Introductions for Charles Bernstein & Maggie O’Sullivan

Charles Bernstein’s most recent publications are Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays & Inventions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010, paperback 2011), Blind Witness: Three American Operas (Factory School, 2008); and Girly Man (Chicago Press, 2006). From 1978-1981 he co-edited L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine. In the 1990s, he co-founded and directed the Poetics Program at the State University of New York – Buffalo. He currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is co-director of PennSound.

As a poet, I think of this Williams quote often: “The poet thinks with his poem, in that lies his thought, and that in itself is the profundity.” Readers of poetry are offered an expansive opportunity to adopt new mental structures, to refigure. One thing I admire about Charles is that he is a poet who also talks with his poem. By this I mean to say that he recognizes that there is yet more profundity to be manifested in vocal gestures, in performance. In his essay “Hearing Voices” in Attack of the Difficult Poems, he speaks of the ability of performance to “open[s] up the potential for shifting frames…”. Anyone who has read the linguist George Lakoff knows the concept of “reframing” and it’s power to effect social and political change. “Reframing is changing the way the public sees the world.” (Lakoff) I have never left a Bernstein reading with wax in my ears – or without a sense of how potent the vernacular can be, or how metabolically altering tonal fluxuations can be. Through

so-called traditional (or accessible) poetic devices such as end rhyme, anaphora, doggerel and song he reveals the chaos of everyday life. In his letter-poem “Dear Mr. Fanelli,” he addresses the 79th St. Station Manager whose picture hangs on the wall with an invitation for suggestions from the public. The poem probes the gesture for validity, so miserable is the state of affairs in Mr. Fanelli’s domain. The level of candor already poses one level of difficulty, a concern with the complexity of ordinary. Please welcome Charles back to The Project.

Maggie O’ Sullivan is a British-based poet, performer and visual artist. For over thirty years, her work has appeared extensively in journals and anthologies and she has performed her work, often in collaboration, internationally. She is the editor of out of everywhere: an anthology of contemporary linguistically innovative poetry by women in North America and the UK (1996) and collaborated with Bruce Andrews on eXcLa (1993). Recently published is Body of Work – which collects her now out of print London-based booklets made between 1975 and 1987 (2006), Waterfalls (2009) and Alto (2009). The Salt Companion to Maggie O’Sullivan is now out. murmur is just out from Veer. For extensive online recordings, visit her author page at PennSound.

It’s a highlight of this Fall that Maggie is able to be in NY to read for The Project. Veer Books has just brought her wonderful 1999-2004 work murmur into full-color print for the first time. I approached this text having her appreciation for the artist Joseph Beuys in the back of my mind, but his questions “how does a word become matter? How does it become a real live person?” sprung to the forefront of my thinking about murmur. Maggie’s work goes past the impulse to bear witness to the traumatic in order to manifest it through body-intensive texts. She describes this as: “writing by hand, redrafting the words by hand – bending, sticking, cutting, shaping marks, shaping sounds into the recorder, pain(t)ing and building – all inscriptions of my body’s breathing. This heuristic trans-forming has become paramount in murmur where I am using the sight/site of the ear/page as a foundational textu(r)al, sonic, visual bodily dimension to move out from.” The subtitle of murmur is tasks of mourning. The task of the words in this installation – to give form to absence, but also to know the page as a “savaging salvaging body” – one of the phrases that recurs. In the poet’s ranginess, she seeks natural fissures, figurate language however sutured. The poem is a “cardiac load” (another recurring phrase) – I thought of Beuys publicly amplifying his heartbeat. Maggie O’Sullivan has this depth of believe that human intuitive process is the basis for art that can open up “possibilities for radical changes in and between consciousnesses.” (MOS) Please welcome Maggie to The Poetry Project.

-Stacy Szymaszek