Philadelphia

[From John Tranter, New York City, Wednesday 3 April 2013.]
I took the train from New York City to Philadelphia yesterday. It was a beautiful windy cold spring day. Rachel Blau du Plessis met the train and gave me a delicious lunch at her place; her husband Bob was with us briefly, then off to teach in New York. Bob Perelman and Ron Silliman joined us for lunch, and the table talk was bright and erudite; in fact I had to think fast to keep up with it. Ron — never an academic teacher before — had to leave early to teach at the University of Pennsylvania, a new job he loves, and which he is able to do now he has retired from his erstwhile computer marketing analysis job. One of the two texts he sets on his poetry course is Wittgenstein’s «Tractatus».

Two Capybaras

Photo: Two capybaras anxiously discussing Wittgenstein’s apparent rejection of some of the key propositions of his «Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus» (1921).

After lunch a brisk and chilly walk to Kelly Writers House at UPenn for an interview with Al Filreis. He is the busy publisher of Jacket2, the magazine I granted to UPenn in 2010 when it was «Jacket Magazine». We talked into our microphones for the gigantic PennSound audio archive, built largely by Bernstein and Filreis, about how I constructed «Jacket Magazine» in old HTML 4.0 code, and how «Jacket2» is now a very different creature, part of a busy American world of academic study, research and teaching, though still rich with contemporary poetry.

Then a quadraphenic session of «PoemTalk» (microphones again) with Charles Bernstein from New York, Aaron Shurin fresh in from San Francisco, and me and Al Filreis. We focussed on a poem by Ray di Palma from 1976 or 1977, recorded then on audio cassette by a younger Bernstein with the (younger) author reading the poem. I noted a strong disjunction between the reading performance of the poem, with its fluent but occasionally halting stanza-like structure of two- and three-beat lines, and the poem’s typographic presentation as an abrupt narrow column of short-line phrases. Which was the “real poem”? And what was it really about?

Aaron Shurin, surrounded by microphones, Kelly WRiters House, UPenn, 2013-04-02

Aaron Shurin, surrounded by microphones, Kelly Writers House, UPenn, 2013-04-02. Photo copyright © John Tranter, 2013.

You can read di Palma’s poem, and hear all this talk on the University of Pennsylvania’s PennSound archive, where it will live and breathe forever in a permanently fresh state, while its authors age gracefully.

I took the 5:17 PM train back to New York — an hour and a half of pleasant conversation about poets and poetry with Charles Bernstein. He noted that he had made the same trip many times before from his current job at UPenn to his home in New York City, alone, often late at night. This afternoon the sky was blue, and the April sun was shining on the State of New Jersey as it slid past the window, apparently a wilderness of rusty steel, graffiti, broken brick buildings and wastelands of swamps and reeds, but in fact a central dynamo of American production and consumption. Charles remarked that my presence had turned what may have been a long boring journey, for him, into something more like a literary conversation in a café.

Contradictions everywhere: that’s America.

And so to bed.