Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson

Attention Span 2010 – Anselm Berrigan

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Thomas Bernhard, trans. Sophie Wilkins | Correction | Vintage | 1975

Thomas Bernhard, trans. Ewald Osers | Old Masters | Chicago | 1985

Hoa Nguyen | Hecate Lochia | Hot Whiskey | 2009

Allison Cobb | Green-Wood | Heretical Texts | 2010

Murat Nemet-Nejat | The Structure of Escape | Talisman | forthcoming

David Markson | Reader’s Block | Dalkey Archive | 1996

Ralph Waldo Emerson | “Experience” | various | 1844

Robert Bresson, trans. Jonathan Griffin | Notes on the Cinematographer | Green Integer | 1975

Eleni Stecopoulos | Armies of Compassion | Palm | 2010

Lorine Niedecker | “Wintergreen Ridge,” in Collected Works, ed. Jenny Penberthy | California | 2002

Fred Moten | B Jenkins | Duke | 2010

Pattie McCarthy | Table Alphabetical of Hard Words | Apogee | 2010

Jean Fremon | The Paradoxes of Robert Ryman | Burning Square/Brooklyn Rail | 2008

Jess Mynes | Sky Brightly Picked | Skysill | 2009

Alice Notley | Reason & Other Women | Chax | 2010

Karen Weiser | To Light Out | Ugly Duckling | 2010

Stanislaw Lem | Fiasco | Harvest/HBJ | 1987

Ann Lauterbach | “Or To Begin Again” | Penguin | 2009

Robert Fitterman | “This Window Makes Me Feel,” in Rob the Plagiarist | Roof | 2009

More Anselm Berrigan here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2007, 2004. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Benjamin Friedlander

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Lawrence Rosenwald | Selected Journals 1820-1842 and 1841-1877 | Library of America | 2010

Memory is the ultimate power, it “holds together past and present, beholding both, existing in both, abides in the flowing, and gives continuity and dignity to human life.” The slackening of that power tells the story—or rather, withholds the story—of Emerson’s final years, in which he suffered from dementia, and which he passed, in part, by rereading these journals.

Herman Melville, ed. Robert C. Ryan, Harrison Hayford, Alma MacDougall Reising, G. Thomas Tanselle; historical note by Hershel Parker | Published Poems: Battle-Pieces, John Marr, Timoleon | Northwestern UP | 2009

Though you wouldn’t think so from their prose, Emerson is the more sensational poet; Melville, the more metaphysical. Even in Battle-Pieces, he attempts to worry the essence of a truth. Which isn’t quite right: his poetry is too adept, too carefully worked, to be a mere attempt; it’s we who do the worrying. Assured as a sailor’s knot. And just as unlovely—unless you love knots.

K. Silem Mohammad | Sonnagrams | Slack Buddha | 2009

From one point of view—mine increasingly—craft is the ability to shape a meaningful context for interesting words. And it’s in this sense that Mohammad lives up to his model. The Bard he takes apart letter by letter, leaving everything changed except the form, had a mammoth vocabulary, and little fear (at least on stage) of the vulgar. But Mohammad has less fear. And more laughs.

Aífe Murray | Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language | U of New Hampshire P | 2009

For a hundred years biographers have overturned stones looking for Emily’s lovers while the ones who knew all the secrets stood invisibly in the shadows. This lovingly researched book helps to part those shadows. A story worthy of James: the hiring of Margaret Maher, fought over by two rich families. Worthy of Tillie Olsen: the poet’s funeral, her white casket hefted by Irish servants. Out the back door and across the fields, a final concession to visibility.

The Charles Olson Research Collection | Thomas J. Dodd Research Center | University of Connecticut Libraries | Storrs

Free with visitors and unimaginably wealthy in unpublished material, the Olson Archive, like the Rembrandt Museum, or Stonehenge I suppose, is well worth a trip across the world. Even with a finding aid, there are plenty of surprises—the papers are organized in service to their editing, which is to say their own logic is subordinated to hierarchies of genre. Which are often arbitrary, even whimsical: notebooks are scattered all through the collection, sometimes marked as notebooks, sometimes as prose, sometimes as poetry. I even found a heavily annotated copy of a John Wieners book marked as poetry, because of a few lines of verse on the inside cover. All of which makes reading into a kind of archaeology. Do you like digging? You will dig it.

Tom Raworth | Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems | Carcanet | 2010

I wish I could be satisfied with a poem, but what I really seek to know is the mind that made it. And minds I like as little as poems when there’s no body to hold them, no world for the body, no history for the world. Some poets give you their world, or give you their response to it, and some call you into the world, or from it, with a voice that has as much meaning or matter as any discourse. Raworth is the former, but in a manner so unique as to seem the latter. Almost a sonar, sending you back minute-by-minute information, his narration is almost never enough, but has to be heard, a ping-ping-pinging … a sounding that gives you an object and its motion, with little time to react.

Tom Raworth | Earn Your Milk: Collected Prose | Salt | 2009

Turning to Raworth’s prose from his poetry is a little like clicking on the plus sign on Google maps, watching the world grow larger within a shrinking horizon, ever more knowable. At one point, there are even street names. Hell, there are even directions available. It’s the same world, but close up. I’d call it comfy, but that’s going way too far.

T. D. Rice, ed. W. T. Lhamon Jr. | Jim Crow, American: Selected Songs and Plays | Harvard UP | 2009

Blackface minstrelsy has always been disreputable, but before it became synonymous with racial domination it formed the cutting edge of popular culture—and Rice, if anyone, held the blade. Hard to believe this is the first collection of writings to bear his name on the cover.

Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | U of California P | 2010

Robertson’s poetry is tactile; and dense, but pliable. Reading it is a little like pressing one’s way through a spongy medium, like a fly in marmalade. Alive in a substance that nourishes, or suffocates; that has to be escaped. Except that this is language, not jam, so Robertson abets our escape, guiding our senses beyond the medium, toward a world of imagination, possibility, desire.

Gianni Vattimo with Piergiorgio Paterlini, , trans. William McCuaig | Not Being God: A Collaborative Autobiography | Columbia UP | 2009

The story of a professor’s life, which is to say: a life of the mind lived as something other than the spirit of history. “Although a decent knowledge of languages has helped me along in life, I confess that vis-à-vis Gadamer I felt like a worm. As far as I could tell, the only one who understood less than me was a beautiful prince from some African tribe, whom I tried to seduce. Unsuccessfully, because of the language barrier.” A bit of a feint, since Vattimo understood well enough—he was the first to translate Truth and Method. Thus: “Gadamer in the end is a watered down Hegelian, like me.” Which is only deprecatory if you want to be God—modesty is Vattimo’s own truth and method. Making him a good seducer; and this, a thoroughly likeable book.

Albery Allson Whitman, ed. Ivy G. Wilson | At the Dusk of Dawn: Selected Poetry and Prose | Northeastern UP | 2009

The most ambitious African American poet of the nineteenth century, formally speaking, and the most prolific up until Dunbar (with whom he shared a stage at the Chicago World’s Fair), A. A. Whitman is hardly known, even to experts. Born a slave in Kentucky, he became a pastor in the A.M.E. church, publishing six volumes of verse between 1871 and 1901, the first of which is no longer extant. But despite his church affiliation, there is little religion in his poetry. For the most part, he’s a cultural nationalist, a little like Tolson, who shares Whitman’s narrative scale and sense of form. Not to give any false impression of Modernism: this is a poetry indebted to Bryant’s neoclassical side. It’s a shame that all four long poems appear in extract—that this could not be a Collected (especially since the book is already too expensive for casual purchase)—but what a gift to have any edition at all, especially one so scrupulously researched. Opening this book makes the nineteenth century a little larger.

More Benjamin Friedlander here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2009 – Benjamin Friedlander

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Ludovico Ariosto, trans. Barbara Reynolds | Orlando Furioso, Parts One and Two | Penguin | 1975 and 1977

Lit up by rare flashes of gunfire, a hundred characters fly every which way in the twilight of the middle ages, in stories as ragged as the back of a tapestry. It’s ridiculous fun—The Faerie Queene as told by Rabelais—made perfect for bedtime by the rhymed translation, which aims to be as rubbery as Don Juan. Making me wish Byron had been born in the Renaissance.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Harold Bloom and Paul Kane | Collected Poems and Translations | Library of America | 1994

What finally won me over is the pulse of composition: an engendering rhythm urged forward by rhyme, lifting the flower out of its seed, delivering into consciousness what gets delivered into script. No other poet of the nineteenth century gives me the same sense of scribble as bioproduct. To be sure, the poems I like best are much more than that, but it’s the bioproduction that defines the overall experience, a fitting expression of Emerson’s commitment to nature.

Flarf and Conceptual Poetry | various websites and presses | 2008-2009

Perhaps the one indisputable achievement of conceptual poetry is its radicalizing of the old truism that being is inferior to becoming, that one should prize thoughts less highly than thinking. In works like Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget (a list of every body movement made over thirteen hours), it’s the completeness with which the initial inspiration is carried out that matters, not the result. The heft of the book matters more than anything said in it. Even a project as magnificently crafted as Christian Bok’s Eunoia (a set of lipograms, each highlighting a different vowel) is of little interest in what it says; what we admire, finally, is the fact that anything gets said at all. The being of such projects is not simply inferior to becoming; it makes us yearn for a dissipation of being, for a conceptual project that would free us from the burdens of consumption altogether; a project that could marshal all the obsessiveness of Fidget, all the ingenuity of Eunoia, but in pursuit of nothing tangible…of nothing at all. Wait. I think I just discovered the death drive.

Flarf is the opposite. It cares not a whit for becoming, though it responds to change, and reproduces. Like an amoeba, growing and splitting, splitting and growing. Except that flarf is hardly single-celled. It’s a whole culture, decaying matter newly charged with life, responding to stimulus. In flarf, any stray word or phrase can become an organ of feeling, obeying the pleasure principle, luxuriating in its being. Which is why consciousness ripples through it so confusingly: with consciousness comes intention, reflection, concern for becoming. Ripples, however, are unavoidable: consciousness, or its influence, is irrepressible, except through the rigorous application of a method. Which is really a conceptual thing.

Rob Halpern | Disaster Suites | Palm | 2009

In which the lyric I is a materialist project and language the flood setting the wreckage adrift. Flood, however, is not the disaster, only its means of becoming manifest. Transcendance? A survey of the wreckage from above.

Rachel Loden | Dick of the Dead | Asahta | 2009

Pleasure and disgust are modes of understanding. Humor, a pedagogy that relies on them. Which is why Rachel Loden’s history is so effective. Its lesson? A reawakening of sensation. Call it proprioception, but of the mind.

Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge | 2009

Flickers of happiness like red lights from tapped brakes, driving into northern Virginia, immersed in music and the passing view. It all made so much sense when I learned that Mel Nichols used to live on the same road toward which I careened nearly every day. A historic city split open by highways, bandaged with strip malls, unexpectedly hospitable to foreign substances. “I kiss you city // and melt into your dangerous tongue.” Or drip into you, as through a feeding tube. However evoked, a very particular experience of place. Which these poems reproduce, in calming flashes.

Kit Robinson | The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems 1976-2003 | Adventures in Poetry | 2008

If craft, poetics, and experience form a triangle, the area they enclose is ruled by artifice. And no poet has succumbed to that rule as winningly or knowingly as Robinson, who appreciates with cheerful horror the larger mandate: to remake the world in our own image.

Susan Schultz | Dementia Blog | Singing Horse | 2008

Family and caretakers, bent by love or duty toward the ultimate abjection: cognition after twilight. According to Susan Schultz, all of us are likewise bent relative to authority, making this six-month report essential reading.

Jonathan Skinner | With Naked Foot | Little Scratch Pad | 2009

It’s waaaay better than slow poetry. It’s Skinner! (With apologies to Wendy’s.)

Peter Weiss | Auschwitz auf der Bühne: “Die Ermittlung” in Ost und West [Auschwitz on Stage: “The Investigation” East and West] | Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung | 2008 | DVD and DVD-ROM

Like Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust, The Investigation is based on trial transcripts. In this case, the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials of 1963-65, which Weiss briefly attended, breaking away from the rehearsals of Marat/Sade to hear the testimony of the victims and perpetrators. Subtitled “an oratorio in eleven cantos,” the resulting text is an exhumation of the past, not a reconstruction of the trial; it moves didactically from ramp to camp to gas chamber and ovens. Overshadowed now by other exhumations, most notably the film Shoah, Weiss’s play deserves to be remembered. On October 19, 1965, it was performed simultaneously in fifteen German cities, including both parts of Berlin, no small feat in the Cold War. Coming twenty years after Hitler’s defeat, and twenty years before the West German president pronounced that defeat a liberation, the performances marked a turning point in Germany’s coming to terms with its National Socialist past. Really, one of the great moments in political art ever, documented on these DVDs.

Philip Whalen, ed. Michael Rothenberg | The Collected Poems | Wesleyan | 2007

The skills needed to read a poem are specialized enough that acquiring them was at one time what people meant by acquiring an education. In the twentieth century, the old skills became curiously inapt; what was needed instead was a reeducation. The modernists approached this problem with a ruler-to-knuckles kind of fanaticism. With Philip Whalen, we arrive at the public schools of my childhood: the ruler is used to make straight lines, and there are penmanship classes, and sleepy moments in the afternoon when we study ancient dynasties. And recess, and lunch, and doodles, and the joy of the bell, and dispersal home.

More Benjamin Friedlander here.