[Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) - Photo by Gerard Malanga]
AG: "Sunday Walks in the Suburbs" [by Charles Reznikoff] - "(2) - Scared dogs looking backwards with patient eyes - /at windows stooping old women, wrapped in shawls./ old men, wrinkled as knuckles, on the stoops" - (Okay, so if he's going to get poetic, he's going to get very realistically poetic - "wrinkled as knuckles". If he's going to make a simile, it's going to be a really totally close-to-the-bone simile - "wrinkled as knuckles")
Student: If you.. If you read the book, you can just look at your knuckles and then see what (he's on about)..
AG: Hmm. A voice from over there? Yeah? - "A bitch, backbone and ribs.." - (It's called "Sunday Walks in the Suburbs", remember) - "A bitch, backbone and ribs showing in the sinuous back/ sniffed for food, her swollen udder nearly rubbing along the pavement." - (That's like that little kitten slinking behind the ashcans ["Kitten, pressed into a rude shape by cart wheels/ an end to your slinking away and trying to hide behind/ash-cans"], trying to hide. The bitch, "her swollen udder nearly rubbing along the pavement." - Have you ever seen that? Anybody? A dog with teats so long, (a) recently-pregnant (and still-nursing probably?), trying to make it with teats so long and "her swollen udder nearly rubbing along the pavement." I've seen that, actually - in India (in fact), and elsewhere.
Student: No, Mas-teat - Mas-tect..
AG: Mastectomy, yeah
Student: There's a disease..Mastitis..
AG: Mastitis, right…
So, the next picture:
"Once a toothless woman opened her door,/chewing a slice of bacon that hung from her mouth like a tongue..."
*[Allen continues (reading from the poems of Charles Reznikoff)]
(5) "Between factories the grease coils along the river/Tugs drag their guts of smoke, like beetles stepped on" - ("(L)ike beetles stepped on" - just an old Jewish guy talking - "like beetles stepped on") -
Page 44 - (12) "The noise in the subway will sound no louder than the winf in trees/you too will be used to it. After a while you will forget to care/whether you ride in subways or on horses"
(17) - Page 44 - "After dinner, Sunday afternoon, we boys would walk slowly/to the lots between the streets and the marshes" - (That's really American - city edges of the (19)20's and (19)30) - "After dinner, Sunday afternoon, we boys would walk slowly/to the lots between the streets and the marshes/ and seated under the pale blue sky would watch the ball game -/ in a noisy, joyous crowd, lemonade men out in the fringe/tinkling their bells beside their yellow carts./ As we walked back, the city stretched its rows of houses/ across the lots - / light after light, as the lamplighter went his way and women lit the gas/in kitchens to make supper." - (So, like a little sketch of Sunday afternoon, but very accurate -"lemonade men out in the fringe/tinkling their bells beside their yellow carts". It's all gone now but it's preserved here very clearly)
Page 45 - "He showed me the album.." [Allen turns to Fernanda Pivano, sitting in on the class - Nanda, I don't know if you know this one. This is the beginning of a little short story in a ten-line poem - very European, actually, in style] - (19) - "He showed me the album. "But this?" I asked, surprised at such/beauty./I knew his sister, her face somewhat the picture's - coarsened./"My mother before her marriage."/Coming in, I had met/her shrivelled face and round shoulders./Now, after the day's work, his father at cards with friends/still outshouted the shop's wheels./ Afterwards, when I left, I had to go through their candy store/with its own showcase of candy/in little heaps in little saucers, ever so many for a penny./They kept no lights in the window. A single gas jet flared in the/empty store." - [That's sort of like a sketch, (a) still-life painting, (it) doesn't have the punch, quite, of the others, except "Coming in, I had met/her shrivelled face and round shoulders" after seeing the picture of her mother.
From here on out there are fantastic poems - half-page, one page, little ones, long ones - that I want to get back to, maybe next (time). It's like building novels out of these details, narrative poems built out of these imagistic details. So, in other words, (the) Imagism isn't just you make a funny little haiku with one thing - "sitting on the front porch/watching the flies eating ice-cream/buddhist picture over my shoulder" - it's not just a little static picture, it's actually a whole novel, a whole life-time that can be done in this style. So you don't get the mistaken impression that Imagism means a red wheelbarrow that you've got to stare at forever. There's whole life-times that turn over.
[(Some of the) Audio for the above can be heard here from approximately fifty-six-and three-quarter minutes in*, through to approximately sixty-and-three-quarter minutes in]