Tim Clifford will give a marathon reading of Charles Reznikoff’s long poem "Testimony: The United States, 1895-1915, A Recitative" beginning on January 2, 2016 and running continuously through January 3rd.

Testimony is a litany of the daily brutality of American life and an alternate history of the United States drawn from Reznikoff's research of court cases from the years 1895-1915 across the United States: domestic violence, quarrels between neighbors, racial violence, industrial accidents, animal cruelty, petty squabbles, shootings, stabbings and beatings inspired by greed, envy, hatred, jealousy and accident—are related in plain American English.

Of Reznikoff's epic, the poet Charles Bernstein wrote that “perhaps the most important precedent for 'Testimony' is Whitman's 'Song of Myself': Reznikoff's work is the antipode: in place of Whitman's bursts of celebration, Reznikoff's 'Testimony' is a prolonged elegy; an unflinching acknowledgement of unredeemable and inexcusable loss.”

One of the underappreciated masterpieces of American modernist poetry, Reznikoff began work on Testimony in the early 1930s, and in 1934 it was one of the first volumes published by the Objectivist Press, which he founded with Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen. In 1965, Black Sparrow Press, published the first volume of the expanded poem. Reznikoff (August 31, 1894 – January 22, 1976) would not live to see the publication of its final volume in 1978. A newly edited version of the poem in one volume was published in 2015 by Black Sparrow Press, making the work available to a wide public for the first time in 40 years.

Testimony's unfiltered gaze, which has informed Clifford’s work for twenty years is perhaps best known to art audiences as the braille text on the walls of Ann Hamilton’s installation "Myein" in American Pavilion at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Reznikoff’s work is also one of the central inspirations for Clifford’s current exhibition "Threat Assessment," which investigates our relationship to fear and violence through the vernacular objects of our time.

Of the marathon reading, Clifford says, “My purpose is not to emphasize the length of the poem or to present it as an act of endurance, but rather to offer the poem an act of commitment, a tribute to an unaverted gaze, unafraid to look at American history without nostalgia. It is not a comment that ‘things have always been this bad,” but that ‘things are as they always have been.’”


AuthorTim Clifford