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Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry

FELIX BERNSTEIN’S debut essay collection, Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry, is not what you would expect from a 23-year-old, Brooklyn-based writer and artist. This is not a book of cosmopolitan post-internet lyric poetry. Instead, Notes begins with a long essay (including an appendix and footnotes) that mockingly critiques the various trends in American experimental poetry since the 2000s, charting the Conceptual Poetry scene that has revolved around Kenneth Goldsmith, Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin, Vanessa Place, Caroline Bergvall, Kim Rosenfeld, and Rob Fitterman.

Born in 1992, Bernstein swerves in and out of the scenes he discusses, the millennial conditions he diagnoses, and the “new sincerity” he critiques. His own self-suspicion flippantly resists the notion of network building that his father, Charles Bernstein, so neatly perfected with his original publication of the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E in the 1970s (and then later with his institutional curatorial projects — the Electronic Poetry Center and PennSound). His attitude puts him at odds with some of his peers. Bernstein takes to task those urbane poets who, in his view, attempt to update the New York School and pledge allegiance to coterie and art in the name of queerness and subversion. Yet he self-consciously makes these same moves himself. / Cassandra Seltman, Los Angeles Review of Books

Poetry strikes back

Woman Trolls Trump By Reading Book Of Poems On Racism In The Background Of A Speech
Important to keep a book in one’s bag, if an event gets boring or there is a lull.

posted on Nov. 10, 2015, at 11:05 p.m.
Katherine Miller (Hier mit dem Originalvideo von Trumps Auftritt)

At a Donald Trump rally on Monday, a woman in the crowd cracked open a copy of what appears to be Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a book of poetry about race and racism in America.

She waited until about 12 minutes into his speech…

…texted for a bit…

…had a short conversation…

…and cracked open the book…

…to really read it up close.

Katherine Miller is the political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

„Seelenschau To Go“

Liebe, Lust, Karriere, Zukunft: Was immer den Menschen auf der Seele liegt, Lynn Gentry schreibt ein Gedicht dazu. Der New Yorker Spontandichter sitzt in einer U-Bahn-Station vor einer alten Schreibmaschine und textet aus dem Stegreif. „Pick a subject and a price, get a poem“ (Such’ dir ein Thema und einen Preis aus, bekomme ein Gedicht.) steht auf einem Pappschild am Klapptisch des 28-Jährigen. Es gab schon Passanten, die sich ein Gedicht über Drohnen des US-Militärs oder Sex mit Transvestiten wünschten.

„Seelenschau To Go“ – die Leute stehen Schlange beim U-Bahn-Poeten. Offensichtlich gibt es ein großes Bedürfnis, den eigenen Gemütszustand in ein Gedicht verpacken zu lassen. „Lyrik ist auch immer ein Seismograph des Geisteszustands einer Gesellschaft“, schreibt Heike Kunert in der Zeit. Wir lesen also Gedichte, um etwas über uns selbst zu erfahren, einen neuen Blick auf die Realität zu bekommen, neue Perspektiven zu eröffnen. Was Dichter dichten, wird zum Spiegel für die Gesellschaft und die Zeit, in der wir leben.

Wir brauchen es schnell, intim und individuell – das zeigt der Erfolg der New Yorker Fast-Food-Gedichte. Doch was sagt uns die deutschsprachige Lyrik, die in Gedichtbänden gedruckt oder auf Literaturbühnen vorgetragen wird? In ihrem Spiegel sehen wir die Sehnsucht nach der Natur und Tieren, viel Beschäftigung mit dem eigenen Ich und Befindlichkeiten. Politisches findet sich in der aktuellen Lyrik kaum. Der Blick geht nach innen, nicht nach außen. Aber schauen wir einmal genauer hin. / Jana Wolf, Mittelbayerische

Hingeschaut wird auf: Jan Wagner, Ulrike Draesner, Caroline Callies, Nora Gomringer, Kenneth Goldsmith, Eric Jarosinski.

Letter “H”

Henry Hills is in the process of making a film in and around the letter “H” — and for that he is using my* homophonic translation of  Harry (Heinrich) Heine’s “Die Lorelei,” with images of the The Bronx Lorelei Foundation. I recorded a reading of the poem for him last week, along with the rest of  my libretto for “Seven Tableaux Vivants Representing the Angel of History as Melancholia,” Scene 6 of Brian Ferneyough’s opera, Shadowtime.

While Shadowtimeprotagonist Walter Benjamin rejected Heine’s version of Romanticism, he nonetheless may have been distantly related to him (as well as to it).  There have been over 25 musical settings of Heine’s poem. The best known are the folkloric version by Friedrich Silcher and the art song version by Franz Liszt. Mark Twain wrote about the Lorelei legend in A Tramp Abroad and did his own translation of Heine’s poem — “She combs with a comb that is golden, / And sings a weird refrain / That steeps in a deadly enchantment / The list’ner’s ravished brain”. One of Sylvia Plath’s most haunting poems, “Lorelei”, involves a radical transformation of the psychic and gender dynamics of Heine’s poem — “Sisters, your song / Bears a burden too weighty / For the whorled ear’s listening”. Both the Gershwins and The Pogues wrote Lorelei “covers”. The legend usually begins with a girl, cruelly abandoned by her lover, throwing herself into the Rhine. By some magic, beyond rational powers of understanding, the drowned maiden is reborn as a Siren (or mermaid-like creature), who, in the forever after of the song, lures fishermen to their ruin on the Lorelei cliff, to the background music of the crash of the waves against the rocks. / Charles Bernstein, Jacket 2

*) Charles Bernstein’s

Emily Dickinsons Werkstatt renoviert

Seit das Amherst College 2003 das benachbarte Haus des Bruders von Emily Dickinson hinzubekam und die beiden historischen Gebäude zum Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and The Evergreens zusammenführte, gibt es Renovierungspläne. Jetzt ist das Schlafzimmer der Dichterin, in dem sie fast alle ihrer 1789 Gedichte schrieb, historisch getreu wiederhergestellt, von den Büchern auf dem Kaminsims bis zur aus aufgefundenen Überresten rekonstruierten Tapete. Langfristig soll das gesamte Haus so wiederhergestellt werden, wie es zu Lebzeiten der Dichterin aussah. Keine leichte Aufgabe, da es nicht ein einziges historisches Foto des Hauses gibt. Die Nachforschungen seien hauptsächlich forensischer Natur, sagt die Direktorin Jane Wald.

/ Rachel Rogol, Amherst College


The letter “r”

“On an old shore, the vulgar ocean rolls”
The letter r is frequently indicated as a characteristic mark of vulgarity. “R. is the dog’s letter and hurreth in the sound.” (Ben Jonson, English Grammar, 1640). “R. Young pious RUTH / Left all for Truth.” (New England Primer, 1691). R is the eighteenth letter of the modern, and seventeenth letter of the ancient Roman alphabet. In general, the character denotes an open-voiced consonant formed when the point of the tongue approaches the palate a little way behind the teeth; in many languages, this is accompanied by a vibration of the tongue, in which case the r is said to be trilled. This trill is almost or altogether absent in the r of modern standard English, which retains its consonantal value only when it proceeds a vowel. In American English, in all words spelled with r, the sound occurs simultaneously with the vowel before it. The vowels in such cases are said to be recolored. “Like rubies reddened by rubies reddening.”

How carefully did Stevens plan the order for the poems 
included in The Rock? I often wonder if the many scattered r letters and sound combinations are there by chance, habit, or plot. “A repetition / In a repetitiousness of men and flies”; “A new knowledge of reality”; “Red-in-red repetitions never going.”

“The river motion, the drowsy motion of the river R.”

/ Susan Howe, The Nation

Singeth spells

“Singeth spells.” The poetry of Wallace Stevens makes me happy. This is the simple truth. Pleasure springs from the sense of fluid sound patterns phonetic utterance excites in us. Beauty, harmony, and order are represented by the arrangement, and repetition, of particular words on paper. No matter how many theoretical and critical interpretations there are, in the end each new clarity of discipline and delight contains inexplicable intricacies of form and measure. / Susan Howe, The Nation

Locating the Avant-Garde in Philadelphia

Please join us for Locating the Avant-Garde, a one-day symposium, on Friday, October 23, 2015.

The conference will focus on avant-garde activity in Philadelphia, past and future, and will also be an occasion for scholars, researchers, and artists in the Philadelphia area to share current projects.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP by filling out the form below. / More

Kampf der Ären

In The New Yorker we find Alec Wilkinson saying “Kenneth Goldsmith’s poetry elevates copying to an art—but did he go too far?” while in The New Republic Cathy Park Hong takes issue not only with Goldsmith but with Wilkinson’s representation of the controversy surrounding Goldsmith’s reading, as a poem, of a modified autopsy of the slain Michael Brown.

For the record, I’m inclined to sympathize with Cathy Park Hong’s largest point—that the American poetry world, including the avant-garde, is no more immune to institutionalized racism, subtle or otherwise, than any other part of American society. I think she’s right, too, about how Wilkinson’s essay, despite gestures toward objectivity (such as including parts of an interview with her) presents Goldsmith in a far more sympathetic light than it does his critics. And while I have no x-ray vision to see into Goldsmith’s soul, I suspect she’s on to something when she says that Goldsmith’s reading of the Brown autopsy had something to do with a desire to keep such spotlights as shine on poetry pointed at him. Some time ago, long before the Michael Brown controversy, I wrote about the desire for fame being likely to bring unhappiness to Goldsmith, and that unhappiness seems to have come to pass, at least for the moment.

But I’m not writing to weigh in on the controversy about race and Conceptualism. I’m writing to point out something that most people interested in the controversy will think of as a very minor point indeed: a point of apparent agreement between Cathy Park Hong and Kenneth Goldsmith.  They seem to agree, in a broad way, about the dynamics of literary history. That is: each is willing to present claims about the end of one era and the beginning of another—a view that implies a clear progression in literary history.

Here, for example, is a passage from Kenneth Goldsmith’s essay “Flarf is Dionysus, Conceptual Writing is Apollo”:

Disjunction is dead. The fragment, which ruled poetry for the past one hundred years, has left the building. Subjectivity, emotion, the body, and desire, as expressed in whole units of plain English with normative syntax, has returned. But not in ways you would imagine. This new poetry wears its sincerity on its sleeve . . . yet no one means a word of it. Come to think of it, no one’s really written a word of it. It’s been grabbed, cut, pasted, processed, machined, honed, flattened, repurposed, regurgitated, and reframed from the great mass of free-floating language out there just begging to be turned into poetry.

He’s declaring the death of the Language movement and Elliptical poetry, and the birth of a new, Conceptual era. Co-existence and overlap? Forget about it. Your game is over, Charles Bernstein. Step aside, C.D. Wright.  It’s all about Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place now—or so we are meant to believe.

And here’s the ending of Cathy Park Hong’s essay in The New Republic:

The era of Conceptual Poetry’s ahistorical nihilism is over and we have entered a new era, the poetry of social engagement.

/ Samizdatblog


The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Poetry

New York, NY (September 15, 2015) – The National Book Foundation announces the Longlist for the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry. Finalists will be revealed on October 14.

Well-known contemporary poets and one emerging poet with a debut collection make up this year’s Longlist. Included among them are two former National Book Award Winners, a former National Book Award Finalist, a Whiting Writers’ Award winner, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and two Cave Canem Fellows. The ten poets, five men and five women, reside in six different states and one foreign country.

2015 Longlist for Poetry:

  • Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
  • Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Amy Gerstler, Scattered at Sea Penguin Books/Penguin Random House
  • Marilyn Hacker, A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2014 W. W. Norton & Company
  • Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn Penguin Books/Penguin Random House
  • Jane Hirshfield, The Beauty Alfred A. Knopf
  • Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus Alfred A. Knopf
  • Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things Milkweed Editions
  • Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine Alfred A. Knopf
  • Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Heaven Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Lawrence Raab, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts Tupelo Press


Author biographies:

Ross Gay is the author of two previous poetry collections, Against Which and Bringing the Shovel Down. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Orion, the Sun, and elsewhere. His honors include a Cave Canem Workshop fellowship and a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Tuition Scholar. He is an associate professor of poetry at Indiana University and teaches in Drew University’s low-residency MFA program in poetry.

Amy Gerstler is a writer of poetry, nonfiction, and journalism. Her previous poetry collections include Bitter Angel, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Dearest Creature, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A Judge for the 2011 National Book Awards in Poetry, her work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, the American Poetry Review, several volumes of The Best American Poetry, and Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology. She currently teaches in the MFA Writing Program at the University of California, Irvine. She lives in Los Angeles.

Marilyn Hacker won the 1975 National Book Award for Poetry for her debut collection, Presentation Piece. Her other honors include the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, the Robert Fagles Translation Prize, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. Her collection Winter Numbers received a Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets. In 2008, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Paris, France.

Terrance Hayes is the author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Wind in a Box; Hip Logic; and Muscular Music, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His honors include a Whiting Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a United States Artists Zell Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Hayes was guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2014. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. A Judge for the 2003 National Book for Poetry, she has edited and co-translated four books and is the author of two major collections of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize; and named best books of the year by the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle,, and the Financial Times; and have won the California Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and the Donald Hall– Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Poetry, the Pushcart Prize anthology, seven editions of The Best American Poetry, and many other magazines, journals, and anthologies. She is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and lives in Northern California.

Robin Coste Lewis is a Provost’s Fellow in Poetry and Visual Studies at the University of Southern California. She is also a Cave Canem fellow and a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. A finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award, she has published her work in various journals and anthologies, including The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Transition: Women in Literary Arts, VIDA, Phantom Limb, and Lambda Literary Review, among others. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships by the Caldera Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Can Serrat International Art Centre in Barcelona, and the Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya. Voyage of the Sable Venus is her first collection of poetry.

Ada Limón is the author of three previous collections of poetry: lucky wreck, This Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and American Poetry Review, among other publications. She has contributed essays and articles to a variety of publications, such as Oxford American, Guernica, Poetry, and American Poetry Society. She has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and was a Judge for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency MFA program (Latin American & Charlotte) and the 24PearlStreet Online Program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Patrick Phillips is the author of two earlier collections of poetry, Boy and Chattahoochee, which won the 2005 Kate Tufts Discovery Award; and translator of When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt, which received the 2008 Translation Prize of the American-Scandinavian Foundation. His honors include both Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Lyric Poeward from the Poetry Society of America, and a Discovery/The Nation Prize from the 92nd Street Y. His work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Nation. He teaches at Drew University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips is the author of The Ground: Poems and When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness, and he translated Salvador Espriu’s story collection Ariadne in the Grotesque Labyrinth. A Judge for the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry, he has won several awards including a Whiting Writers’ Award, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Poetry, and received a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and has been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered”. He lives in New York City.

Lawrence Raab is the author of seven previous collections of poems, including What We Don’t Know About Each Other, which was a finalist for the 1993 National Book Award. He received the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine and grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as numerous residences at Yaddo and MacDowell. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.

Publishers submitted a total of 221 books for the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry. Five distinguished Judges were given the charge of selecting what they deem to be the best books of the year. Their decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential. To be eligible for a 2015 National Book Award, a book must have been written by a US citizen and published in the United States between December 1, 2014 and November 30, 2015.

2015 Judges for Poetry:

Sherman Alexie is a poet, writer, and filmmaker. He has published 24 books, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and the 2009 collection of short stories and poems War Dances, which won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. His first young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. His screenplay, Smoke Signals, won the Audience Award and Filmmaker Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

Willie Perdomo is the author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry; Smoking Lovely, winner of the PEN Beyond Margins Award; and Where a Nickel Costs a Dime, a finalist for the Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award. He is currently a member of the VONA/Voices faculty and is an instructor in English at Phillips Exeter Academy. He is also a former instructor for BookUp, the National Book Foundation’s program for middle school students.

Katha Pollitt writes the award-winning column “Subject to Debate” for The Nation magazine. She is the author of two books of poetry, including Antarctic Traveller, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1982, and The Mind-Body Problem. She is also the author of the nonfiction
works Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism; Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories; Virginity or Death!: And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time; and Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

Tim Seibles is the author of five collections of poetry, including Fast Animal, which won the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize and was a 2012 National Book Award Poetry Finalist. His honors include an Open Voice Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He teaches at Old Dominion University, and has taught at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program and at Cave Canem.

The National Book Award Finalists will be announced on October 14, and the Winners at the invitation- only National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 18 in New York City.


The National Book Foundation‘s mission is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America. In addition to the National Book Awards, for which it is best known, the Foundation’s programs include 5 Under 35, a celebration of emerging fiction writers selected by former National Book Award Finalists and Winners; the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, an opportunity for New York City students to interview the current National Book Award Finalists in Young People’s Literature; NBA on Campus, a partnership that brings National Book Award authors to colleges across the country; the Innovations in Reading Prize, awarded to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading; and BookUp, a writer-led, after-school reading program for middle-school students.

The National Book Award is one of the nation’s most prestigious literary prizes and has a stellar record of identifying and rewarding quality writing. In 1950, William Carlos Williams was the first Winner in Poetry, the following year William Faulkner was honored in Fiction, and so on through the years. Many previous Winners of a National Book Award are now firmly established in the canon of American literature, such as Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson, James McBride, Joyce Carol Oates, and Adrienne Rich.


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