Charles Bernstein: Reznikoff’s Voices

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:04 AM 0 comments
Holocaust, Charles Reznikoff’s last book, is, like his great work of the 1930s, Testimony, haunted by the voices of the dispossessed. In Testimony, Reznikoff worked with legal records of violent crimes from 1885-1915 to create tautly etched accounts of the turbulent underbelly of these United States. The two long volumes of Testimony are difficult reading, though a different sense of “difficulty” than that of other modernist poetry by first-wave modernists such as Eliot, Pound, Stein, or Stevens. There is no difficulty interpreting the content of these poems; in a sense they start with the heresy of paraphrase, for each poem paraphrases the longer account of a crime that Reznikoff appropriates, edited but verbatim, from the legal documents. The book, composed entirely from archival material, averts an overarching story line or poetical reflections. In contrast, Muriel Rukeyser’s documentary poem “Book of the Dead” (1938) uses passages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and a multi-voice format that shifts from quoted letters from a variety of sources and journalistic accounts, to weave together a far more theatrical and narrativizing work than Testimony.

Testimony is presented in a monolithic, if not to say monotonous, form, which offers no respite from directly confronting an unfolding, accumulating series of horrific events. Reznikoff’s methodological refusal to mitigate means that the work speaks not for itself as itself. Perhaps the most important precedent for Testimony is Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: Reznikoff’s work is the antipode: in place of Whitman’s bursts of celebration, Reznikoff’s Testimony is a prolonged elegy; an unflinching acknowledgement of unredeemable and inexcusable loss.

What’s most radical about Testimony is the kind of reading his method makes possible, because this work (unlike Rukeyser’s) can’t be read in traditional literary or aesthetic ways. At first reading Testimony is numbing, but this experience of being numbed is the place not where aesthetic experience ends but where it begins. Reznikoff’s refusal to aestheticize or sentimentalize (some would say humanize) the legal cases presented is exemplary of Testimony’s ethical grounding and suggests a connection not only with Zukofsky’s “sincerity and objectification,” but also with the postwar neorealism of filmmakers such as Roberto Rossellini. For in Reznikoff’s refusal to aestheticize brutality, he does not turn away from aesthetics but rather shifts the aesthetic frame from the “content” to the reading experience itself. In this sense, Testimony is “readingcentered,” to use a phrase of Jackson Mac Low, another poet whose work is largely based on organizing large bodies of found (or appropriated) language. Both Mac Low and Reznikoff pose a challenge to how we read and where we find meaning, creating conceptual works that make our initial inability to read an aesthetic challenge to read differently, read anew. As Kenneth Goldsmith remarks about conceptual poetry: it requires not a “readership” but a “thinkership.”

The initial unreadability of the vast catalog that is Testimony is what makes it one of the towering works of second-wave modernist American poetry, our great anti-epic. Because if we can’t read Testimony then we can’t read our own history. Or then again, perhaps what we at first find unreadable, numbing, becomes a way to what Stevens called “a new knowledge of reality.”

I rehearse these matters because they echo concerns about the representation of the systematic extermination of the European Jews – graphic, filmic, novelistic, photographic, poetic, documentary, memorial. Representing the historically unrepresentable is both an impossibility and an obligation. Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews is the essential work of scholarship; its accumulation of everyday facts, of the dense network of often small bureaucratic and legal regulations that lead to the larger catastrophe, sets the standard for any work on this topic and provides a key context for Reznikoff’s approach. I want to mention also Raymond Federman’s Take It or Leave It, which shows how digression and the comic can weave its way around an empty center without betraying it. Paul Celan is the poet most closely associated with the project of refusing to represent in order to most fully confront. Many will also think of the exemplary accounts by Primo Levi and Jean Améry.

Holocaust was published in 1975, the same year that Abraham Ravett made the recordings of Reznikoff reading the poem, which was just a month before Reznikoff’s death. Holocaust is largely based on documents from the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials. While its structure is similar to Testimony, it differs in being singular in its places, times, and crimes. Also the nature of the acts depicted necessarily dwarfs the serial record of brutality in Testimony. The events in Testimony took place during the first years of Reznikoff’s life and the decade immediately prior to his birth in 1894. The events of Holocaust occurred in the middle of his life and he is reflecting on them in his final years. It’s notable, as well, that the documentary material for Testimony is from U.S. court records and in English, while Holocaust uses translated material from Europe.

By its nature, if it doesn’t demean nature to use that word here, the material of Holocaust overwhelmed the techniques Reznikoff had developed in his earlier work. A certain level of distance from this material – its “objectification” – is not possible in reading this work, even had the technique been identical. The distinction is at the heart of what makes Holocaust so compelling: it forces a confrontation with the way the “same” conceptual approach works with differently charged material. Testimony developed a form suitable to its content; on the face of it, this would not be possible for Holocaust.

Something happens, however, when we listen to the Ravett audio recordings, that changes everything: Reznikoff’s voice. In Reznikoff’s earlier recordings (available on PennSound), his voice is warm, friendly, compassionate, world-embracing, and empathetic. Not here. Reznikoff does the Holocaust with fiery and defiant voices. While his earlier readings bring out qualities of witness and engagement fully present in the text, Reznikoff’s readings from Holocaust bring in a tone not present in the written poems.

When Charles Reznikoff , at 81, gives voice to “Heil, Hitler!” one hears a kind of glee, something in between Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin, a glee that adds, in its performative dimension, an ethical necessity for this work: anger, yes, but, more resounding, contempt. The sound of Reznikoff’s contempt is liberating.

[Written originally for a commemorative CD of a reading by Reznikoff made by Abraham Ravett and available at http://wonka.hampshire.edu/~arPF/cds.html. The PennSound recordings referred to in this essay can be found at http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Reznikoff-Holocaust.php.]

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[The following is from Ian Hamilton Finlay Selections, edited by Alec Finlay and scheduled for 2011 publication in the Poets for the Millennium series, University of California Press. Best known as a founding figure of twentieth-century concrete poetry, Finlay (1925-2006) emerges here as that and something more than that.]

from DETACHED SENTENCES ON EXILE

In Tityrus’ view, his two acres are those from which all the rest of the world is in exile.

Who is not an exile when, in the evening, he hears the wind in the trees?

Much that is good began with an exile.

What an exile it must be to be closed in a battle tank!

Whatever reflection may suggest, the idea of exile is instantly congenial.

Death is the extremest exile.

Diogenes exiled Greece from his tub.

A garden, being less a place than a world, is a proper work for an exile.

There is no exile, as there are no circles, without an idea of a centre and a circumference.

Pythagoras believed his friend to be exiled in a dog.

“I wept and wailed when I saw the unfamiliar land.” – Empedokles.

Illness is a sort of exile from the every-day.

To be rehabilitated into Eden would be an exile for us.

Our true home may be found in exile.

Summer is no less an exile from spring, than autumn from summer, and spring from winter.

Tall pine trees are the great oaks of exile.

Despotism exiles the people.

Wet days show up holidays as self-imposed exiles.

Illness and exile restore our horizons to us.

Vulgar people have no notion of the world as an exile.

Everyone feels he might bear an exile. But to be a refugee…

In growing old, we stay into exile.

When the swallows gather, and twitter on the wires, our staying seems an exile.

On winter water, and in the autumn clouds, we see Apollo in his exiles.

Pine-cones and crab-apples are the chief fruits of exile.

Exiled lives are half-way to statues.

It seems the soul is so constituted, that Here is its exile, There is its home.


DETACHED SENTENCES ON GARDENING

Installing is the hard toil of garden making, placing is its pleasure.

Superior gardens are composed of Glooms and Solitudes and not of plants and trees.

A liberal’s compost heap is his castle.

Solitude in gardens is an aspect of scale.

Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.

Ecology is Nature-Philosophy secularised.

Gardening activity is of five kinds, namely, sowing, planting, fixing, placing, maintaining. In so far as gardening is an Art, all these may be taken under the one head, composing.

Better than truth to materials is truth to intelligence.

The inscription seems out of place in the modern garden. It jars on our secularism by suggesting the hierarchies of the word.

Brown made water and lawns (&c.) Palladian elements, as much as Lord Burlington did, his columns and porticos.

Brown made water appear as Water, and lawn as Lawn.

The gardens of Kent and Brown were mistakenly referred to the Chinese aesthetic, just as today’s thoughtful gardens are considered to be Japanese. ‘Japanese garden’ has come to signify no more than ‘art garden’. The contemporary ‘sculpture park’ is not – and is not considered to be – an art garden, but an art gallery out-of-doors. It is a parody of the classical garden native to the West.

The main division of gardens is into art gardens and botanical gardens. Compared to this division all the others – ‘The Garden as Music’, ‘The Garden as a Poem’ - & etc. – are superficial.

A bench, in our modern gardens, is a thing to be sat upon; in Shenstone’s Leasowes it was a thing to be read.

As public sex was embarrassing to the Victorians, public classicism is to us.

Composition is a forgotten Art.

Artificial gardens – as Lamb describes them – now strike us as not at all artificial, since they have been made ‘natural’ by time.


DETACHED SENTENCES ON THE PEBBLE

A PEBBLE is a crumb of the Ancient Geology.

The place of THE PEBBLE in modern aesthetics is that of Natural Man in the philosophy of J-J Rousseau.

Modern refinement has made THE PEBBLE almost a relative of the Fairies.

PEBBLES are most prized by those whose temperament discovers a dangerous possibility of controversy in simple apples and pears.

A PEBBLE is a form of perfect vacuity, as a wild-flower is of modesty.

Children pile up PEBBLES as pin-less hand-grenades.

It is no compliment to PEBBLES to say, as a modern poet has said of stones, that we can discover no ruined ones.

PEBBLES are, it may be, reformed, but they have a long and warlike history.

The modern PEBBLE is prized as a sculpture, as it were, of a PEBBLE.

Kettle's Yard, in Cambridge, England, is the Louvre of the PEBBLE.

To inscribe words on PEBBLES would be a desecration if thought knew no hierarchies.

Making PEBBLES skip is an obvious resort of misanthropy. (This with apologies to Hazlitt.)

The Victory of David proved the advantage, not of the smaller size of the missile, but of the superior range. The boulder of Goliath would have been the right retort to the PEBBLE of David.

Beside a true work of sculpture, the PEBBLE has the advantage (to the modern mind), that it is no sort of Test.

The wide appreciation of PEBBLES is a remote consequence of Protestantism.

A shore of PEBBLES is a very picture of Democracy; every PEBBLE on it is 'interesting'.

The PEBBLE never had so much dignity as when it was employed as an alpha by the old Pythagoreans.

The PEBBLE is an infant compared to the net-cork.

The PEBBLE is foolishly admired as being hand-made by the Ocean.

Too much has been made of the untutored PEBBLE.

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Jerome Rothenberg: from Divagations, A Work in Progress

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:31 AM 0 comments
[A series of new poems with footnoted variant readings, scheduled for publication as a Big Bridge Press E-Book with drawings by Nancy Victoria Davis.]

DIVAGATIONS (1)
The Birth of Time

Results run backward gathering in force until they end up in some sort of cavern miraculously well lit & everyone there feels surprise & wonder.

They are more like phantoms than like little men: a symptom of the way they cough & breathe.*

From the depths the girl at center rises, edges toward the stooping man & calls him father.+

She is a distant runner, trained to smash against the wind & carry on until some place draws nigh – where the whole point of speed is relaxation.#

It fits & lessens our predicament, although no final strategy permits it.

Even so.

My hand in yours allows a sleep in which each dream is like a hole in paradise.^

The more you fall through it** the more it takes you to the birth of time.++

* bob & weave........+ [maybe the stupid man is what you meant.]
# execution..... ^ a holy paradigm. .....** stall in it .....++ of rhyme.


DIVAGATIONS (2)
A Field on Mars

Hunted from their places,* fierce+ & hungry# hordes & nomads plunge into our streets.

The word is desiccation, somewhere that was fertile once, & now, battered by a hostile wind, becomes a field on Mars, a world more lonely than the world allows.

Behold the grandmother, her skin a dirty grey^ as if the light were of a foreign color, absent, hidden from the hole in which she dwells.**

These are no children’s games – or are they?

Cards slapped on a table, thrown against a wall, brought as a pack down on the willing skin.

Saints alive!++

The call to battle rattles the savage mind, a premise from the present yet no less exotic.

Granted: that their funds are toxic comes as no surprise; that the lack of means betokens a further struggle; that nations once deprived rise in their millions.##

It is a thought on which to dwell, shaken^^ from sleep.

* pastures.... + skinned..... # angry.... ^ [trying to see it in his mind]
** she smells..... ++ [words that her ghost called forth] .....## with
their minions .....^^ rousted

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Let's begin with the thought that Duncan, in his poetics, embodies a series of paradoxes that at once reflect and reflect upon the antecedent poetics of what he called his "modernist masters." Such paradoxes were what struck me when I first encountered Duncan at the Vancouver Poetry Conference, staged at the University of British Columbia in 1963. I had come to know Duncan's work initially through Donald Allen's pathbreaking anthology, The New American Poetry, then through The Opening of the Field, published by Grove Press in 1960 and finally through a copy of the long out-of-print Poems 1948-49 which I'd found on the back shelves of Gordon Cairnie's Grolier Bookshop in Cambridge. I had been greatly impressed by the exploratory audacity of the work, by the manipulation of complex, resistant harmonies, and by the kinetic idea of what Duncan called "composition by field," whereby all elements of the poem are potentially equally active in the composition as "events" of the poem:

The artist, after Dante's poetics, works with all parts of the poem as polysemous, taking each thing of the composition as generative of meaning, a response to and a contribution to the building form . . . . So the artist of abundancies delites in puns, interlocking and separating figures, plays of things missing or things appearing "out of order" that remind us that all orders have their justification in an order of orders only our faith as we work addresses. Were all in harmony to our ears, we would dwell in the dreadful smugness in which our mere human rationality relegates what it cannot cope with to the "irrational," as if the totality of creation were without ratios.

(from Bending the Bow, Introduction, p.ix)

Statements such as this appeared to lay the ground for a prosody and poetics in radical opposition to the institutionally dominant Anglo-American formalism of the time, to propose a prosody and a poetics responsive to the most recent developments in music and the visual arts, yet anchored, through Dante and many others to a "spirit of romance" animating human history.

As an engaged, twenty-year old student of modernist principles, however, I was disturbed by Duncan's free use of ornament, of archaic diction and grandiose rhetoric, and by the neoplatonic aura surrounding much of the work. (Such "disturbance" is an intentional function of Duncan's poetics as he challenges assumptions and boundaries both to the right and to the left.) At Vancouver, in the freewheeling discussions with Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Margaret Avison, Duncan would continually queer the pitch. Into a consideration of projective verse, he would introduce Mallarmé; at the mention of Whitehead's Process and Reality, he might offer Boehme, William Carlos Williams, Edith Sitwell; to Ginsberg's proposition of "spontaneous bop prosody" he would counter with the "Law we are given to follow." Thus, even among sympathetic peers (though Ginsberg and Duncan were not often in sympathy), Duncan felt the need to assert the force of heretical opinion, which in turn for him was grounded in the authority of timeless heretical gnosis. The poem was to stand as a "grand collage," a constellation of myriad myths and voices from an eternal counter-tradition, as well as of impulses, accidents and intrusions, disciplined and informed by an attention to the poem's ratios or measures. Into its field, "where sympathies and aversions mingle," closed and open forms, harmonies and disharmonies, the mythic and the mundane, the hieratic and the demotic, were to be equally welcomed. Whence Pound's plaint, during a visit by Duncan to St. Elizabeth's, that Duncan had put back in everything they had labored so long to take out.

Duncan's project can be seen in part as an effort to make place once again for the artifice, affect, and lore modernism had repressed. However, this was achieved not in reaction against modernism (and certainly not for the sake of decor), but as an extension of its exploratory impulse and a reading or revealing of its progressive, Romantic philosophical and aesthetic origins.

Duncan interprets this Romantic impulse as an eternal one, alive in the perverse, resistant voices of poets, but equally so in the syncretistic impulse of Hellinistic philosophy, the songs of the Cathars, gnostic texts, Oz, Alice, Freud, George MacDonald, George Herriman, and others. All are threads in the fabric of mythic lore. "Myth," states Duncan at the beginning of The Truth and Life of Myth, "is the story of what cannot be told, as mystery is the scene of what cannot be revealed, and the mystic gnosis the thing known that cannot be known." At another point he writes:

Myth, for Dante, for Shakespeare, for Milton, was the poet-lore handed down in the tradition from poet to poet. It was the very matter of Poetry, the nature of the divine world as poets had testified to it; the poetic piety of each poet, his acknowledgment of what he had found true Poetry, worked to conserve that matter. And, for each, there was in the form of their work--the literary vision, the play of actors upon the stage, and the didactic epic--a kind of magic, for back of these forms we surmise distant origins in the rituals toward ecstasy of earliest Man. Once the operations of their art began they were transported from their sense of myth as literary element into the immediacy of the poem where reality was mythological.

(from The Truth and Life of Myth, p.39)

By implication, each poem comes in response to this Traditio and is a kind of "listening in," as well as an ec-stasis or standing outside oneself. It is in this sense that Duncan will refuse the claim of originality and insist that he is a "derivative" poet, a poet of near infinite derivations. The statement is a provocation--another assault on the Modernist credo--but it is also evidence of Duncan's subversive playfulness, and his delight in demolishing expectations. It would be difficult to imagine a more willfully idiosyncratic position for such a poet at such a time. Yet it is grounded, ultimately, and perhaps once again paradoxically, in his conviction regarding poetry's responsibility toward and derivation from the immediate world, that is, a world of multiple immediacies, socio-political, sexual, psychic, and imaginal.

Robert Duncan grew up, the adopted son of a theosophical family, in the town of Bakersfield, California. As Michael Davidson has noted in his book, The San Francisco Renaissance, the interpretive methods of theosophical reading of both text and world deeply influenced the poet's sense of the ways meanings inhere and things correspond:

"This charged, participatory act of reading gains definition through contemporary theories of 'open field verse,' to be sure, but for Duncan its origins can be found in the theosophical tradition that he inherited from his adopted family. For his parents, 'the truth of things was esoteric (locked inside) or occult (masked by) the apparent . . . .' Within this environment every event was significant as an element in a larger, cosmological scheme. Although Duncan has never practised within any theosophical religion, he has easily translated its terms into works like Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. . . . Within both theosophical and Freudian hermeneutics, story is not simply a diversion or fiction, but an 'everlasting omen of what is.'"
(from The San Francisco Renaissance, p.132)

This childhood also brought Duncan early knowledge of his homosexuality, which would play a central role in articulating the complex thematics of his work. Long before it was safe to do so, Duncan "came out" in both his personal and public lives. In 1944, Dwight Macdonald's Politics published Duncan's still-controversial article, "The Homosexual in Society." This caused John Crowe Ransom to withdraw Duncan's "African Elegy" from its scheduled publication in the Kenyon Review. Many lines of battle were being drawn at once.

My own friendship with Duncan, and with his companion, the painter Jess, dates from the early 1970's. By then the days of the Berkeley Renaissance, with its youthful community around Duncan, Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser, and the latter days of the much more public San Francisco Renaissance, were over. Jack Spicer had died in 1965. Robin Blaser had moved to Vancouver, where his work in poetry and poetics continued to thrive and deepen. Robert became the central figure in a new, activist poetic community that would emerge in part from the New College of California Poetics Program, of which he was the head. He taught as he spoke as he wrote, leading students on a wild, non-linear ride "in search of the subject." He was much the same in personal conversation, insistently enthusiastic, combative, heuristic, making associational leaps and challenging you to follow across the open field and, at times, through the dark wood. He waged, intermittently, a visceral, not always coherent battle against the Language Poets, suspecting them of hidden orthodoxies and of repressing the dimension of Spirit, with that troublesome, rebarbative capital letter. The last afternoon I visited him, the day before his death in 1988, I mentioned that my daughter and I were reading the third volume of the Oz tales together. He paused for a moment, then his face lit up, "Oh! The one with the heads!"

[The preceding article originally appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of American Poet, the biannual journal of The Academy of American Poets. Copyright © 1997 by Michael Palmer. Used with permission. All rights reserved. A related posting, “Michael Palmer on Shelley,” appeared here on August 23, 2008.]

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Mikhl Likht: An Excerpt from “Procession Seven”

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 3:29 AM 0 comments
Translation from Yiddish by Merle Bachman

“What would be the use of a procession ... if people had
all to lie down on their faces so that they couldn’t see it?”
.....................Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

............................................[lines to B. S.]
1

(Play in 41 scenes. Frosty afternoon. Theater: unartist-
ic origin............Mobile dream.........Crossroads.........Fulfillment.
Rienzi Overture; Gretry: Cephale et Pro-cris; Debussy; Printemps, suite.
Redeem: The Greenhorn Cousin, Father of Compassion, Bridal March—
Eastside Orchestra on Victor Records.....
Wet eyelashes.....Motheryearning.........Thus: days, nights, until, from)

.............Concealed from you, the wrathful power
.............that submerges itself in your artless ways.

.............Your hands like August-corn-ear
............ prayerfully balanced in a passionate wind.
.............I the one elected “caretaker”
.............pay a tithe for the full contents.

.............Your gift to me shall not remain thankless.

2

(Undiagnosed paralysis. Heartblind. Eros and Psyche, New Yorked version.
Nineteen-twenty-threed. Black tapes around a dramatic script.
Greeting from land to land. Boisterous queue: “Czar Feodor” horshoed around in “Cherry Garden.” Long stroll from there to there. Accidental chill.
Communication courageless sought. Another one, sought after. Courageous
still-silentness. We read Goethe’s Divan-Poems. Assonance achieves dis.)
............Remaining for me from a basket of “Queen Anne’s Lace”
............t h i s cool evening,
............t h a t glowing t u r n in daytime,
............the spill of curled-up leaflets at the bride’s feet
............on a day when innocence bubbles
............into bold ripeness. I seek a correction
............in the abundant warmth spurring you on toward
............man-defender, child-consolation.
............Retrospective evenings end
............cycles of brightshining confusion.

3

(dzin-dzin. Timeclock signal: deathfall. Passus from Egyptian darkness. A
gull deluges two mountains. A seagull—two continents. A lust-
gull—two climaxes. Sheer flooding in nothing. Despair
John Milton: “Take away then, my tortures. Nay. Take them not away!...
Loving is such sweet wretchedness!”
)
............In the risky contest of our muteness
............falls the adversary, our erstwhile
............strangeness. The gossipy sea that flows
............in our friends’ astonished shrugs
............bears on its waves
............the pieces of our boat’s ribs.
............The boat had sailed in a rush
............in a gloomy whirl from your not-understanding
............the dreams’ meaning communicated to us both.

............Fleeting notes from a farewell
............over your sinful gift to me.

[Found in Gezalmete Lider, edited by N. B. Minkov and published in Buenos Aires, 1957. Note: I’ve italicized words that appear in English, in the original. (M.B.)]

COMMENTARY

What emerges in Likht’s work from 1923, as Bachman delivers it to us in English, is an extraordinarily complex & experimental poetry & poetics, far more radical in structure & content than all but a handful of his American counterparts & near contemporaries [Pound, Zukofsky, Williams, Cummings] & to some degree predating most of them. It is a confirmation as well of Kenneth Rexroth’s observation of a Yiddish avant-garde & futurist presence in his own early years in New York: “A good case could be made for the claim that the best writing done in America in the first quarter of the [twentieth] century was in Yiddish. I don’t think it’s really true, but it is sufficiently true to be passionately arguable in one of those passionate arguments that used to sprinkle the whiskers with sour cream in the Café Royale.” In Likht’s case, however, the aptness of Rexroth’s original appraisal, often repeated in conversation, seems remarkably & strikingly on target.

Writes Bachman in a brief summary of Likht’s life & career: “Mikhl Likht was an avant-garde Yiddish poet in New York in the 1920s and ’30s (although he kept writing until his death at the age of sixty in 1953). Born in a Ukrainian village in 1893, he came over to the U.S. in 1913, where he eventually participated in the short-lived movement of American Yiddish modernist poetry associated with the ‘In zikh' group (meaning ‘within one’s self; introspective’). Likht was both lauded and scorned by his Yiddish contemporaries for the ways in which he dared to leap over the heads of his Yiddish audience by embracing a highly idiosyncratic and often obscure vision in his poetry. However, he is a potential figure of great interest for poets and scholars interested in a multi-ethnic American modernism. Likht was an avid reader and follower of modernist poetry in English, and translated numerous poems into Yiddish by writers as diverse as Carl Sandburg, Mina Loy, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. Perhaps his greatest achievement lies in the nine lengthy poems he published that he called ‘Processions.’ Pages long, they run through a gamut of styles and innovations and could justifiably be regarded as choice examples of the modernist ‘long poem.’”

A full translation of Likht’s “Processions” – by Bachman & myself – is now in progress. (J.R.)

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Amy Catanzano: Four Poems toward a Quantum Poetics

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:36 AM 0 comments

Notes on the Enclosure of Notes

We were free like fixed stars.
They fall beneath me.

I do not move; we are free to clear the space with these
stars. Space clears the stars from my eyes.
They are moving, and we

are free to fix the stars. They move
without falling. We are falling

and free. We are free

to make a spell with the stars.

Space is free; I populate
the space with stars. We fall beneath them like the sea.
We clear the sea
of its space.

We are free; the sea is free. The sea
is fixed. The sea has

moved;

I am fixed by the falling stars.

We clear the space from our eyes so that all we see
are the stars. The sea moves.

It is populated with words; the sea falls like a star.
We are free to clear the words
from our eyes.

They do not move. Words are not fixed

stars. I am free in the sea. I am free like the words
falling; nothing

is fixed. We populate the words in our eyes
with stars; we fall with them in space

up from the sea, free.

[Originally published in Multiversal (Fordham University Press, 2009)]

“…SCIENCE with a capital SCYTHE!”
In honor of Alfred Jarry’s “The Supermale”

The Supermale’s
solid tear is worn

in the ring like a
perpetual heart

of both the machine
and the woman

who fell in love
with the man

’shadow, neither
immaterially nor

infinitely but
indefinitely, a god-

-dess embracing
past light records

in proximity to
the other starlike

world they create—
the department

of the impossible—
I, too, adore

The Becoming of Memory

How does anything shimmer beyond its borders? I found courage in the parody of my theory of the machine. That’s how singularities end, Aletheia thinks. Speculatively. As long as I hold on to it you will write me. I will be borderless for you, and you, in return, will border me.

Once across, she focuses on her goal, performing the experiment from the inside out. Hours in, she hears a voice behind her.

Away in the world, the voice hums.

Aletheia turns around. Something emerges from near the largest of her test tubes.

Unlike Aletheia it did not need a name. Its gravity was strong. It resisted the idea of its final form, and this pleased it. But it was dangerous. Whereas Aletheia was narrow it was one of many, a ghost from the inner colonies, as when implicating something, it would ask, what divides the world from the war? Using the land we know.

It’s been too long, Aletheia says, speaking to it through space.

It reads and responds in a close dialect. I thought we weren’t concerned with time anymore, it grins.

You got me there.

It notices Aletheia’s predicament. You’re unconcealed, it says.

That’s why I need to find Epoché.

It nods. I’m headed to the temporary autonomous zones. I imagine you haven’t been there, to the surveillance ruins? Can I bring you back anything? it laughs.

Aletheia relaxes. I’ve heard about the temporary autonomous zones, she says. Like you, they are something of a legend.

They are entryways, it admits.

The government’s physics, she whispers.

Aletheia knew deep inside the planet in her mind that a forest was always clearing. The surveillance ruins were no place for her. She needed to find Epoché. So they would join forces against the war. If they hadn’t already. This would require an extropian’s perspective.

And everything that is detected, like art, it interrupts. It assembles the space so that she can read between its lines.

We will split the unsuspecting flatlanders right in half! Aletheia declares, then shifts her gaze to the crowns of semperviviams nesting the doorway. Nearby, the quilled chrysanthemums bloom spherically, sprayed, and thread-petaled. Even out of focus, I prefer the cornflower or blue bottle, like the beloved music from an instrument you once knew and played.

[From “Starlight in Two Million: A Neo-Scientific Novella”]

This is the Value of Inquiry

Blissymbols were a plausible language
to some but not all. So he
went to his library.
Something replicated.
Undressed.
He examined features.
Some petals grew into portals.
But he didn’t stop at symmetry.
Not this time.
Limbs produced the rarest results.
But he needed something else.
That would work day or night.
Change on their own.
And keep up.
In clumps.
Sometimes legibly.
Like organs, they were internal.
They grew larger.
Into scales.
One scale was blue.
Another orange.
Some flames were green.
Lakes.
Still others were without color.
And others with all.
His favorite color was the vowel.
Her favorite vowel was the atom.
His favorite atom was the rhythm.
Her favorite rhythm was the prism.
His favorite prism was the violet.
Her favorite violet was the lyric.
His favorite lyric was the logic.
Her favorite logic was the toxic.
His favorite toxic was the vertex.
Her favorite vertex was the tonic.
His favorite tonic was the cortex.
Her favorite cortex was the planet.
To his delight, it seemed to be
working. The ocean was getting
louder. Aletheia and Epoché
would soon arrive.

[From “Starlight in Two Million: A Neo-Scientific Novella”]

N.B. Amy Catanzano’s seminal essay on Quantum Poetics appeared earlier in Poems and Poetics – in two installments, here and here. Her latest book of poems, Multiversal, received a 2010 PEN USA Literary Award in Poetry.

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John Martone: Presence of All Colors

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:59 AM 0 comments
................................................for Jerome Rothenberg

my black wristwatch
my black pocketknife
my black chanting-box
my black rosary
my black flashlight
my black winter gloves
my black watch-cap
my black camera
my black typewriter
my black tyre-sandals
my black lamp wick
my black picture frame
my black tu’ pháp
my black shortwave
my black cassock
my black window
my black tooth
my closed eyes

• • •

failing to observe
failing to keep chaste


failing to go hungry
failing to keep sober


failing to turn home
failing to depart for the forest


failing silence
failing to utter

• • •

presence of all colors


indifferent to inside
indifferent to outside


equal to infinite
equally subzero


null & null
null & null


dream ending there
dream precipitating there


when wakening
when wakening

• • •

Lying in bed & seeing orange
Lying in bed & seeing blue
Lying in bed & seeing turquoise
Lying in bed & seeing green
Lying in bed & seeing pine
Lying in bed no longer asleep

• • •

Never speaking tiéng Viêt
Never speaking Hokkien
Never speaking Dzao
Never speaking Ede
Never speaking Bahnar
Never speaking Jarai
Never speaking Hmong
Never speaking Muong
Never speaking Nhang
Never speaking Nung
Never Speaking Sedang
Never speaking Tai
Never speaking Tay
Never speaking one

[This is the second set of poems by John Martone to appear in Poems and Poetics. On publishing the first set, “geometry,” I wrote: “[Martone] remains throughout our greatest living miniaturist -- his art a scaled-down work of nearly epic dimensions,” an appraisal I think that continues to be the case today. (J.R.)]

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[This sequence of poems from the early 1960s was recovered, along with numerous others, for Retrievals, a volume of Uncollected & New Poems 1955-2010, to be published early in 2011 by Mark Weiss & Junction Press. Seventeen previous installments from Retrievals have appeared since 2008 in Poems & Poetics. (J.R.)]

1

.......................A season in the mind
.......................of hell, the furthest
.......................opening, a passage
............starting from the eye
............then journeys
............downward, further down
......................it meets itself
......................the meeting
is another start,
the passage out
returning

2
........................:
........................in mud, the silt
........................from Euphrates’ banks
........................he saw

........................THE CREATION

This was the silence of the beginning
& spoke

........................TIAMAT
........................APSU (abyss)

A woman without hands
with pierced sex crying

Who dreamed it: was it death
or hunger then: in whose mind
was the water born, whose image?

.......................CHAOS
.......................was its name

& there were colors in it, lines
in all directions, such fine animals
of every kind & faces without end

: chaos with colors with bright eyes

*

& ATUM grew restless
too but found no woman

bathed in NUN he felt
his member swell, its lips
would open toward him
then he took it in his hand

3

(These were the notes, the words written in the first phase. I read them over until they blurred, until they were words no longer but music, until the music was music no longer but light, until the light split into small suns & moons & spun around me. What did I see? What could I report to the others? So deeply imbedded as no longer to be a part of me. Light we cannot hold, but goes from us

4

& filled it with shapes
........................bending around the curve
........................a star breaks
........................two stars
a yellow tree grows toward the opposite light
as song

foliage of morning, water
....................... your body that falls
........................the empty light no longer
........................your body in the morning air
...............................forgive me
........................your body in its latitudes
...............................forgive....forgive me
as the yellow tree was music
grew................that I will know you
........................only for a day
forgive me

5

where does it start in us?
........................each time I draw breath
........................the pain
........................feels even deeper,
........................signals a loss
that leads beyond my escape to it
the face
detestable face
smiling at me over the black lamp
........................breaks the spell, hope
........................dies again
........................always the procession
........................of the eternal marchers
........................begins
but
“willing to stake your life & risk madness
.............................(writes Snyder)
how far already
........................when even the poem
is more than I wanted

6

A KEY. TO SPEAK THESE WORDS IS TO BE DELIVERED: AVOID TERROR AT ALL COSTS, OR ELSE KNOW DREAD AS ITSELF A KIND OF JOY: IT IS NO LONGER THE EYE THAT SEES, BUT SIGHT EXTENDS FROM THE OPEN POINT TO WHERE MOTION IS FIVE-DIRECTIONAL AND ETERNAL: FROM HEREON THERE IS NOTHING THE MIND KNOWS THAT IS NOT REAL

7
....................................for Robert Kelly

Strange
............that it takes so long to die


............: my father’s words
............stay with me are heard
as impulse.....as the image
say, or pivot
.......................lingers (Duncan tells us)
.......................in the melos
all the rest is
senseless
.......................although we sing it
.......................(as the garden spinning
turns
to join her body)

............& in perfect health begin,
............hoping to cease not till death

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