Lunch Poems – Ben Lerner



so good afternoon everyone just a few people are wanting to return that greeting anyway I'm Giovanni singleton lunch pumps coordinator thank you all for being here in the lovely Morrison library it's beautiful isn't it sort of relaxing and felt overflowing with poetry as we celebrate National Poetry Month it wasn't exciting yay so first I'd like to invite you all to sign up on our email list which is over on the librarians desk we also have posters which outlines this year's complete lunch poems program so be sure and pick one up because we do have one more event left this season also on our website lunch poems berkeley.edu you can view this reading and all of our past readings on youtube where we have our very own channel and last I counted is about 84 videos so do check them out our next event takes place here on May 2nd it's our final event of the season and it's our annual student reading so please do come back and and join us so now please join me in welcoming lunch poms director Jeffrey G O'Brien who will introduce this afternoon's reader thank you Thank You Giovanni Ben Lerner began his literary career by writing three books of poetry and then made the rather dubious decision to betray the genre and become a famous novelist which then allowed him to write a book of nonfiction as well called the hatred of poetry continuing at least an ostensibly treason business but actually all of his work and other genres besides poetry has been radically emphatically sensitively about poetry so rather than thinking of him as a traitor I'd like to think of him as an invasive species who's taking poetry out further into the world where other people might notice that it finds ways to persist that thought about poetry across genre has been a spectacular meditation on what poetry can do and what it can't do TLDR it can't do very much but that very little is quite important um Ben's project across those genres and especially within poetry I think has had to do with what possibilities can be imagined for an in language while watching it be cheapened emptied mercantilist and weaponized in all these ways that have huge material effects on the world even if poetry itself cannot in order to do that work within poetry Ben has often repaired to really ancient means whether those are patterns of repetition that border on the refrain or forms of rhyme that may not look like rhyme he's also been in a stood student of modernism and language poetry and many recent moments in our work such that he knows how to disrupt syntax make it glitch and stutter and forget itself his work really is a parade of the old and new that dramatizes or models or offers this really raw open and unending thinking about what poetry might have to acquire in order to be other to all the kinds of acts of language that it finds disastrous and to which it wants it's a minor opposition to hold let's hear some of his most recent work that I think continues that worthy venture and Lerner thank you very much thank you Giovanni for all your work in making this possible and thank you Jeffrey for the lovely introduction and also Jeffrey has been kind of my first reader for everything I've written since I met him in Berkeley when I lived here briefly in 2005 so if the poems don't seem good to you you can blame Jeffrey for failing to fix it them when he when he had the chance thank you all for coming there are a lot of angles I don't know how to take you all in so I'm gonna kind of look at the look at the paper this poem this recent poem was called index of themes poems about night and related poems paintings about night sleep death and the stars I know one poem from school under the stars but belong to no school of poetry I forgot it by heart I remember only it was set in the world and it's theme parted poems about stars and how they are erased by street lights streets in a poem about force and the schools within it we learned all about night and college how it applies night College under the stars where we made love a subject I completed my study of form and forgot it tonight poems about summer and the stars are sorted by era over me also poems about grief and dance I thought I'd come to you with these themes like my senses do you remember me from the world I was set there and we spoke on the green likening some to prison something to film poems about dreams like moths about streetlights until the cliches glow soft glow of the screen comes off on our hands blue prints on the windows how pretentious to be alive now let alone again like poetry and poems indexed by Cadence's falling about us while parting it was important to part yesterday and a serial work about lights so that distance could enter the voice and address you tonight poems about you prose poems I became interested at one point in in the legal fiction by which corporations are ascribed the rights of individuals something you're all familiar with and I was I was kind of trying to remember this older wit manic fantasy about a collective person or a transpersonal subject that could be interested in something other than the maximization of profit so I'll read a couple poems that kind of come out of trying to remember the good the good fantasy that right now is often the bad reality of corporate personhood but this poem is called auto-tune am I too loud or too quiet this about okay okay let me let me know if I'm yelling at you auto-tune one the phase vocoder bends the pitch of my voice towards a norm our ability to correct some pitches was the unintended result of an effort to extract hydrocarbons from the earth the technology was first developed by an engineer at Exxon to interpret seismic data the first poet in English whose name is known learned the art of song in a dream bead says by his verse the minds of many were often excited to despise the world when you resynthesize the frequency domain of a voice there is audible phase smearing a kind of vibrato but instead of signifying the grain of a particular performance the smear signifies the recuperation of particularity by the normative I want to sing of the seismic activity deep in the earth and the destruction of the earth for profit and a voice whose particularity has been extracted by machine I want the recuperation of my voice a rescaling of its frequency domain to be audible when I'm called upon to sing to Cadman didn't know any songs so he withdrew from the others and embarrassment then he had a dream in which he was approached probably by a God and asked to sing the beginning of created things his withdrawing not the hymn that he composed in the dream is the founding moment of English poetry here my tone is bending towards an authority I don't claim founding moment but the voice itself is a created thing and corporate the larynx operates within socially determined parameters we learn to modulate you cannot withdraw and sing at least not intelligibly you can only sing in a corporate voice of corporate things 3 the voice notable only for its interchangeability describes the brightest object in the sky after the Sun claims love will be made beneath it a voice leveled to the point that I can think of it as mine but because this voice does not modulate the boundaries of its intelligibility dynamically it is meaningless I can think of it as mine but I cannot use it to express anything the descaling of the singer makes the song transpersonal at the expense of content in this sense the music is popular most engineers aspire to conceal the corrective activity of the phase vocoder if the process is not concealed if it's overused in a natural warble and the voice results and correction passes into Distortion the voice no longer sounds human but the sound of a computer's voice is moving as if our technology wanted to remind us of our power to sing the beginning of created things this is the sound of our collective alienation and in that sense is corporate as if from emotion the phase smears as the voice describes the diffuse reflection of the Sun at night for in a voice without portamento a voice in which the human is felt as a loss I want to sing the permanent wars of profit I don't know any songs but won't withdraw I am dreaming the pathetic dream of a pathos capable of read ascription so that corporate personhood becomes more than legal fiction it's a dream in prose of poetry a long dream of waking I thought I'd read you this poem that I wrote for CD right who I guess it's been two years since she passed away or something but it was it's I'm still in denial about it but I kind of wrote this in the and though in the wake of that loss the poem is called also known as hurt sickle cyan I flower and bachelor's button light snow falling in the listening area something has to keep me from the radio and other forms of incidental contact like the current time is or I see silver plunging in the days ahead why not poetry am clouds give way to p.m. Sun I wish I'd written that and did and publish it on air the way a match publishes in my hand before I hold it to the cigarette I took from my first teacher Sun and light snow at her improvised wake contract pneumonia there let it bloom in the left lung for a while than postponed Berlin I discourage you from flying is the nicest thing anyone has ever except maybe the command to look alive when I was a boy undead among small purple flowers in the outfield the plan was to wander around Kreutz burg mourning her but this will do overheard forecasts adjustments to internal floor a light snow that turns to rain in time just not for anything if you turn literally inward touch the breastbone with radiation locate a shadow then the tech will print you out an image freeing up the elegy for other things like wandering beyond the field of play while bases empty there talking about the off season beautiful phrase that's mine and now it's gone cornflower blue bottle the Invo locker is urn shaped in the margins a regularly cleft thrives on roadsides thrives on waste sites is sometimes tooth or lobed there's this poem by Brecht called to those who follower to those who come after I don't have any German so I rely on the translations and this poem again thinking about corporate personhood a little steals from him and he makes a brief a brief appearance in it it's called dilation and it's written in in three parts one we need to harness the vaguely erotic disappointment that attends the realization you aren't being followed keys gripped between the fingers ready to strike at the eyes the after image of Byzantine goldleaf dissolving in the trees when we emerge from the museum must be harnessed and the delicate carnation of the sky at the rooftop screening and the dress of the hostess its exploration of formative drives if you are anything like me you emerge from the hospitals automatic doors into the heat and glare of its parking lot unable to recall the color of the rental or the demands of practical reason you surface from the subway to find it's fully night and hard to remember the preceding generations claims for disjunction you saw the child of a Turkish diplomat fall from a penthouse balcony curled up on a floor model at the Soho cratenbarrel when you received the terrible news from a poem that probably dates from 1939 address to an adjacent posterity green eye shadow and surprising gentleness of the saleswoman who asks if I'm okay must be harnessed if we are to surpass camp an apathy plainclothes security closing in you feel emancipated briefly from fragmentation when the d-train emerges onto the Manhattan Bridge vertically polarized light entering the water 76 stories of rippled steel refusing to be actual all at once stand and offer your seat to an old man who isn't there listened politely to his demand for a theater that combines distance and empathy false proscenium lit to reveal evaporating value the delicate carnation that follows heat and glare too I came into the cities at a time in which the service industry employed a swift underclass of spanish-speaking laborers I came into the cities when the art world's post medium pluralism valorized stupidity in the midst of weather patterns of increasing extremity I came into the cities unsure if I should say gracias to the man refilling my glass notes of chlorine antidepressants and trace amounts one way was enumerated the bad forms of alienated collective power breathing hot particles from Japan bundled debt another 'we was passing beyond the reach of friends to internalize an allegory tracking the dilation where a Horta meets heart minor tremor in the hand part of me wants to say there is a mock oratorical mode capable of vitalizing critical agency and part of me wants to praise the Maples winsome eras the distanced achieved from the paris tree parent tree but mainly i want to argue there one thing real of indefensible like cities in time spinning as they fall my role in the slaughter doesn't disqualify the beauty i find in all forms of sheltered flame little votive polis that you eat while others starve does not refute the promise of dimming house lights weird fullness of the instant before music that i ventriloquist when I address you is the marker of my voice important source of syrup and tone wood coming to you live from the ellipses of compadre and Vaz grave air of a masterpiece its notes of ozone and exhaust jasmine and trace amounts tracking the dilation of new forms of private temporality into public architecture glass curtains as they dim 3 the ideal is visible through its antithesis like small regions of warm blue under painting and this is its late-july realization I'm sorry I know you were expecting more I'm not going to lecture the neighbor kid with the hydrant key about conserving water for posterity until I can think of a better idea for the spontaneous formation of a public however brief by the time you read this if you were close enough to read this if you are reading this a threat to the first person was called in prompting its evacuation a panic you should take advantage of an order to compose a face test predicates against walk to Sunset Park and watch the soft wind kites at Magic Hour when light appears imminent to the lit warm blue scattering in the gaps between buildings and print you can feel the content streaming the ideal is a kind of longitudinal subject in which the poem is a note saying where I left you keys and a bottle of green wine see rise visible in the compound I mosaic image flicker effect and which objects must move in order to persist thus the preference of bees for windblown flowers thus the analogy collapses like a colony prompting its evacuation but the formal capacity for likening still shines through its antithesis feel it misfiring vaguely erotic disappointment that combines distance and empathy carnation fading from the contrails trying to conceive and are ready to assemble bed as the Metropole shifts east I believe there is a form of apology both corporate and encanta Tory that could convene the future it begs for leniency inherited dream you can put anything in antithetical blue predicate green I have two little kids and there's we've been in the summers we've been going to Prospect Park where the Firefly populations are back up and there's been a lot of they've been a lot of learning experiences about like the difficulty of catching the Firefly without killing the Firefly and that's kind of intense that's in this that's that's given rise to this to this poem some of those conversations it's called the camperdown Elm and it has to do also with being around the Camperdown Elmen Prospect Park which was you know Marion Moore's tree I'm thinking about her work here as well so the Camperdown Elm our children do not mean their numbers are up the fireflies to kill them when they cut around the soft bodies light music softens features the way a mild solvent softens the acrylic yellowing in time the old habit of sentience after a storm the light I've come to feel okay ascribing features the camperdown Elm because it was celebrated in a poem they've put a gate around cupped it as a friend is cupped heated glass along the meridians of her body slow release of energy she is in sustainable agony most of the time I place a firefly in each cup I place them in the branches of and ask it to watch over her the grafted Elm its weeping habit even though the light is cold the wings damaged cupped flame of it the toddler says the surface varnish has dissolved she wants to know if it makes honey that glows in the dark slow pulse of it the interval shorter on warm nights it won't kill you the pathetic fallacy my August fallacy so that fall so that September has a flaw in the glass of it where it catches is damaged lightly and released how long have I been reading for four minutes I'm a little worried about reading too little and I'm very worried about reading too much but I think I think we're okay this is called the pistil it's a very recent poem now that nothing has been done before you can speak of the stigma style & Overy fourth world of the flower you can run your tongue along the lips of the sleeping no one has touched your hair described the fall of it now you can smoke indoors around your daughter's windows open to spring nights that flare up in winter words like transparent shells attached to the Elms maples and ash I hear the people because tonight is recycling picking through glass as I write you slow pour of metal into the mold my speech direct because recycled the prohibition against feeling broken like bread above the sill an inferior Mirage above their heads my new gaps impulses passed through blue sparks rise in the dark fourth wall of the flower splits at maturity releases sentiment follicle fruit of its soft space between bones of the skull where dreams are knitting delicate fallacies now that bees the coral and ice white noses of bats it's time to write the first poem in English each line the last small rain turning glass a few years ago one of my heroes was John Berger and a few years ago I had the chance to go and meet him people were making a movie about him and I just kind of tagged along to get to go to this Alpine village where he lived and to get to be around him for a couple of days and before we went he told everybody who was involved that they had to read all these victor serge books the great revolutionary victor sirs so we all read a whole lot of victor serge books because we thought there would be like a kind of seminar some and then we got there and he just never even mentioned victor serge he just wanted us to all read Victor Serge and this poem came out of that it's a poem for burger called contra Shore which is that you know against the day it's that effect like when you when you take a photograph of someone against a bright light source so it obscures their their features so it's contra shorts for John burger the light that changes the light that goes out when you pass under it the unsafe intersection and the ghost bike the light that turns out to be a flame and the bulb design to flicker obviously city lights the necklace lights of bridges lights of planes are part of this especially flashing or extinguished trick candle sparking in the cake little star sparking wintergreen in the mouth the speech of it decaying flash of the muscles as they chased Victor surged across the rooftops the snow blew in the light and the burning manuscripts and Paris the city of the light that changes in the mouth I wish I'd known you were a fan of light I would have saved some for you moonlight on pavement set aside for you in factories and prisons obviously and Moscow burning obviously and the throat I left a light on for you Victor Serge in the last century century of last cigarettes the light decay gives off the cold light of the living organism in the open seas and Auckland some old paintings because like ash it scatters I thought that I might sing because it dies repeatedly in Mexico penniless penniless in Spain I thought that I might speak openly with you in photographs if I appear then obviously I'm penniless because appearance is the last resort of light Victor surged in his letters in translation our liquidation has been prepared and if they call your name my hands are tied my role is limited to passing through glass to letting the glass band light around small corners and translucent wings ESPA heat dose is it Spanish name but Spain was lost little mirrors whose borders are opaque can I just say one thing about how everything is lost when obvious thing about the threat of sky glow and the need for dark oases and could surge be sighted traveling at a constant speed through opaque objects like these pages or would that be singing because like ash when you passed under it because like snow blue systems I thought I'd end by reading a poem that I wrote in Berkeley a long time ago it's the dedication to my to my book of poems mean free path so this is it's called dedication for the distances collapsed for the figure failed to humanize the scale for the work the work did nothing but invite us to relate it to the wall for I was a shopper and a dark aisle for the mode of address equal to the war was silence but we went on celebrating doubleness for the city was polluted with light and the world warming for I was a fraud in a field of poppies for the rain made little effective adjustments to the architecture for the architecture was a long lecture lost on me negative mnemonics reflecting weather and reflecting reflecting for I felt nothing which was cool totally cool with me for my blood was Cola for my authority was small involuntary muscles in my face for I had had some work done on my face for I was afraid to turn left at intersections for I was in a turning lane for I was signaling despite myself the will to change for I could not throw my voice away for I had overslept for I had dressed in layers for the long dream ahead the recurring dream of waking with alternate alternate endings she walked me through for Ariana for Adi actually I'm gonna read you one last poem I hate it when poets do I've never actually made the mistake I'm making now if having announced the last poem and then reading another I screwed it all up but here but I want to read I want to read you one one more it's very short called no art which is the last poem in a in a recent volume thank you again for coming and for listening tonight I can't remember why everything is permitted or what amounts to the same thing forbidden no art is total even there's even though it raises towers or kills from the air there's too much piety and despair as if the silver leaves behind the glass where politics and the wind they move in and the chance of scattered storms those are still my ways of making and I know that I can call on you until you're real enough to turn from maybe I have fallen behind in falling but I think of myself as having people a small people and a failed state and love more avant-garde than shame or the easy distances all my people are with me now the way the light is thank you very much Thank You then and thank you all for coming Moe's books is here where they think a couple of volumes left distributed across all those genres I referenced before go peruse them come talk to the poet I mean essayist I mean novelist and then go back out into your day thank you come back in May for the student reading [Applause]

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