Yevtushenko Vinyl and the Freedom of Discernment

Jazz Readings in the CellarAgain at PCC, thirty years ago…. Several Russian students began dropping by my ABE workshop on a regular basis, for English lessons, and one day I brought a couple of record albums to class to play on our record player, a small cardboard box with a simple needle (the arm weighted down with a penny held on by a rubber band) that scratched across the grooves, spitting sound through a single tinny speaker. The albums were poetry readings. One of the records included Yevgeny Yevtushenko reading his poem “Babi Yar” with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The other album was Poetry Readings in the Cellar, with the Cellar Jazz Quintet, featuring Kenneth Rexroth and Ferlinghetti.

YevtushenkoI played the Yevtushenko, and during the “Babi Yar” poem, nine minutes long on the album, I noticed that one of the Russian students was crying. Later, I apologized, concerned that the poetry had suggested some bad memories. But that wasn’t the reason for his crying at all, he told me. It was the fact that we could listen to this record in our classroom without feeling any kind of fear. “What a country I have come to,” he said. “We can play this record in our classroom and no one even cares.”

It seems too cryptic to end this post there, yet there was no ambiguity in his meaning, but now, thirty years later, how does one care? At the risk of falling into a nostalgic fallacy, one does care; the current reading crisis, informed in part by changing technology, which in turn seems to be changing values (what we want), may soon have us yearning for a time when we had the freedom to read and write, and to talk and listen, and we tried to exercise that freedom with discernment.

Back to the Futurism – What’s new in Poetryland: Flarf, Conceptual Writing, and Concrete Poetry

An Anthology of Concrete PoetryWe cross the border into Poetryland. At the crossing the guards confiscate our miner’s helmet and swim fins, and ask the purpose of our visit. On holiday, sightseeing, see what’s new, we reply.

We head to the old haunts, and what do we find? Flarf, a portmanteau word that identifies a poem created from electronic detritus, a collage of bits of the web, a kind of Webarf, and Conceptual Writing, a back to the Futurism replay of Concrete Poetry.

While neither new form appears all that new, the infusion of humor, anti-seriousness, and wordplay are welcome (we wish a Poem Painting or two had been included). But we’re not sure if Flarf is a poetry of the Web, if the Web has found its poetic form, “…poetry that is native to that environment, written with the intention of being read there” (Crain, 17 June 2008).

A fickle subscriber for some years, our renewed subscription just arrived, and we were delighted to learn of Flarf and Conceptual poetry (July/August 2009).

Welcome back! Where have you been? the waitress at the Refugio Café asks. At the point the tide is out and the waves shoulder into the cove.

Williams, E. (Ed.). (1967). An Anthology of Concrete Poetry. Something Else Press: New York.