Thursday, November 07, 2002
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
Upon a dead stick in the mud
A scarlet geranium wild on a wet bank
A man stepping it out in the near distance
With a dog and a bag
on a spit of shell
On a wire in a mist
a gannet impacting
Explode a dozen diverse dullnesses
Like a burst of accurate fire.
stubborn az a mule, sah, stubborn as a MULE,
got th’ eastern idea about money”
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Labels: Tom Devaney
New York Public Library! Is it Astor,
Lenox and Tilden in composite? Like an ascot
blending with swept-back locks
away from the arch of the half-closed eye!
In the fact of a whole head in its halo of motto,
like a coin, is it the final pursuit of such men
to stock a library with rare books
on a marble avenue, with an exhibit
this go-round of “utopias”, an inevitable
speculation with the bums & the rich
brothers in desultoriness studying
Jefferson’s handwriting in a fair copy
of the Declaration of Independence?
Ice grips the steps of stopped hands.
Violin wood of the reading room,
violet snow in the window.
You said you loved a photocopied book
like a keeper of mysteries, like a visitor
to libraries, under the hieroglyph
of light rays
or the trompe l’oeil skylight
of perpetual sunset (or dawn?)
along the wool blanket with flashes
lighting up the dark. They gathered into
a tooth that nipped when I reached out
of a repetitive dream.
“Come to bed,” I said.
“No, why don’t you sit up with me awhile?
The mountebank insomnia has me.”
You called me to the window to see a man
hail a cab. Had a hand in the writing
of the Russian constitution.
and aren’t I a connoisseur?
Violin wood of the reading room,
violet snow in the window.
Not an accident, but constant accidental.
There are several hundred ways not to understand.
no bets are placed on the stay-at-home team, Pomona Nomads.
3.) Remember, there's little reason to think
there--even if that's where you parked.
meeting the black birds as they come in at night.
was what most Americans considered warfare.
all novice tow truck drivers like to do for you.
to search a dusty field filled with hundreds of towed cars.
The State's equilibrium is located elsewhere.
The songs Bruce Springsteen will not write anymore.
Monday, November 04, 2002
pasture, evening, seemingly
none when we first look, then
one, a dozen, luck turns or they
grow, youd swear, at the turn of a back –
one fact as axiom
to act. Whatever I do
also at times doubt
the beneficence of the inevitable
Earth-bound as one is.
Okay, go ahead, help me in the past again
Labels: David Bromige
Sunday, November 03, 2002
There may be antecedents to the abstract lyric in English before Barbara Guest – I would point to Gertrude Stein, to David Schubert, Edwin Denby or F. T. Prince & of course to the John Ashbery of Tennis Court Oath – but it is in the poetry of Barbara Guest that the form really comes into focus.
By abstract lyric I mean a poem that functions as a lyric, bounded by modest scale and focused on the elements within. Not all short poems are lyrics – the intense social satires & commentaries of Rae Armantrout, for example, are only incidentally lyrical, if that. Lyric in her case is a feint or strategy, but is very seldom what is actually going on within the poem.
Guest’s poems by comparison are as closed as sonnets or as the sequences of short pieces, say, of Clark Coolidge. But where Coolidge’s works revel in the sometimes raucous prosody of his intensely inventive ear, Guest’s return the reader again & again to the word and its integration into a phrase, to a phrase and its integration into a line, to a line and its integration into a stanza or strophe.
At her best, as in the poem “Defensive Rapture,” Guests paints a tonal language that tends toward aural pastels, constructed around points of contrast. Each stanza is exactly one sentence, in that it is bounded by a terminal period. Consider:
grain of equinox
turbulence the domicile
host robed arm white
What organizes this quatrain is how that third line deploys only one-syllable words, three of which end with a consonant of closure. It is precisely the prosodic complexity of the multi-syllabic terms elsewhere that generates the stanza’s “turbulence,” felt precisely because of their contrast with this penultimate line. Guest accentuates the difference with the marvelous crackled, which does in fact characterize exactly this strophe’s “motives.”
“Defensive Rapture” consists of 12 such quatrains, each with its own internal demands and resolution. A lot of where Guest is heading and focuses can be analyzed by counting syllables. Thus
bush the roof
day stare gliding
could be schematized as
The busy-ness of that first line, accentuated visually by its length, is offset by the stillness of the second – not one single-syllable word in the stanza ends on a hard consonant* – which expands in the third line with its two alternate “a” sounds in the first two words, aurally “gliding” into that last term, which returns us to two-syllable words, the last line almost physically demonstrating how strong Guest’s instinct for balance & closure are.
When one looks at the women
writers who are just one age cohort younger than those collected by Mary
Margaret Sloan in Moving Borders (Talisman
House, 998), one sees quickly that
Barbara Guest has become the single most powerful influence on new writing by
women in the U.S. My own instincts in poetry carry me away from, rather than
toward, stillness and I’m often wary of writing that strikes me as so – to
* Indeed, the use of soft & complex consonant combinations – sh, th, f – carries its own elegance here, with the first and last coming at word’s end, with the middle one up front.
Labels: abstract lyric
Saturday, November 02, 2002
“What about all
When I wrote on Wednesday that
refers to Carl Rakosi as an Objectivist, or of Spicer as writer from the
Which is why it is not possible to write language poetry in 2002.
Kent Johnson replied with this question:
Isn't the crucial difference of Langpo – historically specific as its "original moment" was (late 70's-80's?*) – that it set down a kind of critical map its topographers did envision (in those early years of Discovery, so to speak) as a guide by which future poets might set their course? The other formations you mention never created such a determined and forward-looking atlas of theory. So the analogy you so decisively draw at the end there makes one ask: Is it any wonder Language poetry is "felt" by younger poets today in ways that you, for example, never "felt" those loose and much less theory-specific poetic groupings pre-Langpo?
Which in turn presumes that
langpo is thus “felt” in such ways, which I’m not at all certain is the case,
given just how intensely everyone I hung out with in the 1960s used to puzzle
over every single statement we could find by Olson, Creeley, Ginsberg, Duncan,
Kerouac, Dorn, Jones, Sorrentino, Kelly, Eshleman & others. (David Bromige
& I once got into an argument with Denise Levertov, during one of her
The other half of
Rather, what I see – & I
will happily concede that my perspective here is both “privileged” &
partisan – is that several (not all) of the writers associated with the term
language poetry saw a role for critical discourse itself that differed from the
one that confronted prior literary formations.*** Gone, for example, was any
defensive need for stylistic markers se
Two other phenomena beyond
the narrow boundaries of
Second, feminism, the gay
rights movement & some aspects of the black power movement demonstrated the
potential power of
What seemed most clear, in the early 1970s, was that there were an enormous number of possible discussions to have about poetry – this Blog suggests that the number has not dwindled – and that there were obvious benefits to be had if it were poets themselves who had these discussions, rather than leaving them to even the most well-intended of critics.
If this constitutes a “kind
of critical map,” as
* A periodization of language poetry would be an interesting project, given that I’ve always thought of it as a moment, not a movement. The shorthand version I tend to keep in my head is this:
§ A period of “anticipatory” phenomena (e.g., 0-9, the journal edited by Bernadette Mayer with Vito Acconci; Aram Saroyan’s minimalist period; John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath; Clark Coolidge’s first short abstractions; Joglars, the journal edited by Coolidge with Michael Palmer; Robert Grenier’s Dusk Road Games) all in the late 1960s
§ The formative period around This 1970-73, carried out variously in Berkeley, Iowa City & Franconia, NH (Tottels would fit in here as would the Coolidge issue of Margins), lot of intense conversations among many key players
§ A middle period with increasing numbers of people gathering first in SF-Berkeley, then in NY, phenomena like the Grand Piano poetry series, the emergence of talks, journals such as Hills, Streets & Roads, A Hundred Posters, Roof, Kit Robinson & Erica Hunt’s KPFA radio program In the American Tree, the poets-&-performance artists series at The Farm in SF, the first collective presentation in Alcheringa, the emergence of publishers including The Figures & Tuumba, roughly 1974-78 – this was the period of the greatest activity & intensity
late period of much broader public response, the keys being the start-up of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E,
§ A moment beyond which langpo was so fully integrated into the broader scene of writing and culture that it becomes functionally meaningless to talk about it as a separate & distinct phenomena – I date this in my own head with the publication of the first issue of Poetics Journal in January 1982. PJ was directed outward to the general culture in a way that none of the earlier publications had been.
** Carl Rakosi’s comment on the Penn webcast that he &
Basil Bunting “didn’t get along” would have seemed shocking to me in my
twenties. Within a year or so of that argument with Levertov,
*** Perhaps one-third of the contributors to the anthology In the American Tree have produced substantial amounts of critical &/or theoretical writing. But two-thirds have not. I would argue that it is a mistake to privilege those poets who produce critical writing over those who do not.
+ Scar tissue that was duly marked whenever an older poet argued that langpo was but New Criticism with a human face.
Friday, November 01, 2002
A correspondence rather in the Open Letter tradition on the “Canadian/New York School Question” has sprung up.
very interesting exchange on the absence of ted berrigan and the NYS in canadian poetry.
reminds me of a thread that came up on a
discussion list stemming from remarks christian bök
made a few summers ago when he and natalee caple were in town and i put
together a reading for them. amidst the post- reading
chit chat christian claimed not to have much
knowledge or interest in recent work by american
contemporaries like lisa jarnot
or anselm berrigan that problematizes the idea of "lyric voice" in their
own interesting ways. some folks here found that claim to be problematic,
whereas i insisted that while we here may hold lisa and anselm in a certain
position of esteem there's no reason to assume that christian
is working in a similar position or with a similar set of values -- both lisa and anselm can be seen in
fact coming out of a NAP tradition that someone like christian
would have very affinity with or use for. additionally,
there's the very real matter of the distribution of small press poetry from the
these latter lines, it strikes me that one book in the ted
berrigan bibliography that would have had the best
distribution opportunities in
so louis' initial responses aren't all that surprising to me. and i think the formula "canpo = NAP - NYS" is interesting as a thought- experiment (and i'd have to think more about louis' compelling notions of "second-order commodification" and metalanguage), but what it gains in immediate intrigue is lost almost as soon as you get into particulars.
to me, the particular figure absent from these discussions of absences, a presence that might be seen filling the NYS/berrigan absence, is bill bissett. born in 1939 (same year as coolidge, two years before grenier, three before padgett and greenwald) in halifax, bissett left the maritimes for vancouver and ran blewointment press from there, though also kept close ties in terms of publishing poetics and friendship with the toronto scene. his work seems to me to combine the countercultural hipness and attention to dailiness of berrigan with a black mountain poetics of speech (more duncan's than anyone else, tho you'd have to substitute duncan's gnostic/heretic mysticism for a kind of free-love pantheism) taken to an orthographic extreme that bleeds directly into the concrete, visual, sound and performance work of the four horseman.
he thus problematizes
coastal alignments (toronto-vancouver being
homologous, in a pretty loose sense and again with substantial qualifications,
to NYC-SF), generations, schools/lineages, and issues of voice, speech and text
in ways that are compelling and utterly unique in
* * *
For now let me just say, in relation to bill bissett, whom you raise as a potential example in Canada of NYS influence, that there’s no denying the idiosyncratic and wide-ranging reading lists of individual poets, and the many influences discernible on their work (so for example in the case of bissett, NYS may be one of them); but that to me is beside the point of how to understand the relation of influence, context, and socially-constituted metalanguage formations such as KSW, TRG – and NYS itself (a name obtains at least to a degree of metalingual function). It really comes down to this for me: If you’re in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, whatever, why would you care at all about the poetic expressions of any other city’s “lifestyle,” unless you were a tourist flaneur, especially an expression that is at times (to focus only on the critical for a moment) as self-involved (the word “American” in one of my emails to Ron should have been in quotes), gloriously vain and willfully naive as poetry from the “school” of the City of New York can be?* What saves NYS from such a critical dismissal is the function of the social in its work (but “NYS social” provides, also, its own unique limit). So much of what is great about NYS is the coterie feel, address to friends. Who does it worse than NYS? Who does it better than NYS?
You can make it anytime.
Words, sentences. Suffering
Is not where it’s at, in 1969.
Now, the heart. A breath. Holding back.
Is it necessary to spend long periods of time alone?
Dear friends: you have all been very good to me.
How to remain in 1 place for more than a few minutes.
Bill is snoring. It’s 6 in the morning.
Reading to learn to enjoy yourself.
Please stay where you are at all times.
What you do is draw everything together, Ted.
Reveal the dark
side & the bright side too.
be afraid to reveal what you’re feeling.
Ron, it’s a good
time to be leaving
It’s more difficult not to change than to change.
The problem thinking of you, Anne, is who am
I thinking of?
----------------is thinking this?
That spells “Release” from Lewis
Warsh’s Part of My History (Coach House, 1972) found the other month
You don’t get that kind of enacted and taken-for-granted social address to intimates in bissett – instead you get the stretched, still somewhat formalized, “I,” and the political concerns, of NAP. It’s indeed a great “American” thing, NYS’s idea of a democratized coterie (compared to previous European notions of the salon), and is absent up north in part because of the, now I’m ranting, &%!!@#! British influence that NAPoets Davey et al griped about and that is still prevalent in public media (CBC announcers are still too frequently British accented, uniformly – sort of like a series of CBC regional antennae – across the country). bissett is great for reasons separate from the question of NYS.
In another city they might have
bulldozed it into the ground.
But this is
the building is still sound,
and the loft craze may yet wind
its way through the
to Southern and East Tremont,
where the Hondurans used to
dance to Los Gaetos Bravos,
Tito Puente and the Garifuna Kids,
and blue sky about home.
At Happyland the single door
remains boarded, the sign
that smiled over the bodies,
shoulder to shoulder, taken down
the day after, the irony
lost on no one, and with everything
else, too much to take.
There’s even a memorial,
though rarely flowers – most
of the families went home
after the settlement in ’95.
It’s ringed by a high fence,
the names etched
onto a concrete obelisk:
Alvarez, Denny; Alvarez, Hector;
Alvarez, Jose; Benavides, Victor…
From a distance, they resemble
sticks, or the strokes made by sticks
to stand for numbers:
Castro, Janeta; Chavez, Carla;
themselves, just rows of names
with a memory looming over them,
an item list, in inverse order:
obelisk, fence, street,
sidewalk, threshold, boarded
door, hallway, stairwell,
Addressing the social in this
poem involves structuring and setting a narrative scene. The “item list” of
nine narrative elements mirrors the nine sections of the poem – sections which
are also structurally presented in reverse order, beginning with section IX and
working forwards to section I. The address to the names mentioned in the poem
is necessarily moot. The narrator’s knowledge is not owned by any particular
person – who knows “where the Hondurans used to / dance”? (The narrator of City
Confidential would claim to know...) The implicit and very modest social
That is, I want to convey a sense of how the divide between Warsh and Connolly on the question of how to address the social, and on what scale (from intimate, to omniscient, narrator), is historically shaped by the border.
only poetic good thing that ever came from Britain to Canada before WWII is
socialism in its 30s variant in the work of Earle Birney
and a few others connected with the formation (by many Europeans) of the CCF,
with a Trotskyist critique of Stalin, and eventually the NDP (these three
elements are related). But their poetry – the tradition that Connolly is
tapping – is, for all that attention to social address, either direly
ornamental in an uninterestingly clarified sense, or else unabashedly
conventional in its use of (well-crafted) dramatic narration. That very British
influence of the social as in socialism (as distinct from idealist German
socialism which prevailed more extensively in the US) prevented modernism from
ever establishing itself in Canadian poetry except as decorative stylization
(that belated decorativeness, as in F.R. Scott’s imagism, a sign of the
important function that Cdn. poetics plays as
metalanguage clearinghouse – in critical terms, part of its colonial heritage).
There is no equivalent here of “the
Circling back to the question I started with, idiosyncratic reading lists and habits, I do think I only read Berrigan in the 90s, and with some difficulty. Ashbery however was one of my first great motivating interests in poetry. I read all of Ashbery right through to his early eighties work, including The Tennis Court Oath and Three Poems, the aforementioned having a tremendous impact on me concerning what poetry could be (as did the devastatingly hilarious spoof in A Nest of Ninnies concerning “Canadian heritage”) – well before I had ever heard of Language Poetry. Actually I did not think of Ashbery as a “New York School Poet,” but read him within the Canadian English/French bicultural divide as someone who, like Hamburger’s translated anthology of surrealist poetry, was reawakening the France-French traditions of Artaud, Roussel and others, including the Surrealists (I was reading these French traditions well before hearing of McCaffery or Nichol).
As to the worldly Christian Bök and his Toronto Oulipoian cohorts, aside from the connection they extend in their work to conceptual art (via McCaffery, Fluxus, etc), their poetic word is stridently a-social. The social is neither enacted “NYS style,” nor represented “Cdn style.” The social as such has been Haussmannized (Brecht considered "asocial" far worse than "antisocial") through their avid absorption in “the new medium” of internet computer forms. That distinctly a-social word results again, to me, from the metalingual inter-border role of Canadian poetics, which can often reduce the social complexity of differing tendencies to their most essential (unreal) terms with success (for example, the role of Oulipo in the literary history of France: there, Oulipo was arguably intended to subvert the role of author as genius, but here, Bök’s reception in particular has been largely in terms of his genius for conceiving a project such as Eunoia and for his seven-year steadfastness at scratching its numbers). A precedent I can think of for the a-social poetic word of the Toronto boysy boys is found in what I call the “inertial word” of Zukofsky’s index (largely of nouns) to ”A” and these words’ roles in the book.
cc Ron, Kevin
* Why NYS caught-on in other
areas of the
* * *
I offer here only the abstract-with-footnotes of the argument I would make if I had more time, primary materials, and brain cells:
* The first
two generations of the
(1) I don't mean to imply that David McFadden would not be a poet without the NYS. He would. His major influences would have been Al Purdy and Irving Layton. He would have hanged himself at the age of 37.
(2) Fones is, I believe, no longer active in poetry, devoting his labours instead to visual art. He was a major poet of the 70s.
(3) At least glimpsed in, for instance, Locus Solus.
(4) Mayer, of
course, "invented language poetry." I'll leave her claim alone for
now. In my own case, Berrigan was crucial to my education. The first thing of
his I read, in the year after high school (while working desultorily at the
local mill), was "Tambourine Life," in an anthology at the local
community-college library. This event was, I think, similar to what Ron
describes when he first encountered The
Desert Music: the sense that there was a writing practice that could
account for the vagaries and particulars of the life I was living, one that was
not tied to the prosody of either the Romantics I adored or the academics I
abhorred. Not long after, Peter Culley was writing a
long series of "Things to Do in [
* * *
McFadden, of course! I knew there was somebody major overlooked (had thought the other year of pairing McFadden with Luoma, in a PhillyTalk). Already knew, though, I had a myopic view on Canadian poetry: Gold, Fones (as poet) I, the hick, don't know. Are you thinking of Moure's early work, Empire York Street, and Wanted Alive, for instance? All my books are in boxes in Philly, frustratingly, and it's been a long time since I looked at a Vehicule book, but I remember them as performance group orientated. On the rest, would love to read now, including your own work, in view of these questions of NYS influence and of metalanguage. Pause Button already makes more sense just thinking about it from this angle (the social porousness of the "I"). But "influence" is such a bugbear! In my case, no greater set of poets than the Language Ps has "influenced" "me" -- but can or should one "tell" this in the book?
Labels: Canadian Poetry