a) Barry Kane
b) Marshall Will Kane
c) Charles Foster Kane
e) Captain Queeg
Name the three other relevant movie titles implied by the choices.
2) St. Patrick's Day special: When the hero played by Victor McLaglen (left) shouts "Frankie, your mother forgives me," he is referring to
a) Frankie Machine
b) Frankie 5 Angels
c) Frankie McPhillip
d) Fred Derry
e) General Frank Savage
Name the novel on which the movie is based.
3) Which of these characters does not figure in "Les Enfants du paradis"?
c) Pepe Le Moko
3) Frederic Lemaitre
Who directed the movie?
4) Who says it? "I'm a businessman. Blood is a big expense."
a) Moe Green
c) Johnny Fontaine
Did he also say, "You don't buy me out. I buy you out."
5) Which of these personages survives the bloody finale of "The Wild Bunch"?
a) Pike Bishop
b) Deke Thornton
c) Phyllis Dietrichson
d) Robert E. Lee Prewitt
e) Joel Cairo
True or false: "Pike Bishop" was Sam Peckinpah's sneaky way of predicting the disappearance of Bishop Pike in the summer of 1969.
Khavaran cemetery, located in southeast Tehran, is a place where religious minorities bury their dead. Jews, Christians and the Baha’is are not allowed to be buried in other cemeteries on the grounds that "they are apostates and must not contaminate the resting place of Muslims.”
In February 2009 the Islamic Republic of Iran announced its plan to demolish the cemetery and run a highway through it. By this they intended to erase all evidence of the massacre. However, the cemetery still stands and every September on the anniversary of the massacre the authorities have blocked and harassed Mothers of Khavaran, a group consisting of the families and supporters of the executed, to visit the cemetery. On May 18, 2014 Mothers of Khavaran received the 2014 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.
"The Poem" by Mohsen Emadi is a short film about Khavaran; it is about human brutality in the name of religion and ideology. The film has been screened in Spain, Brazil, Mexico and Portugal. Emadi is a poet, literary translator and filmmaker.
Have you ever been to a foreign film or opera where you got the feeling you were missing the point of the story, or had been cheated of the poetry of the dialogue, poem, or lyrics because the subtitles or supertitles were badly translated? The first clue may be bad grammar or misspellings, as in “launch” for “lunch,” but not all poor translations leave that kind of footprint. More often, they simply render the film or the opera cheated of the power it has in its original language.
I recently saw Iran’s film submission to the Academy Awards, Today, at the Palm Springs Film Festival. It is a beautiful film about a taxi driver in Tehran and a young woman who gets in his taxi. She is pregnant, bruised from beatings, and in labor. What follows is a heartrending depiction of a sweet young woman dealing bravely and innocently with her lot in a man’s world, and a simple taxi driver’s capacity for compassion and kindness. It’s a film that rivals last year’s Academy Awards winner, A Separation—except for its subtitles. THEY SUCKED!
Didn’t the director, Reza Mirkarimi, care about translation? Was he clueless about how important subtitles are in a film in which every line matters? Or was he simply unaware that the translator of his film was unqualified for the task? When a film director, vocalist, or composer is focused on his or her own art, he or she must not forget that an audience unfamiliar with the language and culture of the work enters the film or the opera through the gate of translation.
For example, if you are presenting a musical about a poet and use translations of his or her work by different translators because this serves your production politically or financially, you render the poetic voice in translation uneven. In doing so you cheat the poet, who if dead cannot protect the integrity of his or her poems. You also cheat yourself by rendering your own production weak. When you have a beautiful, important film, and you pay no attention to its subtitles, in effect you are being unfair to your writer, your actors, your audience, and yourself as a director.
As we walked out of the movie theater, a woman behind me told her husband: I loved this film but I have a feeling I missed out on a lot of what characters were truly saying. I turned around and said: Yes, you did.
There’s a new Language Movement in town.
I remember when Charles and Bruce began publishing L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, how their writing made me think of language in a new way. Whether I’m in Australia, or on a reservation in South Dakota, when people say they are talking “in Language,” what I know is that they’re talking in their Mother Tongue. To these folks, English is not Language, English is the way you get along. Language is who you are, words that have been passed down through generations.
“Language Matters” is the first nationwide media recognition of the Language Crisis, which is not just about languages, but cultural diversity. It’s about global homogenization, the Pringleization of society, about cultures being steamrollered under globalization. The growing call to action for language preservation is a drive to see the cultures of the world through a lens of understanding and respect, of seeing the world through a cultural lens, not just a political one. The problem is that in this era of the consciousness of literacy, in this world of hard science, endangered languages and cultures are disadvantaged; if you don’t have the quantification, the metrics, you don’t really have something to say. Quantifying languages is complex (I’d like to say impossible, but I can’t). This is where the poets come in.
Four years ago, when we started “Language Matters,” people were saying there were 7,000 languages in the world. Now there are 6,000, not because we’ve lost that many languages, but because now that these numbers are really starting to count for something on the political table, linguists are beginning to hedge. It’s hard to know exactly how many languages there are, and harder to enumerate speakers. It’s not like counting the number of pandas. In the prologue to the motion poem “Khonsay,” where each line from a different endangered/minority language, we split the difference, say there are 6,500. And the reason I used the “endangered/minority” construct is because linguists also disagree on the at-risk level of many many languages.
When I was in Wales asking people if they spoke Welsh, there were people with a junior high level of vocabulary who were quite proud that they could speak Welsh. Others, who were absolutely fluent, said they couldn’t really speak it. They were hanging out with people who were born into the language, who knew more slang.
The only thing everyone agrees with is that huge numbers of languages, languages that have been around, usually, for millennia, are dying out right now.
When I tell people we’re losing half the languages on the planet by the end of this century, unless we do something about it, they never ask “how many languages is that, exactly?” Instead, their reactions are always “yes, let’s do something about it.” And again, this is why I think that participating in the Language Movement, helping to protect all languages, is part of the job of the poet in 2015. It’s a movement to protect the diversity of languages in the world. A movement to give respect to all languages. A movement to appreciate that each language has its own poetry, and is an important part of an Ecology of Consciousness.
Digital Consciousness connects us all. But are we listening to each other? Are we respecting each other’s traditions? It’s great to have “Language Matters” find its way out into the world, four years after David Grubin and I had that lunch. When I was working on “The United States of Poetry” with Mark Pellington and Joshua Blum, Josh, who gave me a dictum about TV that I’ll never forget. “The first rule of making a television program, is to get it on television.” The national broadcast of “Language Matters on PBS is the end of that quest, of that story.
Which means it’s the beginning of the journey. Now that people have seen the show, what about the call to activism inherent in it? So I ask all you poets out there to live like Natalie Diaz, and help your own Language find its way into the world. And if that Language happens to be English, well then you don’t understand the part about what Language is. Help me get this program into places where languages are struggling to survive and a screening of the film will give cred to the work. Find languages around you and learn from them. Take seriously the role of the poet as a protector of language, not just a user.
There’s nothing like writing a poem, to take words, each one with its own history, multiple meanings, and build a sculpture of meaning. It’s a gift, the words that come to us. People have sparked these sounds, people have laid down their lives for their continuation—language is the essence of humanity, and poetry is the essence of language.
Working with linguists has allowed me to see language from the other side. The collaboration of science and art is good for everybody. If you never could understand the people who come up to you and say they can’t understand poetry, I recommend your going to a linguistics conference and try to understand what those people are talking about!
But to me that’s what the future holds. Sit through a lecture in a language you don’t understand, listen to the poetry of a language you’re trying to learn, place yourself in a situation where English is useless, learn what Language really is. This is the clarion call of our time. This is why Language Matters.
Put earbud in west ear
Put other earbud in east ear
Clapsticks, didj, now your voice
Recorded yesterday, Mt Borredale,
In Amardak, you’re the Last Speaker
Hear? Your voice doesn’t sound so good
You sang good, but the recording was no good
Could you sing now, Charlie, please?
Charlie nods. Charlie listens
Clapsticks, didj, now your voice, please - Now
Now Charlie listens
OK Charlie, we need you to sing Now
Charlie nods and listens
Now Charlie listens
Cue Charlie – listens
Jamesy tells Charlie
Get headphone splitter
Jamesy puts on headphones
Charlie and Jamesy listen
Clapsticks, didj. Charlie’s voice
Jamesy sings a little
Jamesy looks at Charlie
Charlie looks at Jamesy
OK? Charlie listens
OK, Jamesy now speak Iwaidja with Charlie
OK, Charlie listens, Charlie nods
OK Jamesy looks at Charlie
OK clapsticks in fingers
OK Charlie listens, didj
OK now. Now Charlie sings
Asking Charlie Mangulda, the Last Speaker of Amurdak, to overdub his performance from the sacred site of Mt. Borradale, was one of the most complex and unnerving directorial moves—to me, not to him—I’ve ever had to do. John Tranter, our local sound guy, is just a dynamite practitioner. But recording Charlie’s voice, two, cracking clapstick players, and a bulbous didgeridoo on a cave’s platform under an ancient painting of a Rainbow Serpent, proved to be too much for our top-of-the-line digital equipment. This poem tells the story. I won’t repeat it. I won’t even tell you what Ma barang! means, I’m sure you already know. And if you don’t know, then you really do already know.
What I do want to talk about, briefly, is the opening lines. In Amurdak, Charlie’s language, is one of the very few instances where you can actually see a difference in consciousnesses between languages. The idea that some languages are more primitive than others is simply cultural prejudice: you can say anything in any language, and every language has a full syntax and grammatology. But in Amurdak, Charlie doesn’t know his left from his right. This concept, which until the 1960s was thought to be universal, actually doesn’t exist in a few languages. The way Charlie designates direction is simply and solely through cardinal directions. And it’s been shown that it doesn’t matter where speakers of these languages are placed, they are automatically oriented to the compass points, so that they can say of the choices, “I’ll take the one on the southwest.”
Now, you could infer from this that Amurdak people don’t see themselves, each one, as the center of the universe, where left and right is always and only consistent to the person speaking. Instead, the Amurdak people—or in this case, Charlie, the Last Speaker—is simply a point standing somewhere on Earth. But that’s just an inference. Or maybe a poem.
One more thing before we close. When Charlie was translating the creation myth of Warramurrungunji, he listed the dozen or so languages that the Goddess dropped, thus bringing humans to the place she had created. Somehow, under the disturbing lights of the camera, with the intrusion of the microphone, Charlie remembered three words of a language that linguist Nick Evans, an expert on cultures of Northern Australia, didn’t know he could speak. And when Charlie mentioned Wurdirrk and gave Nick some words, it was the first time that this language has ever been recorded. That’s correct. I think this was The Apotheosis of the whole shoot of “Language Matters.” I could see the headline in the Times: Documentary Crew Discovers Lost Language.
The words Charlie spoke translate to: “I want to listen to you,” “yam-digging tool,” and “give me fire.” The first thing that was apparent to Nick from these three words is that they are unlike any other language, which means Wurdirrk is not a dialect—without these words, we never would have known that.
As a poet, I’d like to say one more thing about the words. If you triangulate from them, what you have is a whole culture. “I want to listen to you,” the essence of the community. “Yam-digging tool,” the basis of the community’s relationship with the earth and it also means “digging deeply into the meaning of something.” And “give me fire,” the essence of light, of heat, a great song title, and the best joke in the book.
For “gimme fire,” I envisioned Charlie as a little boy, these strange people coming out of the darkness late at night, shivering and cold, needing some of this precious fire for light and heat. Later, Charlie would give me the deeper meaning of this idiom. Hey buddy, you got a match?
“Foneddigion a Boneddigesau! Fy llinell gyntaf o gynghanedd!” The Welsh is slow and halting, pried off the page, the performance knowing and with flair. If I do say so myself.
I am saying it myself.
It’s me. On stage. Stomp, 2012, Vale of Glamorgan, Cymru (Welsh for “Wales”).
The Stomp (Y Stomp, in Welsh), is the National Poetry Slam of Wales. It is part of the annual Eisteddfod, the national cultural festival of all things Welsh. As I say in “Language Matters,” “It’s a lot like the state fairs in the US, except that instead of prizes for pies or pigs, the prizes are for poetry.”
The first Eisteddfod was in 1176, when Lord Rhys invited poets and musicians from all over the country to compete for a seat at his table. You could sing for your supper, and then get fed. Winning was an entree into the house of the Lords, and a golden meal ticket for the winning poet. The chair you pulled up to the table was a special Bard’s Chair, and to this day, the prize for the winning poet in the Formal Category is a Chair. Hand-carved by an artisan, the winner gets to take the Chair home, sit in it, and write more poems. In Welsh.
For me, as usual, the whole thing started at the Bowery Poetry Club, when we hosted readings by Welsh poets as part of the Peoples Poetry Gatherings, 2002-03. That’s where I began to feel the intensity around this ancient Celtic language. Whenever I bring up Welsh in New York, the response is invariably, “Well, what about Irish?” While the Irish fought and gained political independence, they did so in English. The Irish language is now much more endangered than Welsh. The Welsh never fought for independence, but rather cultural parity, and today Welsh is considered the only endangered language to have come off the endangered language list. It’s a success story by any metric, which is why it got its place in “Language Matters.”
One of the poets I met at the Club is Grahame Davies, who writes in both Welsh and English, and whose work and being was crucial in my decision to study Welsh. Grahame lives the fire and rigor needed to keep this ancient language alive. The fire is contagious, and to prepare for the film, I flew to Wales and began my own formal and informal study of the language.
Grahame picked me up at the Caerdydd (Cardiff) Airport, and we headed for breakfast with Elinor Robson of the Welsh Language Society. I confessed my dream to them, and we all laughed over a full Welsh. What? I, who didn’t even know enough to fly to Manchion (Manchester) to get to Gog Gymru (North Wales), who couldn’t say Blaenau Ffestiniog (the slate-mining town where I live in Wales), let alone spell it, who hadn’t even met Dewi Prysor! was proposing that I participate in next year’s Stomp! I, who didn’t know from “hwyl” (aloha), was going to write and perform a poem in Welsh -- all for this documentary I was making for PBS.
And as you now can see on the front page of the live-stream at PBS.org, the fantasy came real, all duded up in lucky Tibetan cap and Mexican guayabera, taking on all comers at Stomp 2012. “Ladies and Gentlemen! My first line of cynghanedd!” I am saying, to translate the first words of this post. And it really was the first cynghanedd I ever wrote.
In the film, the line is followed by a raucous audience response, Stomp cards held high—unlike the U.S. Slam, at the Stomp the audience is the judge, and they judge by holding up different colored cards to indicate their favorite poet. Watch as I collect a brotherly hug from Dewi, my mentor, friend and Stomp opponent, also an award-winning novelist and Stomp-winning poet, whose current job is translating episodes of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” into Welsh.
The cynghanedd is what separates formal Welsh poetry from free verse; in fact, it is what separates Welsh poetry from any other poetry in the world. There are six different forms of cynghanedd, and to win the Chair, you must write a poem that includes sections written in each. Each form has its own rules, here’s a general description the poetic device Marerid Hopwood, in her handbook Singing in Chains: Listening to Welsh Verse, describes as “consonant chime :” to create a cynghanedd , a line is divided into three sections, a double caesura. The middle section is thrown out. The two sections left, must have all their consonants (except the last) match up. In other words, the vowels, and of course in Welsh, Y and W are always vowels, are immaterial. The sounds we use to make rhymes don’t count.
Now from here things get a little complex. Sometimes there is internal rhyme, sometimes rhyme line-to-line, sometimes both—but let’s just leave it at that. The extraordinary thing is that a Welsh audience can hear the cynghanedd, applauding an especially good one, and be quite aware of a poet trying to slide something by. As an American poet writing in Welsh, even in the Stomp, to come up with a cynghanedd was quite a feat.
(Hopwood’s title is of course a line from “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. The irony is that while we think of Thomas as the Welsh poet, in Wales he’s often not even considered to be in the top tier. Why? Because he didn’t write in Welsh. In fact, many people think that a lot of Thomas’s power comes from his having heard and digested the sounds and rhythms of Welsh poetry as a youth, and then using these Welsh cynghanedd forms in English. For your further elucidation, another poet who used Welsh forms and sounds was that old Jesuit and inventor of sprung rhythm, Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Quick cut back to breakfast—Grahame and Elinor waving goodbye, I’m training/bussing it to Nant Gwrtheyrn, the Welsh Cultural Center, where I will begin my formal study of Welsh. Flashback to Stanza Poetry Festival in St. Andrews, Scotland, six months before, where another Welsh poet, Sian Melangell Dafydd, replies to my comment that I want to learn Welsh by saying “there’s this magical place in Llyn…” Flash forward to Grahame Davies’ brillant Everything Must Change, a novel that is a mash-up of the Welsh language protests of the 60s with the bio of Simone Weill. Flash further forward to my two weeks’ immersion at Nant where my Welsh teacher Llinos Griffin is prodding the Cymraeg (Welsh language) out of me, saying “You, know, you really should meet Dewi Prysor…”
…And what was your first line of cynghanedd, Bob? you’ve probably been wondering. “Yn ysgwd yn fy esgyrn.” Which, as you can see in “Language Matters,” I learn how to pronounce as I drive our van (my full title: host/driver) through scenic Wales, and which the show’s storyteller/line producer, Sian Taifi, also tries to instill in me by having me sing the words.
Besides Sian, Dewi and Grahame, the film also shows me learning with David Crystal, Europe’s most famous linguist, and Ivor ap Glyn, poet and TV host/producer. The line translates, “I am shaking my bones,” and as you can tell by my rendering, I really was.
The Stomp is a variant of the US Poety Slams, and I’ve done enough Slams to know that grabbing attention at the top is crucial. So I asked Dewi to teach me something that would bust through in case anyone at the Stomp should heckle my mispronunciation or lack of mutations, (Mutations! The bete noir of the Welsh language. Did you notice back a-ways how cynghanedd mutated to gynghanedd? Not a typo! In English and French we often elide one word into another by dropping the last letter: singing to singin’, eg. In Welsh, you “mutate” the first letter of the incoming word, so that, for example, if you are going to Bangor, you would say im Mangor, the B of Bangor mutating to an M. Which of course makes driving in Wales even more fun.) So the title I came up with for my Stomp masterpiece is: Ffwciwch Oma! Dwin Ffwcin Dysgwr Ffwcin Gymraeg! which, lovingly translates to “Fuck Off! I’m a Fuckin’ Welsh Fuckin’ Learner!”
Not only would I be trying to turn my lack of Welsh into an advantage by begging for the sympathy vote, but I’d also be paying homage to the colorful language the Stomp is known for, especially as used so expressively by my mate Prysor and the training camp he established in Blaenau (The Queen), with occasional side trips to Llan (Y Pengwyrn) and Tanygrisiau (Y Tap) -- three major pubs in three parts of town. It’s also worth noting that there are no indigenous curse words in Welsh; like Ffwcin, they’re all borrowings from bully English.
Playing between orality and literacy is one of my favorite areas of poetic exploration. In fact, it was how I got involved with Endangered Languages in the first place. Of the 6000 languages in the world (I just love saying that!), only 700 are written down. The Welsh oral traditions, from the Celitc storytellers and Druid poemmakers all he way to today’s Stomp, has been crucial to the language’s survival. And it was through my investigations into the roots of hiphop poetry (hiphop IS poetry!), that I first came across the Language Crisis.
Having established myself as an appropriately iconoclastic bardd Cymreig in the poem’s title, I felt it was important that the first line of the poem reverse field and show my respect for Welsh culture: “Rwy'n teimlo fel y ddraig goch yng nghanol y frwydr,” imparts to me a mythic status, as I identify with the deepest image of Welsh mythology: “I feel like the Red Dragon entering into battle.” You may have noticed that Wales is the only country with a Red Dragon on its flag: the symbol of Wales, sleeping underground next to the White Dragon (England), waiting only for the Apocalypse to disinter, and then emerge victorious in the ensuing battle royale. Wow.
I straighten out this lie in the next line: “Bardd Americanaidd tumffat yng nghanol y Stomp.” “Actually, I’m just a stupid American poet trying to hold me own in the Stomp.” Another secret of Slam success: flip the script! Set up a high image, and then undercut it with your own vulnerability.
The next lines reference my aforementioned debt to hiphop. Hiphop is part of my lineage, too—for a while there in the 80s my tag was the Plain White Rapper. To write this section took painstaking work at the Blaenau llyfrgell (library) with a correlating a rhyming dictionary and a Welsh-English dictionary—why oh why is there no rhyming Welsh-English Dictionary?
Eisiau ymddiheuriad? dim posibiliad...
Eisiau nghyfeiriad? Dyna ddiffiniad o wrthddywediad
A distrywio’r diffiniad!
My address? The definition of randomness
The contradiction of definition!
This also gives a nod to the course I’ve developed at Columbia, “Exploding Text: Poetry Performance,” using extra-literary means to add even more meanings to a poem via collaborations with film, dance, theater, et al.
After this jangly, dirty, provocative opening, I felt it was time for some “real” poetry, and being a “real” poet myself I knew just what lines to use: steal them, from a couple of great poets.
Hen Gychwr Afon Angau, // mae o’n gwbod
Beth ydwyt ti a minnau, frawd
Ond swp o esgyrn mewn gwisg o gnawd
Old River Boatman Death (Rwilliams Parry), he knows it
What art thou and I, brother
But in a uniform batch of bones of flesh
I was truly hoping someone in the audience would out me here (I should have had a plant!), so that my next barrage, taking personal blame not only for my plagerism but also for every crime ever committed during the horrific triumph of Capitalism known as US Imperialism would have more resonance:
Dygwyd y llinellau uchod ar eich cyfer oddi ar
R Williams Parry a TH Parry Williams yn enw
The lines above stolen on your behalf from R Williams Parry & TH Parry Williams in the name of American Imperialism!
This is followed by the lines from “Language Matters.”
Cynghanedd, defended from the orality of the skalds, has been an integral part of Welsh has survived. Hopwood confesses at one point that she believes you can only truly write cynghanedd in the language that evolved in tandem with the poetic form: Cymraeg (Welsh). In essence, her whole lovely how-to is actually nothing but a piece of propaganda for the perpetuation of Welsh.
Cymru, the Welsh word for Wales, means Us, The People. “Wales” is a Saxon word, what the Saxons, the first conquering invaders of Wales, called the Celts there—“The others,” “Those guys over there.” Isn’t it time for the world’s nations to be known by the name that their people call themselves?
And now, the Grand Finale:
Baby baby yr unig ffordd o atal y gerdd hon – yw cusanu cusanu
Lle mae pob cusan yn dod yn air Cymraeg
Yn fy mhen a’i lond o freuddwydion
Baby baby the only way to stop this poem is to kiss kiss
Where each kiss becomes a word in Welsh
in My Big Head of Dreams
It’s true that my relationship with Welsh is a lot like having a lover—you have to give everything and there’s always more and thank goodness it’s never enough. But my head of dreams – in English I wanted this to be my big head, big enough to hold all these languages and the idea that somehow or other that this piece of theater, sacrificing myself on the pyre that is the Stomp, would show my love and respect for Welsh, that I would go to his extreme in order to bring my own personal touch to a documentary that is all about the essence of humanity, which I believe language is, but which can also be talked about in theories and data where it’s possible human contact may be lost.
Of the 12 poets who made it to the National Poetry Slam, Dewi and I were the first two names out of the hat. We went up against each other, splitting our supporters’ votes, and giving the first round to some brilliant whippersnapper poet who had somehow made cynghanedd a mode of conversation—brilliant! As if Byron were crossed with Frank O’Hara, say.
Because we were knocked out in the first round, the crew was able to shoot a wrap-up, right then and there, full of loss that meant nothing, and surrounded by a language that had taught me important truths that would infuse the whole film. And my life.
After the wrap, the crew really wanted to hit the road. I felt bad—for the poet to leave a reading early is bad form, in any language. But it was already late, and our flight back to the States was at 8:00 the next morning, and we had to drive to Llundain, and the Welsh sky was already ablaze. And my big head was full of big dreams but no way sleeping.
The poem and translation below are published in my most recent collection,Sing This One Back to Me (2013, Coffee House).
Ffwciwch Oma! Dwin Ffwcin Dysgwr Ffwcin Gymraeg!
Rwy'n teimlo fel y ddraig goch yng nghanol y frwydr
Bardd Americanaidd tumffat yng nghanol y Stomp
Eisiau ymddiheuriad? dim posibiliad...
Eisiau nghyfeiriad? Dyna ddiffiniad o wrthddywediad
A distrywio’r diffiniad!
A dach chi’n gwybod pam?
Mi dduda’i thach chi pam!
Achos -- mod i'n Ffwcin Dysgwr Ffwcin Gymraeg,
Dyna ffwcin pam!!!!!
Hen Gychwr Afon Angau, // mae o’n gwbod
Beth ydwyt ti a minnau, frawd
Ond swp o esgyrn mewn gwisg o gnawd
Dygwyd y llinellau uchod ar eich cyfer oddi ar
R Williams Parry a TH Parry Williams yn enw
Foneddigion a Boneddigesau!
Fy llinell gyntaf o gynghanedd:
“Yn ysgwyd yn fy esgyrn”
Mae’n wir wyddoch chi –
Dwi YN “ysgwyd yn fy esgyrn”!
A dach chi’n gwbod pam?
Achos fy mod i'n Ffwcin Dysgwr Ffwcin Gymraeg,
Dyna ffwcin pam!!!
Baby baby yr unig ffordd o atal y gerdd hon – yw cusanu
Lle mae pob cusan yn dod yn air Cymraeg
Yn fy mhen a’i lond o freuddwydion
Fuck Off, I’m a Fuckin Welsh Fuckin Learner!
(That’s the Title)
I feel like The Red Dragon In the Middle of Battle
stupid American poet in the middle of the Stomp
Want an apology? No possibility!
My address? The definition of randomness (The contradiction of definition)
And you know why?
I'll tell you why!
Cause I’m a Fuckin Welsh Fuckin Learner, that's why
Old River Boatman Death (Rwilliams Parry), he knows it
What art thou and I, brother
But in a uniform batch of bones of flesh
The lines above stolen on your behalf from R Williams Parry & TH arry Williams in the name of American Imperialism!
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
My first line of cynghanedd!
“Shaking in my bones”
It’s true you know
I AM “shaking in my bones”!
And do you know why?
Because I’m a fuckin Welsh fuckin learner that’s fuckinwhy!
Baby baby the only way to stop this poem is to kiss kiss
Where each kiss becomes a word in Welsh
In My Big Head of Dreams
And so I made my first trip to Hawaii. It’s a long way from everywhere, specks of black lava, folded green jewels in the middle of the largest body of water on the planet – you will now know that, Hawaii is the further from a continent than any other on the planet. No wonder the creation story here, the Kumulipo, begins underwater, with the creation of fish, coral and octopus, and rises up with the spirit of Pele, the Goddess of Fire, a real place—the active volcano in the center of the Big Island. Pele is a real person, too. I met her many-times-Great Granddaughter, Pele Harmann, a teacher at Nawahi, the K-12 immersion school outside Hilo where I spent many a day hearing No English. It’s an honor to be allowed to step inside someone else’s culture. Tread lightly. As Pele said to me, “To you it’s a myth. To me it’s my genealogy.”
This is what you learn. That unlike the rest of the world’s crises, the Language Crisis has a seemingly simple answer: Respect Mother tongues. Let the children born into minority languages live there as much as possible. They will get plenty of the bully language as soon as they walk out the door, as soon as they turn on the TV.
Today there are Hawaiian language immersion schools on every island, but back in the 60s there were none. The number of speakers had shrunk to about 400 with most of them living on the tiny island of Ni’ihau, which was owned (still is) by a single family who allow no non-Hawaiians to set foot there. So the native population lives on in a kind of time capsule of pure Hawaiian. When Larry Kimura, the godfather of the Hawaiian language, and his Hawaiian language students at the University of Hawaii Manao came to the conclusion that just speaking Hawaiian with each other for hours a day was not making the kind of substantive change necessary to keep Hawaiian culture alive, they decided the way forward was to start schools where children would learn Hawaiian the way all children learn languages – by hearing, by mimicking, by conversing. By spending time in a place where the sound environment was always the flowing lilt and glottal stops of Hawaiian. This was the beginning of the punana leo, a language nest. Here children would spend hours daily in a protected place—a nest of Hawaiian. Parents must accompany their little ones (3 months to 5 years ) here, and parents too are bound by the rules. So they end up learning baby Hawaiian, just to keep up with their child. I’m sitting there and a toddler purposefully approaches and starts speaking to me—in Hawaiian. Wants me to read him a book in Hawaiian. I oblige—I may not know all the meanings, but I can read the words, and I’m learning, like he is. But I don’t speak Hawaiian! I’d said to the teacher. Not yet, was her reply.
It was a few kapunas (elders, but like so many Hawaiian words, much more than elders), those remaining from the 400 speakers in 1960, who brought the sounds and traditions of real Hawaiian direct to these students. Auntie Lolena Nichols—I could devote a whole blog to how kinship patterns in orality are as complex as nuclear fission, but right now let’s just say “Auntie”—was one of these native speakers from Ni’ihau. These days she divides her time between the children at the punana leo and graduate students at the University of Hawaii, Manao. In oral consciousness, people are books, and as the language activist/scholar Puakea Nogelmeier is fond of saying, Auntie Lolena is a PhD in living Hawaiian. When I first met Lolena, I presumed a Hawaiian greeting: forehead to forehead, nose to nose, you breathe in the breath of the other. Lolena’s power almost knocked me over.
Nogelmeier, himself is a very special man with a deliciously deep voice. You get to hear it every time you take a bus in Honolulu. Most of the streets still have their original Hawaiian names, but as the language died out so did proper pronunciation. The names became haole, the Hawaiian word for white people, but as the language movement (not Bernstein/Andrews, but the push for mother tongue survival) gained momentum one of the successes was hearing Puakea’s dulcet tones pronounce real Hawaii’an as you take public transportation in Honolulu.
One thing you notice right away in the language is the ‘okina, the glottal stop, considered an actual letter in Hawaiian, one of eight consonants. There are five vowels. Thirteen letters altogether, and one of them is the silent “hitch” you hear when you say uh-oh. Having a language with such a few number of letters, each of which is pronounced in only one way (well, vowels are short and long, but long just means they are longer, not that they have a different sound), gives Hawaiian only 18 phonemes, one of the fewest of any language (English has 57, the Koisan click languages over 140).
It also makes Hawaiian an extremely easy language for speakers to read. Think of the evolution of written English, its centuries of inconsistent spellings and idiosyncratic pronunciations. How different it was for literacy to arrive in Hawaii. When the first missionaries arrived in 1820, they quickly developed a written language and translated the Bible into Hawaiian, the better to convert the populace. They gained the full support of the royal family, who even at this time were considered not the descendants of gods, but actual gods. And when these kings and queens took up the advocacy of reading, it took less than fifty years for Hawaii to surpass the Mainland in literacy, eventually having one of the highest literacy rates in the world. It was said that Hawaiians could read upside-down – because of the lack of reading material, four people would stand around a book or newspaper – two read sideways, one straight on, one upside down.
One of the reasons this happened was the advent of Hawaiian newspapers. Over the next 100 years, more than 100 native language newspapers were founded. But it wasn’t the news they were reporting, it was the incredibly rich Oral culture that they were recording. Every endangered language that is being revived develops techniques for adding vocabulary for new things and concepts (computer, cell pone, defriend, Pringle-ization), and for words that have been lost. But it’s only Hawaii, where the people fell so in love with reading that now researchers can “mine” this trove to find forgotten vocabulary, ideas for new words, and still hear the voices from the days when the language was teeming with energy, the essence of Hawaiian culture full flower.
I want to talk about my visit with William Merwin, who of course lives in Haiku on the island on Maui, telling me that Hawaiian will be back when it is “considered a first language, when you make jokes in it, play around with it.” I want to travel way up the mountain and tell you about my visit with Keali’I Richel,who told me how hula became the way that language survived during the years that the American colonists outlawed it, how “you can have a hula poem without the dance, but you can’t have the dance without the poem.” I want you to meet Kaui sa-Dudoit, the Mother of the Language Movement, whose dozen kids all grew up in immersion schools, all rebelled as teenagers and stopped, and all came back.
And I want you to see David Grubin and me actually getting in the water, up to our knees, daring the Pacific in our bermudas, trying to write a poem while the waves tried to push us over. But instead, it is time to go to Wales, and meet a language that has survived for over a thousand years while the powerful onslaught of bully English ruled the land.
Alice Quinn, in all her ebullience, “Bob, this is Eve. Eve Grubin. She’s David Grubin’s daughter! She’s a poet.” This in the sunny, energized Poetry Society of America offices—what a great meeting. Eve was a young poet with a new job. Her dad, a renowned PBS producer/director, had just created “The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets” hosted by Bill Moyers and shot at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. My own PBS series, “The United States of Poetry,” had been broadcast at the same time. There’s so little contact between poetry and television—seemed like David and I were the only people in the universe uniting these two opposites. But plenty of people thought David and I represented two different camps of poetry – academic and street/spoken word. But David had had me be in his film and – oh, this was so marvelously complicated! But it was terrific meeting Evie that day at PSA, thinking of David also as a father, like I was with my daughters. And now we could say hello at parties! Who knew where this might lead?
The story begins The Poem’s new forms in the dawning of the Era of Digital Consciousness. In the beginning, (1980?), I knew television to be the Enemy. TV was why nobody was coming to my readings! They were all at home in front of the Cyclops in the Corner. But then, by luck and friends and a certain proclivity, I had the opportunity to get poetry on television—on WNYC-TV, before Giuliani sold it and it became NY1. For the six years that I produced “Poetry Spots,” television became just another way to transmit the poem. Funny what a little power will do.
I’d learned from Walter Ong that Orality is not a precursor to writing, but a separate and equivalent consciousness. This factoid changed my life. Television became just another platform for poetry to make nothing happen. For tens of thousands of years poetry was solely an oral art. Then came writing, famously followed by print. Now we have digital: film/video/internet. The medium of transmission may change, but the poem is always The Poem.
This interest in Orality is what led me to my fieldwork in Africa, searching for the roots of hip-hop. And I knew that if I were to make this expedition right, led by my guide, mentor and friend, Alhaji Papa Susso, I’d need a couple of cameras and a soundman. Luckily, this kind of realistic insanity is shared by my good buddy, Ram Devineni, who produced these explorations of oral traditions into a three-part series on LinkTV. As soon as we had DVDs of the imaginatively-titled “On the Road with Bob Holman: Africa and Israel,” I immediately sent one to my PBS doppelgänger, David Grubin. It had been 20 years since PBS did poetry.
And so it was that we found ourselves at a pleasant boite on the Bowery, discussing poetry over lunch. David liked “On the Road”! Well, I said, I think of myself as a poet in my documentaries. It was great to talk with a real documentary filmmaker, and heartening that he liked my work. Maybe I got a little nudgey when I asked David if there was anything he could do to help me with this project, and he replied, What do you have in mind? Why don’t we do a project together, I subtly suggested, With you as producer and director? And to my utter astonishment, David replied, Well, let’s see if we can get the money.
It may sound like a line out of Hollywood, but I didn’t notice. If anyone knows the production of an educational documentary from soup to nuts it’s David Grubin and his a fistful of Emmys. He said he’d try the National Endowment for the Humanities first, they had funded him in the past. When I went to the NEH website to check out the grant form, I couldn’t believe that their application model was for “The Buddha,” Grubin’s award-winning documentary. (“The Buddha”, by the way, has over 700,000 likes on Facebook now). This might happen!
And it did.
Here’s our secret. David is totally committed to poetry, as is his wife, the artist Joan Grubin. They read poems to each other every morning, and David’s memorized quite a number. He and I have a great time talking over everyone from Stanley Kunitz to Sekou Sundiata, and the synthesis of our sensibilities—I still remember the way that I was attacked by some people from the Dodge Foundation, “You can’t make a poetry film in MTV bursts, with no narrator!”—was really played out in our quest to use poetry as the engine to bring the world’s attention to the language crisis—half the languages on the planet will disappear this century.
I suggested we make the film in Africa, where Orality is a way of life. Africa is where poets, griots, have a real role in society—and they get paid, too. We could start off in the Kalahari, I said, and listen to Koisan, the “click” languages—they have over 140 phonemes (sounds), the most in the world. Listening to a Koisan speaker is like listening to a jug band in the mouth. And of course there’s the incredible griot traditions of West Africa, where I had previously spent so much time learning, straight from the origins, of African American musical traditions, the birthplace of the blues, jazz, hip-hop. David listened. We need an argument,” he said. We need to tell the story of how languages become endangered, and why that’s important. What do we lose when we lose a language?
Finally, after a lot of nudging on his part, I got it. How about we have a language that’s dying, say, a last speaker. and a language in the struggle of revivification, and close with a success story, actually the only success story (outside of the special case that is Hebrew) -- Welsh, the only language to have come of the endangered list.
And that was it. That’s what we did, and that’s how Language Matters came to be. The money came through from the National Endowment for the Humanities (thank you so, NEH!) and also some from (LINK) Pacific Islanders in Communication (mahalo!). The show will be broadcast this week in most parts of the US, but you’ll have to check your own listings to find out exactly when, and in some places, like Minneapolis, it won’t broadcast until April. Please check with your local stations. My sister Amy lobbied the affiliate in Richmond, VA, and now we’ll be seen there. Thanks, Amy.
One little anecdote for the road. We knew we had to have Wales, and when we met linguist Nick Evans we saw the camera-ready qualities of North Arnhemland, Australia. But for the “language in transition section,” I really thought we should head to Greenland, where some linguists are working in tandem with the population, leading the writing of poems in Greenlandic about walrus hunting and seal fat while actually engaging in the hunts—what could be better?
But Bob, David replied, W.S. Merwin is in Hawaii. He’s studied the language, and planted endangered species of palms that would make a great physical analogy. And the story of the punana leo, the language nests where children speak only Hawaiian…I just stared at him. Ok Bob, David said. You go buy the parkas. I’ll get the bikinis.
I remember the first time I heard it. Jo Stafford sang it in Dark Passage, a late 1940s black-and-white movie in which you don’t see the face of the hero, a prison escapee who had been framed for murder, until a risk-taking surgeon reconstructs his visage and Humphrey Bogart emerges from the bandages. Lauren Bacall believes in him, and Stafford sings “Too Marvelous for Words” on the Victrola. It becomes their song. “You must like swing,” Bogart says. Yes, Bacall answers, “legitimate swing.”
“Too Marvelous for Words” is a legitimately great ballad whether sung wistfully by Stafford or Helen Forrest or in a more jaunty manner by Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. It’s a valentine to the hero or heroine of almost all songs, “you.” The old familiar words of praise (like “glorious, glamorous, / and that old standby, amorous”) can’t convey how great you are, so I’ll resort to a “love song from the birds.”
The tune is lovely, easy to remember, delightful to sing. There is a shrewd key change in the phrase just preceding the bridge: “I mean they just aren’t swell enough,” where “they” refers to “words” and “swell enough” rhymes with “tell enough.” The bridge is musically and lyrically not only the song’s pivot but its marvelous climax: “You’re much too much / and just too very very / to ever be / in Webster’s Dictionary.”
What do you think of first? “Over the Rainbow,” “As Time Goes By,” “Singin’ in the Rain”? Win, place, and show on the AFI’s “Top Movie Songs of All Time” list. My pick, Judy Garland’s devastating “The Man That Got Away,” from A Star is Born, comes in at #11. It was another Garland song, “Get Happy,” the triumphant final number in Summer Stock, that launched what became a feature in my film class this semester: “Movie Song of the Day.” This innovation was inspired by some extremely music-savvy students in the class—astonishingly well versed in everything from Alternative Country to Tin Pan Alley, nearly impossible to stump, able to hum obscure covers of obscurer originals. Lately, owing to their tutelage, I find myself with a rather eclectic mix on the iPod.... It is one wild ride to work in the morning. After Garland, I brought in everything from Fred Astaire’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (Blue Skies) to The Rolling Stones’ “Monkey Man,” one of the many songs featured in that magnificent montage toward the end of Goodfellas. One morning I played The Doors’ “Peace Frog,” featured in, of all movies, The Waterboy—a fact one member of the class announced even before Morrison had time to warm up. My students also began to bring in their favorites: Bobby Bare’s cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” (Midnight Cowboy), Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” (Nashville), Citizen Cope’s “Bullet and a Target” (Alpha Dog).
Marcel Carne's little-shown pre-war classic "Le Jour se leve" is at the Film Forum on West Houston Street in downtown New York and must be seen by fans of Jean Gabin, admirers of Arletty (daringly naked in one scene), devotees of "film noir" in its earliest incarnation, and would-be writers and artists of all stripes who will, with a nostalgic ache, watch Gabin smoke one Gauloise after another as he is holed up in his top-story hideout, alone, with dawn about to break and les flics poised to come in for the kill. The dialogue is by Jacques Prevert and while it is fashionable to denigrate the man's poetry, as a writer of screenplays he possessed something approaching genius. The picture's title translates as "Daybreak" but is best left in the original. That's Gabin with co-star Jacqueline Laurent in the picture on the right.
If you plan to take in the 9:30 PM screening on Monday the 17th, you can make a rare double-bill for yourself as "Vertigo," one of Hitchcock's greatest pictures, will be ending its limited run at the Film Forum -- and you can take in the 6:45 PM show, refresh yourself in powder room or nearby bar for a quickie, and head back to the theater for "Le Jour se leve" at 9:30 PM. The former explores the consequences of unquenched desire for an illusory object; the latter is a masterpiece of melancholy and murder. In a sense both movies qualify under the heading of murder mysteries; the plot in each case revolves around a homicide. But the real subject -- one might say the real hero -- is Eros. -- DL
We recently learned that Wallace Stevens's Hartford, Connecticut, home has been sold and its new owners plan to use it as a private residence. While we're pleased that the home won't fall into disrepair, we're sad that the property will not be available as a historic site for lovers of Stevens's poetry to enjoy.
Now, news come to us that Alison Johnson (Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive) is making a documentary about Stevens, one that, in addition to the basic biographical information, will include footage of his home at 118 Westerly Terrace and his office at The Hartford (formerly the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company), and footage of his furniture and paintings. Johnson is working with Richard Startzman of Santa Fe, who films the Santa Fe Opera and with whom she has worked on other projects.
Their plan is to place the finished film on YouTube so that people all over the world will have a chance to learn more about Stevens, take a virtual tour of his house and office, and view the paintings that gave him such pleasure.
Finishing this documentary will require additional funds. If you click on the link here, you can easily make a contribution toward this worthy project.
You can watch a trailer here or follow this link:
Alison Johnson has enlisted prominent Stevens's scholars and poets to contribute commentary on Stevens' life and poetry and to read poems and excerpts from letters. Paul Mariani, an award-winning poet and author of several important biographies (and whose biography of Stevens will be published by Simon & Schuster in the summer of 2015), will read several Stevens poems and will also read passages from letters in which Stevens discusses the paintings he has received from Paris. Glen MacLeod, author of two important books about the relationship between Wallace Stevens and the world of art, will discuss this important aspect of Stevens's creativity. John Serio, who edited The Wallace Stevens Journal for almost three decades and has edited Wallace Stevens: Selected Letters and The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens, will also appear in the film.
Thank you Alison Johnson for spearheading this important initiative!
Greetings, O Lovers of Contemporary Poetry!
When I was thinking about writing for this blog, I was trying to imagine what I’d want to read.
I’d heard pedagogical issues go over well, but the word “pedagogy” makes my legs fall asleep like I’m sitting on a folding chair in a church basement rec room. Also, my students affectionately (?) make fun of my poetry “prompts,” which usually require a 45-minute lecture to set up. There’s a lot of arcane context and emphatic hand gesturing.
So I thought, “What resources do I have for such a blog? What are my skillz?”
Frankly, I have few skillz beyond an early, useless career as a springboard diver, and a gift for finding objects disappeared into the hovel of dog hair and remodeling dust that is presently my house.
But I realize I am rich in friends—accomplished, irritatingly smart and talented poetry friends to be specific. If I could figure out a way to monetize these friendships I would. I’d be the Warren Buffett of poetry.
I decided it’d be fun to have some conversations with these guys in the next few days (so far I’ve pestered Carl Phillips, Dana Levin, James “Jimmy” Kimbrell, Kerry James Evans, Adrian Matejka and Stacey Lynn Brown into plopping their bottoms on the hot seat). Terrance Hayes has sorta committed, but given that our communications typically consist almost entirely of the disturbing, weirdly specific text emojis he sends me, we’ll have to see if that happens.
The only rules I set for the interview are that I would only talk to people I know well enough to ask vaguely pokey, forward, or inappropriate questions. Also, that they should try their hardest to answer spontaneously. No sitting around editing for hours. It is understood that all are poets I admire because how can you be actual friends with a writer if you don’t respect their work? You’d either have to wear your love goggles all the time, which ends up strangling your brain, or else you have a friendship based on lying and that’s too uncomfortable.
First up is Mark Bibbins, whose recent book, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full (Copper Canyon), is one of the very best poetry collections I’ve read in years. The book is both generous-hearted and critically astringent, full of saber-toothed wit and language play paired with a deeply ethical, empathetic political consciousness that never belly flops into polemic or preaching. Seriously, you should read this book.
In person, Mark, despite turning up with the odd, not-really-explained broken bone from time to time, is the guy who arrives at his elegance without you ever seeing the gears of the machine whirring. He’s a man who really knows how to wear a shirt. When he makes you lunch, it appears that he’s doing nothing for two hours but farting around with the stereo and chasing his affection-harassed cats up and down the apartment. Then somehow, miraculously, he sets the most perfectly dressed, chilled lobster salad with little buttery slices of crostini in front of you, paired with a bottle of wine you’ve never heard of but that makes your life better in every way. I have known Mark since about 1995 when we met at a gay writers conference in Boston. We have been AWP roommates annually ever since:
One of the things I’ve always noticed about you, Mark, is that while you are a person with a clear sense of aesthetics, a person with opinions, a political person in your own way, and you’ve been in the writing world for a long time, you still manage to be well regarded and liked by pretty much every writer I know. With this description in mind, what are your rules for living in the Lit world, which can be such an understandably insecure, gossipy environment. What is your personal ethic about the business and life of writing?
Excuse me: "pretty much"? You sure know how to twist the knife, Erin. It's otherwise a sweet and generous question, but I'm afraid answering it will undermine the last twenty years of coldhearted strategizing and furtive betrayals upon which my empire rests.
There, maybe I've stumbled on my first rule: Try to maintain a sense of humor. I don't know that some of the other rules I've (often inadvertently) followed—be patient, don't imagine anyone owes you anything—even amount to good advice these days. It certainly seems like advice fewer and fewer people are hardwired to heed. And I admit I don't know what "the Lit world" is/means; from what I can tell there are many such worlds, usually coexisting, sometimes competing. Is that your sense too, or does it seem more monolithic to you?
To me the contemporary poetry world seems a bit like a fire ant pile, where you can see the single dirt mound at the top, but beneath it there are tons of separate little alleys. I mean, if some fascist regime were to take over, and assuming poets would still have the honor of being the first ones up against the wall, I have a hard time imagining the men with guns going, “Ok. So are you more of an alternative poetics type? Flarf? Confessional? Newly Gnostic? Did you go to Buffalo or Denver? How do you feel about Mary Oliver? Were you ever a fellow at Sewanee? Tell us which one of these three quotes is by Yvor Winters...”
Which is to say I think we all have a lot more in common than we like to let on. But camps create ever more opportunity for hierarchies and “branding.” I mean, there are obviously real aesthetic and intellectual issues people care about, too, but I can’t ever imagine fighting over them. Fighting over poetics feels like putting Nair in the shampoo bottle of a girl some boy you like has his eye on. It’s not going to make him like you more if you screw up her wig. I guess I just go to the mattresses over other issues.
NEXT QUESTION: Every time I tell you how much I love the final poem in your new book (They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full), which is a brilliant, political, meta rule-smashing, funny, finger-wagging manifesto of a poem, you get uncomfortable and sheepish and kind of half disown it while struggling with the pleasure of the compliment. Beyond your fetching modesty, why does that poem make you uncomfortable?
Good point about the anthill; my sense of our variety is most likely a delusion. Part of what makes me apprehensive about "A Small Gesture of Gratitude" is that it reminds me that I am ridiculously fragile—I can't watch TV news for five minutes without my blood pressure spiking (with Fox News it takes ten seconds, if that). There’s a flaw in my constitution that keeps me from participating in certain kinds of activism, so I avail myself of the more homeopathic possibilities that poetry affords. I frequently write in response to things that provoke or annoy me, but the sense of irritation seems rather high-pitched and raw in that poem—less transformed than what I usually aim for. In a lot of ways I'm a private person (another delusion, I realize), so seeing my thin skin stretched across several pages makes me anxious.
Don't you experience a similar uneasiness with some of your own work? I'm thinking of "Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written in an Election Year," which is one of the powerhouses of Slant Six, and which you've referred to as a "rant." In the Venn diagram of our poetic projects, I think it and "A Small Gesture of Gratitude" are partying together where the circles overlap.
That sounds about right. I love to see poets put their consciousness on the rack and give it a good stretch. Not so comfortable to be the one doing it, of course. Though I have come to sort of enjoy that form of spiritual masochism. I remember seeing Vito Acconci, the early, groundbreaking performance artist, when I was a kid in college, and the powerful sense of attraction/repulsion I experienced through his art’s illusion of truthfulness and vulnerability left a very lasting impression. I like art to be excruciating generally, no matter what the subject.
With “Poem of Philosophical and Political Conundrums Written in an Election Year” I struggle with all the voices that frequently come into the room when I sit down to work. As in, “Who fucking cares about parenting issues? Serious poets don’t write about parenting.” Which is not how I feel when OTHER people write artfully about children and parenting, but after all this time I still feel afraid that I’ll be dismissed for my subjects. A case of “Physician, heal thyself,” I suppose. Do as I say, not as I do.
Speaking of parenting issues, and segueing like an eighteen wheeler, you have an inordinate fondness for pets, and for cats particularly. Like, I remember coming back to the room at AWP a couple years ago to find you lying in bed, watching cat videos online just to calm yourself in the maelstrom. Are cats your totem animal? Whence your obsession with kittays?
Oh my, if excruciating art is your thing, you should definitely check out the documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. It's as touching as it is harrowing, and should put some of those faculty meetings in perspective—or maybe vice versa. (I haven't been to any of your faculty meetings.)
If I remember that AWP correctly, I had broken my wrist a couple of months prior and was emerging from a haze of painkillers; cats facilitate various kinds of reentry. I grew up in a very creature-friendly household, and with the exception of a couple of grim years in the late ’80s, have always lived with at least one pet. Cats and dogs I adore equally, but when I first moved to Manhattan in ’91 I was going to school and working full time, so keeping a doggie seemed unfair and impractical, not to mention against the terms of my lease. Some buildings allow no pets whatsoever—who would want to live among all those petless people? If I'm ever around someone who says "I hate cats," I get away from them immediately and stay away, although I guess I can sympathize (begrudgingly) with people who are terribly allergic and have thus been denied the pleasures of feline company. It's old news, but you can gather a lot of useful information about people when you see how they treat animals and waitstaff. I could be remembering it wrong, but I think there's a scene in Jurassic Park where, even as the raptors have been merrily ripping half the cast to shreds, one of the characters says something like, "You still don't see them screwing each other over for a buck."
You probably saw this thing recently where some asshole CEO lost his job when footage of him kicking a dog wound up all over the internet. People were outraged—rightly so, and fuck that guy forever—and yet the even greater horror of factory farming continues apace. The vile abattoir owners and their lobbyists have also been getting our craptastic politicians to pass "Ag Gag" laws to criminalize the activities of investigative journalists and other whistleblowers.
Maybe here I can swerve to a question about the dumb prohibition against political poetry. Does it function as a kind of literary “Ag Gag” rule? Do you think poetry would be better off if poets ignored that prohibition, as they seem to be doing more and more successfully, or should everyone just stick to trees and urns?
I think American poets were oversold a bill of goods with the whole “art for art’s sake” notion. I understand this was an overcorrection for past aesthetic crimes that didn’t honor the poem for the artful, mysterious construct in language that a good poem always will be. But we as a country have often enjoyed the lucky, relative isolation of our geography, and our military and economic dominance have insured a kind of “What? Me Worry?” approach in mainstream poetics for many years.
But then the political poem may be one of the most difficult poems to write well. To have it not turn into propaganda, to avoid preaching to the converted. Hard row to hoe. But more folks seem to be taking up this task in recent years, and there were always American poets who ignored the memo about political poetry. The tradition was a smaller but important one.
Last question: You’re kind of a club kid deep down in your wee heart. If you were to put a super group of poets together, based on how their poems would translate into music, who would be in it and what instrument would they play?
I like that question, and I'll use it as an excuse to bust out the phrase "Mina Loy on keytar" at long last, but I'm sort of going to dodge it—maybe people will rise to the challenge and leave their own answers in the comments!
When you mentioned all the wee tunnels under the poetic anthill earlier, it reminded me of the labels for subgenres of electronic music that critics/bloggers have come up with during the last fifteen years or so—IDM, minimal techno, progressive house, drum and bass, dubstep, big beat, glitch, electronica, etc. etc. etc. If none of this music is your bag, it's easy to dismiss it all as "techno," just as you can remain blissfully oblivious to the distinctions between New York School and New Formalism if you don't care about poetry and/or are fixing to execute the poets.
When you talk about assembling a band, I'm reminded of how prickly we can get concerning affiliations and allegiances and communities—I feel like a lot of poets are in favor of the idea of community until they spot one that they feel excludes them. Poetry, the cliché goes, is art that people make on their own; a lot of us would secretly prefer to be in rock bands, although I don't know what this proves about poets, because so would a lot of bankers. Perhaps it speaks less to an interest in community per se than to an interest in groupies, leather pants, and having one's wildest catering demands fulfilled.
As technology (the internet in particular) has enabled poets to branch out and collaborate in new ways, it's also made it more practical and affordable for musicians to record and produce things by themselves. Projects by artists like Burial and Kathleen Hanna and Peaches are instructive concerning the value of privacy and autonomy in a business that typically demands the forfeiture of both. So here we all are, as ever, greening after someone else's grass.
Can we end with a poem, as well as a reminder that we have elections coming up in two months, and that it's important to register and vote? We were talking about your "Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written in an Election Year" before, so I'm going to request that one.
What a terrific politician you would be! Rejecting the premise AND flattering the interviewer! Well done, Mr. Clinton.
Thank you for your time, Mark Bibbins. A very edifying conversation.
Next up tomorrow, Carl Phillips on race, Gordon Ramsay and yard work.
Note: due to the fact that the technology gods hate me, the link to “Poem Of Philosophical Conundrums…” is not yet functioning. I know. I know. You wonder how you will sleep tonight. If I can fix this, I’ll post it later…
Joseph Brodsky in his 1987 Nobel Lecture stated, “There are, as we know, three modes of cognition: analytical, intuitive, and the mode that was known to the biblical prophets: revelation. What distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature is that it uses all three of them at once (gravitating primarily toward the second and the third). For all three of them are given in the language; and there are times when, by no means of a single word, a single rhyme, the writer of a poem manages to find himself where no one has even been before him, perhaps than he himself would have wished to go. The one who writes a poem writes it above all because verse writing is an extraordinary accelerator of consciousness, of thinking, of comprehending the universe.”
The director, Richard Kroehling, and I want viewers of BE•HOLD to see how the weaving of film and poetry can be an accelerator of consciousness and a way to comprehend a world in which there is the persistent presence of genocide. I believe in poetry and what it can do. It is behind so much of the philosophy of my life and teaching. I’ve seen people’s lives change because of it.
We envision BE•HOLD as a cinematic film where each poem has its own style, its own visual island. Capturing a wide range of experiences, including the horrors, the beauty, the incomprehensible, the struggle, and even some small moments of transcendence, we will take viewers to a parallel world where those lost still walk. Through the power of movie making, we will pull the audience into this deeply examined and re-created world so their lives will resonate with the poet’s, allowing viewers to engage with history through a vibrant and contemporary lens. In BE•HOLD, language itself becomes a character. Modeled loosely on the PBS series, “The United States of Poetry,” the film is designed as a poetic anthology like Wim Wender’s dance anthology film “Pina.” Shifting focus to the interior states of each work, poems lift off from the page to the screen. Viewers will follow each performer into a time when good and evil, life and death walked the razor’s edge. It is our hope that new personal meanings for the audience will emerge out of the juxtaposition of the poems, the unique approach to each piece, the performances, cinematography, art direction, music and uses of sound and silence. In BE•HOLD, language itself becomes a character.
Creating a strong social media presence that will tap into the innate collectivity of the web, we want to create a community. We want to foster conversation. Facilitating exchanges between filmmakers, poets, survivors, their descendants, educators, students and visitors, we will also encourage and solicit work from writers and filmmakers.
Wilfred Owen wrote of his WWI poetry: “My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn.” For the next generations, we need inventive ways to ensure Holocaust memory. It is our goal for BE•HOLD to be a living legacy and an innovative way to remember.
BE•HOLD was accepted to the Independent Film Project’s Documentary Film Week held at Lincoln Center in September 2013 where we showed our progress reel and received strong interest. We are forming an Advisory Board for the film. Current advisors are poets Mary Stewart Hammond and Edward Hirsch, as well as Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, Chairman Emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Currently, we are working with a casting agent to engage an actor for filming. Last year, we completed a successful campaign on Indiegogo and raised enough money to make the progress reel. We are still accepting contributions to complete production, and they are tax deductible. For anyone interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, I am posting our progress reel which features Taylor Mali, Cornelius Eady, and me, along with my mother. Please note that it has not been fine edited yet. The password for the video is: perform
I would like to thank Stacey Harwood, Managing Editor, and The Best American Poetry Blog for asking me to be guest author this week. It has been an honor to write about my journey to poetry and where it has led me. If you’d like to learn more about the film, contribute or become part of the team, please be in contact on the BE•HOLD Facebook page or by email at email@example.com.
When I was little, I liked to make lists of things: sports I liked to play, bands/singers I liked to listen to, R.L. Stein books I’ve read and have yet to read. It was all usually things I liked, things that sort of defined me at the time. Today, I was similarly moved to make such a list, but this time, of TV shows I like, ones that warrant binge-watching entire seasons at a time. I don’t quite know why I’m compelled in this way. Why is the act of making a list a pleasurable thing? Is it the thinking process, the discerning? The result, the seeing them all together? Once I’ve exhausted the obvious ones, I’m forced to think of ones I might have forgotten about otherwise, thereby perhaps reinvigorating the idea? Homage? Inclusion? (Exclusion?) Is it like creating a club and I’m the leader who gets to approve membership (like picking teams in grade school kickball)? Am I attempting to keep myself organized? If I write down every city I’ve ever been to, will I then know myself more fully? Am I better able to hold myself together after listing every film that has ever made me cry?
And following this list of questions, another— Why the list poem? Similar to my list-creating desire’s elementary origins, the list poem is a technique often introduced to the young writer as a handy image-compiling tool. Some primary school teachers ask their students to create list poems to introduce themselves to their classmates, or when poetry is brand new. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s productive, straight-forward self-reflection. And all of these are assets to someone in her late 20s (or, anyone older than primary school age) too. The list poem enacts this youthful ease of compartmentalization, while engaging with the more mature task of exploring a thing from all its angles.
Catherine Bowman makes lists in “Sylvia’s Photo Album,” “Things To Eat, Paris, 1953” and her series of “Things To Do” poems, all from The Plath Cabinet. Susan Firer’s list poems include “Small Milwaukee Museums,” “Where Song Comes From,” and “The Wave Docent.” Paul Guest gives us “My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge,” “To-Do List,” and “Things We Agreed Not to Shout,” which is reproduced here:
Things We Agreed Not to Shout [by Paul Guest]
Mom is dead. Dad melted. Again.
Bitter recriminations. Bitter infidelities. Bitter.
Streisand is on. Finnish curses on the firstborn
of everyone who held us back. My credit rating.
Your many catalogs of shame. Scrapbook time.
Do you remember where we sank the kindergarteners?
Infectious constipation. In our spare time,
we enjoy perfecting methods of evisceration.
Bingo. Also, fire. Let’s make a baby.
Not anymore. You feel kind of weird inside.
My brother’s indiscretions. My indiscretion
with your brother. That lost weekend in Vegas.
Landslide of therapy. Moving to another state. Again.
We are running out of America. Faster.
Right there. Good girl. Judas Priest lyrics.
Freebird. Woo. Random latitudes.
Imagined injuries. Getting tired of your meniscus.
Seriously. Routing numbers
and decade by decade
delineations of your bra sizes. Beginning with the seventies.
You promised. I thought you were
asleep. I thought you wouldn’t mind it.
The list poem inherently invites the reader into its space. It asks for suggestions. What’s left out here? What could be added to this list? What kinds of things have you agreed not to shout? (To Guest’s list, I’d add, “Curse words at seagulls in the morning.”)
But there’s also a clear reason why the reader’s additions are not a part of the list already (so clear that it probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway): This is not my list. This list is a representation of the speaker at a particular moment in time. It’s possible that he might agree next week not to shout curse words at seagulls in the morning. But at the time of the poem, it wasn’t a defining piece of his character. Maybe it’s a piece of mine though… So maybe I’ll create my own list… And oh, another reason the list poem is so spectacular! The encouragement of new poems. And then, years after you write your own “things I’ve agreed not to shout” poem, you might write another one because maybe you’ve decided to start shouting at seagulls since then. It’s a wonderful process, really.
So I’m going to go make a list of all my favorite TV shows. Who really knows why. But when I’m done, the list will exist, and I will have it to look at and consider its implications, what it says about me as a TV watcher, an entertainment seeker, an American, a human being. And maybe I’ll never look at it again. Or I’ll make another list in 15 years because this list doesn’t define me anymore. Or maybe I’ll make a poem of it, like John Ashbery’s “They Knew What They Wanted,” a list poem comprised of film titles. And then he’ll write a poem in response to mine comprised of only TV show titles. And then… well, the list goes on, doesn’t it?
Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration.
Born in Brooklyn Heights on July 16, 1907, Barbara Stanwyck was an atypical Cancer, with both her moon and her rising sign in Virgo. Gemini, the sign of the twins, rules her midheaven. A talented actress (Mercury in Leo), she was able to project a wide variety of women -- a paranoid hypochondriac, a confidence artist, a calculating femme fatale, an unflappable witness to a murder -- in modes tragic or comic.
According to Isaac Babylon in The Charts of the Stars, his classic study of six Hollywood starlets from the 1940s (Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Irene Dunne, Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford), Stanwyck's Virgoesque self-restraint combined with the gush of watery emotion that comes from having not only her sun but her Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune in Cancer. She was a good businesswoman (Mars in Capricorn) but prone to morbidity (Saturn in Pisces).
The actresses of the 1940s – we can add Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell to Babylon’s list -- belie the notion that women born before the age of female enlightenment lacked strong models who could either keep their families together despite the stresses of war or be psychiatrists, reporters, con artists; they could solve murders or commit them, could go crazy, could run a restaurant, pack a gun, slap her daughter, commit adultery, or risk her life as an American agent in South America during World War II.
Barbara Stanwyck came from a working class background. She went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Thanks to shrewd investments (Mars in Capricorn) she grew rich. It figures that she never won an Oscar though she was nominated four times. Her real name was Ruby Stevens. She was hilarious in “The Lady Eve” and superb in “Golden Boy.” She helped William Holden get the title part and became Holden's lucky star. He was crazy about her as photos taken on the set of “Executive Suite” attest. In 1939 she married Robert Taylor. Whisperers said it was a sham designed to get gullible people to believe the two stars were heterosexual. Taylor was four years younger than Stanny. "The boy's got a lot to learn and I've got a lot to teach," she said. She kept the ranch and horses when they divorced in 1951. Robert Wagner said he had a four-year affair with her. Could be.
Stanwyck had a sharp tongue. She defined "egotism" as "usually just a case of mistaken nonentity." She had a proud notion of her true worth. "Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don't care what happened before. I don't even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing. I'll take it in those fifteen minutes." During the filming of Double Indemnity, the Billy Wilder masterpiece, she says that her co-star, Fred MacMurray, would look at the rushes every day. Babs would say, "How was I?" And Fred, perhaps in keeping with their dialogue in the movie, would reply, "I don't know about you, but I was wonderful!" Actors look only at themselves.
On the day we visited, Stanwyck, a self-described "tough old broad from Brooklyn," took one look at the script and started laughing. What's the matter? "Be a good lad and re-fill my glass. Scotch, rocks, no water. You know what my biggest problem is? My biggest problem is trying to figure out how to play my fortieth fallen female different from my thirty-ninth."
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.