AG: His (Charles Reznikoff’s) poetry is immortal – The subway (his subject) will last for fifty years, if lucky. But then, there’s that other thing, what’s going to happen when the subways vanish into dust?
Student: They (the poems) will end up like the graffiti in the subways.
(Second) Student: Horseshit!
AG: Come on!
Student: Poems’ll last?
AG: See, what is going to happen to these poems?. I mean, consider all these poem-objects (that) we’re making? What is going to happen to these poems when the subways turn to dust? What we’ll have left are these little artifact-like fragments, (like) from some Greek Anthology – just like you have the artifacts left from the athletic Games, or little fragments of odes to the athletes, or little fragments of some warrior, some battle-field, or some fragment of a chariot-race, little Anacreon-ic lines. You’ll have these little glimpses (which may be the only artifact left of the subways in about a thousand years). These may outlast all the iron of the subways, and all the paper and the photographs of subways in the newspapers that describe the subways, and all of the celluloid of the movies. These may be the only thing left of the subway, ultimately. So what he (Reznikoff) perceived in the subways is really important, because he’s the only one that’s looked at the subways..
[Allen quotes Jerusalem the Golden, section 69] – “Among the heaps of brick and plaster lies/ a girder, still itself among the rubbish” – So in a thousand years time, they’ll still have these little fragments of poems, still themselves, “among the rubbish” – (71) “When the sky is blue, the water over the sandy bottom is/ green/ They have dropped newspapers on it, cans, a bedspring, sticks/ and stones/ but these the patient waters corrode, those a patient moss/ covers” – (73) – “Asylum Project” – “Brown and black felt, unevenly stitched with purple thread:/ what unhappiness is perpetuated in the brown and black of/ this pincushion,/ lunatic?” – There, he’s just letting himself say it – You know what he’s talking about? Those little artifacts made in the..what do they call that?..”health works”? “occupational therapy”? – “what unhappiness is perpetuated in the brown and black of/ this pincushion,/ lunatic?” (“this pincushion”, comma, and then one-line – “lunatic”, question mark).
And here’s – (74) – a little composition, “The English in Virginia, April 1607” – it’s the last and caps all this modern stuff about beer cans, wrapping paper, subway mushrooms of chewing-gum, subway screeches and lights going on and off – [Allen reads Reznikoff’s “The English in Virginia, April 1607” in its entirety] – “They landed and could/ see nothing but/ meadows and tall. trees…”…”In the twilight,/ through the thickets/ and tall grass,/ creeping upon all/ fours – the/ savages, their/ bows in their/mouths.” – So Reznikoff has a funny sense of humor to present this idyllic, primaeval glimpse as a “capper” to all his everyday time-capsule noticings.