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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Howe’

Originals and Remnants

June 10, 2014 | by

The poet Susan Howe is seventy-seven today. A few years ago, she and the musician David Grubbs collaborated on “Frolic Architecture,” a series of multidisciplinary performances that sprang from a book of her collage poems by the same name. Harvard has posted a video of the performance, which is quietly, insistently disruptive. As it progresses, prerecorded shards of Howe’s voice seem to fall into her live voice, and Grubbs fills the space with incidental sounds: insect chirps, gravel and snow and leaves variously underfoot. The performance seems at once to take on weight and ascend into the ether.

Howe remarked on the collage, and the process of recording it, in her 2012 Art of Poetry interview:

HOWE

I am an Americanist. There’s something that we do, a Romantic, utopian ideal of poetry as revelation at the same instant it’s a fall into fracture and trespass. Frolic Architecture cuts itself to bits. It could be that because I am a woman, bullets are more like blanks. What fuels the poems in that collection is the sense of epic breaking into shards.

INTERVIEWER

I’ve heard the recording of your performance of Frolic, and you actually speak—sound out—its fragments and phonemes, those shards. You treat your work as a score.

HOWE

Collaborating with the musician-composer David Grubbs has brought vividly home to me how acoustic a seemingly collaged and visual work can be. Several years ago our first collaboration was for a performance at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, and was based around an early poem of mine called “Thorow.” We collaborated again to produce Souls of the Labadie Tract. The work I have done with David has influenced the course of my later poetry by showing me a range of contemporary music with which I was unfamiliar. It also restored my earlier interest in Charles Ives. I love the way Ives’s musical use of quotation throws connectives to the winds. His work is Romantic and iconoclastic at once.

And in the journal Lana Turner, Ben Lerner wrote with typical acuity about the performance:

I assumed Grubbs had digitally manipulated Howe’s voice in order to mimic the fragmentation of the collages. And Grubbs did often and artfully alter her voice, but it turns out that many of the sounds I thought were digital slivers weren’t. It simply did not occur to me that Howe would be capable of reading such diverse phonemes and even smaller linguistic particles in real time with such precision. But she is: I have never heard a person pronounce “nt” or “rl,” for instance, so exactly. Howe can render even the most distressed text acoustic … Howe’s recorded voice—sometimes digitally cut up, sometimes left alone—alternated or overlapped with the live performance, and Grubbs had made sure that there was little or no perceptible sonic difference between what was digital and what was happening before us; when I shut my eyes, I couldn’t tell. This blurring of the boundary between the live and the recorded was a deft way to indicate how Howe’s poems are at once originals and remnants.

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What We’re Loving: Taxidermy, Heroines, Bad Ideas

September 6, 2013 | by

MrPotterSquirrels

There are moments, on a red-eye flight, when your brain is too jumpy and raw to figure out what, exactly, n+1 is arguing in its attack on “global literature.” When you can’t go back to your (global?) novel and don’t want to plug your head into a cooking show, and when sleep is out of the question. For such moments, pack Kevin Barry’s Dark Lies the Island—a story collection that roams over the Irish landscape during and after the Boom, and through several dozen varieties of bad idea, from selling meth, to having children, to organizing an ale-tasting excursion in Wales. At the risk of indulging in cultural stereotypes, Barry is Irish: when he writes a story, he tells a story, and he’s not afraid of a sentimental ending, if one presents itself. Along the way, he takes such contagious pleasure in his flawed, incorrigible people that I was happy to be on a plane. —Lorin Stein

In Sorting Facts; or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker, Susan Howe writes, “I have loved watching films all my life. I work in the poetic documentary form, but didn’t realize it until I tried to find a way to write an essay about two films by Chris Marker.” The films in question are La Jetée and Sans Soleil. Howe splices her thoughts about these works together with childhood memories of watching Olivier’s Hamlet, the early history of Soviet cinema, an elegy to her husband, and the fallout of Hiroshima, among other subjects. It is an investigation, as she says, of “the immense indifference of history” and “the crushing hold of memory’s abiding present.” It is also, one feels, about the discovery of kinship between a documentary poet and a documentary filmmaker, via the essay—whose root meaning, as both Howe and Marker remind us, suggests experiment rather argument, and a commitment to the art of surprise. —Robyn Creswell Read More »

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Vispo

December 5, 2012 | by

Amanda Earl, Sun.

The Paris Review’s interviews have long featured single manuscript pages from among the subjects’ writings. They are meant to show the author at work, his or her method of self-editing, of revision—an illustrative supplement to the process described at length in the conversations. To me, though, they always exist first as instances of visual artistry. The particularities of each writer’s markings are immediately perceptible: the way Margaret Atwood’s handwritten lines appear impatient and vital in contrast with the prim logos of the SAS Hotel stationery on which she penned a poem; the way Yves Bonnefoy’s long, spidery insertion lines give physicality to the pallid rows of words; the way David McCullough’s xed-out typewritten phrases become so many tiny, busy intersections. In the same way, I’ve always found the looping inscriptions of Cy Twombly’s “blackboard” paintings, in particular Cold Stream, to be a kind of magic—the secret scribblings, writ large, of a mind at work. (It’s no coincidence that Twombly worked as a cryptographer in the army.)

I’m struck by the frequency, in Paris Review interviews, with which authors describe writing as being a visual activity. John Edgar Wideman imagines his drafts as “palimpsests.” Don DeLillo finds that “the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality … They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look.” Read More »

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