[-empyre-] Starting the Fourth Week: Chris Funkhauser, Sally Silvers and Bruce Andrews

Macon Reed swapmeetproject at gmail.com
Tue Nov 29 12:42:38 AEDT 2016

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On Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 7:04 PM, Bruce Andrews <andrews at fordham.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Craig, thanks for this.
> Really feeing that life on the web is recreating some of the 'distance'
> features of the scattered poets' life in the 70s: where you didn't have to
> choose between a local scene (with its shared & often narrow aesthetic
> assumptions, groupthink, life style-centeredness — often fondly recalled by
> insiders as 'community' & 'warmth') & isolation; now, if you already have a
> sense of who & what you're interested in, you can find a network out there
> to tap into — whether mail or, now, email & listserves & blog comments,
> etc. I remember being invited down to New Orleans to read by Camille
> Martin, who was corresponding with a clutch of (mostly women) avantish
> poets around the country & abroad, but was frustrated by a (mostly male) &
> less avantish local scene [dominated by something similar to the Poetry
> Project's mix of New American Poetry, a generation or so younger than the
> pioneers in the Don Allen anthology]; she started a small non-profit
> literary society that could apply for grants to bring poets in from out of
> town, more reminiscent of the work of the people she was corresponding
> with. Again, the issue of relying on an 'at hand' already constituted local
> scene or community, vs. reaching out to a farflung network of (usually)
> strangers. [Some of this is probably affected (or I could say, infected) by
> the dynamics of college-based Creative Writing Workshops & the tendency for
> graduates to stay close to where they graduated & trying to create a
> smaller but maybe even more narrowly focussed scene or community.]
> On the 3 editors you mention: I didn't get much sense of a
> close-knittedness between Williams, Higgins & Rothenberg, but the first 2
> had presses & I was very impressed with what they were publishing (&
> gratified that they responded very positively to work that I sent along to
> them: both Jonathan & Dick expressed a similar thought — that they might
> like to consider doing a small book of mine, but that I hadn't built up
> enough of a reputation [in the magazine world] to allow for the sort of
> name recognition that'd keep the book from just sitting in boxes. I was
> sending them work at the very start of my efforts to track down magazines
> that'd be interested in what I was doing. [Jonathan Williams, who I only
> met years later — true for the other 2 as well — was also a completely
> captivating & charming letter writer, so that encouraged me to up my game
> in response]. Rothenberg, as I said, was doing a magazine of ethnopoetics (
> *Alcheringa*, with the recently deceased & dearly missed Dennis Tedlock)
> that I sent work to; because he was pretty much only doing translations
> there, he put me in touch with Ron Silliman — who had just started
> *Tottel's* & turned out to be nearly exactly on my poetic wavelength,
> which began 45 years (!) years of close contact & collaboration; again, Ron
> & I didn't meet for 6 or 7 years.
> I never saw Bern Porter's magazine, but had seen his books a few years
> after I started writing:  I was in school in Cambridge, Mass. & made a few
> trips to NYC where you could find such things in the early 70s — as was
> true of perhaps the most radical poetry (etc.) journal of the time, *0-9 *[which
> James Hoff put out a wonderful collected edition of — they had just stopped
> publishing when I got around to sending them work. But re Bern P.: I was
> asked by Michael Wiater to guest edit an issue of his magazine, *Toothpick,
> Lisbon & the Orcas Islands* — quite a title — & I wrote to dozens of
> people in 1973, none of whom I'd ever met, assembling their addresses by
> asking editors [Richard Kostelanetz, at the time, was a virtual Rolodex of
> contact information] & then writing them, saying I'd like to see an
> extremely large amount of material which I'd make decisions on very quickly
> & send the rest back. Bern Porter sent me a BOX of about 300 separate
> pages/pieces that I selected a couple from. Wonderful generosity of spirit
> was close to a norm in those days, again all in the mail. As for Gertrude
> Stein, I was lucky enough to have access to the Johns Hopkins library
> (while I was getting a Masters degree), which had the multi-volume Yale
> edition including her early & most radical work, within a year after I
> started writing, in 1969, so the Something Else Press attention was a
> welcome treat. [I'd probably say that a consensus among my peer
> 'language-centered writers' of the 70s/80s, Stein was the key writer of the
> 20th century — something that's not a consensus in any other group of poets]
> On Sun, Nov 27, 2016 at 7:48 AM, Craig Saper <csaper at umbc.edu> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Bruce
>> You wrote, "most of the so-called 'Language Poets' only knew each other
>> through the mail, so one key was getting mailing addresses for people:
>> which led to an interesting focus on magazine editors or publishers. …
>> like Jonathan Williams, Dick Higgins, Jerry Rothenberg …”
>> Can you say more about this poetry-of-publishing with at least these
>> three key figures?
>> Also, …
>> What role did Bern Porter’s *Berkeley *magazine play — or had it folded
>> by the time the East Bay poetry scene was flourishing?
>> Were you introduced to Gertrude Stein or any of the European avant-garde
>> through Something Else Press? Or, was Higgins picking-up on the interests
>> of a group of poets in deciding to publish?
>> Was there ever a synergy among these publishers? Did they talk about
>> their role in the networked and poetry scene?
>> Did Jonathan Williams’ *Jargon *grow from, or encourage, the assembling
>> of poets and artists spread geographically around the US in a loose
>> network?
>> Obviously — much more to ask — thanks …
>> Craig
>> On Nov 26, 2016, at 11:14 PM, Bruce Andrews <andrews at fordham.edu> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Murat & all,
>> some 'first responders' [more to come, but let's start somewhere]:
>> *you said *
>> "I agree with you about the ups and down of the Project. We all heard our
>> share of boring stuff there. I did doze off occasionally but the place
>> always seemed to come through. A lot of poets, artists came from different
>> parts of the States and the world and learned from and collaborated with
>> each other."
>> [As much as I appreciated the Poetry Project as a place to get to hear &
>> meet my peers & poets I'd only known on the page, what you're calling 'ups
>> and downs' probably are more reflective of changing aesthetics — or,
>> possibly these days, what identity group commitments are being reflected.
>> And a lot of that put some distance in my relationship to its central
>> pushes.
>> One thing relevant, I think, to talking about 'the digital' [which is our
>> topic & I'm as guilty as anyone of straying...] is how poets decide what to
>> present in a live, 'poetry-reading' situation. This has certainly led a
>> bunch of folks to put on sophisticated, elaborate multi-media performances,
>> often with off-putting tech troubles — to incorporate digital formats,
>> audio-visuals, sometimes the kitchen sink, into their (usually) half-hour
>> presentations. [In recent years, I've heard many — especially younger —
>> poets talk about how boring a straight, unadorned reading is, compared with
>> the additions of singing, video, photo slides, live musicians or
>> soundtracks:  very possibly as we shift into the 21st century digital
>> 'screen' world].  For me, moving to NYC forty years ago [coming from grad
>> school in Massachusetts, where there were basically no readings up my alley
>> — oh, I remember one fabulous exception:  Bob Grenier reading with Larry
>> Eigner — & my having given only one or two public readings of my own work],
>> meant figuring out *what* work that I'd written would work best in that
>> situation (having for the previous half dozen years only evaluated &
>> quibbled over & sorted my work based on reading it on the page):  so,
>> checking out audience reactions to various kinds of writing & seeing what
>> tended to get enthusiastically responded to [parallel? musicians, moving
>> from bedroom to the stage, from recording to live occasion]. This is still
>> a keen interest of mine when it comes to making music/sound for dance
>> performances — seeing, in other people's dance/music collaborations, what
>> seems to work or not. Anyhow, not only did I start to figure out what
>> poetry of mine might function well in a live environment, it started (&
>> continues) to affect the sort of writing I'm likely to do — I'm much more
>> prone to foreground the *sound* of the language & the sonic tone of the
>> rhetoric & address than I was in the early 1970s; also, I got much more
>> interested in not only discursive/social materials to 'deploy' in the
>> writing, but also to move away from an intense focus on individual words &
>> word clusters, to allow for more elaborate phrasing & 'speakable' material
>> — something that also tended to allow for a more
>> politicized/socially-revved up kind of work, but still with my usual
>> fascination with disjunctive/disruptive/abnormal language].
>> *you also said*:
>> "What the Project has been doing is what the Web is doing now. I have had
>> long term collaborations with artists over the years whom I have never met.
>> That is the huge positive of the digital world."
>> [Like I said, my aesthetic preoccupations were shared in the '70s by a
>> raft of poets, the ones in my baby-boomer age group being the most
>> accessible — & here I'm talking ye olde postal delivery:
>> most of the so-called 'Language Poets' only knew each other through the
>> mail, so one key was getting mailing addresses for people: which led to an
>> interesting focus on magazine editors or publishers. Starting out as a poet
>> at the beginning of the '70s, with pretty definite notions of what was
>> what, that meant not having to rely on the dominant notion of what was
>> happening in whatever local 'scene' was in my area. Luckily. Because I
>> could get their addresses, it led me to correspondence with editors like
>> Jonathan Williams, Dick Higgins, Jerry Rothenberg (Jerry was key: he put me
>> in touch with Ron Silliman, in 1971, which jumpstarted what was the first
>> extended correspondance of our 'language centered writing' world). (This
>> didn't really change until later in the 1970s, when a small handful of
>> poets of similar aesthetics began to cohere in NY & in the Bay Area.)
>>  [And that 'non-localized' or 'un-scene' situation was what Charles
>> (Bernstein) & I always had in mind when we started, in NYC in 1977-78, to
>> plan out a journal dealing with poetics, that wouldn't be local/limited in
>> that way — L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.]
>> The Web, as you helpfully note, is the current rendition of just this
>> exciting possibility — & again, it's not so dependent on whatever local
>> 'scene' (or, possibly more fraught, local 'creative writing workshop' value
>> system) is agreeing on or championing or excluding. So, especially as a
>> place for collaboration, it has real utopian possibilities. And when it
>> comes to writers with very primitive tech skills [& this has been true with
>> all my ventures into sound making], it allows for collaborations that can
>> bring folks like me into conversation with simpatico people far distant
>> spatially (& thus, not just having to rely on whatever is 'close at hand'
>> in the neighborhood).
>> But I'm still wondering about what type of work it overvalues or
>> undervalues.
>> And I'm still wondering about issues of access, recognition, publicity,
>> career, canon-formation, etc.
>> [didn't get to this]:
>> On Thu, Nov 24, 2016 at 1:12 PM, Murat Nemet-Nejat <muratnn at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> "We did want to focus attention on language itself as the medium, but
>>> I'm not ready to embrace some of your characterization:  words & letters
>>> are not non-referential, but we liked to organize them in other ways beside
>>> what they were pointing to (which was too often, for us, the author's
>>> personalizing experience or expressiveness or traditional lyric
>>> expectations). We tended to want the readers' experience at the center —
>>> which cuts against some of this binary of yours about the sensual,
>>> movement-based vs. logical aspects of language"
>>> Bruce, when you say "We tended to want the readers' experience at the
>>> center," are you saying anything different than saying "I want the text at
>>> the center," the reader reading the text? The question interests me because
>>> in my essay The Peripheral Space of Photography, I assert that what is
>>> important in a photograph is not the photographer's focus (framing), but
>>> what escapes that framing. The real dialogue occurs between the watcher
>>> of the photograph and what is in front of the lens (human or a landscape,
>>> etc.). If, as I think you are to saying, it is the reader (and not purely
>>> the text), then even the "reveries" the reader builds around the text
>>> reading it become part of it. Is that not so?
>>> "Logical" was an unfortunate choice of words, on my part. I am more
>>> interested in the distinction between predicated idea (therefore fixed) and
>>> thought as process (therefore movement). One can have thought and/in
>>> movement (that's what Eda is). In that way, thought is sensual.
>>> "So if there's an "exchange" it's a mutual bending (which might be way
>>> too mutually disruptive to warrant being called a "synthesis"). Maybe
>>> that's more like the relationship between a 'dialect' & an 'official'
>>> language — [and by the way, doesn't "the dialectic" typically end up in a
>>> synthesis]?
>>> Yes, mutually bending and disruptive, not a synthesis. That's what a
>>> true, transforming translation does, bends, alters both languages,
>>> discovers potentialities in them. Walter Benjamin does see a synthesis in
>>> the process when he writes that in a translation "A" does not move to "B"
>>> but both move to a third place "C ," which he calls "ideal language."
>>> Some people believe Benjamin was being a "poet" (poet in the pejorative
>>> sense) here. "Ideal language" is a mystical fantasy. I am not one of them.
>>> I believe it is part of the core of his very original concept of
>>> translation.
>>> "... doesn't "the dialectic" typically end up in a synthesis]?"
>>> Not necessarily. I believe in an art or poetry of continuous dialectic.
>>> The Talmud, where the interpretations of  a holy passage are never resolved
>>> and remain always multiple, is such a text.
>>> To be continued (inviting others to join).
>>> Ciao,
>>> Murat
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