Poetry News

Stephen Rodefer's Four Lectures, Annotated & Ongoing

By Harriet Staff

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In the 2013 issue of Glossator--a journal rich with "creative form[s] of intellectual work"--is an essay by Ian Heames that "fulsomely [annotates]" Stephen Rodefer's Four Lectures, one of everyone's favorite six-hundred-dollar books of poetry.

Glossator, edited by Medievalist Nicola Masciandaro, with Ryan Dobran and Karl Steel (and a long arm of international advisors), relates to "the theory and history of commentary, glossing, and marginalia (catena, commentum, gemara, glossa, hypomnema, midrash, peser, pingdian, scholia, tafsir, talkhis, tika, vritti, zend, zhangju, et al)." This past issue (8) features work by Heames, as mentioned, and essays from Richard Parker, Thomas Day, Sam Ladkin, and Michael Cisco. And looks like the next one (Spring 2015, Pearl) will "gloss" the 14th-century Gawain poem, "Pearl" (can't wait).

As for Heames's "123 NOTES TO STEPHEN RODEFER’S FOUR LECTURES (1982)" (available, like the other articles, as a PDF): It combs through each lecture ("Words and Works in Russian," "Sleeping With the Light On," "Plane Debris," and "Plastic Sutures"), with a note that such detailed scholarship would have been near-impossible in 1982 and sans Internet. But that Stephen Rodefer covered a process of change in his own preface, taking tradition as ongoing. Heames writes:

The global ongoingness of all things cannot but ‘carry on’ from one moment to the next as ‘that which we drag along’. Simply to ‘carry on’ would therefore seem to be the most appropriate response to new emergent conditions in which to read Rodefer’s own work. As he writes in the ‘Preface’: ‘The color beneath, which has been covered over, will begin to show through later, when what overcame it is questioned and scraped on, if not away.’ The internet has simply made Four Lectures more translucent with respect to its deep collage of ur-texts, unlocking new resonances and (so to speak) activating broken links.

Rodefer writes of his poem: ‘My program is simple: to surrender to the city and survive its inundation.’ (‘Preface’, p. 7). The wide range of literary sources incorporated into the poem, and the occasionally striking density of reference to particular works, such as Shakespeare’s Henry V towards the beginning of ‘Plane Debris’, confirms Four Lectures to be a work as much inundated by the library as by the city. The present notes may serve to demonstrate the fidelity of Four Lectures to its opening resolution that ‘a book [should] be as deep as a museum and as wide as the world.’ (‘Preface, p. 9)

Attributions also range from Ethel Waters songs to Rodefer's (rejected) family glass business to Beatrix Potter, J.L. Austin, Williams/Pound/Joyce (yes lots of Finnegans Wake here, e.g., "ORANGERY TYPETTE")/Frost/O'Hara/Ahbery/Shelley/Berrigan/Duncan and other patrimony, New York Times headlines, Barrett Watten rejection letters, screwball movies, French etymologies, lines from Sappho, Rodefer's own work, and the amusingly anecdotal. Here's an excerpt:

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3-4 There are now more photographs in the world | than there are bricks: cf. ‘The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different.’ American photographer John Szarkowski, from his introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1976). Rodefer also makes use of Szarkowski’s remark in the ‘Preface’ to Four Lectures: ‘In a world in which there are more photographs than there are bricks, can there be more pictures than there are places?’ (p.8). Perhaps cf. also the photograph by American artist Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), who is name-checked in Four Lectures at 35a:6 (SWTLO), entitled Brick Wall. 1977. Two prints, overall 107/8 x 171/8 inches. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Reproduced in John Szarkowski, Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1980 [third printing, first published 1978]).

6 while in a grave I sat reclined: cf. ‘While in a grove I sat reclined’ from ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ by William Wordsworth. Poems, Vol. I, ed. John O. Hayden (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 312.

12 the V. O. mood: ‘The V.O. mood.’ is a slogan from a 1970s advertising poster for Seagram’s VO whiskey. Subsequent sentences in this stanza refer to the same image. The poster is visible online here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sa_steve/3221859552/sizes/o/in/set-72157606334289664/.

The essay also includes a categorical index representing the four areas of cultural production most represented in the book. Enjoy!

Originally Published: September 25th, 2014