The Grand Piano  is an experiment in collective autobiography written collaboratively by ten poets associated with the rise of Language Poetry in the San Francisco Bay Area. The work was published in ten volumes from 2006 to 2011.

 The dialogues presented here were composed for Grand Piano performances in the SF Bay Area. Kit Robinson chose a passage from one of his Grand Piano sections, and I responded to it with a passage from one of my own sections. The dialogue with Lyn Hejinian proceeded in the same manner, except that in this case I began it.

T O M    M A N D E L     G R A N D   P I A N O    D I A L O G U E S

A N N E X    P R E S S    2 0 1 5

with Kit Robinson

KIT: According to Victor Shklovsky, in order to write about love one must write about everything not about love.

TOM: Desire is that – whatever – wanting to be satisfied. There is no desire without objectification. I see the pigeon on the city street court a crack in the sidewalk.

KIT: As one story leads to the next, plots & subplots hinging & depending from one another in an elaboration of imaginary relationships, events cascade across time until suddenly the man’s hand jerks forward & knocks over a glass of wine, staining the white tablecloth.

TOM: You were reading Shklovsky, I was reading Bataille.

KIT: Did you think money grew on trees?

TOM: I think history is a series of repetitions, each of which we nonetheless greet with surprise, convinced somehow, in the face of the same thing over & over, that something new has happened.

KIT: Benjamin wrote of the Jewish tradition that each moment may signify the arrival of the Messiah, so that history is shot through with chips of messianic time.

TOM: We cannot shed the light that falls on us.

KIT: I think back a quarter century, Tom, when a quarter was worth something, well, not really, when the century was twentieth, & upside down just looked like right side up to us.

TOM: Literature is a great sailing ship. We writers imagine that we man her sails; we are the wind that fills them. But we are the waves she cuts across, no more.

KIT: & who, just exactly, is speaking?

TOM: Facts are fractal. There can be no such “movement” as LANGUAGE POETRY.


with  Lyn Hejinian

TOM: It’s possible to have a lot of confidence, even to be effective in the world, without much sense of purpose.

LYN: Those are the things we can work with, seeing them as precisely that—what one has to work with.

TOM: Political thought interrupts other thinking.

LYN: Imagination is turned to the present; it is the present moment that wants expanding.

TOM: The walls of Fred Hampton’s apartment were marked by hundreds of bullet holes. We walked on boards that lay across puddles of blood.

LYN: the stiff geometric youngster of suicide seems to have bartered away something in exchange for the beauty of heroism.

TOM: Each of us knows the answer in advance; to think is to be an ideologist.

LYN: One imagines one has somehow been misled, taken, or gotten lost.

TOM: Taxonomy is simple, transparent; it only shows itself to reward your attention.

LYN: The epic is monumental; the saga is long, a testimony to powerlessness.

TOM: The older I get, I need to lean in close to read the writing on the wall.

LYN: A gust is already blowing aside the curtain over the bed.

TOM: This is how I understand the phrase “the person who makes,” who arises in the identification, as a source of attraction, an occasion for desire, someone to love.

LYN: The characters include “Vice President Boynton, who kicks chairs when he gets mad & “hopes to do a swan dive into your conscience.”

TOM: Famously, after a symphonic work ends, the hall reverberates with silence. Then there is applause.

LYN: & then she told her mother, “Mother, take him home & make him rest.”