PoemTalk 52: on Cole Swensen's "If a Garden of Numbers"

Posted 5/3/2012 (link)

Today, we release the fifty-second episode in the PoemTalk Podcast Series. Here's the opening of host Al Filreis' write-up of the new show from the PoemTalk blog on Jacket2:

Cole Swensen's book Ours is a sequence of poems — or is perhaps best described as a poetic project. Andre Le Nôtre (1613-1700) was the principal gardener of King Louis XIV; he designed and led the construction of the park of the Palace of Versailles. The poems in Swensen's book indicate a range of interests in Le Nôtre's work and beyond, but his Gardens of the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte are of special interest, and they are the topic of the poem we chose to discuss, "If a Garden of Numbers."  The poem, and our talk about it, raised a number of compelling questions. Are historical research and the lyric compatible? (Yes, we agreed. But what are the varieties of integrating the two? And how does a scholarly methodology knowingly bespeak what was once super-elite art — namely, Le Nôtre's?)  Can the hyper-rational garden be truly "ours," ever? (The master landscape designer's name is a pun on that possessive form of liberalism's favorite pronoun from the French Revolution onward. This pun is a key to understanding Swensen's poem and indeed the whole book.) If — to quote Swensen channeling Louis XIV — "it was an age that felt that nature could be corrected," does such an urge extend to the formalities of poetry? If Le Nôtre "couldn't stand views that end," what effect should that have on a poetics? The idea that the garden includes everything you can see from the garden has some kind of political valence: progressive if what's beyond the garden can and must be welcomed in, if natural emigration is really possible (by virtue of its design, notwithstanding the exclusivity of its original patron); conservative if Le Nôtre's act of inclusion colonizes nature beyond its border. If the latter, then is form as a kind of artifice inherently conservative? Le Nôtre's "jar in Tennessee" problem means that form takes dominion everywhere, even if the slovenly wilderness grows up all around it. One needn't beat it back. One need only place the form in its midst. Finally: If art is an idea as distinct from nature, and if the "real exceeds the ideal," then can a poem of ideas about nature be aligned with the real? We're back to hyper-rationality. These gardens are beautifully excessive, and so — Swensen seems to contend, but arguably — they get at humanity because indeed they produce a version of reality rather than (merely) ideality. Subjectivity is affirmed. Every slight shift in perspective matters a great deal. The garden (the poem too?) is a way of making nature account for the mind.

Ann Seaton, Michelle Taransky, and Gregory Djanikian joined Al Filreis for this discussion. We went hard at all the questions enumerated above, expressing doubts about the progressive claim implicit in the pun on "ours." We pondered the aesthetics and ethics of the garden that includes everything one can see from the garden. Annie offered a political reading, and the others responded, both agreeing and pressing back. Fortunately for us and for PoemTalk listeners, Cole Swensen was interviewed about this work by Leonard Schwartz for one of his "Cross-Cultural Poetics" shows, and so our varying interpretations can benefit from a rich context of resources and responses.

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. Thanks, as always, for listening!

New Segue Series Readings from the Bowery Poetry Club

Posted 5/8/2012 (link)

Here's a great way to start the week off — a handful of newly added recordings from the Segue Series, recorded at the Bowery Poetry Club this spring.

First up, from March 24th, we have sets from Rodney Koneke and John Godfrey. They were followed on March 31st by the dynamic pairing of Laura Elrick and Carla Harryman.

Jumping ahead to April 7th we have sets from Katie Degentesh and Brian Kim Stefans, and we've also added audio from a non-Segue event at the BPC featuring Anne Tardos and Norman Fischer, which was recorded on April 11th. Finally, from this past Saturday, May 5th, we have two fantastic readings from Tao Lin and Mathew Timmons.

You can listen to all of these recordings and many more on PennSound's Segue Series at the Bowery Poetry Club homepage, and stay tuned as we'll continue to add recordings from this spring's Segue events in the near future. As always, we're grateful to the series organizers as well as the BPC's tech staff for making it possible for us to share these wonderful recordings with our listeners.

"Gertrude Stein's War Years: Setting the Record Straight" on Jacket2

Posted 5/10/2012 (link)

Wednesday morning got off to an energetic start over at Jacket2, with the launch of a fascinating new feature by Charles Bernstein entitled "Gertrude Stein's War Years: Setting the Record Straight."

"Over the past several years," Bernstein begins, "Gertrude Stein's war time record has been subjected to a stream of misinterpretations, distortions, and disinformation in the mainstream press. Most of these articles are written by authors who are hostile to Stein's literary works and who admit to their inability (and unwillingness) to read her work, including the works by Stein that directly address the issue at hand." In an effort to address this problem, Bernstein has assembled a dossier containing "key documents ... that refute the sensational tabloid accounts of Stein's activities, views, and affiliations during the war years, when she and Alice B. Toklas lived in Bilignin, France (near Lyon and Geneva)." "Stein's connection to the Vichy government is complex," he concludes, "and these complexities are fully explored in the essays and articles linked here."

Inside, you'll find a wide array of materials that do exactly that, starting with Edward Burns' "Gertrude Stein: A Complex Itinerary, 1940-1944, originally a talk delivered at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art last month in conjunction with the exhibit, "The Steins Collect." From Burns and Ulla E. Dydo (editor of PennSound's Gertrude Stein author page), we have both a 1987 letter to The Nation, written in response to Natalie Robin's article, "The Defiling of Writers," and an appendix from their co-edited The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder that details Stein's experience in Europe between September 1942 and September 1944. Joan Retallack contributes the "Stein and History" section from her introduction to the "Poets for the Millennium" edition, Gertrude Stein: Selections, along with a new commentary. Bernstein debunks Steinian disinformation while invoking Spike Jones, Donald Duck and the Marx Brothers in "Gertrude Stein Taunts Hitler in 1934 and 1945,", and finally, Marjorie Perloff offers a pointed response to Alan Dershowitz's recent Huffington Post article on Stein.

In addition to these substantive texts, Bernstein has also gathered links to additional writings on the controversy from Douglas Messerli and Renate Stendhal, along with an authoritative list of a dozen articles, both old and new, denouncing Stein.

New "Public Access Poetry" Videos on PennSound

Posted 5/14/2012 (link)

Last fall, we were tremendously proud to be able to partner with the fine folks at the St. Mark's Poetry Project to make thirty-one episodes of the groundbreaking television program Public Access Poetry available to audiences worldwide (you can read the original PennSound Daily announcement from September 30th here). Today, we're just as proud to announce the launch of a second set of videos, which now completes the restoration project begun in 2009. To refresh your memory, here's a brief description and history of the program:

Even if you were watching the innovation called cable TV in 1977 and 1978, what are the chances that you saw a show titled Public Access Poetry? Produced by Poetry Project stalwarts Greg Masters, Gary Lenhart, David Herz, Didi Susan Dubelyew, Daniel Krakauer, Bob Rosenthal and Rochelle Kraut, PAP programs featured half-hour readings by a wide range of poets and performers who could roughly be categorized as "downtown," more often than not linked in one way or another with the Poetry Project. The cable TV series lasted two seasons (one live, the other recorded for later airing) and was produced with little-to-no broadcasting experience by the PAP personnel.

This new batch of programs includes performances from a number of PennSound authors, including Michael Lally, Eileen Myles, Charles Bernstein, Hannah Weiner, Tony Towle, Jim Brodey, Bob Holman, Alice Notley and Simon Pettet, among others, and while those poets are already represented to varying degrees within our archives, the real treat here is getting to put a face (as well as a voice) to a name for some important downtown poets of the era, who are making their first appearance through PAP: Tom Savage, Bob Rosenthal, Greg Masters, Rochelle Kraut, Bob Heman, Barbara Barg, Michael Scholnick and Gary Lenhart to name a few.

You can watch the first set of PAP videos here, and you'll find the new additions discussed above here. We'll be back on Wedneday with news of even more exciting videos added to our archives.

Cloud House Poetry Archives: New Videos of Rich, Cassady, Scalapino, Retallack

Posted 5/16/2012 (link)

On Monday, we promised to discuss more exciting video additions to the PennSound archives, and so today we're very happy to present some of the latest recordings to appear as part of our partnership with San Francisco's legendary Kush and his Cloud House Poetry Archives: a pair of 2006 recordings from Adrienne Rich and Carolyn Cassady, along with more recent sets from Leslie Scalapino and Joan Retallack.

Those still reeling from the recent death of Adrienne Rich (who would've turned 83 today) will relish this video of a brief reading by the poet at the San Francisco State University from the ceremony honoring Rich's 2004 volume, The School Among the Ruins, winner of the Poetry Center Book Award. While Rich's set draws largely from that volume, current political events prompted her to begin with two older poems, "Deportations" and "And Now."

From the same year, we also have a video of Carolyn Cassady's December 30th appearance at San Francisco's Beat Museum, during which she gives a small talk honoring Neurotica publisher Jay Landesman, reads poetry from her friends, and takes part in a brief Q&A session. Also in attendance at this event are Cassady's three children Cathleen, Jami and John Allen Cassady, along with Al Hinkle and several other friends of the family from their Beat Generation years.

Next, we jump ahead four years for another marvelous and poignant video from the Bay Area — namely Leslie Scalapino's last public reading, recorded on March 20, 2010 at San Francisco's Small Press Traffic, just two months before her passing on May 28th of that year. Scalapino's legacy is honored in our last new video — Joan Retallack's May 27, 2011 talk at Small Press Traffic, the inaugural Leslie Scalapino Memorial Lecture in Innovative Poetics.

On PennSound's Cloud House Poetry Archives homepage, you'll find all of these recordings, along with a number of other historic videos including tributes to Larry Eigner and Ed Dorn, as well as readings by Charles Bernstein, Robin Blaser and Jack Hirschman. To start viewing these wonderful documents, click on the title above.

Ray DiPalma: KWH Reading and Studio 111 Session, 2012

Posted 5/18/2012 (link)

To close out the week, we're turning the PennSound Daily reins over to the inimitable Jeff Boruszak, who tells us about one of his latest projects for the site:

Last month, Ray DiPalma visited Philadelphia over the course of two days, and we are happy to announce that 66 new recordings from his visit are now available on PennSound.

First up is DiPalma's April 2nd reading at the Kelly Writers House. After an introduction from PennSound co-founder Charles Bernstein, DiPalma gave a lengthy reading from a number of his most recent works. After opening with a poem from the "An August Daybook" section of The Ancient Use of Stone: Journals and Daybooks 1998-2008 (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2009), DiPalma read excerpts from Further Apocrypha (Pie in the Sky Press, 2009), Caper (ML & NLF, 2006), and Pensieri (Echo Park Press, 2009), before returning to more excerpts from his daybooks. The latter three titles were all issued in limited runs (as DiPalma mentions, Further Apocrypha was issued in a single edition of 40 copies), and we couldn't be more pleased to make these poems available online.

Following the reading, there was a short Question and Answer session with UPenn students and friends of the Kelly Writers House, where DiPalma discussed, among other topics, the genre of the daybook, Samuel Beckett, and his robust and unique reading style. Alongside these segmented recordings, there is a complete audio recording of the event, over an hour in length, and a video recording made possible by KWH-TV reruns.

The next day, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ray DiPalma in Studio 111 at 3808 Walnut for a recording session. There, DiPalma read excerpts from two sequences from a recent and yet-unpublished manuscript: Instrumentaria and Aurora. It is with the utmost excitement that we make these wonderful poems available.

Of course, while listening to the plethora of new material on DiPalma's author page, don't forget to browse the recordings that we already had for your perusal — including a late nineties visit to the Kelly Writers House, a number of appearances at the Segue Series, and a reading at the Anthology Film Archives dating back to 1977. As always, thanks for listening!

Cy Press Reading Series: Debrah Morkun and Catherine Wagner, 2012

Posted 5/21/2012 (link)

The latest addition to the PennSound archives comes from Cincinnati's Cy Press Reading Series, organized by Dana Ward and features one local poet (Catherine Wagner) and one who's making her way across the country on a reading tour (Philadelphia's Debrah Morkun).

Morkun kicked things off, reading from a number of sources — including her two collections, Projection Machine (2010) and The Ida Pingala (2011), the chapbook, Hera Calf Memory Tapes (2011) — to create a seamless set. We've created a new PennSound author page for Morkun, where you'll find this reading along with 2011 sets from the Whenever We Feel Like It series and Live at the Writers House.

Wagner was up next, with a twenty-five minute set drawn exclusively from her forthcoming collection (and City Lights debut) Nervous Device, and aside from a brief 2011 recording from Alan Golding's House during the Louisville Conference, this is the first preview PennSound listeners will get of this new material. Of course, there are a wide variety of readings and discussions going back as far as 2005 on Wagner's PennSound author page that await your rapt attention.

Finally, don't forget to check out PennSound's Cy Press series page, where you'll find three previous readings from Stephanie Young, Brandon Brown, Arlo Quint, John Coletti, cris cheek and Thom Donovan.

PoemTalk 53: on Joan Retallack's "Not a Cage"

Posted 5/23/2012 (link)

Today, we release the fifty-third episode in the PoemTalk Podcast Series. Here's the opening of host Al Filreis' write-up of the new show from the PoemTalk blog on Jacket2:

One day Joan Retallack decided it was time to discard some books and journals from her personal library. Among them were Martin Buber's I and Thou; a collection of short stories by David Kranes (Utah Press, 1979) called Hunters in the Snow; a 1974 volume of poems by Richard Howard; a published interview with Rita Dove; 1981 issues of The Socialist Review and Georgia Review; an issue of the Chicago Review that included an important line of Dante; books of poetry by Maxine Kumin, Ai, Burt Hatlen and Thomas McGrath; a 1988 number of Gargoyle magazine in which was published a poem by Angel Gonzalez beginning "The most obscure things have already been said"; Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch; Explanation and Understanding by Georg Henrik von Wright (Cornell, 1971); and others. This act of elimination, which on the contrary turned out to be a recycling and an archiving, produced a poem she came to call "Not a Cage," after John Cage. Here is what the poet wrote to a colleague about this work:

All the language in it is from books I was culling from the library. I made lists of sentences and phrases from beginnings and endings of books. I was culling a lot, so there were many more beginnings and endings on [my] yellow pad than ultimately went into the poem. I didn't change any words or orders of words within the units I drew from the books, but did decide the length of each. The poem was composed with a combination of chance and intuitive composition on my part. "Not a cage" was a phrase that happened to be at one of the critical sites in one of the books.

Retallack deemed the compositional process to be Cagean, surely, from the start, and yet she found "Not a cage" (in a poem by Richard Howard) using the procedure.  All the talkers this time — Danny Snelson, Jena Osman, and Jonathan Monroe — took this to be remarkable and instructive and (differently) pleasurable.

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. Thanks, as always, for listening!

Poetry Communities and the Individual Talent, 2012

Posted 5/25/2012 (link)

Here's something to keep you happily-occupied all weekend long: complete audio and video coverage of last month's Poetry Communities and the Individual Talent conference at the Kelly Writers House.

Organized by Katie. Price and Jonathan Fedors, Poetry Communities and the Individual Talent "brings together prominent and emerging scholars in the field of 20th and 21st century poetry and poetics to discuss the role that community plays in how poetry is received, circulated, and understood." The two-day conference included a wide array panels, including "Revising Historical Trajectories," "Theory and Practice of Community," "Resisting Communities," "Othering Self-Construction," "Complicating Post-War Reputations" and "Communities of Print Culture." Participants included Adeena Karasick, Al Filreis, Craig Dworkin, Charles Bernstein, Sarah Dowling and Bob Perelman, among many others. Also included on our Poetry Communities and the Individual Talent page is a link to the conference blog, where you'll find more information on the participants and proceedings.

Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman, "Memorial Day," 1971

Posted 5/28/2012 (link)

Today at PennSound we're marking the Memorial Day holiday in a distinctly poetic way, by unveiling a long lost recording of Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman's "Memorial Day" from a May 5, 1971 reading at the Saint Mark's Poetry Project.

This new addition to the PennSound archives is notable not only because "Memorial Day" is a landmark collaboration between two of the New York School's finest poets, but also due to the rarity of the recording. Berrigan and Waldman only read the poem together and in its entirety once — in fact, "Memorial Day" was composed specifically for their joint reading in the spring of 1971 — and while the event was recorded, it would seem that the tape had been missing for several decades, presumably lost forever.

To honor this occasion, I've posted a brief essay, "Recovering 'Memorial Day,'" at Jacket2, which is both a rumination on the poem itself and a retelling of its being lost and found again in the reel-to-reel tape collection of Robert Creeley. To listen to the recording directly, you can click on the title above.

Michael S. Hennessey: PIPIRL Reading, 2012

Posted 5/30/2012 (link)

I'm very happy to welcome Jeff Boruszak back to PennSound Daily, as well as quite flattered, since he's written up the latest addition to my own PennSound author page:

Hopefully you enjoyed Monday's extraordinary announcement of the recovery and release of Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman's "Memorial Day" — to follow it up I'd like to highlight the man who made this recording available: Michael S. Hennessey, Editor of PennSound and (with Julia Bloch) Jacket2, and the usual author of these dailies that you read week in and week out.

One of the newest additions to the site is a recording of Mike's from just last week, from the Post-Internet People Reading in Real Life Series in Cincinnati (where for the past few years Mike has been tirelessly recording events). The reading itself consists of a series of new poems, all written in the past year — one so new, as Mike notes, that it was finished before the car ride to the event. These poems: "Suspended," "Dearest Infernal," "My New Mode is Absence," "When They'll Find Out," "Disappear," "Reply Witheld," "Try Listening Low," "Any Day of the Week," "All Beset," "Delete But Don't Forget," and "Out of Time / Without" are a superb blend of musicality, technologies old and new, and a roving camera taking snapshots of both images and language.

On Mike's author page you'll also find a number of creative and critical recordings, including his first PoemTalk appearance earlier this year (on Tom Raworth's "Errory"), his presentation at Poetry in 1960 - A Symposium (on A New Folder edited by Daisy Aldan), readings from a number of Cincinnati events, and appearances on some of PennSound's longest running, most extensive, and most robust series: MLA Offsite, Bon Mot/ley, and Cross Cultural Poetics. I also have to highlight the earliest recording of Mike that we have — a 2008 reading at the Chapterhouse Cafe in Philadelphia. I was actually at this reading (my second in Philly) long before I knew Mike, and when I knew of PennSound only as "this really cool website I found out about in my Charles Bernstein class last semester."

I can say with the utmost confidence that PennSound would not be what it is if not for Mike's endless efforts over the past several years. We have him to thank not just for "Memorial Day," but for a majority of our site. Thank you Mike, and to our readers, thanks for listening!