Tuesday, December 29, 2009

[ Susan Howe CD: music set to "Thorow" & "Melville's Marginalia" ]

Thiefth is the first collaboration between poet Susan Howe and musician David Grubbs. The two were brought together when the Fondation Cartier in Paris proposed a collaborative performance. Grubbs had been an ardent reader of Howe's for more than a decade, and the opportunity to work with Howe's poetry and her voice immediately intrigued. In late 2003, the two set about to create performance versions of 'Thorow' and 'Melville's Marginalia,' two of Howe's longer poems. Drawing from the journals and letters of Sir William Johnson and Henry David Thoreau, 'Thorow' evokes the winter landscape around Lake George in upstate New York and the historical violence of our national identity. Howe and Grubbs engage the lake's icy surface as well as the voices that haunt the unseen world beneath. 'Melville's Marginalia' explores Herman Melville's notations in books he owned and loved -- marginalia in which he sometimes argued with the authors. Grubbs brings together a diverse collection of sound sources, referencing Charles Ives' Concord Sonata, Howe's splitting of words, melting snow, and flight patterns overhead. Grubbs began his efforts by recording Howe's reading of the poem and eliciting contributions from Swedish reed player Mats Gustafsson and Greek cellist Nikos Veliotis."

Follow this link for discography and store for buying a copy of the CD.

[ Howe: fragments of autobiography ]

Fragments Toward Autobiography--Susan Howe

I was always going to be an artist though the art form changed. There was the sense, I suppose from my father, that because I was feminine, anything would do except law or history. Those disciplines were for men. Civil rights activist he was, liberal he was, yet he was adamantly opposed to women being admitted to the Harvard Law School. fie thought standards would plunge immediately if they were. The poor man had three daughters and no sons. My mother wanted me to be an actress and she nut a lot of time into this. Instead of college I went to Ireland to apprentice at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. That meant that I helped build sets and acted in small parts. My first part was in a Restoration Comedy called "The Jealous Wife." I played the maid, Toilet. Over there "toilet" meant getting dressed. To me, an American, Toilet meant toilet. I remember how funny it seemed when I wrote home to tell my parents I had been cast as "Toilet." My father was a Puritan of the old school. The next part I got was in a play by the now forgotten Sheridan Le Fanu. I was a young girl who is killed by a vampire in Act I, Scene 1. This was not the glory I had imagined.

When I made the choice not to go to college I was the only girl in my graduation class at Beaver Country Day School who didn't. It was a rebellious act in terms of the school but I wasn't rebelling against my parents. Nevertheless for a person of my background -- genteel child, Boston family college was part of the package. After such a gesture, it never occurred to me that I could change my mind. in those days the idea of a year off wasn't even an idea. So when I failed in the theatre -- which I did, two years later, back in New York -- I believed I had made an irrevocable mistake. I was nineteen and I was sure I had thrown my life away. The only place I thought might accept me was an art school. I had done lots of drawing and some paintings and was able to put together a portfolio and the Boston Museum School let me in. I think anyone could get in there at that time. So I fell into painting in a rather desperate way. Again it wasn't law or history, so it was all right with my father. But the Museum School, the students there, really changed me. And my painting had an effect on my writing so in the long run it was the right path to take. And it did lead me out of Boston.
From The Difficulties (1989).

I graduated in 1961 from the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, where I majored in painting. I used quotation in my painting in the same way that I use quotation in my writing, in that I always seemed to use collage; sometimes I made a copy in the painting of some part of another painting, another form of quotation. Collage is also a way of mixing disciplines. Those were the early days of pop art, when it was common practice among artists to move around from one medium to another--it was a very exciting time. I moved to New York in 1964. Then I began living with a sculptor, David von Schlegell. He was involved with the group around the Park Place Gallery, which I think Paula Cooper was running at the time. There was lots of really interesting sculpture during those days and lots of interesting writing about the work in Art Forum magazine. Barbara Rose had written some really good pieces on Ad Reinhardt, there was Reinhardt's own writing, Don Judd and Robert Smithson were busily producing manifestos. Richard Serra, Joan Jonas, Don Judd, Eva Hesse, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Morris, Carl Andre, John Cage, Agnes Martin ... the work of these artists influenced what I was doing. There was the most extraordinary energy and willingness to experiment during the sixties. Painters, sculptors, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, conceptual artists were all working together and crossing genre boundaries, sometimes with appalling results, more often wacky and wonderful events. I remember a show Agnes Martin had at the Greene Gallery--small minimalist paintings, but each one had a title; it fascinated me how the title affected my reading of the lines and colors. I guess to me they were poems even then. Eva Hesse's show at the Greene was also an inspiration, it was so eccentric. Daring and delicate at once.
From Contemporary Literature (1995).

Anyway, I began to make books -- artists' books are different from poets' books. These books I made were not books of poetry or prose; they were objects. I would get a sketchbook and inside I would juxtapose a picture with a list of words under it. The words were usually lists of names. Often names of birds, of flowers, of weather patterns, but I relied on some flash association between the words and the picture or charts I used. Later I did a series of watercolors with penciled lines, watercolor washes, and pictures and words--I always left a lot of white space on the page. Around that time (1968 or '69), through my sister Fanny, I became acquainted with Charles Olson's writing. What interested me in both Olson and Robert Smithson was their interest in archaeology and mapping. Space. North American space--how it's connected to memory, war, and history. I suppose that's the point at which it began to dawn on me that I needed to do more than just list words. I was scared to begin writing sentences. I'm not sure why. But it just gradually happened that I was more interested in the problems of those words on the page than in the photographs I used or the watercolor washes.
From Contemporary Literature (1995).

I remember the days I was in Ithaca. I was a young mother, alone so much, and I read with horror that Virginia Woolf heard birds talking to her in Greek because she overworked. This was a real and metaphorical punishment for hubris. I remember being afraid that if I worked too hard with words I might start hearing voices. I had this lesson of these two writers whose language was exemplary but whose mastery told the other story that a woman could go too far. When you reach that point where no concessions in art are possible, you face true power, alone. But if you have young children you will make all sorts of concessions. Writing still seems more threatening to me than painting because it becomes so self-absorbing. I saw my desire as a threat to my children. Honestly, I nearly did go mad in Ithaca. I think I kept myself in one piece because I had to for Becky and Mark. But I started writing. I made that break. Those two women were still in there but fear fell away. I wanted to bring from words what they were able to bring. I had to accept that because I was also a mother it might take more time. But necessity is the mother of invention. I probably sound self-indulgent and arrogant. This all really touches on the nature of the sacred. What is accessible to us? Words are like swords. "S" makes word a sword. When you slice into past and future, what abrupt violence may open under you? The stories of Pandora and Psyche must have been told before the Flood.

If you look at my life I'm well-behaved. I'm not an alcoholic or a drug addict. I don't smoke. I live in a fairly neat house. I don't break traffic rules, but I have never been to a university. I have no degrees. No qualifications. I'm a marginal person who couldn't get a job except for the one I have, punching a cash register, selling books. Eccentric low-paid jobs. So I have been outside the power structure. I know what it is to stand on your feet all day and serve people for a minimum wage. But then this isn't quite fair because my husband is in the power structure. His part-time job teaching sculpture at Yale helps to support us. It pays our medical insurance. I was very anxious for my children to have good educations, and they did. We have been able to send them to college. I was determined that they would not end up as unqualified as I am. I was lucky. I had some choice.
From The Difficulties.

Lynn Keller: "Although family connections have kept her close to academia throughout most of her life--her companion of twenty-seven years, David von Schlegell, directed the sculpture program at Yale--Howe herself did not begin university teaching until 1988. She is now a professor of English at SUNY-Buffalo. Since her husband's death in the fall of 1992, much of her teaching has been at other institutions. Based at the University of Denver where she was a visiting poet in 1993-94, Howe made presentations at universities across the country."
From Contemporary Literature (1995).

Sunday, December 27, 2009

[ Howe and the idea of the archive ]

Susan Howe: "I am drawn toward the disciplines of history and literary criticism but in the dawning distance a dark wall of rule supports the structure of every letter, record, transcript: every proof of authority and power. I know records are compiled by winners, and scholarship is in collusion with Civil Government. I know this and go on searching for some trace of love's infolding through all the paper in all the libraries I come to." This is a deeply skeptical view of historical knowledge, but Howe doesn't follow it to its bleak anti-historical conclusion--that history is nothing more than the inescapable expression of a while to power. Instead, she undertakes reconnaissance missions in language and history.

For Howe the archive can function, as Libby Rifkin has put it, as "extensions and even instruments" of "writerly agency."

For Howe "the manuscripts of Emily Dickinson represent a contradiction to canonical social power" (The Birthmark, p. 1).

In "Towards a Poetics of the Archive," Paul Voss and Marta Werner write: "The archive's dream of perfect order is disturbed by the nightmare of its random, heterogeneous, and often unruly contents."

Margins are important to Howe. Marginalia is a site of literary wilderness for her. She notes that "margins shelter the inapprehensible Imaginary of poetry." It is in the archival margin that the author being read engages in "a conversation with the dead" authors he or she is reading. In "Melville's Marginalia," she writes: "I thought one way to write about a loved author would be to follow what trails he follows through words of others."

Howe often reminds us that she is not a critic and not a trained scholar, suggesting that she has "trespassed" into academic disciplines not the purview of the poet.

"If you are a woman," Howe writes, "archives hold perpetual ironies. Because the gaps and silences are where you find yourself."

"I go to libraries because they are the ocean." (The Birthmark, p. 18)

Derived from Stephen Collis, "Archival Tactics and the Poet-Scholar: Susan Howe and Charles Olson"

Monday, December 7, 2009

[ books and DVDs to purchase ]

Below are the books and DVDs students in the KWH Fellows seminar will be required to purchase for Spring 2010. Links will direct you to Google Books (which will then list online vendors from which you may purchase the books) or, in the case of DVDs, to IMDB.com, which also provides links for purchase.

[ papers, listserv & other requirements ]

->Here are some notes on papers and other requirements:

POSITION PAPERS: You will write a response to the readings every week (well, you may skip one). These are informal "position papers." They are to be 300-400 words in length and must be sent to the Fellows listserv any time before 6 AM on the Monday morning of the week's class. Four of these papers will be evaluated closely--at least one each on Oates, Howe & Milch. Each week, bring a printed copy of your position paper to class. At the end of class you can decide if the paper you hold in your hands is one of the four you will turn in for evaluation.

LISTSERV RESPONSES: Each week you will respond to one of the position papers sent to the listserv by your fellow Fellows seminarians. Send your response before noon. Your response should be sent to the listserv and should make a rejoinder to one point in one paper. These responses should be one short paragraph in length, about 100 words. Be sure to make it clear which point in which person's position paper is the one to which your response is responding. The listserv address is whfellows10 [at] writing.upenn.edu.

PROJECTS: A special project will be randomly assigned to you. These, too, should be sent to the listserv--any time before 6 AM on the date indicated on the projects list above. Length: whatever is appropriate for fulfilling the purpose of the project but no less than 750 words. These need not be fancy or high-toned, but, rather, straightforward and lucid and, if apt, organized into short titled sections to make for easy reading. If you are not assigned a project, see Al or Jamie-Lee ASAP so that we can devise one.

OBLIGATIONS DURING FELLOWS' VISITS: As an absolutely vital part of the seminar, you will be called upon to volunteer during the two-day visits of the Fellows. Fulfilling this (mostly pleasurable) function is as much a requirement as the others listed here. If Jamie-Lee has not asked you to take on a role during the visits, be sure to ask her what you can do to help.

FINAL EXAM: There will be a wildly comprehensive, personalized final exam. It will be sent to you by email, to be written at your convenience ("take home") any time during the exam period.

Above, at right: Vince Levy introducing Robert Coover in 2009.

[ reading & meeting schedule ]

-> Here is the semester's meeting schedule. (Note that this will be enhanced in the coming weeks, but the dates and assignments are basically complete as of this posting, 12/9/09.)

Thursday, Jan 14, 8 PM, at KWH, three readings:
[] Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” [link]
[] Howe, “Pythagorean Silence” [and commentary] on PennSound; text of excerpt [links: 1 2 3]
[] Milch, “Trial By Fury,” Hill Street Blues, season 3, episode 1 [links: 1 2 3]

Monday, Jan 18, 7:30 PM, 4616 Osage: Oates, We Were the Mulvaneys

Monday, Jan 25: On Boxing & The Corn Maiden

Monday, Feb 1: Wild Nights!

Monday, Feb 8: Dear Husband

Monday, Feb 15/Tues Feb 16: Joyce Carol Oates visits

Monday, Feb 22: Howe, My Emily Dickinson

Monday, March 1: Frame Structures (“Frame Structures” & “Secret History of the Dividing Line”) and Singularities (“Thorow” & “Articulation of Sound Forms in Time”) [Consult Perloff on Frame Structures and listen to "Thorow" and "Articulation" on PennSound.]

Monday, March 15: The Midnight (in its entirety); and Souls of the Labadie Tract ("Errand," “Personal Narrative” & “Souls of the Labadie Tract”); and The Non-comformist's Memorial ("Melville's Marginalia") [Listen to Howe reading from The Midnight on PennSound.]

Monday, Mar 22/Tues Mar 23: Susan Howe visits

Monday, Mar 29: Hill Street Blues, season 3 episodes written by David Milch [see list] (Hulu); "Trial By Fury" [script]

Monday, April 5: NYPD Blue, seasons 1 & 2 (DVD) [Click here for a list of episodes we will watch and discuss.]

Monday, April 12: Deadwood (DVD); Stories from the Black Hills; scripts for season 1 episode 1 ("Deadwood") & season 1 episode 12 ("Sold under Sin")**

Monday, April 19: John from Cincinnati (DVD)

Monday, April 26/Tues April 27: David Milch visits

Thurs., April 29, 2-5 PM: Final words; lunch; discussion of exam; video.

- - -

** Al will email links to PDF copies of these two scripts.