Full program: Orlando White and Patrick James Dunagan: April 27, 2017
Video clips: Patrick James Dunagan | Orlando White
Orlando White receives the Poetry Center Book Award for LETTERRS (Nightboat Books) and reads with award judge Patrick James Dunagan.
'San Francisco poet Robert Duncan remarked: “There is no end to the task of bringing the sounds into our conscious art.” (“Notes on the Structure of Rime”) As a critical reader I am always looking out for those poets whose work answers Duncan’s oracular call for unabashed attention to how the language of the poem is presented so as to be thereby sounded; a poet who sets the poems upon the page as though the realization of a musical score, readied for the eye to hear as the ear sees. Over in Arizona, native born Diné (Navajo) poet Orlando White churns out just such work, attuned to “a lilt of sound: curve murmurs” (“EMIT”). White’s LETTERRS presents forward-learning contemplative action towards what constitutes an avant-garde poetics of today: a bracing engagement of/with advancing a spatial “open space,” page-as-field, poem-writing. White describes how “The white space is just as important as the text in a poem, whether it’s the counter that shapes an O or S, a line break after a word or a caesura within a line.” (“Functional White: Crafting Space & Silence”) His use of caesura and spacing within the individual line of the poem designates breath, measure, and the fragility of even individual letters. While with a quick glance through LETTERRS “the blank” white space of the page may be deemed deceptively sparse in appearance, upon sustained reading White’s employment of the practice proves to be truly nothing less than masterfully accomplished.
'White sees “white space as a place of liberation, dissolving boundaries between what is authoritative and what is not.” (LETTERRS interview, Taos Journal) In this same conversation, he also speaks of “the page” as a “type of energy,” stating that “as an Indigenous person too, I see it as a type of resistance against English colonialism.” Without necessarily overt expression of a political stance, White nevertheless remains committed against colonialist tendencies latent in his experience using English as a poet. “One can argue language is always connected to race and vice versa; this may be why my poems ultimately reflect an intersection of Diné thought and English fluency. But I find my sensibilities are attuned to how a poet builds her or his poems rather than focusing on content, which may overwhelm a poem.” (“To Find the Subject by Leaving the Subject: Expectations of Race & Content”) For my own needs, LETTERRS reignites the exciting potentiality for working with the open space of the page, ever aware of the specific attentive care that’s required. White serves up his own colossal ambitions and tops them with admirable verve. I’m thrilled by the promise of his work and am very much interested in seeing what’s next; the as yet unwritten exploration towards which White is undoubtedly headed. “Write, means to / place life / into book.” (“n”) It’s nothing other than a pleasure to recognize White’s substantial contribution to the larger ongoing endeavor of Poetics which is achieved here. May many future readers realize in this work the necessary life-sustaining freshness which the Imagination requires to carry the work of “the poems” forward: “Letter hypnotizes to stay / alive after meaning fades.” (“O”)-
—judge's statement, Patrick James Dunagan
Poet Orlando White is from Tółikan, Arizona. He is Diné of the Naaneesht’ézhi Tábaahí and born for the Naakai Diné’e. White earned a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Brown University. He is the author of LETTERRS (Nightboat Books, 2015) and Bone Light (Red Hen Press, 2009), a collection of poems Kazim Ali described as a “careful excavation on language and letters and the physical body.” White’s work has appeared in such journals as Ploughshares, the Kenyon Review, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. The recipient of a residency from the Lannan Foundation, White teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at Gleeson Library for the University of San Francisco. He is a graduate of the Poetics program from the now-defunct New College of California, where he studied under Tom Clark, Adam Cornford, Gloria Frym, Joanne Kyger, George Mattingly, and David Meltzer. Alongside poets Marina Lazzara and Nicholas Whittington, he’s currently at work editing together an anthology of critical writings by Poetics program alumni and faculty. His critical reviews and other writings have appeared in a number of online and print publications. His books include: GUSTONBOOK (Post Apollo, 2011), Das Gedichtete (Ugly Duckling, 2013), Book of Kings (Bird and Beckett Books, 2015), Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016), and THE DUNCAN ERA: One Reader’s Cosmology (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016).