[Wgcp-whc] Reading today at 4 & Susan Stewart session 4-29

Richard Deming richard.deming at yale.edu
Wed Apr 20 13:17:37 EDT 2011

Dear Poeticians,

We met last Friday for our first discussion of Susan Stewart and her most recent collection of poems, Red Rover.  Susan Stewart will join us for our second discussion of her work on April 29th from 3-5 in room 116 of the Whitney Humanities Center (our last session of the semester/year!). From our first discussion, a set of questions were assembled that have been forwarded to her.  These will help structure our conversation on the 29th, though of course the exchange will be a dialogue, so the questions are really just prompts.  I'll past the se below.  Also, since it just appeared in my inbox, I'll paste a poem of Stewart's that just appeared on the Boston Review website. How's that for cutting edge timeliness!

Also, if you have time today, you might stop by at the Beinecke at 4 pm.  Two of our regular WGCP members--Cooper Wilhelm and Ilan Ben-Meir--are part of a group reading of Yale student poets.

And our own Gray Jacobik has a very interesting interview/response about "How a Poem Happens" here http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2011/04/gray-jacobik.html

Richard Deming, Group Co-coordinator

Questions from Yale Poetics Group for April 29th, 2011

Whitney Humanities Center Room 116, 3-5 PM.



·      Throughout Red Rover (beginning even with the title), one sees references to children’s games, echoes of nursery rhymes, allusions to mythology.  Given that your doctorate is in folklore, what do you see the role of poetry to be in maintaining and disseminating certain cultural modes and models?  To push this further, is your poetry a participation in/a continuance of these older modes and practices (including older, traditional lyric modes)? Or is it a recuperation? A redemption? This has some bearing on the opening paragraphs, too, of Poetry and the Fate of the Senses and your discussion there of poetry’s defense against the encroaching “oblivion of darkness” (indeed, many of us had to review some of the games that get mentioned—including Red Rover). And what is that darkness, ultimately?


·      At the center of Red Rover stands an elegy for the victims of the Amish school massacre in 2006. Is there a certain way of reading all of Red Rover as elegiac in terms of its sense of wanting to draw upon cultural history? Was this something you were aware of in structuring the book? Again, this question is tied to the notion of how you conceptualize a relationship of your work to tradition.



·      In your practice as a poet (and in light of the preceding questions) how do you protect your work from slipping into nostalgia (acknowledging the past without valorizing it for its own sake)?


·      What are the responsibilities of the contemporary poet in terms of writing (from, with, within) the present moment?


·      Red Rover is a game of invocation and even, perhaps, incantation—as names are called, summoning players to join the other side (unless they break the line).  Do you see the work as performing a larger lyric address or invocation? What or who is being summoned?  And to what end?


·      Included in Red Rover is “Songs for Adam”, which had originally been commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as “moon at morning,” which was part of an artist’s book by Enid Mark. What is your thinking about the process of collaboration?  And does that collaboration shape how these poems are situated in Red Rover? In other words, pulled from that collaborative context, do you see these poems as different somehow?  What is their relationship to the original context?


·      In Red Rover you include translations and cited material.  Do you see these as collaborations?  You do mark the source material, but only in notes at the back of the collection, so reading straight through many readers wouldn’t necessarily recognize the debt or source of these poems.  Are you enacting some sense of inheritance and lineage?


Piano Music for a Silent Movie

Susan Stewart

The gossips whisper their reproaches—
was it my fault I was too young for the war?

A muddy rain spoils every picnic‚
but the fields are thirsty‚ the farmers are poor.

My talent lies in kissing and pretending‚
and climbing barefoot up a trellis in the dark.

The neighbors are sharpening their pitchforks‚
though no one dares to tell us. In the park

I found her note pinned to a linden‚
her hair ribbon snagged in a pine

—All the world worries a lover
when all the world seems like a sign.

I crossed the weedy river
and floated along to her door.

She promised me a portrait of the roses:
Forever Pearl‚ and Malakoff’s Tour‚

Gloire de Dijon‚ and Marechal‚
the Souvenir of Malmaison;

I promised her nothing but trouble—
my être had no raison.

Her hens pecked the grain from my pockets;
her cat ate the butter-fat.

You needed a coupon for coffee‚ so I 
brought her some cherries in my hat.

She stowed her watercolors in the rowboat—
I threw my books in the stern;

The oars dripped blue across our shoes
and we banked in a bed of ferns.

The crazy maid shattered the porch roof
while the merry-go-round never stopped.

Cannon pounded in the distance
(or was it thunder?)—every ear felt the pop.

As for us‚ we were always falling‚ deeper
than the tides and the moon‚

Deeper than the quarry and the well‚
and the shadows that hide at noon.

All this frenzy set the cocks a-crowing—
she let me pick the table and the chair‚

The olive-wood glowed to embers:
she let me let down her hair.

“I kissed his ear and his elbow‚” she sang‚
and the silky side of his thigh.

I kissed his knees‚ I kissed his lips
and then he waved goodbye.”

Our little spirit flitted‚ 
as fast and light as a moth.

“Shameful‚” they said‚ “unlawful
—a troth‚ in the end‚ is a troth.”

Love is a lapse and lovers liars‚
the father weeps‚ the mother sighs.

The wagons are circling 
below the bedroom floor.

One laughs too much‚ 
the other cries.

The honeysuckle lost its honey
and the hens took their grain indoors.

Frost leveled the ferny banks
and ice grew thick on the oars.

I saw her face in the water.
I saw his face in the glass.

Some of us live in the present‚ 
and some of us live in the past‚

But it’s the bootblacks marching toward the future
who trample the summer grass.

The gossips whisper their reproaches—
was it my fault I was too young for the war?

A muddy rain spoils every picnic‚
but the fields are thirsty‚ the farmers are poor.

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