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Marilyn Hacker and Alfred Corn reading and in conversation with Jennifer K. Dick

Review by Kate Noakes for Paris Lit Up

The American University in Paris played host to a detailed and instructive conversation in poetry on 1 March with two of its greats – Marilyn Hacker and Alfred Corn. Such is their measure that people came from London just for the event.  Jennifer K. Dick steered the proceedings, posing questions about dialogues with writers past and present; on place in poetry; and what it means to take risks in writing. But before the answers to some of those, the work.

Marilyn Hacker read mainly from her most recent collection, Names, (Norton 2010). Especially good to hear were her ghazal (a form she particularly enjoys) The Beloved, her epistolary poem Letter to Alfred Corn, and a Renga From Diaspo, which amongst other things is political in its concern. She also read a glose, which is a Spanish form using four lines from another poet, that starts in the fruit stalls of Belleville.

Nuggets of poetic wisdom which came from the discussion topics, and on which one might meditate for a while, included the genesis of poems: both agreed that first lines come from the gods, but may not survive in the final poem, or might migrate to a better position.

Marilyn Hacker and Alfred Corn

Marilyn Hacker and Alfred Corn

Corn’s advice is to resist fleeting fashions in poetry in order to secure a more long-lived readership. He resisted the current notions that writing from one’s life should be damned as confessional, and that writing nature or from sincere feeling are sentimental. Those may be out of style according to the poetry police, but he chooses not to care. This is risk taking in a way that language poetry no longer is.

Hacker’s risk taking came in a more political form: she spoke of poets currently on trial and imprisoned for what they said or are perceived to have said in verse; perhaps she had al-Ajami in mind. For her, being edgy is the way of making a poem, its game.
Best quote from Alfred Corn: ‘literature comes out of other literature… reading creates writing’. Sound words. Best line from Marilyn Hacker ‘the now distant friend translates silence that is not poetry’. Quite so.

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