In an earlier post I mentioned that Walter Benjamin and Walter Ong had described a similar anti-semiotic linguistics. So here's a quote by Ong, not exactly on that topic but talking more directly about language and poetry. I've read where one should be careful in reading Ong because he has an ulterior (i.e. theological) agenda (he was a Jesuit priest), but I find his description below matches up pretty closely with my experience.
…a poet can serve up his words in a medium where very many meanings, or even every common meaning which the words may have in the language he is using can be taken out of his words, and any meaning seems to make sense, or to keep our thoughts moving in the direction he desires. We are driven to the question whether words can be used in this way, and to further question whether it is necessary for a poet to have always one definite meaning (“denotation”) in what he says. The answer based on much of what is best must be a simple No. Even in ordinary conversational usages, which, it is true, are often more poetic in function than scientific, the denotations and connotations of words shift with varying contexts, and there can be no good reason assigned why I cannot use words even in conversation which may be assigned with equal validity to any of various meanings, simply serving them up to see what you can do with them. All the more is this true of poetry. If I thereby fail to attain scientific accuracy, this is far from de-intellectualizing poetry. Rather it is demanding a greater intellectual exertion, calling on your mind, as it does, to work actively about in shifting meanings and giving it occasion to take pleasure in this very activity itself.
That this way of handling words is an implicit denial of the fact that poetic enjoyment consists in the simple registering of the formalized content of a judgment, we cannot deny. But that poetic enjoyment does not consist simply in this is really no news at all.
What are we doing in such a process but making the mind conscious of a great variety of truths at once, giving it the opportunity to revel in truth to follow its natural desire in any direction which the words may point to, without danger of running into a cul-de-sac which pulls it up with an unpleasant jolt? This is the way Shakespeare in his richest passages uses words, the way Father Hopkins in nearly all his poems uses words. This represents the tradition in which poetry always thrives.
I wonder is Ed Dorn knew Ong's work at all? Earlier in this short essay (I've misplaced the name of it, but you can find it on the web) Ong talks about the anxiety of trying to get the meaning of what someone is saying. Yes, anxiety and meaning -- two things that go great together! --there's a topic. I love the line "simply serving them up to see what you can do with them."
Yesterday's paper carried an obituary for the poet, feminist, critic and biographer Diane Wood Middlebrook.
Middlebrook is probably best known for her biography of Anne Sexton, and editing Sexton's poetic output (through the collected Sexton and Sexton's "Love Poems." But Middlebrook also wrote Suits Her: The Double Life of Billy Tipton (the jazz musician who passed as a man most of her life and wasn't discovered until after her death), and Her Husband, a biography about the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Next year will see the release of her last biography, on the Roman poet Ovid.
It's interesting (especially for a biographer) that each obit about Middlebrook has accentuated different things. Not surprising, but interesting nonetheless. They all talk about the Sexton bio, and the furor over the use of the therapy recordings of Sexton, but some other details come through.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's obituary, Middlebrook was also instrumental in starting a number of women's salons that influenced many writers.
Hope this is of interest to someone. Great interviews to check out.
NEW! Call for Poetry Films - January 30 Deadline: Seeking artistic, experimental, and challenging interpretations of poetry that explore critical social issues. Films up to 15 minutes. Entry fee: $15. Selected films and videos will be screened during the festival's film program. For full guidelines and required entry form: http://splitthisrock.org/film.html
Panel Proposals - Deadline Extended to January 1: Split this Rock invites proposals for panel discussions and workshops on a range of topics at the intersection of poetry and social change. Possibilities are endless. Challenge us. Let's talk about craft, let's talk about mentoring young poets, let's talk about working in prisons, connecting with the activist community, sustaining ourselves in dark times, the role of poetry in wartime. Deadline extended to January 1, 2008. Download the form here: http://splitthisrock.org/documents/Call-for-Proposals.doc
Poetry Contest - January 15 Deadline: The contest benefits Split This Rock Poetry Festival. $1,000 awarded for poems of provocation & witness; Kyle G. Dargan will judge. $500 for 1st, $300 for 2nd, and $200 for 3rd place. 1st place winner will read the winning poem at the festival. The poem will also be published on the festival website at www.SplitThisRock.org. All winners receive free festival admission. $20 entry fee benefits the festival. Postmark Deadline: January 15, 2008. Guidelines for entry: http://splitthisrock.org/contests.html.
Support Split This Rock, the historic gathering of activist poets: The CrossCurrents Foundation made a challenge grant of $10,000 to Split This Rock last month. They'll match every dollar you give. We're 25% of the way to meeting the match � double your donation by giving today! Every dollar you give is tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, the Institute for Policy Studies. Just click here: https://secure.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizations/IPS/shop/custom.jsp?donate_page_KEY=1120 and be sure to designate "Split This Rock" as the project you'd like to support. Or send a check payable to "IPS/Split This Rock" to: IPS, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.
Many thanks! Your contribution will make a tremendous difference.
A coupla annoucements and some games down at the bottom of the page.
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Here’s the next series of poetry readings at the Library of Congress:
And in the Poetry at noon series (the only other themed reading series in DC), all at 1:00 PM in the Pickford Theater:
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Ah, here's a little game. Go to the National Gallery of Art's (Washington, D.C.) Past Exhibitions page. Now find the year were born (this only works for those of us born from 1941 on, sorry), and click on that year. You can now find what exhibits were on display on your original birth day (as in quoits, close counts). For me the scintillating . . .
Collection of Contemporary German Prints - Overview: The 64 modern German prints in this exhibition were a gift to the American people from the people of the Federal Republic of Germany. The money for this purchase was raised by thousands of Germans, as an expression of gratitude for the help that many had received from the United States after World War II . . .
was on display.
You could go a number of ways with this:
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Who's that? (blog version)
"With his clear, relaxed diction and sublime phrasing, he also codified the sound and rhythm of casually spoken American English. The seamlessness, ingenuity, and rightness of that phrasing is readily apparent but can never be anticipated. You still can't foretell his stresses and caesuras in a piece you've experienced a hundred times."
Identify the subject of this quote:
a. Frank Sinatra
b. John Ashbery
c. Robert Frost
d. Elvis Presley
Well, not too snarky I hope.
Anticipating the limits of his arguments in verse, [Ed] Dorn claims in his interview with Mihopoulos, that poetry is obsolete. “But so what,” he says. “There are lots of great things that are obsolete. Kerosene lamps are obsolete, but there’s no light like it in a cabin in northern Wisconsin. And maybe it’s a good thing not to have electricity. Think of the best things in the world, actually, and they’re all obsolete. Sure. But that’s 'cause a world that grows more and more venal and greedy and opportunistic makes things obsolete at a great rate. And what they replace it with is something pretty awful and foul and cheap and temporary and terrible. So poetry is real obsolete."
What I like about this is how Dorn matter of factly turns the tablas on the question of poetry's cultural diminishment. Thanks for this, Dale.
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Here's a quote from Walter Benjamin:
Through the word, man is bound to the language of things. Hence, it is no longer conceivable . . . that the word has an accidental relationship to its object, that it is a sign for things (or knowledge of them, as agreed by some convention). Language never gives mere signs.
Interestingly, another Walter -- Walter Ong -- says much the same thing. Since language was originally and is fundamentally spoken, and thus does not consist of signs but events. Words like all sound are events, their medium is time, not space. An event isn't a sign, something you carry or see -- and event is what happens --it is verb, not noun.
So where, if anywhere, am I going with this? Well, think of poetry as very old technology, that is, as something considered obsolete. Being very old communication, memory, and pedagogical technology, poetry lies close to the roots of language. And it is at these roots that poetry recognizes the primacy of the vocalic, and language as not sign, but event. This is why poetry has had some alliance with music, another time-centered art. And this is why deeply committed poets have a different relationship to language than the rest of us. They know, intuitively, that words are events, time-bound, and with all that accompanies the time-bound: mortality, and -- I emphatically do not mean this in any religious, spiritual, or mystical sense -- soul. This allows Mandelstam to talk about the word as Pysche, and also for the feeling that poetry is trying to capture something in speech that lies just beyond speech. As Mary Ruefle says (somewhere) something like, a poem is always about something other than what it is about.
The question is: why isn't everyone talking about the two articles in the latest Boston Review on Zbigniew Herbert now up on the web?
The first is a review of the new Collected Poems: 1956 - 1998 of Zbigniew Herbert translated by Alisa Valles. W. Martin's review acts as a necessary counterbalance to Michael Hofman's scorched earth essay of the same book in the May 2007 issue of Poetry. Hofman manages to give some very small beer praise to Valle, but overwhelmingly excoriates her translation on just about every level, praising Herbert's previous translators, John and Bogdana Carpenter over against Valles. Hofman, for the prosecution, ends his review by saying that "this Collected Poems is a [sic] hopelessly, irredeemably bad book."
When I read this back in May I was ready to go seek out the old translations, and you couldn't have given me a copy of the new translation for free. I mean, if someone feels that strongly about the book, and says so, there's not much point, is there?
So I was interested when the two articles showed up in the Boston Review. FIrst of all, Martin makes an excellent case for Valle's translation. It's a positive review, though not blindly so. Martin says that this new translation "allows us to glimpse a Herbert who is first and foremost a poet." So after reading this review, the Collected Poems: 1956 - 1998 translated by Alisa Valles is back on my Christmas list.
I do think Hofman, in Poetry, was engaging in a little sabotage when, towards the beginning of his review in Poetry, he says something to the effect "I was so surprised that this Alisa Valles was the translator. No one has ever heard of her, even the Internet has never heard of her." The implication here being that if Hofman and the Internet have no idea who Valles is, then she's got to be at best, a rank amateur, non compos translatis, and you know what that means . . . caveat emptor and devil take the hindmost. This is an argument from false premises, and can only act to try and influence the reader against Valles before any consideration of her strengths or weaknesses as a translator.
So a [very] short comparison of the two translations. W. Martin in his Boston Review review looks at a poem translated by both the Carpenters and Valles.
The Carpenters translate the first line as: Who wrote our faces certainly chicken pox.
Valles' goes like this: Who wrote our faces chicken pox for sure.
To my ear the word "certainly" in the Carpenter's line is rhythmically slack, and thus the line sags in the middle. "Who wrote our faces chicken pox for sure" is more to my taste: faster, tighter, and it has a tensile rhythm that I like. Of course it's just one line, and "for sure" for sure lacks, I suppose, gravitas. And my ear could be crap for all I know.
But this is all Pobiz fooforal, when you come right down to it. The real gem is the second article in the Boston Review by Valle herself. It's staysa bit above the fray, though she says that she expected her translations to be controversial and that she has not been disappointed, and she makes a case for her translations, and that there can in fact be more than one translator of any poet. Why the heck not?
But mostly Valle sets out the complexities of Herbert's poetry, his relation with Poland and its poets and politics, and his own engagements and poetics. It's a brilliant summary and In some ways a tragic picture of Herbert. She ends with this:
Herbert has a quality of imagination that I think is particularly valuable for those struggling to find language adequate to monstrous stupidities and abuses of power, language that is not historically or aesthetically naive.
Herbert's imagination . . . enlists the insights of the weak to combat the diseases of the strong . . . It's vehicle is a voice neither personal in the confessional sense, nor impersonal in the manner of high modernism, but suprapersonal - a voice rooted in subjective experience but constantly moving towards the objective world, movement that itself is both a leap of faith and a social act.
I hope these two quotes intrigue because both these articles are worth your time (as, in general, is Boston Review's poetry section in every issue). And let's read some Herbert, by the tranlator(s) of our choice, yes?
Congratulations to VRZHU's Hiram Larew for his nomination for a Lambda Literary Award in Poetry. Hiram is in some very, very good company. However, since the poetry category will no longer single out a lesbian poet and a gay poet, that means this extensive list will be whittled down to just five people. Having read a good many of these collections this past year, I wouldn't even know how to begin.
* Walking in Sappho's Garden, Ayin Adams
* Blissful Times, Sandra Alland (Book Thug)
* New Jersey, Betsy Andrews (University of Winsconsin Press)
* Seminal, John Barton and Billeh Nickerson (Arsenal Pulp Press)
* The Human Line, Ellen Bass (Copper Canyon Press)
* Notebook of Roses and Civilization, Nicole Brossard (Coach House Books
* All: A James Broughton Reader, James Broughton, edited by Jack Foley (White
Crane Wisdom/Lethe Press)
* Sister, Nickole Brown (Red Hen Press)
* The Marrow's Telling, Eli Clare (Homofactus Press)
* The Natural Law of Water, Kathleen Cluver (Burning Bush)
* Blackbird and Wolf, Henri Cole (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
* Catching Tigers in Red Weather, Andrew Demcak (Three Candles Press)
* A Question of Gravity and Light, Blas Falconer (University of Arizona Press)
* Blind Date with Cavafy, Steve Fellner (Marsh Hawk Press)
* After the Fall, Edward Field (University of Pittsburgh)
* Scarlet E, Lois Glenn (Regal Crest Enterprises)
* Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath, Benjamin Grossberg (Ashland Poetry
* Under Sleep, Daniel Hall (University of Chicago Press)
* Rift, Forrest Hamer (Four Way Books)
* The Islands Project, Eloise Klein Healy (Red Hen Press)
* Hejira, Reginald T. Jackson (Outskirts Press)
* I'm the Man Who Loves You, Amy King (Blazevox Books)
* More Than Anything, Hiram Larew (VRZHU Press)
* My Body, Joan Larkin (Hanging Loose Press)
* Imago, Joseph Legaspi (CavanKerry Press)
* A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering, Dawn Lundy Martin (University of
* Sorry, Tree, Eileen Myles (Wave Books)
* What's Written on the Body, Peter Pereira (Copper Canyon Press)
* The Body is No Machine, Jennifer Perrine (New Issues)
* Torch River, Elizabeth Philips (Brick Books)
* Quiver of Arrows, Carl Phillips (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
* Wonder, Nicole Pollifrone (P.D. Publishing)
* The Brightness, William Reichard (Mid-List Press)
* Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, Adrienne Rich (W.W. Norton)
* Breezeway, Jason Roush (Windstorm Creative)
* Rhythms, Leo Shelton (Tugson Press)
* Fata Morgana, Reginald Shepherd (University of Pittsburgh)
* Theory of Orange, Rachel M. Simon (Pavement Saw Press)
* The Screw and the Fast of It, Nathalie Stephens (Nightboat Books)
* Purple Hats and Pink Tutus, Betty Nadine Thomas (Spruce Head Island Press)
* Going Around with Bachelors, Agnes Walsh (Brick Books)
* The Second Person, C. Dale Young (Four Way Books)
* Human Resources, Rachel Zolf (Coach House Books)
She was the author of Confessions of a Skewed Romantic, The Myth of a Woman's Fist, Do You Take This Woman, Flying the Zuni Mountains , Riding with the Fireworks, and Cleared for Landing. She also edited Hungry As We Are, An Anthology of Washington Area Poets.
She also taught countless students at American University and at the Writers Center in Bethesda.
The Washington Post had a fine obituary earlier this week.[link] It quoted Darr as once writing:
"The poems I write and read help me to handle the feelings that would otherwise shred me," she once told an interviewer. "Poetry may not have saved my life, but I can't imagine a life without it."
There have also been many great postings online about her passing. E. Ethelbert Miller has posted the family's press release about her death on his blog.[link]
Merrill Leffler has created a Tribute page to Darr on the Dryad Press site. [link]
This may sound strange, but I am not so afraid of death now, with Annie over there. It will be more like life itself -- her exasperation, her flashing blue eyes, her trembling love, indignation, loyalty, temper, passion, inspiration, yearning. It will make the hereafter worth the trouble. She will, of course, have a beau at her side because Ann was a 20th century beauty in the style of our silver screen heroines. And men could not stay away. I never knew her when there was no one in love with her. She told poet Lisa Ritchie "one should always look her best, as if she were about to go on stage." The last time I saw her, maybe five years ago, she was in satin and brocade at poet Robert Sargent’s birthday party...he is now gone as well...she said “Grace, I had to give up teaching as I cannot remember my students' names." She had a retired Air Force Colonel at her side that day, proud to be her companion.
My remembrances of Ann Darr hark to the 70’s when I was just beginning to give public readings. She was already a nationally known figure, and I look back, humbled by her unflinching support and loyalty. I cannot remember any reading I gave where Ann was not in the front row. She understood my craziness and took it for art...something she could relate to...for she was a risk taker on the page and in life, and held nothing back. She did not mind when I went over the edge. She’d been there and back.
I have recordings of her from "The Poet and the Poem," several from the last 30 years, now archived at GWU library and Pacifica, ...and to listen is to know that there is no one else in the world that can read her poetry -- a tremulous voice, a beautiful broadcast vibrato; the soul and intensity in each word knocked my breath away, and always will.
My publishing house, The Bunny and the Crocodile Press, published two of Ann’s books, Confessions of a Skewed Romantic and Flying the Zuni Mountains. Her famous pilot-photo graces the cover of Zuni, designed by my daughter, Cindy Cavalieri; and Ann’s daughter designed the cover art for Skewed. Working with Ann was like being a teenager again at a sleepover trying out different color nail polishes. We met when we could. I was at St. Mary’s College every May for 28 years and Ann was a frequent guest poet. One May we put together the proof of Zuni Mountains in between teaching workshops and poetry readings. How I miss the chemistry we had together; she must have been in her sixties then. We were girlfriends, compatriots, and bonded in trust, putting together her books with only scraps of time between us...sitting in a dorm at St. Mary’s College with papers and pages covering the floor, then back to DC …and then a session in my condo before we went to see plays at Arena Stage... then doing the finals in my daughter’s kitchen...putting together her books, making something permanent...publishing on the run...poetry on the fly.
We had everything in common-- writing, daughters, and flying machines. Because my husband, Ken Flynn, was a Navy Pilot, our relationship was multidimensional. Only he knew exactly what her flying experiences entailed, the subtext of thrill and terror. Ann and I talked poetry, literary gossip; Ken and Ann talked technical maneuvers and detail missions. She cooked for us, we cooked for her. I never felt anything but comfort in her presence. I knew I was totally accepted. Who would want that to go away? Where can I find that now?
The fuel for Ann’s life was love and rage, in equal parts. I see her bristling at any injustice. I see her poems clinging to the brilliant absurdities and riding them out. She has a book called Riding with the Fireworks. That is her epitaph, blazing and moving. When Reuben Jackson heard of her death, he said “Fly- pilot – Fly.” How perfect that we all remember her in motion, as a triumph of energy, as an exertion of power.
ANN DARR Online
E. Ethelbert Miller has the family's original press release about Darr's death.
Merrill Leffler and Dryad Press, which published Darr's Cleared for Landing Poems by a WWII female pilot in 1978 have posted a loving tribute to Ann Darr on their website at http://www.dryadpress.com/AnnDarr.htm
"We note with sadness the passing of Ann Darr, a prominent DC poet. Dryad Press has started an 'In Memoriam' page on their website that is terrific. The link reprints poems, and gives biographical information.
Darr's Writing online:
"Relative Matter" (Dryad Press site)
The Long Flight Home (on Women at War)
Ann Darr on her Poetry on PRI's Radio Dialogue
1994 Interview with George Liston Seay
The Washington Post has a great obituary by Patricia Sullivan online [link].