&A by calling in or e-mailing your question), and of course we'll post complete audio and video recordings on PennSound not long after the events take place.

PoemTalk 42: Nathaniel Tarn's "Unravelling / Shock"

Posted 4/21/2011 (link)

Today we're very excited to announce the forty-second episode in the PoemTalk Podcast Series, which also happens to be the first to be posted at the series' new home on Jacket2. For this program — a discussion of Nathaniael Tarn's "Unravelling / Shock" from the sequence, Dying Trees — host Al Filreis is joined by Marcella Durand, Burt Kimmelman and Erin Gautsche.

The panelists begin by parsing through the poem's various disasters, which are ecological (a plague of beetles, a drought), personal (including "a personal brush with cancer and death") and political (war in Iraq and elsewhere), adding up to a multifarious analogy with resonances for both the individual and the collective, a jeremiad with apocalyptic overtones. Durand sees the role of nature here as amoral (or perhaps ambi-moral, capable of both good and evil) and in particular, the essential and ironic role of water in the poem is key here.

Next, Filreis focuses on the notion of geographical rootlessness (as related to Tarn's role as an anthropologist) and the ways in which this is joined to the prophetic nature of his poetics here, especially in the voices of the ghosts that conclude the poem. They then shift from an ecopoetic focus to ethnopoetics, prompted by Gautsche, who sees Tarn seeking out a folklore in the desert landscape, its creation and destruction myths. In this poem, she believes, "the creator is the destroyer, is the life-giver," and this might be why he doesn't see nature moving in cycles here. Kimmelman agrees, noting that "the deterioration of our environment is inescapable, it's nightmarish" and this is "almost the only response for a real ethnopoet."

Durand is asked to explain the connection between ethnopoetics and ecopoetics: "it's some of the same questions ... how much is your presence affecting what you're observing. As an anthropologist, who are you to be studying ethnic groups and what are you taking away? ... It's the same question with ecopoetics, where do you fit into this system that you're destroying, that you're a part of." Analyzing the poem through these joint perspectives, she sees the speaker altering his environment along with non-Western philosophies shaping the narrative.

Asked to share their final thoughts, Kimmelman focuses on "the good and the bad" of Tarn's work and this sequence in particular, noting "I feel a little cranky about it, it's like sometimes ... as if he didn't bother to work his language well enough, as if he's just kinda griping and putting it down on paper," though he still has enormous respect for the poet. Durand agrees, lamenting that the poem "never quite had its say," while Gautsche is left thinking "about the connection between the body and the environment and the world and cycles and how they intertwine ... a connection that implies, he almost begs of us, a certain feeling of responsibility."

PoemTalk is a co-production of PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, Jacket2 and the Poetry Foundation. If you're interested in more information on the series or want to hear our archives of previous episodes, please visit the PoemTalk blog, and don't forget that you can subscribe to the series through the iTunes music store. Stay tuned for future programs in the series that will address poems by Joan Retallack, John Wieners Fred Wah and Eileen Myles. Thanks, as always, for listening!

PennSound Thanks Mark P. Lindsay

Posted 4/22/2011 (link)

It's a very sad day around the PennSound offices because we have to say goodbye to our Technical Director, Mark P. Lindsay. Mark has served in this role, as well as in a larger capacity as IT & Multimedia Manager for UPenn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, for the past four years and it's difficult to calculate exactly how much of an impact he's made upon these entities in that time.

To start, compare what PennSound's homepage looked like not long after Mark started to the site you're looking at today. Mark has overseen major aesthetic and organizational changes to PennSound's website (including the recent implementation of our new mediaserver, bringing with it increased video capabilities), as well as sites for CPCW and the Kelly Writers House, and was an important member of the team that helped get the Jacket2 site up and running (in fact, he's been troubleshooting and making small improvements right up to his last day). He's also been a major help with the PoemTalk Podcast series, has engineered countless recording sessions, handled live webcasts for the Kelly Writers House Fellows program, trained and overseen a small army of student workers, and done countless other thankless tasks that have kept CPCW and all of the programs that fall under its umbrella running day in and day out. I'm most appreciative, however, for the particularly bad week in September 2008 when I accidentally deleted the entire PennSound site . . . twice. You wouldn't know this happened, however, because Mark had us back up and running in no time, and he didn't even give me that much grief about it.

All of us at PennSound are truly grateful for everything that Mark's done for us and wish him the very best as he heads off to New York City for a wonderful new opportunity. He will be missed.

Reminder: Marjorie Perloff at UPenn, Monday and Tuesday

Posted 4/24/2011 (link)

We'd like to remind you that Marjorie Perloff will be joining us today and tomorrow as the last of this year's Kelly Writers House Fellows.

At 6:30 PM on Monday, April 25th, Perloff will give a talk, and the following morning at 10:00 AM, she'll take part in a Q&A session hosted by Al Filreis. Seating is strictly limited for these events, so you'll need to RSVP (either by writing to or calling 215-573-9749) to ensure a space. If you're unable to attend you can still tune in live via KWH-TV (and can even take part in the Q&A by calling in or e-mailing your question). Of course we'll post complete audio and video recordings on PennSound not long after the events take place.

Notes on PennSound: Hearing Spaces

Posted 4/27/2011 (link)

I wanted to draw our listeners' attention to Eric Baus' latest "Notes on PennSound" commentary for Jacket2, "Hearing Spaces: Ambience and Audience". Here's Eric's opening statement:

I'm always interested in the physical, digital, and in-between spaces audio recordings document and inhabit. This playlist samples some combinations of various recording environments, paying a bit of attention to often overlooked aspects such as tape hiss and telephone distortion, as well as considering sonic contexts like the classroom and direct-to-digital readings. When I listen to recordings, I'm always calculating my distance from them, from the physicality of the reader's voice, from the artifacts of recording technology, from the various, multiple sets of imagined audiences and first-run hearers of the poem. In this playlist I'm thinking about space and spatiality in terms of the materiality of the sound recording and as a thematic concern in several of the tracks. This list explores both how one moves through and articulates space and how spatiality is experienced as a listener. Although paying attention to micro-level details risks focusing on the potentially trivial, I think it is worthwhile to consider the sedimentary layers of audience and interference infused within the object of the audio file.

Specific PennSound recordings by Joseph Ceravolo and Lisa Robertson are discussed, along with a class discussion by Bernadette Mayer (from the Naropa archives) and a recording of Farid Matuk ("An American in Dallas") made especially for Jacket2. You can read the full piece, and Eric's previous` "Notes on PennSound" commentaries on Jacket2.