Events & Programs

Poetry at the Pulitzer: Water
December 6, 2007 7:00 p.m.

On December 6th at 7:30pm the Pulitzer and the Poetry Foundation in Chicago will present an evening of poetry and discussion, in relation to the Water exhibition. Poetry can be as illuminating and deceptive as water. Its heightened language can dissolve idea and emotions, creating a funhouse mirror that both reflects and exaggerates our psyches, our cultural milieu, and our use of language. Noted art critic and poet John Yau will moderate a panel of some of the most innovative poets writing today, including Andrew Joron, Cole Swensen, and Arthur Sze. They will relate specific poems to the art works and themes in the current exhibition.

The Pulitzer and Poetry Foundation are involved in an ongoing collaboration, presenting discussions on the art of poetry within the context of the exhibitions on view. Read about our previous collaboration here. The Poetry Foundation will be posting responses from the participating writers on their website. Click here to read the first article, written by Raphael Rubinstein.

About the Writers
Andrew Joron was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1955 and grew up in Stuttgart Germany; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Missoula, Montana. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in history and philosophy of science. After a decade and a half spent writing science-fiction poetry, culminating in his volume Science Fiction (Pantograph Press, 1992), he turned to a more philosophical mode of speculative lyric. This work has been collected in The Removes (Hard Press, 1999) and in Fathom (Black Square Editions, 2003). His most recent book is The Cry at Zero: Selected Prose, which brings together a selection of his prose poems and critical essays. Joron is also the translator, from the German, of the Marxist-Utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch’s Literary Essays (Stanford University Press, 1998). A new collection of Joron’s poetry, The Sound Mirror, is forthcoming from Flood Editions in 2008. Andrew Joron lives in Berkeley, where he works as a freelance indexer.

Statement by Andrew Joron about his discussion:

The title of my talk is “The Bifurcation of Liquid Bridges.” I will focus on the transformational qualities of water––which, I will argue, exceed those of fire, and which make it the quintessential poetic substance. “A single drop of water is a seething melee of order and disorder, with structures constantly forming and breaking up within it” (New Scientist, April 2006). Thus, water may serve as a model for the multivalent and multidirectional way that meaning circulates within a poem.

Indeed, scientists as well as poets now speculate that the origin of language itself was an “innovation” that “would have depended on the phenomenon of emergence, whereby a chance combination of preexisting elements results in something totally unexpected. The classic example of an emergent quality is water, most of whose remarkable characteristics are entirely unpredicted by those of its constituents, hydrogen and oxygen. Nonetheless, the combination of these ingredients gives rise to something entirely new, and expected only in hindsight.” Thus, “we have to conclude that the appearance of language was not driven by natural selection” (Scientific American, December 2001) –– instead, like water, language also is an emergent phenomenon, spontaneously springing forth as a pure enigma, an overflowing of reality, a surreality.
Arthur Sze is the author of eight books of poetry, including Quipu (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998, and The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese. His poems have appeared internationally in such journals and anthologies as The American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Carnet de Route (Paris), Chicago Review, Conjunctions, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, Pushcart Prize, and Raster (Amsterdam). His poems have been translated into Albanian, Bosnian, Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Romanian, and Turkish. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Lannan Literary Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an American Book Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowships, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, and a Western States Book Award. He is a corresponding editor for the literary journal, Manoa, is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and is the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Statement by Arthur Sze about his discussion:

I’ve enjoyed the various artists’ statements about water, and I propose talking about water in ancient philosophies: from the trigram of water in the I Ching to Heraclitus and possibly Thales. I might want to bring in a quote of Dogen Kigen’s from Japan, and I also want to respond to Roni Horn’s wonderful statement. Anyhow, as I write out some remarks that incorporate the sources mentioned above, I’d like to end by reading an extended poem influenced by the I Ching’s use of water.
Cole Swenson is the author of eleven volumes of poetry; the most recent is The Glass Age (Alice James 2007). Her earlier book Goest was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award and other volumes have won the Iowa Poetry Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, Sun and Moon’s New American Writing Award, and the National Poetry Series. Another book, Ours, is due out from the University of California Press in 2008. A 2006 Guggenheim Fellow, she has also received grants from the Creative Capital Foundation, the Shifting Foundation, and others, and has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes. She’s also a translator of contemporary French poetry, prose, and art criticism; her translation of Jean Fremon’s The Island of the Dead won the 2004 PEN USA Award for Literary Translation, and she has received translation grants from the Association Beaumarchais and French Centre du Livre. She is the founder and editor of La Presse, a small press dedicated to experimental French poetry translated by English-language poets. She teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Washington D.C. and Iowa City.

Statement by Cole Swenson about her discussion:

Beginning with Cy Twombly's "Hero and Leandro" and his accompanying statement, I'll be doing a piece that blends commentary on the triptych itself, the background myth, water, and whiteness. Any critical writing I've been doing lately has mixed poetic and critical languages, and I'll be taking that same approach here.
John Yau is the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and criticism. His publications include Ing Grish, Borrowed Love Poems, Hawaiian Cowboys, and The Passionate Spectator : Essays on Art and Poetry. In addition to contributing a long essay to In Company: Robert Creeley’s Collaborations, he has written extensively about Jasper Johns, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Joan Mitchell. Since the early 1980s, he has collaborated with American and European artists such as Norman Bluhm, Max Gimblett, Leiko Ikemura, Suzanne McClelland, Thomas Nozkowski, Ed Paschke, Jurgen Partenheimer, Archie Rand, Pat Steir, and Robert Therrien. A recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry (2006-2007), three fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts, and a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, and being named a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by France, he is an Associate Professor of Critical Studies at the Mason Gross School of the Arts (Rutgers University). He is the Arts Editor of the Brooklyn Rail, a free monthly newspaper, and his reviews and essays on contemporary art can be found at: