Saturday, December 27, 2003

 

One of the gifts I got for Christmas this year was The Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by Grace Schulman. It is, above all else, a great addition to the availability of major modernist poetic texts. But it also seems a problematic book, only in part for the ways in which Moore herself was a problematic poet.

 

I also received what I would characterize as a less direct gift in the form of an angry (more rhetorically than personally, I hope) email from Curtis Faville, railing at the ongoing idiocy of dividing the world of American poetry into two traditions, whether it’s the New Americans vs. the School of Quietude (SoQ) Edgar Allen Poe identified in the 1840s or more recent variations such as mainstream vs. New American, avant-garde vs. traditional or, as I prefer, post-avant vs. the descendants of Poe’s School of Quietude. “I thought about how angry and disgusted I would be if I imagined that I were one of the poor souls relegated to the exile of the ‘School of Quietude’," Curtis wrote. And I would agree with him to the degree that any characterization of any poet is déjà toujours a mischaracterization. And that both traditions are ensembles of diverse (and sometimes directly conflicting) literary tendencies. But it’s hardly my imagination that such social phenomena exist. One need only read Yusef Komunyakaa’s introduction to the 2003 edition of The Best American Poetry to gauge just how militant conservative poets can be when roused. We have not come all that terribly far since Norman Podhoretz penned “The Know-Nothing Bohemians” nearly fifty years ago.

 

Mostly, though, the School of Quietude’s response to whatever it poses as its Other has been a strategic one of benign neglect. Treating all forms of new or innovative work rather like the madwoman in the attic, in hopes that no one will notice. One sees this behavior most clearly in the various awards short lists that the SoQ promotes via trade publishers and daily newspapers. But it extends to jobs, publication and a wide range of ancillary phenomena that are not poetry per se, but have a lot to do with its social reproduction.

 

Marianne Moore’s relation to all this is, in part, one aspect of her unique contribution to American poetry & poetics – more than any other major modernist, she attempted her entire to life to broker & negotiate the space between these two traditions of poetry. It’s worth contrasting her relationship to The Dial with, say, Ezra Pound’s approach to the problem. In moving to the United Kingdom, one of the things Pound sought to opt out of was precisely this division within American letters (one can read his poem to Whitman in just such terms). Going to work for Yeats certainly was calculated to position Pound well within one side of the mainstream of the British Isles, even as Pound himself was re-inventing a post-Whitman alternative to the SoQ, first with Imagism, later with Vorticism, finally with anyone who would listen. Nor is it an accident that Pound’s most effective social move, really over his entire life, was to colonize what was already an SoQ publication, Poetry magazine. For roughly twenty years – from his placement of H.D., Imagiste, in its pages through Zukofsky’s Objectivist issue in 1931, Pound’s fingerprints are all over Poetry’s contributions to modernism. While it is true that many who followed him in through the door to that venue stayed & made their own independent additions to this phenomenon, the larger truth is that, sans Pound, Poetry would always have been unreadably bad – save for that one curious blip in the second half of Henry Rago’s tenure as editor in the 1960s – and almost certainly would have gone the way of other SoQ ventures into the dustbin of history long ago.

 

Moore on the other hand always appears to have held herself at a personal distance from both literary traditions, although she actively used her position as editor &, later in life when she had become one of the hallowed elders of verse, to quietly promote the work mostly of her friends the modernists. It’s easy (& I think largely accurate) to read Moore as a modernist, but it’s also possible to read her as one of the finest examples of the School of Quietude – right alongside, say, Hart Crane (whose relationship to all this is another long story) before the long decline that starts with Lowell & Wilbur and which continues to this day. To all of this Moore contributes her own layer of obfuscation by publishing, in her lifetime, a Complete Poems that was anything but, with its infamous epigram “Omissions are not accidents.”

 

Schulman’s volume is some 180 pages long before it really even begins to engage the work contained in Complete Poems, starting a poem composed when the poet was just eight years old. It is in this sense that Schulman’s Moore is not unlike Jenny Penberthy’s Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works, a triumph that radically opens up the oeuvre of a major artist.

 

Yet at the same time Schulman is herself a poet deeply connected with the School of Quietude at its quietest. A longtime poetry editor of The Nation whose major contribution has been to narrow down that publication’s aesthetic reach from the days when prior editor Denise Levertov regularly included the likes of Robert Duncan, Paul Blackburn & even Louis Zukofsky, as well as the former director of the 92nd Street Y poetry program, one of the most conservative in the nation, Schulman’s qualifications for editing this volume are two: (1) she was a family friend of Moore’s dating back to her days as a young teenager; and (2) she did her doctoral dissertation on Moore. Ironically, her introduction to the Moore volume recalls in modest detail Moore’s own attempt to question, if not dissuade, Schulman from getting a Ph.D.

 

I have no doubt that Schulman has gone about her task here lovingly & with a great sense of commitment to Moore as a poet. And there are works here that absolutely demand our attention that we would not have had without this new book. Yet I wonder if, twenty or fifty years from now, we won’t find some future Susan Howe writing her own My Marianne Moore, rescuing the work from a long tradition of conservative, conformist editing. Schulman opens herself to just such a charge when she characterizes her editing process as “In the end, I chose what I loved best by a method I can only describe as ‘conscientious inconsistency.’” That’s a claim that casts a huge question mark right at the center of this otherwise delicious act of literary excavation.



Friday, December 26, 2003

 

The other day I characterized Jena Osman as one of the disruptive influences in contemporary poetry because her work forces one to rethink the entire project of the poem from the ground up. In this, she shares a completeness of vision with a handful of other writers – Jennifer Moxley, Lee Ann Brown, Christian Bök, Lisa Jarnot, Barrett Watten and a small list of others. That these writers don’t demonstrate any consensus as to what that vision might be is to be expected, but what all of them do share is precisely that visionary completeness. Which is why, I suspect, all of them are even more fascinating to reread than they are to read. Only when you immerse yourself in their work do all of the connections manifest in their absolute brilliance.

 

Osman’s An Essay in Asterisks is definitely a case in point. It is only after reading the long final poem, “Memory Error Theater” that the discourse on memory in the book’s opening work, the relatively short title poem, completely opens up. The text of this first piece alternates between two discourses, one presented in a “normal” font, the second in ALL CAPS BOLDFACE (and in a stencil font that I don’ t think will reproduce here). The impact is startling, both visually & aurally. Here are its opening sentences:

 

On the problem of the not-there. REACHING INTO THE BOX AND TAKE OUT THE BAG. If we place all stock in the space where words are missing, there is greater possibility of emotional range. Because memory is often like that as well. LOCKING THE BOX AND PUTTING THE BAG OVER SHOULDER. You fill in the blank (the hollow of what you can’t remember) with a picture. First there are a series of images that you can’t shake, as if you were there and it was a significant part of your childhood: a burning car, the crux of a tree, a desert scene and walking through the branches. Also a bright kitchen in the sun. WALKING OUT THE DOOR AND INTO THE STREET WITHOUT LOOKING. These must have been part of your life. Yet later you learn that they were just images from a film. Perhaps at a certain age it is difficult for a child to discern the boundaries between what is real and what is not. RUNNING DOWN THE STREET WITH A SMALL CART.

 

These are common enough details – indeed, I have a very strong one of my own watching a car burning in the desert in eastern Nevada back in 1974 & anyone who has roamed around the American outback of the Southwest will have seen more than a little evidence of what bored teenagers do to abandoned vehicles there. It’s an image (or memory) that by itself has no “real” content, yet like an unhappy incident it keeps turning up in this book, marking – in this sense Osman’s analysis is spot on – precisely the locus of an enormous emotional concentration, a free-floating correlative that has nothing objective about it. Indeed, one can very quickly begin to read this passage as being “about” or explicating those blank spaces we saw the other day in a phrase like “lif e s ent ence.” The “problem of the not-there” leads perfectly into such issues as editing, censorship & translation, the use of visual graphics.

 

There is almost no page in this book that doesn’t illuminate every other page in somewhat similar fashion. The result – it’s 85 pages in manuscript – is remarkable, simultaneously amazingly complex & stunningly clear, not simply that Osman can hold all these different ideas & relations in her mind as she writes, but that she can make it possible for us, poor distracted readers that we invariably are, to do likewise. The feel of it all is both Brechtian & remarkably generous (&, yes, those are concepts very much at odds with one another, historically). The memory theater that is invoked in the final poem is that of Giulio Camillo Delminio (1479-1544), whose model for theater was one for memory also – the audience stood at the center of the stage & looked outward. It simultaneously can be read as everything from a daffy bit of medieval utopian thought to a direct antecedent to all Brechtian & post-Brechtian modes of radical theater to even the model for the database collections implicit in computing today that leads toward the hive mind of the internet. Osman’s own project feels at least this ambitious. That’s a feeling that I trust completely.

 

Yet Osman also writes with a concision that would make George Oppen envious. But, unlike many poets with such dedication to economy (Creeley, Ronald Johnson, Zukofsky), Osman is not primarily (or even secondarily) a poet of & for the ear. Rather, like the Oppen of Of Being Numerous, this a poetry for the mind that understands exactly how sensuous intellection can be. If it makes you dizzy as a reader, it’s because of just how far & deeply this vision enables one to see.



Wednesday, December 24, 2003

 

Last night I put the finishing touches on my weblog note on Jena Osman & then lay awake for a while wondering at how much the world has changed in these past thirty years. Osman is one of several younger women poets whose work is so completely distinct & original that it is unmistakably their own – a degree of aesthetic commitment or integrity so powerful that it lies almost beyond the possibility of any meaningful criticism. I’m thinking here of the comments made now two generations ago by Robert Duncan describing his initial confrontation with the poetries of Helen Adam & Michael McClure – work with such force (whether we term it aesthetic, commitment or even just personality) that one can’t expect to shape or change it – you simply have to make room for it, regardless of how you imagine the world to have been composed previously.

 

In addition to Osman, other poets of roughly her generation – poets mostly in their thirties or maybe just now turning 40 – who strike me this way include Jennifer Moxley, Harryette Mullen, Lee Ann Brown and Lisa Jarnot, every one of them a major poet. The only male poet in that age cohort who seems likewise self-generating is Christian Bök.

 

Now this is not the only nor necessarily even the most important value one might have in one’s writing – craft-focused poets such as, say, Graham Foust or Eleni Sikelianos can make every bit as strong an argument for their own aesthetic path through the world. In my own generation of writers, I would tend to put Hannah Weiner, Robert Grenier, Barrett Watten, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein & Leslie Scalapino into that first cluster – those with such strong a sense of direction the reader is forced almost just to take it or leave it. Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perelman, Rae Armantrout & Kit Robinson all strike me as following the other road. So this is obviously not a better vs. worse kind of distinction I’m fumbling my way towards (and I recognize, I think, that some folks would – presuming they even sense this same demarcation I’m trying to make – place that line differently). Duncan himself would have been in that latter category (and certainly knew it).

 

Part of this, I suspect, goes back to that sense of a map of poetry that each one of us carries around inside our head.* In some people this is a stronger thing than in others – indeed, around the School of Quietude it often appears to be paralyzing. My own sense (and I’m obviously one with a reasonably highly defined map of my own here) is that there are writers who extend that map of poetry & its tendencies & possibilities in whichever direction they see fit & then there are those – from Weiner & Watten to Osman & Moxley – who force us as readers & poets to completely rethink it. Both approaches give shape to the evolution of poetry, but they do so differently. Osman comes from a line of what are really disruptive influences – they force us to rethink what we thought we already knew. And it’s worth noting that you can’t really group them at all aesthetically, save maybe for the kind of crude thinking that would note that Watten & Grenier started a magazine together once, or that Lee Ann Brown once published a book by Hannah Weiner. The idea that Bruce Andrews & Charles Bernstein, for example, are “doing the same thing” (or ever did) is, frankly, laughable.

 

These disruptive poets are never very many – Ted Berrigan was one, but he’s the only member of the New York School who really was, just as Stein was the only one among the major American modernists. I’m of the impression that we should nourish & cherish every one, even when (& perhaps most especially when) we don’t fully sense that we “get it” yet as to what they’re doing. I’m pleased to see that we seem to have an abundance of such disruptive poets about right now, but I also think it’s worth noting that so many of them are women. It gives contemporary poetry a different feel than it had, say, in the 1970s or ‘80s. Myself, I like it.

 

 

 

* For a more detailed reference, look at the two versions Robert Duncan poses in his questionnaire for the Magic Workshop, which can be founded in the appendices to Jack Spicer’s Collected Books.



Tuesday, December 23, 2003

 

There is a page in Jena Osman’s next book, An Essay in Asterisks, that reads, in its entirety

 

lif e s ent ence              hic              hic

 

The line, & I do read this as a line, is a part of a larger piece – I’m tempted to call it a poem – entitled “Memory Error Theater,” three terms that often apply in thinking of, or perhaps through, Osman’s difficult, delightful texts. An Essay in Asterisks is, first of all, a book of poems, yet in fact that concept “essay,” a term whose roots extend back to the Latin word for weighing, often feels as & perhaps even more apt as a descriptor of the unique process through Osman arrives at these verbal constructions that so often feel as if they have few antecedents in the history of literature. What then is the weight of an asterisk?

 

It’s a pertinent question here. Osman continually finds – in ways that often surprise me but do so with that hand-slapping-forehead sense of Oh Yes!, because something that was previously invisible now suddenly seems obvious – dimensions of meaning lurking in the least likely of places. One part of why & how Osman arrives at this place has I think to do with her process, which strikes me as being if not unlike every other poet, then shared with a very select few (most notably with her partner in the editing of Chain, Juliana Spahr): Osman is an investigative poet, indeed to a degree that I suspect Ed Sanders would find unimaginable.

 

Unimaginable is a word I think of a lot when contemplating Osman’s poetry. Indeed, rather like the optical illusion of, say, the Necker Cube or the old face/vase silhouette, Osman’s work often proceeds exactly through this process of making the unimaginable obvious again & again. If there is a risk in this project, generally speaking, it must lie in the surprise being gone on a repeated reading or else in the process itself becoming predictable. Yet reading Osman’s work, here or in earlier books such as The Character or Amblyopia, I don’t find her succumbing to such traps, precisely because – even those she actively eschews the lyrical – she writes with such precision, intelligence & wit (& in Essay, often demonstrating whimsy in visual as well as linguistic dimensions).

 

Consider for example that line quoted above, in which life sentence is disrupted by gaps followed at a distance by what might be either hiccups or a reiteration of the Latin term for here. Although it is the gaps in the first two words that call attention to themselves the gap that really is most completely absent is precisely that which would have made this free-floating phrase what it claims apparently to be, a sentence, & that’s the predicate. Instead what we get is immanence as hiccup, as savvy an exposition of Olson’s sense of proprioception as I’ve ever seen, immanence as Latin hiccup.

 

Osman is obsessed with predicates – it turns up again & again in these works, often in the form of an “=” or (if not less often, at least less palpably) is. Rule One of bad creative writing courses, of course, is to employ the active voice & dispense wherever possible with conjugates of to be. Yet, as any good surrealist knows, is is in fact the most powerful of all verbs precisely because it is the only one that can bring two worlds together simply on the grounds that it says so.

 

“Memory Error Theater,” beyond being a title, represents three forms of substitution or displacement between the subject (NP as a linguist would parse it, noun phrase) & whatever context or judgment might be made about it (the predicate). Not surprisingly, a major source for Osman are court records – a verdict is a major mode of predication – and political speeches (politicians are practiced at displacing content).

 

This isn’t the most coherent of notes – which is because I always feel, as here, as tho I need to read & reread Osman – I’m always coming across things I’ve missed before. For example, the opening passage or section of “Memory Error Theater” is a boxed grid of 21 common editing marks. The relationship this has to “Error” is immediately apparent &, to my mind at least, to “Memory” as well (albeit secondarily). But any relationship to “Theater” immediately strikes me as more strained. Or at least it does until I realize (1) that each of the seven columns has a header that includes not just a number, but also (2) major bodies from the solar system, in this order from left to right: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter & Saturn. The three marks under Moon, for example, are those for delete, insert a space & query to author. The first thing that occurs to me once I notice the planets etc. is that it’s a scheme that proceeds from the center of the universe outward Except that it’s not. The Moon is where one would today expect to find the Sun, while that occurs at the point where one would expect to find (an absent) Earth. It’s as if one were looking at the solar system without a sense of one’s own presence in the mix, while putting the moon rather than the sun at the center.

 

Secondly, this grid doesn’t just contain editorial marks – presented graphically the way one would expect to find them in Words into Type or the Associated Press Style Guide or The Chicago Manual of Style. Each box, in addition to its mark and its explanation in a world or two of English (e.g. stet – let it stand) also contains an additional bit – and bit is the right word, quantitatively – of language (thus stet – let it stand, or the theater). The process of rereading Osman thus is, for me at least, as valuable as that of reading her works for the first time – it’s as though I were peeling some sort of metaphysical onion, layer on layer keep showing up, making me realize that these visually-centered works – Osman is very much a writer of the mind & eye – skip past me on first contact. I have to keep coming back, and each time I do I’m appalled or amazed (depending on my mood) at how much more there is than there seemed to be just a few minutes prior. Yet at the same time, Osman is one of the most economical of poets – something else she shares with the Objectivists – there is never any waste, even as I find myself having to think further as to why & how stet = “the theater.” Or why eight of these 21 boxes offer, as their excess of language or the day log. I think I know the answer to the first of these questions (or at least I have a theory): stet, which literally does mean let it stand in Latin, is derived from the verb stare, a two-syllable word in Latin that means to stand. But here Osman has heard (or at least seen) the pun implicit betwixt Latin stare & English stare. It’s a small detail, but I think it gives a good sense of what I take to be the vertical richness of this text, and of Osman’s work in general.

 

I’ve promised Jena that I would try to come up with a blurb for this new book by year’s end. It will be published by one of my own favorite presses, Roof, and I’m definitely predisposed to rave at the idea of this book. But what I really want to do is to read it & read it & read it until I really grok it as we used to say in the Sixties. So heads up – you may be hearing about An Essay in Asterisks for another day or two.



Monday, December 22, 2003

 

Mary Margaret Sloan has risen to the defense of the Windy City.

 

Hi, Ron. I can't remember if Larry and I had moved to Chicago the last time I saw you. We've been here nearly four years now and though both of us were immediately interested in the city, we grow to like it more and more as time goes by. We're both enjoying our jobs. Larry's doing health policy research at the University of Chicago and I'm teaching both at the U of C and in the graduate writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. And there is much more going on literarily than I had expected.

 

I'd like to give you a sense of what's been going on here. Though there is a large academic institutional presence in Chicago (of which more later), the city also has a growing number of publications and events outside the academy walls.

 

Last year Kerri Sonnenberg started the Discrete Series (readings) with Jesse Seldes. They've recently had Lisa Jarnot, Steve Benson, Brian Henry, Stephen Ratcliffe, as well as, from the Midwest, Mark Nowak (Minneapolis), Drew Kunz, Lisa Samuels, Stacy Szymaszek and Bob Harrison (Milwaukee), Graham Foust (Iowa), as well as locals Daniel Borzutzky, Greg Purcell, Bill Fuller, and temporary locals, Dawn Michelle Baude and Arielle Greenberg. Future readers are Lewis Warsh, Jen Hofer, Bill Fuller, Chris Stroffolino, myself and others. Kerri also edits Conundrum Magazine and Jesse edits Antennae, both looking very good in their first few issues.

 

There is also The Danny's Tavern Reading Series started by Greg Purcell and now run by Joel Craig and John Beer. Past readers have included Peter Gizzi, Tom Raworth, Trevor Joyce, Michael Heller, Forrest Gander, Laura Mullen, Basil King, Karen Volkman, Martin Riker, Joyelle McSweeney, Ray Bianchi, Andrew Zawacki, Chuck Stevelton, Paul Hoover, and a LVNG Magazine reading including Peter O'Leary, Jeremy Biles, Nathalie Stephens, Michael O'Leary and John Tipton. Coming soon, relatively new locals Dan Beachy-Quick and David Trinidad.

 

Another excellent ongoing magazine is the one mentioned above, LVNG (10 issues), edited by the O'Leary brothers (Peter and Michael) and Joel Felix. LVNG is associated with Flood Editions (eds. Devin Johnston and Michael O'Leary) which has recently published books by, among others, Lisa Jarnot, Graham Foust, William Fuller, Robert Duncan, Fanny Howe, and Pam Rehm; forthcoming in January: John Tipton. Loosely associated, also, is the Chicago Poetry Project, a reading series run by John Tipton at the downtown Harold Washington Library. Recent readers include Fanny Howe, Joseph Donahue, Christine Hume, Pam Rehm, Phil Jencks, Elizabeth Willis, John Taggart, Tyrone Williams, Hoa Nguyen, as well as locals Peter O'Leary, Karen Volkman, Maggie Frozena, Matthias Regan, Eric Elshtain, and Joel Felix. Upcoming: Stacy Szymaszek and Tsering Wangmo Dhompa.

 

Other venues and organizations include The Bridge (events and publications); occasional or regular readings at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, Women and Children First, Myopic Books, Barbara's Books and Powell's Books; as well as the older, established institutions such as the Guild Complex, The Poetry Center, The Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature, and, of course, Poetry Magazine. I'm sure I'm leaving out others.

 

You're right that the University of Chicago has a large presence. The Poem Present reading series, begun by Danielle Allen and now run by Bradin Cormack, both younger U of C professors, has hosted, over the past couple of years, among others, Alice Notley, Michael Palmer, Thom Gunn, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Nathaniel Mackey, Fanny Howe, and will soon have Lisa Jarnot and Robert Creeley. As you know, the Chicago Review, edited by Eirik Steinhoff, poetry editor Eric Elshtain, has for a number of years now been well worth reading. The U of C's Renaissance Society (in spite of the name, its focus is on contemporary art) last year sponsored a reading by Lyn Hejinian in conjunction with an installation by local conceptual artist and writer Helen Mirra. And a new creative writing program is just getting off the ground.

 

The Columbia College creative writing program, for many years under the direction of Paul Hoover, produces the Columbia College Poetry Review and also has a very long-standing reading series which has featured dozens of poets including Nathaniel Mackey, Cole Swensen, Elizabeth Robinson, Tom Raworth, Ann Lauterbach, Laura Mullen, Li-Young Lee, and David Trinidad.

 

There's also the MFA in Writing Program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is an unusual program: students are not required to declare a genre and the program specifically facilitates multimedia work: writing students can take classes in any other department they choose. It's only six years old, but already a lot of exciting work is starting to pour out of it. One group of graduating students, deciding not to move to either coast but to stay and make a base for themselves here in Chicago, created a project called Telophase which focuses on text-plus work and produces about six events per year, each including an installation, performance and magazine. Other post-SAIC groups are currently forming.

 

It's a lot! I'm amazed at how often I have to choose between events. If you haven't seen it, you might be interested in taking a look at LVNG 8, The Great Lakes Issue, which provides a look at some of what's being done between here and Buffalo, a surprising view from a different angle. If you can, do come see for yourself.

 

All best to you and to Krishna,

 

Mary Margaret (Margy) Sloan



Sunday, December 21, 2003

 

To everything there is a season – a line I hear in my head invariably in the voice of my inner Pete Seeger. Having done the weblog now for just under 16 months, there is a predictable pattern to any given week. Monday almost invariably is the day in which readership spikes. For one thing, everyone who uses systems only at their jobs or school is back from wherever they flee to on the weekends. For a second (& not co-incidentally), Monday morning is when I send out a list of recent posts to various listservs. Tuesday and Wednesday typically show a slight, but not dramatic drop from Monday. But Thursday & Friday almost always show a substantial decline, especially if Wednesday has been “strong.” Readership on the weekends is about 60 percent of Monday. So when I tell people that my readership seems to have stabilized at around 280 visitors per day, that’s an average that typically includes a Monday somewhere around or above 350 and weekend visitations that are lucky to reach 400 for the two days combined. Further, readers have been remarkably consistent since the blog began in visiting 1.5 pages per trip – a number I usually interpret to mean that a substantial portion of the readers here don’t really visit once every two weeks – the number of days you’ll find posted on this top page.

 

So when, last Thursday, this blog received 517 visits from folks who viewed a total of 945 pages – both records – I could tell that people were checking to see if I was indeed the dragon portrayed in some of the letters to the Poetics List last week, or in fact just a miscast windmill (I prefer the later interpretation myself). The higher than usual ratio of pages visited to visits reinforced that impression – folks were returning to the scene of the original crime to check for fingerprints or, perhaps more pertinently, any sign of a victim.

 

No one listens to poetry, Jack Spicer wrote, but they sure do love to read poetics as Bruce Andrews once amended that for me in conversation, explaining the popularity of the journal he co-edited with Charles Bernstein, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. And, even in these rarified aesthetic climes, they love a good controversy. For all of the complaints about mud wrestling betwixt poets, nothing draws rubberneckers like a good pile-up on the far side of the road. That kind of attention to a dust-up like the one on Poetics this week reminds me that, when Alan Soldofsky coined the term “language poetry” in Poetry Flash back in ’79, the reason he was asked by Steve Abbott to write the lead article for its special issue on this “new thing” wasn’t because he had some unique insight into the phenomenon – indeed, he had no discernible insight at all – but because Abbott knew that Soldofsky would in fact create some controversy & Steve, always editing Poetry Flash with at least one eye towards that publication’s survival, knew that controversy would draw circulation, which in turn would drive advertising. Out of such considerations are movements not born, but at least named.

 

I received several supportive & wonderful emails from folks this week – and I appreciate every single one of them. And the nicest of them of all is worth noting because it came from Leslie Scalapino.



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