[Wgcp-whc] Palmer minutes (10/17) and Silliman visit this Friday

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Wed Nov 5 12:01:29 EST 2008

Dear Friends,

I?ll keep the report about Michael Palmer?s visit a bit brief so as to not
delay it any further.  I?ll also include some announcements about upcoming
events that touch on the WGCP at the end.

Palmer joined us on October 17th for a discussion of his work. The discussion
often centered on Palmer?s placing his work within a broader context of the
avant garde. As a younger poet, really at the edge of his life as a poet,
Palmer found the modernists and the Romantics already institutionally canonized
and overdetermined. In this way, they were already historicized and distant in a
way that could not give him an idea of progress or innovation. He described his
discovery while a student at Harvard the presence of an active alternative to
the poetry of his immediate milieu in the work being produced by the New
American poets (taking its loose confederation from the Donald Allen anthology
published in 1960 and which included Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Frank
O?Hara, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, and others).  Palmer described his
visit to the Vancouver Poetry festival in the summer of 1963.  For Palmer, this
festival was a revelation in that he found a real community of poet?s with
sympathetic values and interests where heretofore he had felt isolated.  At
this event, Palmer made some enduring friendships?from Clark Coolidge and
Creeley and so on.  A recording of some of this truly historic event is
available here: http://slought.org/toc/Vancouver1963/

This context prompted Palmer to discuss the usefulness of communities and social
formations as means of bringing a poet into a sense of him- or herself by way of
interacting with others. The group allows for the articulation of aesthetic
values and poetics in a conversation that gives an amount of permission.
However, at a certain point the poet comes to the limitations of that social
dynamic, and then must create distance from that group.  While he suggested
that he was no strict Freudian (and he made clear that he was also citing
George Oppen?s description of a poet?s maturation and actualization
process), the model he described seemed to draw on just that.  In other words,
a young poet seeks out a group that will enable her to become a poet of her
choosing--in a sense seeking out the conditions that will give birth to her
self. Yet once he or she has fashioned that identity by way of the group, that
group dynamic must be overcome, surpassed, so that the identity can be
actualized on its own terms.  This means that the poet?s responsibility
shifts from the group and its dynamic concerns to their own sense of self, a
new and deepened sense of responsibility to the art occurs.

What became evident is that Palmer?s work is a deeply felt counterpoetics that
seeks not to simply resist dominant models of poetry and poetics?and indeed
discourse as a whole?but enacts a skepticism towards habits of thought that
never question themselves.  This skepticism, directed even (sometimes
especially) at one?s own habits and conventions enables the possibility of a
renewed avant garde, one that is historically contemporary. This produces a
disjunctive, irrupted poetry.  Yet, this disjunction works on two levels it is
both a form of resistance as well as a form of realism in that it is a mimetic
representation of the fragmented, discontinuous nature of the world and the
self. Insistence on unity and continuity is the more false representation of
the world and of language, even.  Palmer?s poetry, then, is abstract inasmuch
as it enacts a pull between description and reflection of that rupture.

Palmer discussed one clear change in his work as being the inclusion of wit or
humor that has occurred more the last few books and including the new one that
he is currently working on..  For Palmer, the Nietzschean laugh is a way of
terming discourse, particularly poetic discourse on itself, a way of escaping
the overdeterminations of pathos.  In a similar ways, Palmer described his
recurring use of the grammar of children?s ballads as both a logic and a
counterlogic in their conventions of genre and their emphasis on the fantastic
and even violent moves against social decorum.  In that they also serve as a
cultural ground, Palmer sees them as being able to provide a means of
destabilizing cultural routines. Again, the disruption and destabilizes is not
an end in and of itself, but is the necessary condition for discovery,
openness, possibility?and beauty, a radical and radicalizing beauty born out
of responsibility and rupture.

Clearly, this was a generative and compelling discussion that revisited the
question of that tension?false or otherwise?between aesthetics and poetics
that we have been developing all semester.  This will undoubtedly continue with
our next session, which is this Friday from 3-5 in Rm. 116 of the Whitney
Humanities Center.  We will be joined by Ron Silliman to discuss his poetics
and his massive lifework The Alphabet.  Here is a short but in some ways useful
interview with Silliman:

And a long form bio is here:
And an interview with Silliman by Charles Bernstein is here:

Please feel free to pass word of this event to anyone who might be interested.

Now for some announcements:

1) Jean-Jacques sends word of this:
"Poetry's Imaginary after the Romantic Imagination"
Christophe Wall-Romana
University of Minnesota

 Thursday November 5, 4pm
A public  reception will follow

Romance Languages Lounge,
 82-90 Wall Street, Third Floor
The poems Wall-Romana will discuss are attached.

2) Haun Saussy & Lucas Klein
The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry
Wednesday, November 12th @ 5.30PM
Labyrinth Books, NH
Please join us for a book party with Haun Saussy and Lucas Klein as we celebrate
the publication of this jointly edited volume.

First published in 1919 by Ezra Pound, Ernest Fenollosa's essay on the Cinese
written language has become one of the most often quoted statements in the
history of American poetics. As edited by Pound, it presents a powerful
conception of language that continues to shape our poetic and stylistic
preferences: the idea that poems consist primarily of images; the idea that the
sentence form with active verb mirrors relations of natural force. But previous
editions of the essay represent Pound?s understanding­it is fair to say, his
appropriation­of the text. Fenollosa?s manuscripts, in the Beinecke Library
of Yale University, allow us to see this essay in a different light, as a
document of early, sustained cultural interchange between North America and
East Asia.

Pound?s editing of the essay obscured two important features, here restored to
view: Fenollosa?s encounter with Tendai Buddhism and Buddhist ontology, and
his concern with the dimension of sound in Chinese poetry.

This book is the definitive critical edition of Fenollosa?s important work.
After a substantial Introduction, the text as edited by Pound is presented,
together with his notes and plates. At the heart of the edition is the first
full publication of the essay as Fenollosa wrote it, accompanied by the many
diagrams, characters, and notes Fenollosa (and Pound) scrawled on the verso
pages. Pound?s deletions, insertions, and alterations to Fenollosa?s
sometimes ornate prose are meticulously captured, enabling readers to follow
the quasi-dialogue between Fenollosa and his posthumous editor. Earlier drafts
and related talks reveal the developmentof Fenollosa?s ideas about culture,
poetry, and translation. Copious multilingual annotation is an important
feature of the edition.

This masterfully edited book will be an essential resource for scholars and
poets and a starting point for a renewed discussion of the multiple sources of
American modernist poetry.

Haun Saussy is Bird White Housum Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale
University. His books include The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic and Great
Walls of Discourse. Lucas Klein is a graduate student in East Asian Languages
and Literatures at Yale University.

3) WGCP Charter member, Antonella Francini, now one of our Italian
correspondents has recently translated and published in Italy a volume of Jorie
Graham?s selected poems.  An announcement is attached.

That is all the news for now.

Richard Deming

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