Saturday, January 30, 2010

the ®eal thing

I was teaching Silliman's ® this past week, which has a couple of jokey references to Book II of Paterson: "The ascent beckons, using an alarm clock"; "The dissent bickers as the assent hunkered (memory is a kind of astonishment)." I didn't think that these were the most interesting aspects of the poem. But, as usually happens with the flow of class conversation, and as an attempt to bring students into the poem gradually, I started off with the first four lines . . . again, so flat, distanciating, and jokey that I wasn't sure how interesting they would be for discussion at first:

"Touch me first.
There was a young man from Nantucket.
Poem is the practice (corner of forehead in rear view mirror).
Gonna sit right down and right myself a ladder."

Since I was asking students to "taxonomize" Silliman's sentences, lines 2 and 4 are fairly recognizable as Sillimanic punning sentences; 3 is a Sillimanic "meta" sentence commenting on process (here both a critique of "reflection"--the forehead in the mirror as the problem of mirroring, and the pleasure of confounding it--but also a hint of the theme of memory to come, with the rear-view mirror being a kind of useful instrument of the short-term capture of what's immediately past). 1 is a little bit more harder to pin, because it seems more typical of a kind of injunction to a lover (and thus a little atypical for Silliman), but when that's the reader, there's a kind of alienation effect involved (there's no way I can touch you BEFORE I read you, unless we are ascribing a touchable subjectivity to words themselves, which is probably the case.) Ah, Brechtians in love. In fact, these whole first lines seem like a love poem that is encrypted even as he pushes the reader away with the flatness of his evocations. We know what the "man in Nantucket" rhymes with. The old song about "writing oneself a letter" rather than a "ladder" is about unrequited love powering writing, courtly sentiment translated into a tin-pan-alley corn. And then it dawned on me that this connection between "ladder" and "letter" is what really turns the whole piece into a kind of commentary on Williams' discovery of the triadic line, and the optical effect that he institutes with the "descent beckons" passage. Because, just as the "descent beckons" down the page (like the flow of the falls) while "the ascent beckoned" (forcing our eye back up to make sense of what we just read, memory activating even as time pulls us forward through the poem, as a kind of conceivable levitation), one "sits right down" (again the pull of gravity downward) to write a ladder (which we usually consider a tool of upward movement, to reach high places). The whole structure of ® is ladder-like, with single sentences running down the page rather than coalescing in paragraphs, and, as with Williams' passage with the "descent beckons" the theme is renewal, in the very simple sense that each sentence seems to be written after waking, and may contain within it a recent memory of a dream. Whether one can get to that dream with the ladder/letter of language, whether that is a dream of love or some other salvation, the writing continues downward, away. But could Silliman's circle-r, instead of "registered trademark" be the kind of momentary "reversal of despair" which Williams grasps fleetingly in the lines:

"The descent
xxxxxxxxxxxxmade up of despairs
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand without accomplishment
realizes a new awakening :
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwhich is a reversal
of despair.

xxxxxxxxxFor what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love,
xxxxxxxxxwhat we have lost in the anticipation--
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa descent follows,
endless and indestructiblexxxxxxx.


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Friday, January 22, 2010

Radiant Gist of Science

A CFP of interest from the William Carlos Williams Newsletter:
"The confirmed panel on Williams for next January’s MLA convention in Los Angeles is entitled: 'Williams and the ‘Radiant Gist’ of Science.' Proposals are now invited that examine any aspect of the poet’s relationship to science--e.g., medicine, physiology, chemistry, and physics (Einstein, Heisenberg, Curie, etc). Please send an abstract of 250 words to Erin Templeton ( no later than 15 March 2010."
Also in the same announcement, Teddy Rapp is organizing another Williams MLA panel: "Sessions title session is ‘An Early Martyr and Other Poems’: 75 Years Later.' Proposals are invited on the volume within the 1930s context, or on individual poems, clusters and biography. Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome. Please send a 250 abstract to Theodora Rapp Graham at this address: no later than 15 March 2010."


Monday, January 18, 2010

Interanimation of Words

"It is not that Williams's language is without history, but that its history is not European; rather, it is local, polyglot, and as likely as not merely personal. It is not that those who learn a language through books rather than through speech rarely come to feel the kinship of words, so much as that the grounds of what I. A. Richards calls the 'interanimation of words' have radically shifted. Much of the language Americans used, certainly, had no visible antecedents as they walked down the street, and the imperative, especially but not only in school, was to adopt an English overlay. Malcolm Cowley complained bitterly that 'our studies were useless or misdirected, especially our studies in English literature: the authors we were forced to read, and Shakespeare most of all, were unpleasant to our palate; they had the taste of chlorinated water.' What landscapes did Charles Olson's father carry in his head as he walked his Post Office rounds in Worcester? What mythologies did he attach to them or find in them? When Williams calls Paterson 'a reply to Greek and Latin with the bare hands' he is identifying his poem as an attempt to end the split between American writing, speech, and landscape . . ." Disjunctive Poetics, Peter Quartermain 14.
I like the idea of "interanimation of words," as a way to deal with the sound/text split by pointing to the power of sound without essentializing it (the Derridean critique), yet it seems that whatever was gained by this move is lost by essentializing some pristine notion of the American language. How can there be no visible language on the street when this era was one of the proliferation of mass-produced signs in the cities (not to mention the language of the papers, the comic pages, the radios blaring from radio shops). That language read in books seems to be the definition of "visible language" here seems a problem. An earlier reader of my copy put an exclamation point next to the quote about Shakespeare. It is unclear whether this ! meant "what a howler!" or "I agree!" but it seems to me that Shakespeare here is the wrong example to proffer. Iambics aside--indeed a bete noire for Williams--the wildness of Shakespeare's unofficial English is precisely American in its inventiveness, and thus, therein, a lot to learn about the ways in which the sonic-linguistic landscape can energize a poetry. Wouldn't this formulation be better than to try to imagine Charles Olson's father as some sort of noble savage? (and if he was carrying the post, did he not have those visible letters--as well as the bric-a-brac of memory shot through with other legenda--to carry him through?)

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Catch Up with the Impossible Object

Unfortunately, even though there's been a lot of traffic to the blog lately, there haven't been many updates. I'm still doing some slower moving trudge work with this project, perhaps moving towards a synthesis or disintegration; as well, faster moving projects elsewhere have called for my attention. I'm not sure yet whether an "end" is in sight, and every time I think this project is running on empty, a new strategy or opportunity extends it.
For those new to the site, I'm arraying some links to its past media highlights, as well as annotations about things yet to be done, and some long-standing wishes for the project that will hopefully be fulfilled in the new year.

Patersongs: This is one of my favorite aspects of the project: songs composed from the text of Paterson. There has been an open invitation to artists and musicians to compose these songs for the site, although many who promised a long time ago still haven't followed through! Just to let you know, I'm still waiting. And still on my wishlist is a punk/thrash/girl band version of the Marcia Nardi letters.

The Locust Tree (Joanne Hsieh and Jesse Roy)
In Spite of the Grey Mystery of Time (immaginarium light outreach inner-youth center with Joe Milutis)
Sam Patch! (Joanne Hsieh and Jesse Roy)
To Make a Start Out of Particulars (Joe Milutis)
The Skeleton of Peter the Dwarf (Graham Stowe)
Look for the Nul (Joe Milutis)

As one can tell from the last link above, sometimes the video content has a tenuous relation to the poem or even the city Paterson itself, and I used my toy camera to document more absurd, drifty, or plainly disconnected territories, in the search for a more non-local idea of this localized epic. The blog and its momentum brought me to Patterson, Georgia; Hudson, NY; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; and other
terra incognita. These pieces are the more "junky" spontaneous and properly blog-like materials.

Exploring Paterson in Patterson, GA
(with Clark Lunberry)
Reading the Geological Cross Section Passage 20 meters Under Paris (with Jonathan Wonham et al)
Thinking about Paterson at MoMA
Paterson in the "ruins in reverse" of Hudson, NY (with Max Goldfarb)
Paterson for Bird Watching (with Jackie Goss and Michael Gitlin)

Sonic experiments with Paterson material form the core of the project, and may come together at one point into a documentary, or remain disaffiliated blog data--both of which would suit me fine. In the spirit of Williams' work, it is always a dilemma when faced with the choice between unification and fragment. Yet to be incorporated are interview materials recorded (and previously posted) with Herb Blau, Jeanne Heuving, and the folks at the Kelly Writers House, as well as some materials that I hope to record in 2010.

Make a Song Out of That Completely (with Joe Ruffalo et al)
Listen to It! (with Bob Perelman et al)
It's the Locality (with Lytle Shaw, Bob Perelman, Amelia Arenas)
Have You Ever Been To Paterson? (Amelia Arenas, Bob Perelman, Carole Maso, Lytle Shaw, Joe Ruffalo)
Blocked (Bob Perelman, Lytle Shaw, Amelia Arenas)

Seattle has taken me far afield of New Jersey, so one of my favorite new things has been a subtitling of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers with, among other things, snippets of Paterson. I plan to do the whole movie, although, truth be told, the project slowed once I hit the "action" scenes (the ambiguity and mystery of the more "everyday" scenes seemed to lend themselves more to this experiment.)

Los Ladrones de Cuerpos, episode 1
Los Ladrones de Cuerpos, episode 2
Los Ladrones de Cuerpos, episode 3 (the virtual reality episode)
Los Ladrones de Cuerpos, episode 4
Los Ladrones de Cuerpos, episode 5 (the Jack Spicer episode)