Sunday, June 20, 2010

The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative

I have to say, I’m pretty much floored by The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative and their first year of publications—Amiri Baraka & Edward Dorn: Selections from The Collected Letters 1959-1960 (series 1, number 1), The Correspondence of Kenneth Koch & Frank O’Hara 1955-1956 Part I and The Correspondence of Kenneth Koch & Frank O’Hara 1955-1956 Part II (series 1, number 2), Darwin & The Writers, Muriel Rukeyser (series 1, number 3), 1957-1977 Selections From The Journals, Part 1 and II, Philip Whalen (series 1, number 4) and The 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference / Robert Creeley’s Contexts of Poetry, with Daphne Marlatt’s Journal Entries (series 1, number 5). As it says in the back of their first volume:
LOST & FOUND: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative emerges from archival work and contemporary textual scholarship being done by students in the English Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, with the generous support of the Center for the Humanities. Forming part of the Living Archives Project, the Initiative will publish work done by students and scholars at the Graduate Center, as well as visiting fellows and guest editors.

By looking in particular at extra-poetic work by writers who have come to be characterized or fall under the rubric of the New American Poetry (correspondence, journals, critical prose, and transcripts of talks), the Initiative can illuminate still largely unexplored terrain of this essential field of 20th-century American literary history and culture.

Given that the availability of archival material proposes alternative versions of literary and cultural history, the Initiative takes the New American rubric writ large, including the affiliated and unaffiliated, precursors and followers, with the eventual aim of opening the Initiative to include ancillary materials that might have been of importance to the writers themselves. The key is for these texts not to be chosen as historical curiosities but for their ability to intervene and intersect with conditions and interpretations of the present.

To anyone interested in the field of “New American Poetry” (a rather open phrase, I’ll admit), there aren’t as many things as you think as required or even essential reading, but this series would certainly fit on that shortlist. Even just for the Creeley/Marlatt book, there have been a number of documents over the years on the importance of the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, but very little, it seems, that really move across the border—American works on the Americans, and Canadian works on the Canadians—so it’s impressive to see this cross-border pollination. Just the roughness of Marlatt’s notes alone make the opportunity that much more endearing, for a poet who was very influenced by a number of things (not just Marlatt’s part in the forming of the influential Vancouver poetry newsletter/grouping TISH) happening over that brief period:
Monday, July 29/63

a.m. Charles Olson—Creeley, Ginsberg, Duncan & Whalen

we have to get ourselves back into history thru “now”—how? by “apocalypse” ? by gathering details of location (place more important than self—yet Olson says name is self, name in the scrolls—& book can be place) such as will build us a structure to project us thru event/happening (of self meeting self—of self meeting whole figure of place) to continual orbiting in history/ continual happening

(as the poem continues to happen to the reader as it happened to the poet)

what is crucial: where we are now—like the
only reality for me is my act of perceiving now

The same slim volume also includes “A Letter fromVancouver by A. Fredric Franklyn to El Corno Emplumado” (a Mexican literary journal by Margaret Randall that went on to, among other things, produce one of George Bowering’s early poetry titles); isn’t there something magnificent about all of these writers, readers and publishers making and maintaining these relationships some fifty years back through something as slow-moving (comparatively) as the post office? Charming, even.
… What is happening here is almost indescribable. I can’t tell you what it’s like, just to see them all around the same desk: Margaret Avison, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Levertov, Charles Olson, and Philip Whalen in the student seats where he has preferred to sit since his second morning…

The second series, scheduled for this coming fall, already include Selections from El Corno Emplumado (ed. Margaret Randall), Umbra Extensions (ed. David Henderson) and Jack Spicer’s Translation of Beowulf: Selections (eds. David Hadbawnik & Sean Reynolds), as well as forthcoming materials by Muriel Rukeyser (ed. Rowena Kennedy-Epstein), Lorine Niedecker (ed. John Harkey) and Gil Ott (ed. Tim Peterson).

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