● Reading at Wake Forest University (Dillon Johnston Writers Reading Series), DeTamble Auditorim, Tribble Hall, Winston Salem, NC, October 1, 2015, 4:30pm
Bernar Venet is famous for his monumental sculptures, which have been displayed worldwide from Versailles to Gibbs Farm in New Zealand. More recently, he has been consolidating a reputation as an important art collector. The Venet Foundation in Le Muy opened to the public in 2014; it houses Venet’s personal collection–amassed over decades–of minimalist art, which includes pieces by Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, and Richard Serra. But fewer people–particularly in the Anglophone world–know about Venet’s conceptual poetry, which he has produced since the late 1960s. In 1999, the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Geneva published his Apoétiques: 1967-1998, a gem of a book that should interest fans of conceptual poetry, found poetry, and/or visual poetry. Apoétiques is mostly in French but includes pieces in English as well as in the language of mathematics. My review-essay, which reflects upon found poems such as the wonderful “Monostique,” is included in the latest edition of Hyperallergic Weekend.
It’s interesting how much Venet’s brand of conceptualism departs from LeWitt’s: “Conceptual art doesn’t really have much to do with mathematics, philosophy, or any other mental discipline. The mathematics used by most artists is simple arithmetic or simple number systems” (“Paragraphs from Conceptual Art”). “Monostique” certainly goes well beyond simple arithmetic.
My review-essay “Root Work,” which meditates on Nathaniel Mackey’s remarkable use of syntax in his latest book Blue Fasa, is now up on the Boston Review website. Thanks to the BR staff for the sharp editing.
Here are two paragraphs from an earlier draft of the piece:
“Sometimes I will feel a line or phrase as a pulse before I have the words for it, and later I find the words,” Mackey recently said. Along with being an expert practitioner of the line as a prosodic unit, Mackey is surely one of our most accomplished artisans of the phrase. In place of “phrase,” linguists opt for the more precise term “constituent,” which can speak to the political stakes of Mackey’s epic project. “Constituent” is also a word that Mackey employs in his writing, which insistently meditates on relationships of part/whole (in “Song of the Andoumboulou: 60,” a poem from Splay Anthem, he says, “Abstract he / at the back of her mind, she at the / back of his, each the other’s Nub / constituent, ghost of an alternative / life…”). In linguistics, a constituent functions as a single unit within a larger structure (such as the noun phrase “wasn’t’s grudge against was.”) “Constituent,” of course, is also more recognizable in the context of political representation as a term for one who elects another to public office. In “Song of the Andoumboulou: 142,” a recent poem yet to be collected in a full-length volume, Mackey writes, “Abandoned boys and girls again, the band / of us. We threw our votes toward the polling place, / too far away to reach.” And later, another pseudo-cleft sentence: “What it was was we did take offense, ballot-box / ab- / scondity afoot.”
However abandoned and angry, however caught in “Nub’s pleo- / nastic rut” (the fictive place of Nub is associated with both political and ecological disaster, being related to “the imperial, flailing republic of Nub the United States has become [and] the shrunken place the earth has become, planet Nub”), Mackey’s lost tribe, in Beckettian fashion, can’t go on but goes on. The sense of indefatigable continuance on the level of content is intimately linked to the continuance of Mackey’s serial form. Jack Spicer (via Robin Blaser) famously described the serial poem as going through a series of dark rooms: “the light is turned on for a minute, then it’s turned off again, and then you go into a different room where a light is turned on and turned off.” I’d like to qualify Spicer’s comment with one by French writer and scientist François Le Lionnais: “I have never turned on a light switch in a darkened room without the sudden flood of light releasing in me an undeniable emotion, the impression almost of having witnessed a miracle.” The experience of reading Mackey’s long, serial song is akin to encountering the miraculous. At the end of each section, it seems utterly impossible that his collective voice can continue singing given such conditions of constraint and difficulty. But then it always does. And the emotional effect is undeniable.
The National Endowment for the Arts just announced that I am among 20 recipients of a FY16 Translation Fellowship.
I’m working in collaboration with Ignacio Infante to translate Sky-Quake, a long prose poem by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro. Published in 1931 in Madrid under the title Temblor de cielo and in 1932 in Paris under the title Tremblement de ciel, Sky-Quake is an interlingual and cosmopolitan work. Operatic and highly figurative, it is loosely based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult. Huidobro is among the most celebrated figures in Chilean poetry—he is one of the so-called “big four” along with Nobel laureates Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda and his close contemporary Pablo de Rokha—but he still remains underappreciated by an Anglophone audience. I’m very grateful to the panelists for supporting the effort of bringing this important avant-garde work into English.
In today’s press release, NEA Chairman Jane Chu says, “The NEA is committed to providing Americans with diverse art experiences. Our support of literary translation provides opportunities for readers to expand their knowledge of other cultures and traditions while also experiencing some of the world’s most talented writers.” Congratulations to the other fellows: Aron R. Aji, Philip Boehm, Maia Evrona, Jeffrey Friedman, María José Gimenez, Ani Gjika, Jennifer Grotz, Kathleen Heil, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Michelle Har Kim, Michael F. Moore, Benjamin Paloff, Kit Schluter, William Schutt, K. E. Semmel, Donna Stonecipher, Jeremy Tiang, Will Vanderhyden, and Matvei Yankelevich. You can read about their projects here.
Douglas Luman has a great review of Cutting Time with a Knife as part of the Found Poetry Review’s Book Review series. Here’s one of his nice insights:
Though the conceit of spontaneity can only go so far in a text, Cutting Time with a Knife straddles the line between the entropic and procedural, introducing a tension that many attempt in vain to capture with a strict focus on a single strand of language rather than engaging in the many various literacies that we all have.