Cover to Cover with Jack Foley

Cover to Cover with Jack Foley – August 12, 2015

JACK @ 75

“You’re a strange couple: you’re so pale and he’s so red.”

—Gloria Alford to Adelle Foley

Jack’s August shows—JACK @ 75—are a special celebration of his 75th birthday (August 9th ). On today’s show Jack joins forces with Nina Serrano to present Nina’s hour-long, in depth interview with him. The first half of the interview will be on Jack’s program, Cover to Cover (3:00-3:30), the second half on Nina’s Open Book (3:30-4). Basing her questions on Jack’s selected poems, EYES—and admitting that there is much in the book she does not understand—Nina probes Jack in a number of ways, encouraging him to reveal many of the underpinnings of his practices—practices which range from easily “accessible” work to the deeply experimental. Nina remarks,

“I’m especially glad to be talking about EYES…Often it totally befuddles me. I read and I wonder, ‘What does he mean?’ And then I heard Juan Felipe Herrera, the new Poet Laureate of the United States, talking about one of his poems. And he said that the thing about the poem is that you write it, and then after you’ve written it, you look at it and try to figure out what it means. And then the reader has to look at it or listen to it and try to figure out what it means. And maybe you get the meaning, and that’s very helpful, but in the mean time, no matter what happens, you’ve spent a little time with a poem, and that is a very good thing.”

Jack answers,

“I think perhaps that one of the problems we have is this: Not always was poetry supposed to mean something. It would make you feel something, it might put you into a transcendental state, but not necessarily did it ‘mean something’ in the sense in which we usually mean that. When [in 1938] Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren published a book called Understanding Poetry, it became clear, especially in academic courses, that poetry was something to “understand.” Poetry was something whose “meaning” you were to fathom rather than something that pushed you into another state of consciousness.”

Nina: “Well, your poetry—its effect on me—has definitely been to push me into another state of consciousness that I call ‘inspire.’ As I read these poems, I invariably start writing poems. Even these poems where I can’t figure out what they mean. Because I’m reading in bed—they might use a word or make a literary reference or refer to a writer that I don’t know—I don’t jump up to go to a dictionary to look it up, I just keep reading on, so I still don’t know exactly what it means and yet, boom, I write a poem. Sometimes I’ve written maybe as many as three or four.”

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Jack reads the conclusion of his poem, “Gershwin”—“an attempt to ‘be’ Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’”:

Gershwin,

dead, woke after the funeral, his mind clear, his eyes open. This, he thought is what it’s like to be dead. It was not too bad. There was a dead piano near him. He walked over to it, began to play. Minor sixth. Seventh. The chord structure pleased him. He puffed on a dead cigar and looked around himself at the infinitely widening dead expanses of the world. He listened carefully. [chord: E major] Who among the dead could write words?

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