Wednesday, February 25, 2009

VERSE magazine, Vols. 24 + 25;

We can only seek a sentence by means of another sentence.
Pierre Alferi, “from To Seek a Sentence,” trans. Anna Moschovakis, Verse, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-3
The editors of the American journal Verse (produced through the Department of English at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia) were nice enough to send me copies of their two most recent issues a while back, Volume 24, Nos. 1-3 (2007), produced as their “French Poetry & Poetics” issue, and Volume 25, Nos. 1-3 (2008), produced as their “The Sequence (II)” issue. Headed by editors (and poets themselves) Brian Henry and Andrew Zawacki, these impressive annuals are packed with writing, interviews and reviews, and make me wonder just how I’ve been living so long without going through this journal, and certainly make their way onto my list of American literary journal “must haves,” along with P-Queue, FENCE and The Chicago Review (there are probably others I can’t think of right now). The first volume of the two exists almost as a continuation of the conversation started a few days ago when I talked about going through issues of sentence: a journal of prose poetics, since the prose poem is so much more prevalent in French writing than in North American writing. The issue, edited by Abigail Long and Zawacki, consists of a great amount of writing, as well as interviews with Dominique Fourcade and Claude Royet-Journoud, and reviews and essays by various writers, including Nathalie Stephens, Rusty Morrison and Eleni Sikelianos. In her review of Two Worlds: French and American Poetry in Translation (ed. Béatrice Mousli, Otis Books/Seismicity Editions), Canadian expatriate writer Nathalie Stephens, who has written on translation and done much of her own, begins:

The question of language’s intimate relationship to nationhood, and to violence as such, continues to demand consideration. The implied causality of as such, in addition to the suggestion of an ontology of violence, necessitates explication, gives pause to this consideration, that is, suspends it spatially, temporally, between the carefully determined boundaries that distinguish languages from one another and the nations – nationalities, nationalisms – to which they adhere. In and of themselves.

That the act of translation may interpose itself as deconstructive, that it may detach – although by no means necessarily – a language from its nationalistic discourse, suggests the possibility of an engagement that determinedly crosses borders, and may do more than cross, but dismantle them in the process, or at very least resituate them, expose their mobility. Process is the admission of flux, of movement, of mutability, of a gesture that is always already in motion, the emotion of which is itself, may be, transforming. And the many and various bodies with it: textual, geographical, linguistic, national, and so on.
One of the highlights has to be the opening piece by Emmanuel Hocquard, trans. Steve Evans and Jennifer Moxley, his “Notes by Way of an Introduction,” that traces the history of his own relationship with American poetry.
1980, my first extended stay (six months) in the United States, where I make the acquaintance of Claude Richard. The beginning of our friendship.

I make my way to San Francisco, where I meet Michael Palmer at Robert Duncan’s. Larry Eigner at Robert Grenier’s, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Barrett Watten and Carla Harryman, Lyn Heginian, Tom Mandel, and others. Apologies to those I’ve forgotten to mention.

I became conscious of the possibilities for a productive relationship (based on numerous shared ideas and similar approaches to the problems of writing) between French and American poets of the same generation. But, excluding a small handful of initiates who, owing to their travels abroad and friendship circles, can keep up to date with what their contemporaries on the other side of the Atlantic are thinking and writing, the vast majority of us are at the mercy of rare anthologies and translations published in magazines. And even these resources are inadequate, bringing the news – especially in the case of anthologies – one, and sometimes many, generations too late.
I wonder, is this, perhaps, why the United States has more of a relationship with the prose poem than Canada does? Was it through the forging of such relationships between writing/writers?


If I skipped a day, would there be
a song? Let the cat do it, stretched
on the bed, sprawled against me, not wary
for once. Let the print of a print of a print
Dore once did
do it, there on the wall, angels in the dark
coming at me off a ship in those waters,
the 19th century endless and adrift
and never light enough to see. Let the three
doors of this room open to it. Let the laundry basket
overflow with it. Let the books piled
whichever way and too many
do it, cry aubade, cry
word no one knows anymore,
its little scheme to stop time
almost stopped. Let my tea
do it, a hit of milk, no sugar. Am I done
with this? Am I? Day that will pass
and not be remembered, lighter
than its air.
Marianne Boruch, “Seven Aubades for Summer,” Verse, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-3

The second volume was produced as their second issue on “The Sequence,” with works by Rosmarie Waldrop, Kate Fagan, John Kinsella, Rusty Morrison, David Wojahn and more than a dozen others (including John Matthias, a poet Lea Graham has been trying to get me to read lately), as well as interviews with Theodore Enslin and Morrison, and a slate of the usual book reviews (one has to admire the journal, if for no other reason, than their impressive collection of book reviews in every issue). The wonderful sequence by Corinne Lee, “Those Discernible Coonskin Caps,” had an openness and movement that reminded me of my favourite of Toronto poet Jay MillAr’s recent works, but would be impossible to replicate here, and there was just something about Marianne Boruch’s “Seven Aubades for Summer” that really struck, but I couldn’t say why.
This is the book I’d mentioned I’d been meaning to write. The one with the laughing person in it. I blush. A chamber pot, various basins at the end of a rope. A revolving door. It is true that I enclosed the scene with a fence. There was no center, but I wanted to say something about a trip. About color. About two bodies, a thigh, the platform of the present. Citrus trees, the very real smell of lemon zest. In it, I do something funny, you are pleased. Touching ensues. I feed you. But I have tried in vain to affix the lemon to the page. The peel has gone soft. What matters is matter. I hope you are not embarrassed to read this.
Anthony Hawley, “Autobiography/Oughtabiography,” Verse, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-3
After reading for years the Canadian sequence, it’s interesting to see how various American writers work their own versions of same, and it makes me intrigued to see what they did for their earlier issue on such. What did this magnificent journal do before these?

How simply words cluster,
love and death, maroon resolve
folding to a page.

The soles of feet are elegant originals.

I am driven to absurdity
by such pained law, a large O,
our temples of delivery and exit.

Awareness comes in material shades,
owl in the hedge for instance.
Kate Fagan, “Observations on Time, Cargo,” Verse, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-3

What really makes this issue interesting is the range of styles being covered through these twenty sequences, giving a good show as to what the form is capable of, and through such, giving their own statements on what the form can do. Still, it would have been interesting to have another interview or two; or am I just spoiled from reading various editions of The Long Poem Anthology, with each writer a statement at the back of the volume on their individual piece? The closest the volume comes is through the interview with Enslin, where he talks about his 2004 poetry collection Nine (National Poetry Foundation):
Actually my reason for calling the collection of what I consider my best late sequences Nine was much more simplistic than any scholastic thinking. There are nine of these, and there is an old superstition among composers, from Beethoven on, that nine symphonies are all that a composer can produce. Superstition, yes, but certainly there are a number of topflight examples: Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, Dvorak. I won’t deny that I later thought of nein and eine, but that was merely for my own amusement.

1 comment:

Ron said...

I have a partial counter-theory. My sense is that where US writers got to the prose poem via the sentence, Canadian poetry during the 1970s & early 80s dramatically engaged performance poetries, the 4 horseman, TRG, etc. One might say that this was encouraged in Canada by funding that paid for events rather than writing, but I think the two poetries set off on complementary journeys of exploration.