Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, eds. Jennifer Firestone & Dana Teen Lomax

So now we are writing letters. The question on my mind this morning has to do with how we negotiate this task of lettering. (Patrick Pritchett to Kathleen Fraser, December 22, 2006)
One of the most interesting collections of interviews I’ve seen in a long time has to be Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, eds. Jennifer Firestone & Dana Teen Lomax (Philadelphia PA: Saturnalia Books, 2008). The idea was simple enough: over the space of a couple of years, the editors solicited various poets across the United States for the sake of a conversation with another poet they wanted to talk to. As the editors begin their introduction:

Letters to Poets developed from an interest in how we could redefine, renegotiate, and extend the concept of collaboration. For this project, fourteen poet-pairs from various regions, races, class backgrounds, sexual preferences, and aesthetics came together and wrote letters during approximately a one-year period. From the start, the Letters to Poets project has been experimental in nature. Having provided no strict formal or thematic guidelines, we had little idea what the poets in this collection would choose to write about. We thought that if poets had the opportunity to correspond with each other over the course of a year, important and intriguing conversations would emerge, prompting further discourse among poets and people in other disciplines. Letters have proven powerful texts. (Consider the correspondences between Dickinson and Higginson, Hughes and Bontemps, Zukofsky and Niedecker, Levertov and Duncan, Celan and Sachs, Silko and Wright, and so on.) We believed the epistolary format would create a sense of intimacy, allowing readers to feel privy to “inside” information about poets’ ideas and experiences.
As stated, there are fourteen pairs of poets, including Anselm Berrigan and John Yau, Brenda Coultas and Victor Hernández Cruz, Truong Tran and Wanda Coleman, Patrick Pritchett and Kathleen Fraser, Hajera Ghori and Alfred Arteaga, Jennifer Firestone and Eileen Myles, Karen Weiser and Anne Waldman, Jill Magi and Cecilia Vicuna, Rosamond S. King and Jayne Cortez, Judith Goldsmith and Leslie Scalapino, Traci Gourdine and Quincy Troupe, Brena Iljima and Joan Retallack, Dana Teen Lomax and Claire Braz-Valentine, and Albert Flynn DeSilver and Paul Hoover. I know I’ve repeated it numerous times, but Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch has always called literature a conversation, so how could such a project not seem obvious and almost basic, in just how appealing it might be for the sake of both readers and participants, and something that Stephanie Bolster and I were very aware of when we did a version of the same about a decade ago, interviewing each other over the space of months, and published online as a single (albeit long) document. But I wonder: is this the sort of project that might be worth a journal taking on as a kind of ongoing project, whether in print or online? Just because the book is finished, does that mean that the idea has to end as well?

Am I wrong to observe that the language of critical discourse has tended—in the last three or so decades—to over-drench our thinking re the making of poems, by smuggling its own list of au courant abstract urgencies into poetry’s more visceral territory? It would appear that many of the current choices pre/scribed from the sleeve of academic authority—patina’d with a certain allure—may have become, at the same time, too revered and yet too familiar, that is, once removed from the actual physical precipice that marks the uneasy edge of writing’s activity. Is it possible that competing concerns (languages) of analysis theory vs. the poet’s invented syntactical/physical arrangements are capable of creating an impasse, even impairing one’s working contract with the imagination? (Kathleen Fraser to Patrick Pritchett, June 25, 2005)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This does sound good. Thanks for the pointer.
Paul Baker
Madison, Wis.