Monday, November 27, 2017

The US-China Poetry Dialogue

From October 24-26, poets and scholars from the United States and China gave readings and discussions at the University of Oklahoma, The Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow (Eureka Springs, AR), and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. Xi Chuan, Wang Guangming and his translator Denis Mair, Li Songtao, Stephen Fredman, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Arthur Sze, Hank Lazer, and the Dialogue director and moderator Jonathan Stalling spent the week speaking with each other and with audiences about poetry and poetics, focusing on specific cross-cultural conversations on emptiness, pragmatism, and the impact of quantum physics on poetry, to give a few wide-ranging examples. 

This marks the first installation of this new collaboration between the University of Oklahoma, Beijing University, and the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series. On odd years, Chinese poets and poetry critics will travel to the US to meet with American poets from around the country to talk about the state of poetry, literature, and art in America and China, as well as the role of the arts in cross-cultural understanding. Poets and critics give poetry readings and engage audiences in conversation at a variety of venues. 

The 2017 Dialogue was a great success. See photos and videos on our Facebook page.

Below are the poets and critics we were honored to host in October:

Xi Chuan
One of the most influential contemporary poets in China, Xi Chuan is a poet, essayist, and translator with several collections of poetry, including Notes on the Mosquito (New Directions, 2012). His work has been widely anthologized, and honors include the Lu Xun Prize for Literature, the Modern Chinese Poetry Award, and the Zhuang Zhongwen Prize for Literature. He has translated African and English poetry into Chinese, and his translations include works by Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, Czeslaw Milosz and Olav H. Hauge. Xi Chuan currently teaches Classical Chinese Literature at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

Stephen Fredman
Stephen Fredman is widely known in American letters for his acclaimed poetics scholarship. Fredman has published on, among other things, modern poetry and poetics; collage theory; Judaism and Modernism; and Indic philosophy’s impact on American culture. His latest work, Contextual Practice: Assemblage and the Erotic in Postwar Poetry and Art (2010), explores how poetry and art created new modes of living with the aftermath of World War II. He has been awarded NEH, ACLS, and Lilly fellowships, and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame.

Wang Guangming
Wang Guangming was born in 1955 in Wuping County, Fujian Province and is Professor of Arts at Capital University and Chair of the Chinese Department and Director of the Chinese Poetry Studies Program, which oversees graduate and Ph.D. research in the field of Modern Chinese literature and art. In 2000 Professor Wang was invited to be a visiting researcher at the Center for Modern Chinese Literature at Lingnan University in Hong Kong and later served as a visiting scholar in the Department of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Professor Wang is the author of numerous monographs on modern Chinese poetry as well as research bibliographies and other critical research resources for the student of Modern Chinese poetry.

Denis Mair
A poet and translator, Denis Mair’s versions of works by Chinese poets have appeared in Literary ReviewChicago ReviewTrafikaKrityaMelic ReviewPoetry SkyPoint No PointThe Temple, and other journals. His book of poems, Man Cut in Wood (2003), was published by Valley Contemporary Press. More recently, he wrote a series of short poems in response to Tang-era Chinese poets, which were published by A Dozen Nothing in 2016. A co-translator of Frontier Taiwan, an anthology of new poetry from Taiwan, Mair has taught Chinese at University of Pennsylvania and Whitman College.

Arthur Sze
Arthur Sze is a Professor Emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Influenced by American Modernists as well as classical Chinese poetry, Sze’s poetry is known for its lyric precision and its intersections between Eastern and Western philosophies. Sze has published nine books of poetry, and his recent book Compass Rose (Copper Canyon, 2014) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2012, Sze was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and, in 2017, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives.

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Born in Beijing and raised in Massachusetts, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge has taught in Alaska, in New York City, and at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. With a history of deep engagement with abstract artists, as well as a long history with the New York School and Language poets, Berseenbrugge has said that her poetry “tries to expand a field by dissolving polarities or dissolving the borders between one thing and another.” Berssenbrugge’s most recent works of poetry are I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems (2006) and Hello, the Roses (2013).

Li Songtao
Li Songtao is the first winner of the Ai Qing poetry award and Lu Xun literature awards; more recently, he was the 14th recipient of the China Book Award. A prolific writer who has published works across multiple genres (lyric, narrative, long poems, essays, reportage, and fiction), Li Songtao has been a fixture in the Chinese literary world for generations. Yet he is also known for his work as an Air Force Colonel, and more recently in his capacity as the Director of the Air Force Department of Literature and Creativity. Over his long career, Li Songtao has won over 50 literary and other cultural honors and awards.

Hank Lazer
With a corpus of twenty-four books of poetry, two books of criticism, and translated editions of his work in China, Italy, and Cuba, Hank Lazer has also been awarded the Harper Lee Award for a lifetime of achievement in literature. Over the past fifteen years, Lazer has worked in collaboration with jazz musicians, filmmakers, choreographers, and visual artists to find new ways of presenting poetry. He is Professor Emeritus and Associate Provost Emeritus at the University of Alabama.


US-China Poetry Dialogue Director Jonathan Stalling 
Jonathan Stalling has published six books of poetry, criticism and translation and is Professor of English specializing in East-West Poetics at the University of Oklahoma, where he is a founding editor of Chinese Literature Today magazine and book series, the curator of the Chinese Literature Translation Archive at OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library, a co-director of the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series. He was the 2015 “Poet in Residence” at Beijing University and Hongcun Village. Dr. Stalling is the inventor of Pinying, a new Chinese-English interlanguage teaching method and digital language learning platforms, which is the topic of two TEDx talks and a new exhibit entitled "Poetics of Invention." 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Paul Austin to Read at MAINSITE Nov 15th

Austin's poem "Chet Baker's Return": http://thislandpress.com/2015/11/10/chet-bakers-return/


Monday, October 6, 2014

Jim McCrary Poetry Reading Info


Poet and anti-poet: The duality of Lawrence writer Jim McCrary - Interview




LISTEN TO ME WHILE I DIE

Listen to me while I die or not to me no different
Since all will come before this finds the final rhyme
Or not
This has nothing to do with the on going internet love fest
Called today   what’s left of verse which
It seems has lasted
Longer than mattered that’s for sure
But those before me [the last of the past] were well aware
And noted duly the fact that word died on
The page and off [mostly self-inflected] by the likes
Of you  and who is that/ you know/ the one left standing
And wondering how that came to pass
Which only proves that some/not all/ not all
Will continue the arcane and insidious so called attempt
To whip up public interest [which has never really worked before]
And anyone tells you that the verse ran the world in some mid age
Theatre of lost actors who never were good enough to make it anywhere
But England or rural France well then I have a pair of tights just your size
In the back room and will kindly loan you a copy of the latest Harriet endorsed
Memoir to read out loud at your local Burger Bar just to prove that the truth is that
There is none left and beating anything to death
[imagine all those periods]
Is simply a cowards way out just ask I’ll wait
[as time pisses and words fade the curtain will fall]
Going on to write of lost wishes and found demands
Doesn’t always equal notice or fame that is sometimes in demand
After all is said and said again
Repeating the same thing over until someone notices is what becomes
Stand up in today’s poetry clubs that rampage through an urban maze
[just ask Tills or one of his muttered partners on the links]
Which direction anything new can take
And then subtract 100 years of nonsense including the latest from both coasts
[and the either world]
Of home schooled laureates from states not admitted yet
Or is this all just another way [another attempt]
At backlog/clog/slog
[you were taught that rhyme was awful old – no]
Anyway the end is near (er) than you think it might be
Just around a corner left to this
When begun again then the end comes closer to hearing footsteps
 And when you can hear the feet it’s time to beat
[old tune titles best used as fill to craft]
Closing now as ever then
When we lay away and feel the fur on bellies in bed beside us
Then time come is time come no doubt that
we say get up we mean only in the past scent left
But future fortunes which might just be the only
Reward for any of this  is
Often the only source found
[don’t believe all  you hear…or say]
Sound of course the only way either one or another
Can find a way to say just what it was become
So cute how it works out in lines
Not always the case as some so demand either sound or fury
Count twice coming in and going out either way it is a grand way
To find the lost piece of any lyrical swing along lifes
Grand hiway and that is this for sure
Do not count on any offers of future to cancel
Out the moments lost to present fumbling
Left or right is nice but not necessary for long term
[dropping something just to hear it]
Content uh content
We will see that come from long far away to pass by in a
Micro cloud digging its own grave

This is done

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Poetics of "Dangerous Innocence," Poetics of Architecture - Lynn Xu and Joshua Edwards

We were privileged to have Lynn Xu and Joshua Edwards do a reading last week as part of the MAE poetry series. At the end of the performance, someone in the audience commented that it was refreshing to hear a couple read and perform their work together. And, truly, it was. Edwards shared poems he’d written for Xu (one of them titled “Romance”). The kind of artistic partnership which Xu and Edwards have is striking. They were introduced as a team currently writing a sort of poetics of architecture, where poetry and life are inextricably intertwined, dependently caused, and eventually literalized as an actual house. They’re working with architect Allen Warren to build a house in Marfa, Texas—a house constructed from the materials of poetry. The book of poems they're working on will, it seems, serve as the architect's guidelines.

Xu and Edwards’ collaboration is obvious on some level: they write poems about or for each other; both play important roles at Canarium Books; and they’ve been working on a book of poems (mentioned above) which will be published soon. Xu and Edwards’ work isn’t terribly similar, or at least it didn’t seem immediately similar to me, but they seemed to share a common element of translation—Xu moves between English and Mandarin, while Edwards seemed to move between limits, lines, and a limitless, even abstracted space.

It’s not as though Xu’s work dealt primarily with linguistic concerns, however. She is known for poems which have a surreal element to them, a kind of “dangerous innocence,” playfulness, and a childlike logic. Some poems were English; some poems traded off between English and Mandarin Chinese, but many of them, particularly her series titled “Earth Light,” felt like lullabies or fairy tales, and not just because ghosts and Macbeth’s witches were “in” the poems. The sounds and rhythm of Xu’s work seemed to me more otherworldly than her poems’ content, and “language” seemed to be beside the point.

She mentioned that her bilingual poetry is translated very loosely (these are poems where one line in English is followed by the “same” line in Mandarin Chinese). In this performance, the question of “what happens to ‘meaning’ in translation” seemed to be the least of her concerns. Musicality marked her bilingual poetry, and urged the audience to listen primarily to sound rather than dig for meaning. It takes practice—an intellectual and even physical attentiveness—to hear poetry first and understand second. When Xu read, I heard English dissolve into ‘sh’s’ and round vowels: a lullaby indeed. Xu said that for her, sound and meaning have equal footing. While working in Shanghai recently, she found that even in her thoughts, no translation occurred. She simply wasn’t conscious of translating from Mandarin to English or vice versa. In this performance, I was a listener for whom meaning was primarily available via English; when she read her lines written in Mandarin, sound was literally detached from meaning. We were freed from the despotic instinct to hear meaning first, and sound second. It’s not that we in the audience weren’t challenged, though: the content we English-speakers could understand wasn’t exactly “safe.”

In Edwards’ reading, the experience was different—the poems he read in this performance didn’t have a bilingual aspect, unless we broaden our definition of bilingual. There was certainly an element of translation to his work--translation between "empty" space and constructed geometries.

He read from his 2013 collection Imperial Nostalgias (Ugly Duckling Press), and despite the familiarity of rhyme here and there, it was difficult to keep up—every word seemed to take us in a million possible directions, or beg us to consider a series of ideas. Questions of being and existence were packed into words only a few syllables long that tripped over each other in every line. Absolute wells of meaning arose one after another. But although questions of being and ways of knowing created a number of ripples in the performance, a language of geometry kind of became the compass for navigating the ambitious span of Edwards’ reading. One of the lines from his piece “The Sixth Lamp” went something like this: “On the edge of the forest is a map of your country—a place you will never return to.” His work was filled with angles, shapes, lines, concrete images that, like the above quote, seemed to provide instructions or directions.

I don’t have a profound statement to close out this post, no pretty bow that gives the sense of a conclusion, but I'd wager the lack of such a conclusion is truer to the poetics of Xu and Edwards. Xu after all said she likes that her work allows "an abyss between readability and non-readability." Maybe this will serve: I can’t wait to see the house they eventually construct in Marfa. Hopefully, pictures will be available somewhere online or, better, in print.





Lynn Xu was born in Shanghai. She's the author of Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn, 2013) and a chapbook, June (Corollary Press, 2006). Her poems have also appeared in 6x6, 1913, Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Critical Quarterly, and elsewhere. She's currently a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at UC-Berkeley and co-edits Canarium Books.

Joshua Edwards directs and co-edits Canarium Books. He's the author of two collections of poetry, Imperial Nostalgias (Ugly Duckling Press, 2013) and Campeche (Noemi Press, 2011), and a photography collection, Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa (Edition Solitude, 2014). His third book of poetry, Architecture for Travelers is forthcoming from Edition Solitude in November 2014.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Denver Imaginary

Last week, Denver poets Oren Silverman, Noah Eli Gordon, Jesse Morse, and Mathias Svalina read their poetry at MAINSITE Art Gallery here in Norman.

The gathering was small and unpretentious. After they’d had a pint at a local pub across the street, the poets arrived just after seven p.m. We chatted for a few minutes before the reading began; the poet Crag Hill gave the introduction: “these poets are stateless; they inhabit multiverses of language…they are the future of poetry rather than the past.” The evening had a flavor of Americana to it, not least because at one point a loud whistle from a train passing through the middle of town interrupted Gordon’s reading. Small talk ranged from college football to an anecdote about the four poets speeding down Flaming Lips Alley in Bricktown the night before—windows down, blasting Flaming Lips songs. Apparently, too, the poets had been kicked out of a hotel at midday for no logical reason—and then promised the hotel manager’s son that “no one from the University of Oklahoma would ever stay there again.” If only you could’ve heard Morse tell the story.

It was clear, though, that these poets take their work seriously, even if they differ in how they define “work” and its relationship to “art.” The poets had been announced for a few weeks as “Denver poets,” words which already imply a kind of school of thought. As always, “schools” are misleading; in each poet’s work I heard differing approaches to poetics, ethics, language. Svalina holds the term “experimental” suspect because it borrows from science and implies a “finding.” What we got on Saturday was undeniably not a Western-enlightened “finding.” Instead, Gordon’s "The Next Year: did you drop this word" offered:

A poem runs the risk
of being meaningfully
  a little case study
     illustrating what
        one can fit inside

We heard critiques of romanticism and nostalgia, including that nostalgia fatal to poetics—the need to reduce a poem to a “meaning.” Gordon seems to have proposed a history of the lyric poem in his performance of “The Next Year,” a piece he’s described as “pretty much an unmasking and an ars poetica in one”:

The real
                    history of the lyric's
                 what we do with our
              runoff until a garbage
           truck rumbling by
              wakes our bird too early
                 with the thought
              a city's everything
           outside a citizen

In Svalina’s reading, I heard playful absurdism and a blurring of the line between prose and poetry (a line which became blurrier as the evening wore on). Svalina’s work seemed perhaps the most sparse—not in terms of depth or volume, but of space. The walls of the room we were in are a blank off-white, and the room’s small silver ceiling lights scattered shadows about the room, a perfect space to encounter “Red Plastic Cup”, in which a “body’s shadow flows over the asphalt / like water in my cupped hands draining out...As if, were I able to be any thing, / I’d be a red plastic cup.” Svalina also shared work from his newest collection The Explosions. In the collective imaginary built by the four performances, an imaginary which seemed to hold nostalgia suspect, I felt safe—perhaps because of lines like this from “Above the Fold”:

I will hide your grey
within my grey.

It was Ted Berrigan’s birthday, as Morse reminded us. “When I read Berrigan, I thought, ‘I can do this,’” he said before reading “How the Dead Gain Passage.” He shared new poems gleaned from the autocorrect feature on cell phones. While profound, these garnered some laughs. He lent us new geometries inspired by the grace of baseball player Eric Chavez, seeming to answer something of Gordon’s earlier question:

Is there ever a point in cultivating nostalgia? It's not something you water & watch grow. It just happens, hits like a thought. No, that's something you build. I guess I mean it's void of fulfillment, though even that's dubious ground & who'd want to stand outside waiting for the day's instructions?

Perhaps these questions are part of what Crag was getting at when he said these poets are of the future, not the past. But how does one dodge nostalgia in what appears at first glance to be a baseball poem?—this I found myself wondering when Morse read from his “Eric Chavez Sonnets” from Alive at the Center.

Eric Chavez in Portland

How fortunate life lies, Eric, my neverending
birth tonight in Portland, you on rehab
with the Sacramento Rivercats,
I a mere nine rows up!

I can see the contours of your face, your brow even,
the perfect zen in your crouch. Your precise
over-the-shoulder release. The fundamental straightness
of your back. Is that a little belly even?

Every move, every pitch, every waking
high thrust of my spirit simply yards away,
at third, all my lost dreams realized tonight

in your paced extension, gentle lean
slow gait, nervous twitch, gracious act
your glove, my heart.

It’s not really (or perhaps just more than) a baseball poem—it’s a meditation on chance and time and precision, a celebration of the body and its relation to all three of these elements; it’s an exclamation of renaissance in Portland. From each small movement of Eric Chavez spiral innumerable possibilities—“neverending / birth.” Perhaps here is a key element which tied together the evening’s “Denver imaginary” and its incredible heterogeneity: a sense of possibility—where romanticism is upset by delightful absurdity; where nostalgia, “void of fulfillment,” is unwelcome.


Somehow the reading became an ethical experience. There was an urgent quality to it, and not just because our finale was Silverman’s astounding performance—his reading might as well have been a dramatic monologue written for the stage; he spoke more than one voice and “played” more than one role. He voiced a relationship between art and law that spoke to the world in a way that the clearest prose will never be able to accomplish. I agree with Morse when he says that “a proper reading of a poem” must be “multifarious” and “continuing,” and each poet and his work seemed to “talk” to the others, making Silverman’s final poem not just the last piece of the evening, but a zenith of the evening’s intertextualities—a true finale. Svalina handed me a copy of his new book as we all headed to top off our drinks and make conversation. It was an immense privilege to have heard these four in one sitting.