This class is for our own performances: readings of texts we’ve been inspired to write, repeat listenings of tracks that inspired us, and general wrap-up discussion and sharing.

We’ll begin with the last of the memorized performances, and then we’ll spend some time talking about your final papers (I will have comments on your first drafts).

For our wrap-up discussion, I’d like you to re-read the essay we began with: Charles Bernstein’s introduction to Close Listening, to see whether you now relate differently to his argument. Below you should post your comments on a second reading of the piece: was there anything that stood out that you didn’t pick up on before? More generally, which ideas, texts, or genres covered in the class were new to you and how has your understanding of literature/ performance changed, if at all? Finally, if there are any texts or recordings you’d like to revisit in our class, let us know.

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  1.   nmatth01

    “One goal I have for this book is to overthrow the common presumption that the text of a poem–that is, the written document—is primary and that the recitation or performance of a poem by the poet is secondary and fundamentally inconsequential to the “poem itself”.

    I think that quote, more than anything else, accurately summarizes the intent of both the piece and the class. I know my initial reading brokered on hesitation of imagining poetry outside of anywhere aside from the page. The traditionalist dogma of “text as authority” was heavily drilled in from subsequent years of poetry study. It was only through looking at performance as a different medium, as an entity different from the actual text, that I could ever truly appreciate poetry in its fullest. While it may be different, the two aspects of text and performance are essentially parts of a whole, and in conjunction, form a greater understanding poetry in general.

    This time around Bernstein made much more sense. After repeated exposure to both live and recorded performance, I truly question why I ever thought poetry’s prominence was text-based.

  2.   alee909

    I like the quote that Nick mentioned above. In addition, I think another quote that keys in on a lot of what we’ve been talking about in class is, ‘The poem, viewed in terms of its multiple performances, or mutual intertranslatability, has a fundamentally plural existence.’ Throughout everyone’s performances, I think we’ve all seen how plural these texts can become. Some of the performances maybe been really counter-intuitive from that standpoint, but that’s something that we’ve grown to appreciate I guess.

    While reading the article again, I was thinking about the aspects in the thought process of interpreting and analyzing. If these texts are plural, then aren’t our thought processes plural as well? Take for example a thought that pops up in your mind once you read this or anything else. If you think about it again, that same thought is going to be ‘performed’ differently in your head.

    We’ve also talked about the problems of representation, and I think I was thinking about that more and more while re-reading the article. On page 6, when Bernstein gives us his account of performances by Sandberg, Stein, Hughes, and Creely. He does it in textual, prose form. But that doesn’t do the ‘performances’ justice on so many levels. .

    I had a question for Professor Frost and the class: can you give examples of how performance studies affects or has changed your decision making, thought process, and/or actions in our daily lives? I’m always interested in the consequences of this ideological contemplation in our behavior patterns while we’re not in class.

  3.   coreyfrost

    Andrei: if you think about the same thought again, is it really the same thought? Interesting question (I think), because it has a linguistic analogy: if we say the same word twice, we generally still consider it the same word, even though the context, nuance, even the sound may be different, and that’s because the word has some sort of structural value within language. What gives it identity and meaning, in other words, is not the utterance of the sound but its position within a complex structure of other meanings. You say potayto, I say potahto, but we recognize that these two slightly different sounds are close enough to represent a single meaning within the structure. We know they both mean a spud because they are not tomato, or yam, or gastroenteritis. On the other hand, in what sense can two thoughts, entertained in your mind at different times, really be the same? Perhaps only in the sense that we apply the same words to them. Think of a kangaroo. Now think of a pumpkin patch. Now think of a kangaroo again. Was the first kangaroo the same as the second one?

    Anyway, I’m obviously rambling a bit here, but your observation is an interesting take on the plural form of linguistic expression. Basically, I think that yes, our thought processes are plural, and that this may be the best and simplest reason to think of words, poems, or any sort of linguistic expression as fundamentally plural.

    Your final question is a good one, too. I think that studying performance can affect our daily lives, though I don’t think there has to be any such “real-life” effect to make studying it worthwhile. In broad terms, I think that a lot of the things that are mysterious, inexplicable, unjust, aggravating, intractable, and problematic about human behaviour can be explained in terms of performance. And I think one of the main purposes of intellectual development — in a university or anywhere — is to better understand those behaviours so that you are less prone to them yourself. On the other hand, many of the marvelous, inspiring, altruistic, and truly creative aspects of human behaviour can also be said to be rooted in performance, and it is just as important to understand them so that they can be celebrated and augmented. Consider for a moment one example which is on my mind today: the saga of John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, who died today. That Elizabeth had cancer was not a performance, obviously, but the way she chose to present it to the world was, and the way she performed having cancer was what made her so admirable to many people. On the other hand, John Edwards’ public performance as a supportive husband was ultimately what made him seem so detestable once people became convinced there was no truth to it.

    Just throwing that out there — I’d love to hear other people’s responses to Andrei’s question, or other quotes from Bernstein that you’d like to highlight.

  4.   jaygwelsh

    While re-reading Bernstein’s piece, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the text and what we learned this semester. Two things, in particular, stood out to me. One, there was the idea of rhythm, or lack thereof, in contemporary poetry. Bernstein discusses how, while poetry on paper needs a specified and consistent meter in order for the poem to be musical, that is not so much the case for oral performances. When the poem is performed, there is more of a free range of motion in that the performer can adopt whatever voice they see fit (12-15). This fits into what we discussed some weeks before on the significance of sound poetry. While some may question the aesthetics of sound poetry and its audio dadaism, the fact of the matter is that sound poetry was revolutionary for its time. It fought ferociously against the long-held notion that poetry must follow a consistent, heartbeat rhythm of iambic pentameter, a meter that has persisted in English literature since before Shakespeare’s time. While sound poetry may seem abstract, its goals were indeed concrete and clearly in line with its parent movements of Dadaism, Vorticism, Symbolism, Imagism, etc – primarily, to wake up literature from its centuries-long stupor of staid rhythms.

    As well, I noticed Bernstein discusses the concept of originality in performance poetry; contrary to what many people may believe, Bernstein insists that every interpretation, every performance of a poem is indeed original (10). I remember reading this at the beginning of the semester and largely-agreeing with it (if I can recall). However, it wasn’t until the other week when we were discussing the implications of performance technology that I felt I finally had my proof on the matter. The idea of people recording and remixing original pieces (whether they be audio or video) is new to us, but we have already built it into our lives and accepted it. The vast majority of today’s music is built on the backs of yesterday’s sound, whether or not the artists of the past are credited. However, we still claim our music as our music, in spite of the obvious abundance of inspirations found. I seem to recall mentioning this before, but I found this idea of appropriating past culture as our own as being necessary. Not only are we allowed to craft our own identity, but the cultural timeline becomes a steady, flowing thing. We can find our roots in Wordsworth just as much as he could find his roots in Shakespeare just as much as Shakespeare found his in Ovid and so on and so forth.

    In general, I found the class to be rather helpful. One of the main reasons why I picked this class was due not only to my interest in slam poetry, but speaking in general. I wanted to understand the science behind talking. As someone who spent a decade overcoming a speech impediment, I have always viewed this as a subject that I wanted to conquer. That said, I won’t claim to have become a buddha of orality now (if the French literary philosophers of yore couldn’t figure it out, I doubt I would either); I have, however, come to appreciate the importance of sound more. And I feel that appreciation is more important than any understanding.

    James Welsh

  5.   srogers101

    “To put it another way, let’s just take a little phrase on the piano, it sounds one way if you’ve just heard a big drum and another way if you’ve heard a gourd and another way if you’ve heard the phrase on another instrument and another way again if you’ve just heard nothing at all-there are all kinds of ways you can hear the same sound.”

    “…in other words there’s the idea that multiplicity and the possibility of failure and perception of the taking of decisions are only for the performer, what you give the audience is a single thing.”

    “Well, as you probably know the exchange of gifts is quite a big thing in Japan and part of it is that the gift has to be wrapped up the right way. People go there and they miss the point. They think the thing the Japanese are really worried about is wrapping it up to look right it doesn’t matter if what’s inside is a piece of shit. I thought: That’s what I’m supposed to do, they’ve already bought the wrapping paper and now I’m expected to give them a piece of shit that will fit the paper, I’m supposed to be a true professional and feel good about it because I gave them something that would fit the paper. I thought: There’s no point in talking about this.” – Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai

    She’s smarter than me and I’ve been growing weary of my writerly voice. This book has nothing to do with Tom Cruise but I think it may have something to do with this class.

  6.   Sean Nicholson

    Before doing the final reading for the class I reprinted the Bernstein article to make sure that my previous highlightings would not affect my second reading. After I was done I took out the original and realized that I had highlighted some of the exact same lines as I did in my first reading. In fact, the quote that I used in my first posting for this class (“Unsounded poetry remains inert marks on a page, waiting to be called into use by saying, or hearing, the words aloud.” (pg.7)), still stood out to me on my second reading. This is not to say that I don’t have a better understanding of Bernstein’s ideas. I definitely feel like I grasp the article much better, whereas the first time I struggled through the reading, swinging from piece to piece that I understood, now I have the background knowledge on the subject to approach the article from a perspective of knowledge.
    Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this class and the discussions that we’ve been able to have. In all the other classes that I have taken at Queens College this is the first one where I feel like there has been open conversation and genuine dialogue without the professor needing to provide alcoholic beverages to get us going (not that I’m complaining about teachers bringing booze to class). So for the discussions, thank you all.

  7.   Najila

    I was going to actually write down the same quote Nick did. Another part was in the same paragraph but lower, “…there is often no one original written version of a poem” as well when Bernstein discusses how not all performances of a poem have equal authority. These parts stuck out for me perhaps because of all the youtube videos I’ve watched this semester (most none-class related). There were several performances/recitation of poems that I couldn’t find the poem “lyrcs” online. If I wanted it, I had to write down myself, and in order to do that, I would have to listen to the piece over and over again, piece by piece to make sure I captured it fully. And the more I listened to the pieces, I would notice different things each time. Sometimes the passion in the author’s voice is not evident and sometimes it’s palpable. It’s different reading it and listening to it – and then something altogether different reciting it yourself to someone else. You can’t put the same passion and feelings into your voice that the author has in theirs and even if you try, I feel that it somehow demeans the works. I used to think that words were universal and beautiful in the way that they could be shared and felt by more than just one person or group. But now I feel that words are very personal and they can be felt but you can’t truly share them.

  8.   mmullin1

    To be perfectly honest, at the beginning of this class, I read this Bernstein article and struggled with it because I thought that it was a repetative article with a vocabulary that I did’t quite understand. I feel like I used to think of musical performance everytime I heard the word performance- also why I read the article initially. Now after being exposed to different types of performances throughout class, reading the article was a lot easier. The whole idea of close listening is totally relevant in performance poetry today. When hearing a performance, I feel like personally, I understand the text a little better. Maybe that’s just me but I like to feel the emotions in a song or a poem, reading a text does no justice.

    “At the same time, the performative dimension of poetry has significant relation to text based and conceptual art, as well as visual poetry, which extend the performative dimension of the literary text into visual space.”

    I liked this quote from the article because the performance does have a relation to the text because the text is where the performance derives from. Taking a text and performing it enhances the “visual reading” of any text because the emotion is not up to you when listening as in reading. I have never heard a performance of a T.S. Eliot poem before Jeremy performed one, and I had no idea whay to expect because reading Eliot was so challenging to me. A text performed forms an immediate connection with the audience, which I think is the best way conceptualize the work of art for that audience.

  9.   sarahcoluccio

    In rereading Bernstein’s essay, I found that much more of it made sense to me than at the beginning of the semester. In September I mostly skimmed through it, and here and there a sentence or an idea jumped out at me, but most of the time was spent scratching my head. Now, however, I have such a greater appreciation for texts. Not just written, or spoken, or anything specific. Just text in general. The idea of a text, any piece of literature, needing to be written down in order for it to be understood seems so primitive to me now. Anything we create we with words, whether written, memorized, or performed on the spot, has a value as a piece of “writing.” In particular, the way I look at poetry has changed so drastically after taking this course. One quote which stood out to me in my first reading as seeming like nonsense, and which I completely disagreed with, was “To be heard, poetry needs to be sounded – whether in a process of active, or interactive, reading of a work or by the poet in performance,” (pg 7). The idea of poetry having to be heard in order to be understood or appreciated at first made no sense to me. I understood poetry perfectly well reading it to myself in silence. But now, however, I realize that even then, I’m “sounding” poetry, albeit it in my head rather than at loud sometimes. In addition, sometimes a poem really does need to be said out loud, even quietly, just to get the full force of what the poet was trying to say. Something I’ve come to realize throughout the course of this class is that sometimes, we don’t even realize when we start sounding something – it comes naturally to us.

    I think I’m starting to ramble, but what I’m really trying to say is that this course has given so much more of an appreciation of performance and sound, and made me look at not only my thought process when it comes to my own work, but also the way in which I view the work of others, not only depending on their medium of choice but the way in which they choose to share it with the world.

  10.   dsykes

    While rereading the Bernstein piece, I was drawn towards analysis of the same quote: “Poetry reading provides unscripted elements for the performer, it also provides social possibilities for the listener, from direct response to the work, ranging from laughter to derision; to the pleasure of getting lost in language… (Bernstein, 7.)
    Although I was drawn towards the same quote my analysis of the quote was opened up to a larger scope. My first reading of the text focusing upon the relationship between the performer and the audience. I thought of spoken performance as a medium for communication. After memorizing and performing a text, I have realized that the unscripted elements are not necessarily communicated, although aspects of communication have great significance. The act of performing has profound affect upon the internal world of the reader and listener in relation to the text is very subjective ways. The act of performing text or of translating speech into a dreamt up realm provides both an outlet for introspection and grounds for self-actualization. It also breathes a potentiality for emotive life within the text and transforms it into multifarious perspectives.

  11.   gfl11131988

    Queens College
    Professor Corey Frost
    ENGL 781
    Response # 12
    George Festin Lorenzo
    12/9/2010

    As a final reading to this class, Charles Bernstein’s Introduction was reread, to see if there are any differences between reading it in the beginning of the semester, and reading it now, the end of the semester. Honestly, I cannot really say there was a difference in reading it now, and in reading it towards the end of the semester but one aspect I could assuredly say, is that it is still a useful text and in fact, I had input it in my final paper recently. Without even knowing we were going to reread it, I felt it was already worth inputting and relating it to the Beatles.
    I would like to comment on what Sarah said in her response, being that she said, “The idea of a text, any piece of literature, needing to be written down in order for it to be understood seems so primitive to me now. Anything we create we with words, whether written, memorized, or performed on the spot, has a value as a piece of “writing.””. I could not agree more, honest to God. To believe that text must be written down and have words on a piece of paper to make it a legitimate text seems like an argument a grade school student would make. However, now that this class has opened my eyes, as well as the eyes of my classmates, to such atypical ideas, I am much more lenient on what is text, and what is not text.
    Bernstein writes, “To be heard, poetry needs to be sounded—whether in a process of active, or interactive, reading of a work or by the poet in a performance. Unsounded poetry remains inert marks on a page, waiting to be called into use by saying, or hearing, the words aloud” (7). That comment really grabbed me as I reread this piece and Bernstein really makes a solid point because to read something is to read something. We have an imagination and we all conjure up our own ideas whenever we read something, but to see it performed live and right before us, truly opens up our feelings and is able to put what we were imagining to real life.

  12.   mooneydanielle7

    Rereading this article at the conclusion of the course makes the article much more tangible to me now than it was at the beginning. Every paragraph reminds me of specific things we have watched or discussed. The first thing that stuck out to me was the simple phrase, “the relation of sound to semantics,” and it reminds me of my aversion to sound poetry and that fax-sounding thing we listened to last week.
    “The poetry reading extends the patterning of poetry into another dimension, adding another semantic layer to the poem’s multiformity.” Much of the value of this course, for me, has been in the fact that we stayed away from the print versions of the poems we studied, which forced me to stay away from my traditional practice of an English-teacher-to-be and just sit and listen and watch as opposed to jotting notes or highlighting the poem. It has taught me to take a performance it for what it is and ascribe my own opinions to it in a much more informal non-textbook type of way. “When a poem has an auditory rather than a visual source, our perspective on, or of, the work shifts” (11).
    As a random side note, I wish I would have gone to the poetry slam (so I think you should have made that mandatory so I didn’t have the option of forgetting what night you said it was).
    As Sean N said above, I now want to go back to the first time we read the article and see what I wrote last time and see how my knowledge has expanded. Okay. After looking at my comment from the very beginning of the semester it’s clear that my understanding of the topic has matured. At the beginning I was thinking of performances in a very disjointed way—each one independent of others and only to be analyzed in that way—but now rereading it with a broader knowledge I consider many different things in the spectrum of the field of performance. In my original comment I wrote about caesura and things in written poems. Now I see the connection between performances and texts, historical performances against modern day ones, and all the little intricacies involved. This was an interesting exercise to have us reread because it does show the effectiveness of the course.

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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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