[Wgcp-whc] WG/Poetics--Minutes N. Tarn visit & upcoming

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Wed Mar 28 10:44:38 EST 2007

Dear All,

My apologies first for being late in providing a report on the visit by
Nathaniel Tarn to the group on Friday Feb 23rd.  I also want to apologize in
advance for what will prove a somewhat abbreviated set of minutes.  Sadly
I?ve had a major computer failure that has left me without a computer or
internet access for weeks and that destroyed my notes from Tarn?s visit.

Nathaniel Tarn proved as erudite in person as his poems and essays suggested and
he discussed his work as a poet in the context of his own biography. 
Interestingly, Tarn at one point said that he found biographies of poets,
artists, and philosophers often to be more useful in understanding art (in
whatever form) and its production than most criticism.  In this sense, for him
the biography doesn?t explain references (what a poet really meant when
he/she wrote x) so much as locate them within a range of concerns that any
person?s life touches on. The biography than indicates the spectrum of
knowledge and experience out of which artistic responses arise.  The responses
(that is art itself) aren?t limited to or defined by that set of stimuli, but
they do provide contextual guidance for readers.

This is especially relevant given Tarn?s polymathism and polyglottalism in
that his life is marked by an intellectual restlessness and an ongoing appetite
for experiential knowledge. His investment and immersion in a number of
disciplines (poetry and anthropology?not to mention publishing and even bird
watching) evinces a desire to actively engage the world in multiple directions
and on multiple register.  The key here is the way that various kinds of
discourses offer world views that order information, and provide models for
interpreting experience.  Poetry for Tarn then allows for the inhabiting an
openness of language that allows all of these registers to enter in.  Tarn
indicated that for him the central (epistemological, ontological, spiritual,
existential) problem is the many and the one and the one in the many.  The
erudition in his poetry does not have the cultural-pedagogical intent informing
the work of Pound, say, or Eliot.  Instead, the density of its allusions arise
from the sense of various kinds of language, experiences, and so forth
overlapping.  In a sense, this desire for multiplicity and the dream of
inhabiting multiple registers informs his prodigious work in translation
(primarily from the French and the Spanish). These allows for him to inhabit
other traditions and bring them into English, opening discussions between
various culture but also allowing (less altruistically) for him to serve as
that bridge that crosses various linguistic possibilities.  More linguistic
possibilities allow for increased possible imaginations (or to use another
term, the poet can be a citizen of multiple image-nations).  One can see how
this moves toward a totalizing desire for a full, complete knowledge with
poetry as a means of inhabiting that knowledge.  However, the world?s
irreconcilable multiplicity (not to mention human, all too human limitations)
always prevents that achieving of totality

Ultimately, Tarn tied this thinking to a discussion from his essay ?On
Refining a Model of Poetic production? where he offers a preliminary
structure for thinking about poetic making in terms of three levels: 1) the
Vocal, 2) the Silence, and 3) the Choral. The first and last are in radical
opposition but are in need of one another to exist and the two meet in the
field of the middle order.  The Vocal is where a self acts in relation to (and
often in competition with, dialectically with) other and otherness.  The Choral
is the absence of an individuated self (one might think of this as the many as
opposed to the one). While there is a certain amount of metaphysics here, we
can see the real world effect of it in Tarn?s actively bringing discrete
culture, language, mythologies, poetries and so forth in conversation together.
 Rather than simply eliding differences art bears out the Silence where these
two modes/ways of being co-exist.  In all the work of poetry (or art) is to
create the conditions of this encounter?which makes art also an ethical act. 
The poem itself then bears out a microchoreography that the poet negotiates in
terms of the materials of consciousness, language, experience.  Tarn himself
doesn?t worry about ?teaching? the reader how to read the work, but in
terms of that microchoreography enacts a the vying with materials that another
reader would have to go through as well.

Tarns stressed that the thinking (his poetics) is finally not theoretical but is
an attempt to articulate the experiential world.  The session was one of the
most intense that we?ve had and was provocative, generative, and collegial on
a range of levels and registers?which of course seemed decidedly apt.  Soon
Tarn?s reading from the day before at the Beinecke library will be available
online to members of the Yale community.

Just a reminder: we will not be meeting on March 30th as originally announced. 
Instead we will have an event on April 6th as the Working Group in Contemporary
Poetics is working in conjunction with the Yale Collection of American
Literature to present. On April 6th (at 3 PM) we are helping sponsor a
screening of film about Charles
Olson, one of the major figures of Black Mountain College, the New American
Poetry, and post-War poetics.

The film is entitled "Polis is This: Charles Olson and the
Persistence of Place," and the director, Henry Ferrini, will be in attendance.
Members should contact Nancy Kuhl (nancy.kuhl at yale.edu) if interested in meeting
with Ferrini after the screening.
More information about the film is available on line:
http://www.ferriniproductions.com/polis_is_this/index.html.This is more or less
an advanced screening and there will be some opportunity to give some feedback
on the film. The film includes biographical sketches, comments on the work,
selections from Olson?s oeuvre being by read by John Malkovich, and a sense
of Olson?s Gloucester, MA, context.

We did have a session regarding Olson and his poems and poetics about a year ago
and I'd recommend that people peruse the archives in order to refresh their
memories about our discussion.  The link is here:
I'll post also a link to the Olson author page at Buffalo's Electronic Poetry
Center: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/olson/
This will lead people to online recordings, articles, poems, and Olson's
archives at UConnecticut. Note we will meet in the Beinecke not our usual room
in the Whitney Humanities Center.  This screening is open to all, so do spread
the word.

Richard Deming, Co-Coordinator

The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other Friday
at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University to
discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry within international
alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of lyric poetry. All are welcome to

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