It’s time for you to do some grading. You will be doing me a favor by going to https://apps.qc.cuny.edu/courseevaluation/ and providing your opinion of this course, of your professor’s methods, and so on. The results of these evaluations are useful for the university, in assessing the popularity and efficacy of courses; for students, in deciding what courses to take; and for the professor, in improving the course and in creating a teaching portfolio (for the sake of career advancement). In other words, it’s very helpful and very important.

The online course/faculty evaluation website is open until Wednesday, December 15.

Roger Bonair-Agard

Next week we’ll be discussing spoken word and poetry slams and looking at some video of slam poets. Some of you have told me you’re interested in writing about this genre of poetry performance, but some of you have also told me that you’ve never been to a poetry slam. While I’ve got some great recordings for us to watch, I have to say that poetry slams work best live; understanding poetry slams really means attending one.

Luckily, there is a great opportunity next Tuesday to see a poetry slam at one of the country’s foremost venues and to catch a performance by Roger Bonair-Agard, winner of the National Poetry Slam Individual Championship and one of the most impressive poet-performers in the history of slam. The event is on Tuesday, Nov. 2nd, just two days before our class on spoken word and slam, so I hope that many of you will come and that it will be the basis of an interesting discussion.

The logistics: we’ll meet at the Bowery Poetry Club at 6:30 pm on Tuesday: 308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker). Take the F train to 2nd Ave, or the 6 train to Bleecker.  If you get there by 6:30 you can sign up for the open mike or the slam if you like (if you plan to take part in the slam, you’ll need to be prepared to perform three different three-minute poems). You can also just watch. Or, you may be asked to be a judge. The Bowery Poetry Club is a very laid-back place, and nobody will put you on the spot. I’ll be there, and hopefully some of you, and you should feel free to bring friends as well. Admission is free; there’s a little cafe in the front and a full bar in the back, where the performances take place.

Marilyn Hacker

I just wanted to alert you to a reading happening on campus on Wednesday by poet Marilyn Hacker. Click here for more information.

Diane di Prima

I wanted to mention that this Friday and Saturday are a couple of rare opportunities to see and hear a reading by an original Beat poet. Diane di Prima is in NYC for the first time in a decade (she lives in California) and is reading at the Grad Center in midtown on Friday. The details are below, and some extra information about di Prima’s life. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

Oct. 15, Fri., 6 pm, Segal Theatre, CUNY Grad Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York.
Join the iconic poet and activist Diane di Prima for a rare New York City appearance. After her reading, Graduate Center Professor Ammiel Alcalay will engage her in a conversation about her work and life. Over the span of her remarkable career, di Prima has published 43 books of poetry and prose and, as per Allen Ginsberg, “broke barriers of race-class identity and delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.” She is presently the Poet Laureate of San Francisco. A two-volume Lost & Found chapbook selection of her lectures on poets H.D. and Robert Duncan will be available for purchase on the night of the event.


Oct. 16, Sat. 1:00–3:45 pm, The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, New York
After reading, there will be Q & A with the audience.

Diane di Prima was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1934, a second generation American of Italian descent. She began writing at the age of seven, and committed herself to a life as a poet at the age of fourteen. She lived and wrote in Manhattan for many years, where she became known as an important writer of the Beat movement. She co-founded the New York Poets Theatre, and founded the Poets Press, which published the work of many new writers of the period. Together with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) she edited the literary newsletter, The Floating Bear (1961-1969). In 1966 she moved to upstate New York where she participated in Timothy Leary’s psychedelic community at Millbrook.

For the past thirty-four years she has lived and worked in northern California, where she took part in the political activities of the Diggers, and wrote Revolutionary Letters. In the 1970’s she began her epic poem Loba. of which Parts 1-8 were published in 1978. Her work has been translated into at least twenty languages. In 1993, she received an Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry from the National Poetry Association. Her autobiographical memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, was published by Viking in April 2001.

The Great Gatsby – Live

Speaking of performing texts, this show presents an interesting take on reading.

It looks like every second week our class is going to be visited by some sort of dramatic weather event; this week it’s Tropical Storm Nicole. It’s going to be wet and windy tomorrow, but far from tornado conditions, so hopefully I’ll see you and your umbrellas tomorrow evening.

Also—I’ll talk about this in class, but I’ll announce it here so you can check your schedules—I’d like to arrange to meet with each of you to talk about your reactions to the class so far and your ideas about your final paper topic (and anything else that might be on your mind). Right before or after class is likely the easiest time for most of you, so for the next month or so I’m going to schedule three 20-minute meetings before and one 20-minute meeting after each class (at 5:20, 5:40, 6:00, and 8:15 pm). If those times don’t work for you, we can work something out. It’s not mandatory that you do this, but it would be helpful, I think. I’m posting a schedule here; you should leave a comment there saying when you’d like to meet, and I’ll update the schedule accordingly.

Remember This

Hi again. Here are the guidelines for your memorization assignment, as we discussed on Thursday. The purpose of this assignment is simply to give you the experience of memorized performance, and the opportunity to think about how memorization works and the effect it has on the performance and the text.

The first part is memorizing and performing a text. It can be anything you want it to be: a poem, a song, a story, a rant, or the telephone book, including things you have written yourself. I want to know what you have chosen in advance, and I want you to provide me with a copy of the text. Your performance should be approximately three minutes, and I’ll be looking for signs that you didn’t just memorize, but that you also rehearsed, and that you gave some thought to the style of your performance. I’ll ask you to stand, and not to use paper. Try practicing in front of a mirror. We’ll be doing these performances throughout the rest of the course, and I’ll post the names of the people performing each week on the blog. Let me know which day you’d like to go. If anyone feels that they can’t manage performing in front of the class, there is the option to do it on video.

The second part is writing a response paper (approximately 1000 words) about your experience with the first part. How did you go about memorizing your text? What was difficult or easy about it and why? How do you think it changed your relation to the text? Did the experience cause you to reflect on any of the ideas that have come up in our readings? This paper will be due one week after you do your performance.

For those of you who haven’t done this sort of thing much, perhaps you are wondering, how do you memorize a three-minute text? The simplest and truest answer is probably, “any way you can.” I begin by reading the text out loud several times, to hear how it sounds. Then I read each sentence or line out loud repeatedly, committing them to memory one at a time. Then I recite gradually larger pieces from memory, until I can recite the whole thing. I find, and this has been demonstrated in some studies, that moving around makes it easier to remember things, so try standing in front of a mirror and using some simple choreography, such as hand gestures. There are many more complicated tricks for memorization, of course. Here is an interesting site that discusses some common memory techniques. If anyone else has any suggestions, please feel free to post them here.

Surviving the Hurricado

Hi everyone. Thanks to those of you who were able to navigate the hurricane-force winds and the fallen trees and make it to Rathaus for class tonight. For those of you who tried but were turned away by traffic snarls, don’t worry, it’s quite understandable and it won’t affect your participation grade. I was in my office (in the bowels of Klapper) during the storm and didn’t realize until I came out for class how fierce it had been. And it wasn’t until I tried to drive home that I realized how paralyzed the borough had become.

We did have a good discussion tonight inspired by Havelock and Plato and touching on Jay-Z and Jessica Simpson. Next week we will move on to Walter Ong (that reading is on the site) and probably Paul Zumthor and/or Marshall McLuhan (I will put those up in the next few days). I made one request in class tonight that I’d like to pass on to all of you for next week: although your posts have been brilliant so far, I’d like to get more discussion (back and forth) going on the blog, so this week please make a point of quoting and responding to what someone else has said. And feel free to write shorter answers, and to double-, triple-, or quadruple-post.


I wanted to tell you all about the Howl! festival happening this weekend. Tonight you have the opportunity to see Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” recited by a bunch of poets, including several that we’ll be discussing in the course.

There are also many other cool events associated with the festival—check out the calendar.

Reading update.

Folks, we won’t meet again until next Thursday the 16th (enjoy your short week, and L’shana tova), but I wanted to mention a couple of things. First, I have revised the links on the 9/16 page, so in addition to the pdfs of Havelock and Nagy, there are some links to excerpts from Plato and Homer. We do not really have the time, nor do I have the expertise, to engage in a close reading of The Iliad, so I’d just like you to read the opening lines in English translation (out loud) and compare them to the sound of the Greek original. If you can read the Greek alphabet, you can follow along with the recording (if not, here‘s a good page about the letters and their pronunciations). As for Plato, the important passage I want to discuss is in the short excerpt from Phaedrus on the pdf: the conversation about writing versus speech. If you have the time and inclination you can also read Book X of The Republic (where Socrates explains why poets have no place in the ideal republic). However, I think we’ll spend most of our time discussing the ideas put forward by Nagy and by Havelock about the importance of oral performance in Ancient Greece. So read those texts first.

The other thing I wanted to mention is this upcoming performance by Amiri Baraka (along with his wife Amina and a band). I doubt that many of you have the time to go to New Jersey, but if you are so inclined…

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  • Listening “Literature” implies a written text. But what about the audiotext? Why do we refer to the “audience” (from the Latin audiens, listening) of a literary work? This course is about listening to literature and reading performance. ____________________________________
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