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a question on hearing
I’ll be heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma tomorrow to take part in The Tulsa School Conference & Literary Festival that Grant Jenkins has organized through The University of Tulsa. Never been there, but my father, Ted Berrigan, was stationed in Tulsa after the Korean War and wound up enrolling in TU via the G.I. Bill. There he met Ron Padgett, Dick Gallup, and Joe Brainard, who were all in high school and thus was born the “soi-disant Tulsa School”, which is no school – even less material a school than the New York School which, as a traveler through the very real New York public school system from K to grad school, I can verify does not, in fact, exist in any tangible manner despite words to the opposite from a cast of thousands – though certainly classifiable under the heading of remark (courtesy of John Ashbery, supposedly). But the fact of a four-cornered artistic friendship with its more complicated sub-divisions (one-to-one relationships, say) is as good a reason as any to throw a conference and festival, so I’m into it despite an innate inability to feel panel. Plus Erica Hunt, Kenward Elmslie, Leslie Scalapino, Barbara Guest, my mom, Fairfield Porter, and Jackson Mac Low, among others, will also be being discussed; there are a number of creative panels that come with no definition in advance; and there will be performances and discussion on current happenings and innovations in Oklahoma-based poetry. I hope to have a report early next week on the talks, readings, performances, and overall dynamic of the whole shbang. And maybe I’ll get a photo of the 60-ft. high bronze pair of hands in prayer on the campus of Oral Roberts University if there’s time to get there.
That said, I would like to build on the conversation that gathered a few angles in the comments on Douglas Oliver’s letter. My feeling is that prosody in performance (and taking off on Doug’s sense of this we can include public performance and private readings both aloud and internally of a poem under this umbrella), if it’s unchained from any particular polemic or prejudice, can be a connective thread of discussion across poetries that might be radically different. The difficulty is often in finding a solid opening question, so I’ll try one with the understanding (and hope!) that most answers will by necessity be various: how do you – you being anyone reading this who reads or writes – begin to hear in your practice of reading and/or writing? Or how do you think you begin to hear? My own angle on this is slanted towards the writing side of the question, but I’m interested in any possible take. For my part I often, but not always, look for a single sound, usually a consonant or two, to begin writing with or against. That listening for a sound might be something like an attempt to get near Doug’s “smallest possible unit” of the poem-in-formation (though what I hear to begin with isn’t necessarily a stress point), but I also understand it as part of a working desire to find a sonic point of beginning that is not yet bound to a particular tone of voice. This is when I am looking for a way to begin and don’t have an idea, a subject, a line, a text, a work in progress, etc., to be clear about it. And I’m not assuming that hearing begins when writing begins. In fact, there are many times when I’m quite conscious that I’m listening before I begin writing. Anyway, this is a different kind of attempt at beginning, so please take it from here and change it as you like……