Introductions for Christopher Nealon & Catherine Wagner – 10/21/09

Christopher Nealon is the author of two books of poems, The Joyous Age (Black Square Editions, 2004) and Plummet (Edge Books, 2009). He is also the author of a book of criticism, Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Emotion before Stonewall (Duke, 2001) and a forthcoming book called The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Spectacle in the American Century. After teaching at UC Berkeley for many years, he is now a member of the English Department at Johns Hopkins University.

I sought out Chris Nealon’s book of criticism Foundlings years ago for his piece called “Hart Crane’s History” – that book begins with a quote from Gertrude Stein: “It takes time to make queer people.” When I read his new book of poems Plummet and came to his equally evocative line: “I am not gay, I am from the future!” I thought of his use of Stein to foreground a book on gay & lesbian relationships to history.  Plummet creates an uncanny sense of time, somewhere & everywhere between augury and the post-catastrophic, which can be read as “a record of thirst, yes, / but also as a glass of water carried wobbling on a tray the length of the party”.  Nealon’s “future anterior” accesses a society “down / into the spongiform” where deprivation and corruption still exist (someone compared Nealon to O’Hara distracted by Bears Stearns, now, of course, JP Morgan) but we don’t have to fall down on the scale of conformity or abject suffering. If the narrator of Plummet is from the future, there is a very different history to exclaim. I’m really happy that Chris was able to join us here tonight. Please give him a warm welcome.

Catherine Wagner’s new book, My New Job, is just out from Fence Books. Her other books are Macular Hole (2004) and Miss America (2001; both Fence). A healthy selection from her new project, an epic romance, appears in the fall issue of Verse; recent chapbooks include Articulate How (Big Game Books/Dusie, 2008), Hole in the Ground (Slack Buddha, 2008) and Bornt (Dusie, 2009). She is permanent faculty in the MA program in creative writing at Miami University in Ohio. For the last two summers she has taught a summer course on visual and concrete poetry in London; this fall, she is working with undergraduate creative writers at a homeless shelter and teaching a graduate seminar on the rhetoric of song.

In 2002, Rae Armantrout chose then newcomer (pre-Miss America) Cathy Wagner for Boston Review’s Poet’s Sampler section. Armantrout makes a point of working around the pitfalls of clichéd language in order to talk about a truly singular writer, then and now. As she points out “we’re used to hearing about women who write the (sensual) body… . Of course, when we invoke the body, we can’t know how it will respond.” Wagner lets the space of the poem serve as a site for often disturbing or startling discovery. In a line like “Any part of me that accepts your cock / is an expart” the reader’s pleasure is due to the removal of inhibitions, the poet’s and hopefully our own. It seems appropriate to mention Freud both as a force Wagner has contended with as well as to call into mind what he said about wit, that it is “a kernel of word pleasure and nonsense pleasure, and a shell of removal and release pleasure.” Wagner is somehow able to render the roughness of “adult language” into the condensery of a poet like Niedecker – had she kept a secret sex diary. Please welcome Cathy to the Poetry Project.