New Directions Poetry Pamphlets
New Directions is starting up a new Poetry Pamphlet series and, curiously, two of the first four employ photographs. Bernadette Mayer’s Helens of Troy, NY contains a series of photographs of women accompanied by poems that, to some extent, serve as written portraits. Although there is no statement about either the poems or the photographs, the implication is that each of these woman is named Helen who lives in Troy, New York. There is no attribution to the informal photographs, so one is left with the assumption that they were made by the author. The book concludes with a poem “A History of Troy, NY (in homage to Ed Sanders, Patti Smith& Howard Zinn).”
Mayer’s book reminded me of the classic (and now rather hard to find) self-published artist’s book by Mike Mandel called seven never before published portraits of Edward Weston (1974), which contained portraits of seven men who shared the name of the famous American photographer. Instead of poems, however, Mandel had each Edward Weston complete a questionnaire:
Susan Howe’s book Sorting Facts: or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker, is an extended poetic “essay” on two films by Chris Marker – Sans Soleil and La Jetée. Although Marker has title billing in her piece, Howe spends at least as much space on the Soviet filmmakers Dziga Vertov (1896-1854) and Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986). Her essay/poem, with its reference to Wallace Stevens’ 1917 poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” deals with “the primacy of the ‘factual'” in poetry and film and includes a number of stills from films by all three.
I work in the poetic documentary form, but I didn’t realize it until I tried to find a way to write an essay about two films by Chris Marker.
Howe takes aspects of the traditional academic essay and willfully bends them into her own poetic form. And then she blends in elements of her own autobiography – descriptions of going to movie theaters as a child or reminiscences of her deceased husband. Passages that read like film theory are followed by passages of dense poetic shorthand. The result is that Nineteen Ways is neither classic analysis nor essay but a series of oblique glances, some quick like a snapshot and others deeply penetrating.
Yesterday words could come between the distance. Frame light, for example. All living draw near. Knowing no data no something then something. No never and no opposite occident orient. Film with jumps and quick cuts. Dissolves and slide effects. Real chalk. Burnt-out ruins. Without weariness. Without our working conditions. When our forces hadn’t been thrown.