Riotous success: Melbourne conference, 2011, report

Corey Wakeling, Melbourne, 16 July 2011, photo by John Tranter.
Corey Wakeling, Melbourne, 16 July 2011, photo by John Tranter.

“Ann Vickery and Michael Farrell should see their Poetry and the Contemporary as a riotous success and responsible for reinvigorating an ebullience for contemporary poetics in its partisan schools, its independents, its exiles, and its present-tense. This symposium succeeded because it was constituted by criticism enamoured of poetry, poetry enamoured of life, and life enamoured of criticism and poetry.”

Corey Wakeling has a lively report on the July 2011 “Poetry and the Contemporary” Conference in Melbourne available in «Cordite» magazine. Worth a look, here.

Longfellow parodied: Hiawatha’s Photographing

LongfellowHenry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882, photo, right) was an American poet and educator. After spending time in Europe he became a professor at Bowdoin and, later, at Harvard College. Indeed, he’s not the last poet of his kind to teach there. Wikipedia says “Poet Walt Whitman also considered Longfellow an imitator of European forms, though he praised his ability to reach a popular audience as “the expressor of common themes – of the little songs of the masses”. He added, “Longfellow was no revolutionarie: never traveled new paths: of course never broke new paths.” Lewis Mumford said that Longfellow could be completely removed from the history of literature without much effect.

Towards the end of his life, contemporaries considered him more of a children’s poet as many of his readers were children. A contemporary reviewer noted in 1848 that Longfellow was creating a “Goody two-shoes kind of literature… slipshod, sentimental stories told in the style of the nursery, beginning in nothing and ending in nothing”. A more modern critic said, “Who, except wretched schoolchildren, now reads Longfellow?” Well, Lewis Carroll did. Alongside «Alice in Wonderland» and «Through the looking Glass», he wrote:

“Hiawatha’s Photographing” by Lewis Carroll

From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;

Continue reading “Longfellow parodied: Hiawatha’s Photographing”

James Dickie: the problem with Criticism

James DickieWhen James Dickie was US Poet Laureate (in 1966-68) he devised a graceful letter declining to criticize unsolicited poems:

I do not criticize unsolicited manuscripts, because I believe that often an external evaluation of a poet’s work distracts him from his necessary spontaneity, and from the pleasure which he may derive from the creation of his work.

Indeed, it seems obvious that there’s nothing wrong with expressing your feelings in lyrical poems that might seem simple compared to the overwhelming richness of Shakespeare, say, or the cultural ornateness of Ezra Pound’s “Cantos”. A folk song seems simple compared to the massive complexity of a Shostakovitch symphony; a kite built and flown by a young girl seems simple compared to the overwhelming technical complexity and power of the Space Shuttle taking off.

But there’s a lot of worthwhile pleasure to be gained from singing a folk song, or flying a kite.

UPenn Reading and Conversation with John Tranter

John Tranter, New York City, 2008. Photo by Charles Bernstein.
An instalment the “Close Listening” series — a collaboration between PennSound and ArtRadio — is available at UPenn’s site: a two-part reading and conversation with Australian poet and critic John Tranter.

The reading segment features poems from Tranter’s 2006 collection «Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected», beginning with a number of pieces which engage with, often via the process of (mis)translation, the works of other poets, such as “After Hölderlin;” “Festival,” a deliberate mistranslation of Max Jacob’s poem of the same name; and a transliterated version of Arthur Rimbaud’s “Brussels.” From there, the session continues with a selection of recent poems, including, “Snap,” “Five Modern Myths,” “Black Leather” and “Radium,” which addresses James Schuyler’s tribute to his departed friend, Frank O’Hara, “Buried at Springs.”

Host Charles Bernstein begins his interview by asking Tranter about the context for his poetry: whether it’s global, or more local, and this leads to a discussion of the tensions between Australian nationalism and an international focus in Tranter’s own work, as well as the tremendous literary and cultural potential of the internet — as best embodied by Tranter’s journal, «Jacket» — which elides and erases the differences imposed by national boundaries. Tranter then discusses his earliest influences (Chinese poetry, D.H. Lawrence, Gerard Manley Hopkins) and how they shaped his poetic development, as well as the tremendous import the work of Rimbaud, Ashbery, Schuyler and O’Hara, alongside more proximal inspirations, such as the great Australian hoax-poet, Ern Malley (whose collected works Tranter published in «Jacket» #17). “You can’t really put Wordsworth in Australia — the environment’s all wrong,” he observes, underscoring the overwhelming, yet foreign dominion of English verse during his formative years, compelling him to break with traditions and invent new forms.

You can hear both installments — and more audio material — by visiting PennSound’s John Tranter author page.

Keep your Computer virus free

Keep your Computer virus free… but not with this program! If anything resembling this text lands on your computer, delete it and get outta there! For all its cute Chinglish, it does bad things. That said, it’s only on this page for the laughs, and in plain text form is harmless.

Reimage may Check out along with Discover and correct along with Restore your PC with the use of the stick to features and benefits. Check out Reimage verification by your complete Computer, discovering information about your own Windows Operating System as a way to discover your own PC’s Components, Steadiness, along with Safety Troubles. Discover Reimage detects injury to your PC inside subsequent places: Safety Dangers: Spyware and adware, Viruses, along with Trojan viruses, Malware.

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Photo: Poets in New York City, 1992

Those were the days, twenty years ago, when a poet like David Trinidad could take a drag on a cigarette and not feel like a drug addict! Photo: Lyn Tranter, poet Elaine Equi, poet David Trinidad, New York City, 1992. Photo copyright © John Tranter.
Elaine is wearing a brooch [“pin” in US lingo] made from a tiny freeze-dried shad in transparent plastic. The shad is a fish that used to be common in the Hudson River before that watercourse turned into a channel of industrial garbage, and now, as the water clears, is slowly returning, along with its caviar-like shad roe. Like the Atlantic sturgeon, shad spend much of their adult lives in the ocean, returning to the Hudson to lay their eggs. A year or two before this photo was taken, poet Kenward Elmslie cooked (a larger!) shad for lunch for Lyn and me. Delicious! Click to see a larger image.

Poets with PhDs — link to book review

plunkett-anthFrom my review of «Thirty Australian Poets», edited by Felicity Plunkett, UQP. 304pp, $27.95:

Poet and critic David McCooey points out in his informative introduction that “if the generation of 68 was the first generation of poets to generally have access to tertiary education, the poets here are the first generation to generally have PhDs”. Fortunately this doesn’t imply an enslavement to theory, as it may have done in the 60s, when missionary-minded Leavisites and anti-Leavisites vied for the souls of student and teacher alike among the smoking wreckage of the English syllabus.

Fonts: New Fournier BP

The image below is a text of page 218 from Oliver Bernard’s excellent translation of Rimbaud’s «Collected Poems» (Penguin, 1965). The poem has been typeset here in New Fournier BP, a face designed by François Rappo in Lausanne, Switzerland. The face is fully OpenType compliant — well, almost. More below.

Until a year or so ago… say, until 2014… The face was for sale on this website. Then, alas, it disappeared. This may have something to do with the fact that Apple computers began rejecting the font when OS X Lion appeared, as it failed certain Apple tests including kerning table tests. Shame! Please revive it!

The foundry says:

Francois Rappo
François Rappo

New Fournier BP is a contemporary translation of the equilibrium and elegance we find in the typography of Pierre-Simon Fournier. It possesses a particular dynamism and variety due to its pretension to rediscover the graphic style of 18th century France in a form that is both digital and contemporary…

In the spirit of Fournier’s “programme”, New Fournier has been developed into a very large family that includes three different designs corresponding to three specific sizes for the font’s use: book, adapted to continuous text and optimised for comfort while reading; big, optimised for continuous text but comprising a more historic and detailed design; and headline, in which the contrasts, graphic expression and details of the design have been optimised for composing titles. These three designs are further divided into two x-heights: New Fournier BP, with a normal x-height, and New Fournier BP Large, which has a high x-height. The two groups are complementary.

Below, a sample.


These 3 posts are about Fournier: 1. Barbou  2. Corundum  3. New Fournier BP

Don’t be right, be interesting.

“To overcome the inertia of the intellect, a new statement must be an overstatement, and sometimes it is more important that the statement be interesting than that it be true”. (George Homans)

George Homans
George Homans

I used this quote as an epigraph to my 1979 essay on “Anaesthetics”. This was first presented at the Macquarie University conference in 1979 in Sydney, titled “The American Model”. The essay was published in the magazine «New Poetry» soon after that, and formed the Introduction to my anthology «The New Australian Poetry» in 1979.

George Homans (1910-1989), an American sociologist, was a leading theorist in developing testable hypotheses and explanations about fundamental social processes in small groups. He was born in Boston in 1910, and graduated from Harvard University in English literature in 1932. Homans taught as professor of sociology at Harvard from 1939 to 1941, served four years as a naval officer during World War II, and then returned to Harvard where he was a faculty member from 1946 until 1970, when he retired. In Homans’ book «Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms» (1961, 1974) he described and explained small group behavior as an emergent social system of rewards. Subsequent research has shown that the use of rewards with children was more effective than the use of punishment. Homans retired from Harvard in 1980 and continued to work on his social theories. He also published «The Witch Hazel, Poems of a Lifetime», the year before his death. [From]

East is East, and West is East, too…

“Discovery of ocean’s stately dance puts scientists in a spin”

Australian researchers have discovered that vast, pancake-shaped bodies of cool water, about 40 kilometres in diameter, are spinning out of Bass Strait into the Tasman Sea, and then turning east to head for the Indian Ocean.The phenomenon happens at a stately pace, with perhaps one giant disc of water each year making it as far as the southern coast of Western Australia, after a journey of several years.

From the online Sydney Morning Herald, 2012-02-22

I might be a little cartographically-challenged, but isn’t the southern coast of Western Australia in the… west? The adjective “Western” seems to be trying to tell us that. So why did the watery pancakes turn “east to head for the Indian Ocean”? Maybe the fact that they had to circumnavigate the globe, across the Pacific, through the windy Straits of Magellan, under the southern tip of South America, across the southern Atlantic with its freezing gales, grumpy seals and flocks of chattering penguins, around Cape Horn… to get to the Indian Ocean, maybe that would explain why it took so long. I’m surprised they made it.

Tinker, and so forth (at the movies)

Spy ShotMy daughter The Novelist knows John le Carre’s work better than I do, though Doctor Wilson, the doctor who delivered her at Singapore’s Mount Alvernia Hospital, knew John le Carre himself, which always impressed me. She says that the new movie version of the novel «Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy” has two episodes which were not in the book [or at least not witnessed by any character in the book], and I think she’s right. In each episode, a woman is horribly murdered, by the Enemy (Russian spies in the service of spymaster Karla). In one episode a woman nursing a baby is (accidentally) shot through the head. You can almost see the headline: Spy Slays Toddler’s Mum! How the nursing mother is shot through the head is hard to understand: the spy (disguised as a waiter) who shoots her was aiming at a man who was running away in the other direction, or at least at ninety degrees to where she was sitting, which is a bit like aiming at someone running down the street in front of the car you are driving, and “accidentally” shooting the person in the passenger seat beside you. A: unnecessary, B: cheap, C: sordid.

So what’s new? The director was Tomas Alfredson, a Swede, and his earlier films include «Let the Right One In». Here is a very abbreviated version of Wikipedia’s plot outline of this horror-vampire flick:

The “hero”, Oskar, a meek 12-year-old boy, meets Eli, who appears to be a pale girl of his age. They share various adventures. Shortly after, Oskar figures out that Eli is a vampire and confronts Eli. Eli admits to being a vampire. Oskar is initially upset by this because Eli acknowledges needing to kill people to survive. Eli encourages Oskar to be “more like me…” [Later,] Jimmy (a bully) forces Oskar under the water, threatening to cut his eye out if he does not hold his breath for three minutes. While Oskar is underwater, however, there is commotion above the surface. Soon Jimmy’s severed head drops into the pool, followed shortly by the arm which had held Oskar down. Eli then pulls Oskar out of the water. Three dismembered bodies lie around the pool while Andreas, the reluctant fourth bully, sobs on a bench.

I had to stop reading here: I was laughing too much to go on.

So what if a woman nursing a baby is shot through the head in Tomas Alfredson’s latest movie? I think we were let off lightly. The Russian spies might have turned out to be vampires, and we were spared that much, at least.