March 8, 2014

A Celebration of the Life & Work of Pierre Joris, March 5

It was, according to Donald Faulkner, “all Pierre Joris, all afternoon & evening.” I was there for all 3 sessions, to celebrate my friend & a great friend to the poets of Albany (& the world). Pierre arrived in Albany in 1992 & taught at the University at Albany until 2013. A self-professed “nomad,” currently living in Brooklyn, he lived in Albany longer than anywhere else; his son Miles was born here. I don’t make any claims to objectivity in these Blog posts, but as they say in the media, “full disclosure” -- Pierre & his wife & collaborator Nicole Peyrafitte are friends & have stayed at my house when they needed over-night accommodations in Albany. My photos were on the cover of her 2009 CD with Mike Bisio, Whisk! Don’t Churn!

The Panel

Robert Kelly, Peter Cocelbergh
The first event was a panel discussion on the works of Pierre Joris, moderated by Donald Faulkner, Director of the New York State Writers Institute. First up was Peter Cockelbergh, a young Belgian scholar, poet & translator. Bouncing off Joris’ 1993 selected writings of Kurt Schwitters (co-edited with Jerome Rothenberg) pppppp, he described the many Pierres: nomad, poet (with an exegesis on “A Poem in Noon”), translator, editor, essayist & anthologist. He also spoke of Joris’ “poetics of community” in connection with the Poems for the Millennium anthologies, but for me Pierre’s "poetics of community” was about how from his earliest days in Albany he was a part of the larger poetry community, coming “down off the hill” to read & inviting community poets to the marvelous parties (or salons) that he & Nicole hosted.

Robert Kelly began discussing Joris’ talking style, or “parlando” as Kelly put it. He made the point that “the nomad is at home everywhere, the exile at home nowhere.” He spoke, as had Cockelbergh, about Joris’ generosity, then read a poem he wrote for him, “A Stream of Luxembourg.”

Don Byrd

Don Byrd spoke about being instrumental in hiring Joris, & about their friendship over the subsequent years, then read a piece mixing the personal, the poetic & the scholarly, “Pierre & I Sipping Bourbon in Albany Talking About the End of the World.” Byrd has also retired from teaching &, interestingly, is in the process of moving to Brooklyn.

Belle Gironda, Donald Faulker
The last speaker was Belle Gironda, a former student of Joris’ here at the University at Albany, & one who had been involved in reading in the larger poetry community when a student here. She currently lives in Asheville, NC. She described the pleasure of studying with Joris, then read a scholarly piece on Joris’s “From the Summer 1995 Notebooks” (A Nomad Poetic: Essays, Wesleyan University Press, 2003), a mix of notes on Heidegger, dreams, & poems.

I found it interesting that the younger academics both presented scholarly exegeses on the conceptual aspects of Joris’ work, while “the Elders” talked more pointedly to the personal & poetic.

The Conversation

After a pleasant break filled with greetings, hugs, kisses & lemon infused water, Tomás Urayoán Noel, another professor with one foot in the street community of poets, sat down with Pierre Joris to talk about his life & work. The conversation began about being a nomad, & about the diaspora of poetic voices, about Joris discovering Howl, Naked Lunch, & On the Road in Europe then choosing to write in “American” (over German or French) & come to the USA. Robert Duncan’s concept of “the multi-verse” (as opposed to the the “universe”) was central, with Joris stating “Language itself is a translation” of our experiences into words, & “A poem is all the translating it can give rise to.”
Tomas Urayoan Noel, Pierre Joris

Regarding performance/readings, Joris’ told a story of reading his poetry for the first time in Shakespeare & Co., the famed bookstore in Paris,  & being put down by the Beat poet Ted Joans, then being defended by James Baldwin.

Joris explained that while he often collaborates with others, notably with Nicole Peyrafitte, in the performances of his poetry, but doesn’t work with others when writing, he writes his poems alone. He observed that the new poetic technique of the 20th Century is the collage. The conversation continued about his translations of Celan, his own poetry (particularly the daily practice documented in “Canto Diurno”), & his views on teaching poetry, for which I refer you to the last lines of the article that appeared in the Albany Times-Union.

The Reading

Pierre Joris, Nicole Peyrafitte
Later in the evening we gathered again in the Standish Room in the Science Library, where we had been all afternoon, for a reading by Pierre Joris from poetry books published while he was living in Albany from 1992 to 2013, beginning with Winnetou Old (Meow Press, 1994), then on to selections from h.j.r. (Other Wind Press, 1999) in a multi-voice/multi-lingual performance with Nicole Peyrafitte, who throughout the reading was coordinating the projection of images of her painting & illustrations, many of which appear as covers of Joris’ books. Selections from the 1999 Backwoods broadside Out/Takes included some of the whimsical “typos of the day.”

Pierre Joris, Chris Funkhouser, 1993
He read from the 2003 Permanent Diaspora, the procedural piece “The Rothenberg Variations” written for Jerome Rothenberg’s 70th birthday, & selections from Meditations on the Stations of Mansour Al-Hallaj, sections 1 to 21 first published in 2007 by Anchorite Press of Albany, NY. On the screen there appeared a couple images of the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park, as Joris read “Poetry is Definition, for Tom Nattell” from the forthcoming Barzakh (Black Widow Press).

As a finale he read a piece composed last year for the BP oil spill, a ship-wreck (or “rig-wreck”) poem for choir, a bit of eco-poetry.

All day in one room with nomadic poetry that took us far from Albany, & back again. I look forward to more in the future, more poems, words, images, performance from both Pierre Joris & Nicole Peyrafitte.

You can find more photos from this celebration on my Flickr! site.

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