Spontaneous Poetics – (The List Poem)

The List Poem by Larry Fagin (2000, from Teachers & Writers Collaborative) – cover design by Trevor Winkfield

Student: I feel I have to defend myself against (you and) the rest of the class

Allen Ginsberg: Do you have a “self” to defend? – okay, if you insist on having a “self”

Student: Well you said (my comparison with set theory wasn’t so helpful) but why I said that was, that if the members don’t interact, then that means that, just like in a sentence, that means there’s no articulation, (group consciousness) is not being put into form

Ted Berrigan: If you take a group.. you have to..

Student: It’s not articulation until the words interact, right?

Ted Berrigan: The articulation (in Anne Waldman’s “Fast Speaking Woman”) is in the dance of vowels and syllables, much more there than in Pressure”, where everything there snaps. In this poem, everything sings (and when you see it performed, for example, you understand that very clearly because it comes off her so smoothly). The interaction is in the music so much more in “Fast Speaking Woman” than in “Pressure”, which has a great breathless quality

Allen Ginsberg: Well, then, her next move was Musical Garden”, where she complicated the line, interestingly – “Can’t give you up, speech, can’t stop/ clamoring” – So then (she) began to augment the line, because she couoldn’t repeat the poem, or the same attack on the poem, one poem after another, with the same simple lines, so then she began expanding the musical possibilities and the ideation and image possibilities within the sweetheart, my tender/ chocolate big-lipped love/ Can’t give up all dear ones, your bright/ ears and delicate smiles” – So you see how she began developing that. Actually, it’s sort of like a primary course in the list poem, going from one poem to another to another of hers and seeing how she’s developed it, and finally, in the last [1976 -most recent] poem, “Shaman” [“Shaman Hisses”], there’s very complicated lines, involving description, with different actions, long, very long sometimes. Sometimes a short single-word line, but, most of the time, it’s a line describing a whole action – “Shaman, your mother’s calling you on the telephone”

The reason I brought this up was (is), if you have a litany, or a list poem, or if you want to try one like that, if you’re developing one, or if you’re revising one, or working on one, just to bear in mind that (a) single-word list poem has been done, a double-word list poem has been done. You’ve got to have something interesting in each line. Anne has developed it in this way. (Christopher) Smart started with a much more pedestrian line, you might say, (a) more everyday line. A major element in it all, however, is the ear for the line, keeping the line of such an elastic spoken quality that the whole thing hangs together as one tripping breath, or one vowel-ic breath (but there you’d have to pay attention to sound, you’d have to pay attention to having the imagery colorful enough enough to fill out a line).

And I’ll end there, because it’s eight twenty-five.

Student: I made the list into a narrative.

AG: Pardon me?

Student: I made the list into a narrative.

AG: Yes. You can (do) do that.

Tape and class ends here – to be continued

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