Sunday, December 30, 2012

After Kandinsky

who wrote that blue moves in upon itself—

blue like a snail re 
treating in 
to its 


Friday, December 28, 2012


Don’t look now but something tells me 
There’s something dead to the world out there — 

That cur wouldn’t be barking his heads off 
If it were alive and kicking, that’s for sure. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sticks and Stones

Take poison, my love— 

You say it’s only a word,
I say it is only when our lips 

Pronounce it. 


Monday, December 24, 2012

Reign of Terror

Don’t let those innocent looking 
Homophones fool you, my friend— 

Puss ‘n’ Boots and Fido are tripping head 
Over heels acid freaks in cahoots again. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Magic Carpet

Of course it isn’t but what if 
This wind-scattered bed of soft rotting 
Pied apricot leaves decides to pull 
Itself together and take off back to where 
The sky’s the limit again? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Brimming Over with Holiday Spirit

After the cleansing storm, electrifying 
Heavenly raindrops caught flashing on 

Pods of the pepper—a natural 
Lit-up Yuletide tree! 

Surely a sign from above that 
No superfluous baubles needed, 

Only enough to take in 
More than we can see.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The narcotic quiet at the end of the dead-end street—

Even the trees approaching it have fallen asleep. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Usual Suspect

That’s him there—waxing poetic at the end 
Of another butchered line, that 

Moon-faced assassin feigning 
Innocence time after time. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Flanders Field Redux

Lord, whosoever said something like 
Ours is not to reason why 
Or other like inflated poppycock, 
Let him put his muzzle 
Where his blooming mouth is 
And shut the fuck up. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sacrificial Rites of Passage

Our legacy—where we always begin 
The quest to give up all that 

We find at the end. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Any Port in a Storm

In a long sunlit lull, surfacing out of the gutter’s grating, 
Dazed drenched survivor shaking dry all six legs 

On stretch of steaming black sea of asphalt. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Always Room at the Heartbreak Hotel

Your word would be all 
You say it is and then some 
If you gave me all the room in the world

And then some. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lost and Found: Dated Poetic Relic

Lo and Behold! 

I found what they were looking for 
When it became the death of me, 
Then put it back for them to find 
Before they knew the difference. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Huuklyeand Cinquor's Take on Revisionist Poetics

All you visionaries hell-bent on taking 
Off after a vision, take this— 

A poem can take you anywhere 
You want but it won’t take you there 

If you put it down right from the start. 

Moderator’s comments: After some seven or eight months of silence on his part, I was beginning to think that Huuk was revising the soundness of his decision to send me his “poetry” at intermittent intervals, but it looks like I was a bit hasty with my assumption. So, after a long wait, let us revel once more in observing him at his short, didactic best (or worse, depending on how bad your myopia is) by focusing in on the poem’s intention to wit, what exactly is he trying to teach us here? That a poem cannot be “visionary” if it is written straightaway the first time without any revision whatsoever? Or is he assuming the role of the reader and admonishing us to give the poem the benefit of the doubt and not to dis it from the start? Maybe he’s trying to hook both poet and reader with his version of how to cast off all poetic illusions. Whatever the case, I certainly don’t want to prejudice any poets and/or readers out there by being picayune about his “effort” but I have to admit I’m having trouble following where he’s going with this, but then again, I’m not called “The Squint-eyed Kid” for nothing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

X Marks the Spot, Treasure Hunter

Say you found a map hidden 
Under the innersole 
Of a hiker’s boot way out 
There in the middle 
Of the wide, open spaces 
And you can’t see hide 
Nor hair of the hunter, 
While only a stone’s throw 
Away from the boot the map leads you 
To the jawbone of a dodo 
And the blunderbuss of an ass— 

What’re you waiting for, dude? 
Dig in, you’ve hit pay dirt. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Laura Jensen's After I Have Voted

After I Have Voted, Laura Jensen, The Gemini Press, Seattle, 1972. Not only is this chapbook Laura Jensen’s first poetry collection, it was also Gemini Press/Madrona Magazine’s first venture into book publishing—quite an auspicious beginning, considering that Laura’s work quickly became nationally recognized—among other things— for its “domestic, stark imagery with complex metaphorical gesture, bridging interior and exterior spheres as [her poetry] traces the shifting, halting, at times unfamiliar landscapes of memory and home.” (Poetry Foundation) Gemini Press later changed its name to Querencia Books and subsequently published titles by Beth Bentley, Robyn Tarbet, Eve Triem, Frank Samperi, J. K. Osborne, John Levy, and yours truly. 

 The title poem: 


I move the curtain back, 
and something has gone wrong. 
I am in a smoky place, 

an Algerian café. 
They turn the spotlight toward me; 
the band begins to play. 

The audience stares back at me. 
They polish off their glasses. 
They ask the waiter, “Who is she?” 

He holds his pen 
against his heart. 
He speaks behind his hand. 

There are tea bags swinging 
from their mouths. 
Their teeth are made of brass. 

The jello sighs into the candlelight. 
My eyes turn into stars. 
Ah—the colored spangles on my clothes, 

the violet flashlights and guitars! 

Also, check out this link to a piece on Laura that appeared on the Poetry Foundation’s site. And one last word—if you happen to come across this thin little gem (24 pp, 18 poems) forgotten on a shelf in some dusty corner of a used bookstore and the price is right, buy it. 

BTW, here’s AbeBooks’ listing for the book--roughly $14 a poem; given the current economic crunch in Hellas, it's too bad I have only one copy left!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tell Laura I Love Her

When I was a freshman, I remember 
I’d write a poem every other day or two 
To a girl two years my senior; 

She’d write one back too, 
But to this day I don’t remember 
What happened to them, 

But I can tell you one thing— 
I didn’t write anything 
The day she went away. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Waiting for the Sandman

On the beach, watching the darkening 

Expanses above and beyond of what seem 
To be dreamy remnants of a childhood 

Imagination, we wait impatiently 
For the imp of the universe to give us 

One more heavenly unfathomable shot. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tottering State


Oddly nothing ought to be 
Taken for granted, 
Naught even 

Your next step. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eyeless in Gaza: The Overkill Syndrome


This life-threatening situation can be resolved 
Without needless casualties 

If we keep shelling out bromides to the masses— 
Rest assured, they’ll soon get over it. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Paying the Bearer on Demand

Believe me, that frozen 
Look the ferryman gave us— 
So mortifying 

We parted with our mouthpieces 
And took our seats solemnly, 
As convention demanded. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Morning Coffee

Before the large eastern window, remembering 
Another dawn and that small dark bird darting 
From silver-green olive branch to olive branch— 

Now, savoring the light spilling once more 
Over the mountains, long leisurely sips 
Of darkness in-between. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Setup

One window is enough for a million poets 
To frame themselves— 

So said the poet of admirable vision, no less 
Admired for seeing through such things.  

NB: Thanks to James Finnegan over at ursprache for helping to set this one up.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


They tell you look 

You’re making a spectacle of yourself again, 
But isn’t this what you’ve always wanted 

To see? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Twentieth Anniversary of How the Net Is Gripped: a selection of contemporary American poetry


How the Net Is Gripped: a selection of contemporary American poetry, edited by David Miller and Rupert Loydell, Stride, Exeter, Devon, England, 1992. Introduction copyright David Miller.

There have been so many poetry anthologies published and so many more on the way that it seems a fair question to ask why they keep appearing; I have no satisfactory answer to that question but the co-editor of this one,
David Miller, does an excellent job in his introduction of explaining why he decided to try his hand at compiling this particular one; he then goes on to give readers in the United Kingdom an enlightening introduction to contemporary American poetry from the time frame of the 1990s. A solid, well-written exposition from the multi-talented, prolific Miller and one which insists on being read from beginning to end, even if its length might deter readers from doing so and despite the fact it is over twenty years old. 

The introduction is reprinted in full, except for ellipsis of two paragraphs indicated by square brackets. 

[As an aside, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank David for being so receptive to my work when he was on the Editorial Board of Poetry Salzburg Review and for his permission to reprint this copyrighted introduction; finally, for those who might be interested in reading about some of David’s work, here's a link to a review of his 2003 book The Waters of Marah.]

This book is an eclectic selection of contemporary American poetry, which concentrates upon poets who are not (or not especially) well known in the UK, and who deserve to be better known.
     Too many fine poets have been either neglected or misread because of an insistence amongst critics and academics upon criteria that are illusory, e.g. the notion that only poets who are enclosed within specific “movements”, “groups”, and “styles” are worthy of attention (with the odd exception always being made). (Conversely, I should say that the notion that only the writers outside of well-defined “movements”, “groups”, etc. are noteworthy is equally untrue.)
     All anthologies are characterized by bias of one sort or another. Our bias has been towards work that is in some sense both “exploratory”[1] and unaffiliated. At the same time, we have tried to avoid being ruled by this bias.

The situation of contemporary poetry in the USA becomes clearer if we look at it in an historical perspective. Inevitably, this will involve talking about modernism and post-modernism, to some extent.
     One is not one’s ancestors (whether in terms of family histories, or literature). But the practice of writing is informed by one’s relationship to earlier practitioners, and to a history of such practice; and it is worth noting some of the patterns of falsification, erasure, opposition, and recovery that inhere in the American poets’ dialogue with their recent literary ancestry.

     By the 1940s, modernism in American poetry had come to be represented in terms of the criteria of the “New Critics”—R.P. Blackmur, Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren; and W.H. Auden’s poetry had become “the measure of competence”, in Robert Creeley’s phrase.[2] While stressing aesthetic autonomy, i.e. the priorities of style and form, the New Critics admired a particular sort of poetry—exemplified by Auden, Tate, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov—which was conservative in its insistence upon fixed, predetermined forms as a “mould” for content (and, paradoxically, that content was sometimes didactic in intent, especially in Auden’s case), while tending towards a neat elegance (suggesting refinement and sophistication) in its concentration upon conventional formal devices. It was this latter concentration, with the employment of particular devices such as paradox and irony which resisted straightforward paraphrase, that constituted the Kantian emphasis upon aesthetic autonomy in the New Critical theory. It would be wrong-headed to simply dismiss all modern formalist verse; but Hugh Kenner is surely correct in the way he points up the narrowness of New Critical concerns: “ ‘Wit’, then, ‘paradox’, ‘irony’, localized in key words to be underlined on the blackboard, the other words so much chalk dust to connect these loci. And lines are synthesized out of ‘feet’ (generally iambs, with substitutions), feet out of words…”[3] The modernism of Pound’s Cantos, W.C.Williams’ Spring & All, and H.D.’s Imagist work and later (more powerful) Red Roses for Bronze, had broken with the tame conservatism of Georgian poetry to set forth a writing which took its shape from the pressure and demands of the given instance, in which perception, intelligence, and emotion moved within language, new meanings and insights finding their form in the particulars of speech. That this could issue as a visionary intensity is clear from parts of The Cantos, and from the later works of Williams or H.D,; it is also clear that the materials of such a poetry—materials brought together to form previously unimagined coherences—could include virtually anything from history to myth to religion to autobiography, as well as the extent of literature and art. The return to manner and convention with Auden and the New Critics was revisionist in nature, but the meagerly anecdotal quality of certain more recent formalist work, and the tendency amongst some of the Neo-Formalists to treat imagination and meaning as epiphenomenal to stylistic “devices” and the employment of fixed metres, are shocking when compared with the radiant coherence of the late Cantos, or the nobility and generosity of vision in Williams’ Pictures from Brueghel, or the strange, transfigured world opened up in H.D’s later poems.
     The New Critical perspective upon modernism was not only a drastic revision of the modernist impetus towards such radically new dimensions in poetry as were opened up by Pound, Williams, H.D., and others; it performed a revisionist reading of many modernist poets, or else, where this was impossible, pushed their work into the position of a falsely marginal importance (as with Williams) or undeserved oblivion (Oppen, Reznikoff, Zukofsky and Rakosi—the Objectivist poets). The approach to modernism of many “post-modernist” critics duplicates this New Critical reading of modernist writing, and falsifies the relation of poets like Charles Olson or Robert Duncan or Robert Creeley to pioneer modernism[………]

     The formalism of the poetry dominant in the 1940s, and influential through the ‘50s and ‘60s—“this assumption of a mould, of a means that could be gained beyond the literal fact of the writing here and now” (Robert Creeley)[4] –was seen by writers like Creeley, Duncan and Olson, as the mark of rationalism. As Duncan put it: “Taste, reason, rationality rule, and rule must be absolute and enlightened…” “Poets, who had once had dreams and epiphanies, now admit only to devices and ornaments. Love, that had been a passion, had best be a sentiment or a sensible affection.[5] The aim of poets like Duncan and Creeley was to disclose or make manifest in the words of the poem an order and an apprehension of things which was not part of a familiar knowledge. Reaching back, against the grain of revisionist modernism, these poets reclaimed or recovered the heritage of American modernist poetry that included William Carlos Williams, Pound and H.D. The emphasis on disclosure rather than the imposition of meaning and order, entails the poet being taken up, in his or her composing, into an intuitive awareness which is not restricted by rational control; and it is co-extensive, in the thinking of these poets, with the idea of an “exposed, open form” (the phrase is Duncan’s), which expands or frees the process of composition rather than inhibiting it.

     The re-emergence of those poets identified as “Objectivists”—Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, and Lorine Niedecker—has proved a particularly fertile link between the modernist past and contemporary poetry. Many of the poets in this present anthology—including John Perlman, Michael Heller, and John Levy—can be seen as relating, in various ways, to this tradition. Heller has written:
    For the Objectivists, echoing Whitman, the world is fact, and the poet is its agency.
     With a poet like Robert Lowell, on the other hand, who seems to represent the summit of another tradition, the world is taken as an agency and the poet is the fact.[6]

While Heller’s distinction shouldn’t blind us to the exploration of personhood in these poets, he is right in pointing up the rejection of subjectivism. One discovers oneself in one’s openness to other persons and things. Or in George Oppen’s formulation: “I think that poetry, if we are to bother with it, must be made of clarity of the perceptions, of emotion as the ability to perceive.”[7] [……………………………….]

     Modernism is at least as subject to recovery as more distant traditions, due to misleading yet influential accounts of its history. I have instanced the New Critical reading of modernism; but it would be just as important to counter the tendency to equate the complex history of modernism with an ideology of programmatic stylistic “advances”. At the same time, this shouldn’t deflect us from the need to recover—or in some instances, discover—aspects of older (or indeed, other) traditions. One of the most significant meanings of “post-modernism” for the writer or artist lies, I believe, in the renewed possibility—indeed, responsibility, as some would see it—of understanding and learning from the past for the sake of contemporary practice. Visual artists have attempted to go beyond the reductive notion of “modernism” that tied art to ideas of progress, historicism, and formal or stylistic “advances”, in order to look at, and gain insight from, artists of much earlier historical periods as well as those artists (e.g. Max Beckmann or Giorgio Morandi) bypassed by so-called “mainstream” accounts of modernism. Mention should also be made of the arts of those non-Western cultures that were not significantly drawn upon by modernists (or that could be drawn upon in different ways). (If this is to a large degree an “ideal” picture of what has been happening in the visual arts, it serves to point up the most “positive” aspects for the sake of the present argument.) It has even become necessary to try to re-evaluate the achievements of comparatively recent painters like Kline or Newman or Reinhardt. This is to some extent due to the reading of abstract painting in terms of “formalistic purity” which became prevalent with Clement Greenberg and his followers, who insisted upon rigidly and narrowly defined aesthetic criteria to the exclusion of other artistic concerns.
     Poets have been led to reclaim areas of various traditions, that have either been marginalized or fossilized, or that simply need to be understood in an alternative way. I might mention Jerome Rothenberg’s activities as an anthologist, dealing with ethnopoetics, aspects of Jewish tradition, and neglected strands within modernism. Dick Higgins’ concern with what he terms “pattern poetry” has enabled us to see a poet like George Herbert in a different way—and one that goes beyond the mere idea of “pattern” in itself. Cid Corman’s translations from Japanese, French, German, and Italian poetry have been important. Poet/critic Michael Heller’s essays on Objectivism, and Susan Howe’s book-length study of Emily Dickinson, are amongst the signal achievements in this area; but there are many others that could be mentioned. I also find it telling that such singular and fine writers as Marsden Hartley and Robinson Jeffers should be republished, read, and re-evaluated.

     I come back, then, to the notion of a diversity of practices, a diversity occluded by monolithic definitions and absurdly simplified lineages. The situation of post-modernism is, precisely, to do with an awareness of this diversity of viable poetics.
     But far from advocating some naïve relativism, I believe that some possibilities have more to offer than others. (Some sense of this will emerge from the discussion in the following sections.) We need to stay with these two things: the opening up of otherwise hidden possibilities; and the willingness to distinguish, evaluate, choose, take a stand.

I have no intention of writing an account of the more recent decades of American poetry; in fact, as the reader will have realized by now, I have only been concerned with laying out the foundations for an understanding of the general situation of contemporary practice. Amongst other things, the intricacies of such an account would involve expounding the characteristics of various “schools”, and also delving into the individual differences between the writers subsumed under these headings. It would also involve looking, for example, at the way that a poet like Clark Coolidge, often grouped with the New York School, has been important in the development of Language Poetry.
     More importantly, I would emphasize the significance of a number of poets who have never been allied to any school or movement—though they may have been on the fringes of one or two of them. I am thinking of poets like Theodore Enslin, William Bronk, Cid Corman, Frank Samperi, Robert Lax, Lawrence Fixel, Ronald Johnson, and David Rattray. In each case, one is dealing with a singularity of approach and achievement which the claims of membership in a group or school (however loosely-knit) can tend to blunt or cloud over. A sense of such singularity or independence has been one of the guiding factors in the selection of this anthology, as I have already noted.
     While I am aware of the historical importance of literary movements, I believe that whereas the work of the “primary” practitioners within a movement tends to differentiate itself, this differentiation gets diffused amongst the “secondary” writers; and to the extent that any member of a movement identifies his or her writing with some group practice or dogma, there is already a loss of distinctive identity. How important is this? Without wanting to confuse poetry and biography, I would like to draw a parallel between writing and personhood (or personal being). One prizes personal qualities and virtues according to the way the individuals have actualized them in their distinctive way, so that they make them, so to speak, their own.[8] Similarly, one prizes literary qualities and virtues according to the way that they are made distinctive in actualization. Poetry (like other forms of writing) has the unfortunate tendency to become part of an anonymous sludge of literary verbiage—of which there exists a number of “varieties” at any given time. I favour poets, and poems, that strongly resist this tendency. (For example, one is unlikely to mistake John Perlman’s recent work for that of any other contemporary poet.)

There are various sorts of poetry that are absent from this anthology. To give two examples: poetry as the epiphenomenon of a life-style, exemplified in Charles Bukowski’s work; and the unadventurous lyrical poetry of a conventionalized “I”, that all-too-often seems to be encouraged by academic writing workshops. For the most part it is probably not necessary to note these omissions. But two tendencies in contemporary American poetry have gained such currency, that I should say something about them, even if our bias towards unaffiliated writers would have meant excluding the poets concerned anyway. I am referring to Language Poetry and to Neo-Formalism.
     Although some of Language Poetry’s theorists/practitioners have spurned the notion of “non-referentiality”,[9] in what is obviously meant as a neutral description. Ron Silliman has distinguished between “non-referential” and “post-referential” writing (specifying certain works by Robert Grenier and Clark Coolidge as non-referential, i.e. reference-negating). “The historical function of language-centered writing”, according to Silliman, “is to achieve, to the greatest extent possible, a post-referential writing.”[10]
     Theoretical or quasi-theoretical statements suggest a largely interrogatory attitude towards meaning and its conditions, with some basis in a linguistics that analyses language into structural/systems/constituents. “….language is above all else a system of signs”, says Steve McCaffery, “and…writing must stress its semiotic nature through modes of investigation and probe, rather than mimetic, instrumental indications.” McCaffrey also writes: “I believe it to be in the work of [David] Melnick, [Ron] Silliman, [Clark] Coolidge, [Ray] di Palma and [Bruce] Andrews that a new concept of the meaningful is emerging, a concept based not upon communication but upon a creative entry into the opacity of evacuated signs.”[11] Within such writing, meaning tends to collapse inwards, so that the poem functions as autotelic.[12] Although the notion that Language Poetry fulfills some sort of “critique” may sometimes be invoked, the real concern lies in the varieties, combinations, and interactions of linguistic “formations”;[13] whenever (as in Bernstein’s work, for example) anything is introduced which has the potential to open up this self-enclosed linguistic “play”, it is either ironized away, or its potential is negated by means of a flurry of nonsequiturs.
     Charles Bernstein’s description of Silliman’s work is very telling in this context. Bernstein writes: “Ron Silliman has consistently written a poetry of visible borders; a poetry of shape. …Such poetry emphasizes its medium as being constructed, rule governed, everywhere circumscribed by grammar & syntax, chosen vocabulary: designed, manipulated, picked, programmed, organized, & so an artifice, artifactual, an artifact—monadic. Solopsistic, homemade, manufactured, mechanized & formulaic at some points: willful.”[14]
     Solopsistic might, indeed, be the key term for describing such poetry, as long as we shift the focus from self-consciousness to language. “…language itself constitutes experience at every moment (in reading and otherwise)’, Bernstein writes elsewhere.[15]
     The limitations of this approach are pointed up in an encounter between Alan Davies and Susan Howe. In a discussion following Howe’s talk, ‘Encloser’, Davies says: “Somebody used the term ‘real event’. I never really encountered one myself….Howe responds: “…I do not believe you never encountered a real event. Come on. That sounds so theoretical! Have you ever been really hungry? Did the dentist ever hit a nerve when he was giving you a filling? Have you ever had someone you love die? Did the Holocaust never really happen? Did we never really drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima?”[16]
     We may well ask if, rather than redefining the ground for commitment and meaningfulness, the Language Poets haven’t erased it. The notion of language as all-encompassing, so that it brackets “the real” in some absolute sense, is a curiously impoverished and impoverishing one. As Alain Jouffroy has written: “To abandon oneself unrestrainedly to language [should be] to abandon oneself unrestrainedly to the world. Those writers who underestimate the powers of language by separating it from the world, those who dig a ditch between the verbal sign and that which it signifies, only imprison themselves within the limits they assign to language.”[17]
     What one particularly misses in such poetry is any sense of otherness, whether this is the alterity of other persons,[18] which Emmanuel Levinas has written about in terms of the epiphany of the visage, and which can be seen thematically, for example, in René Girard’s work on victimage,[19] or whether it is the sense of an encounter with something in a particular mode of manifestation, or “form”, which requires to be made into a work of art, as in Buber’s formulation: “…a man [or a woman] is faced by a form which desires to be made through him [or her] into a work. This form is no offspring of his [or her] soul, but is an appearance which steps up to it and demands of it the effective power.”[20] The identity and nature of such “forms” (in this sense) are, needless to say, as various and as complex as the works of art which give them their artistic reality. Further, such a “form” is “worked through” into a clarity of apprehension in the work itself: a clarity that is not, indeed, separate from the work.
                    Several  of the poets in this anthology—I’m thinking of Howe, Gansz, Waldrop, Murphy, Barone, and Ott—either have been or could be seen in relation to Language Poetry; but where the relation  is not simply negative (as with Gansz, for example), I believe it to be significantly disjunctive in each case. (And this is despite the fact that someone like Susan Howe has been anthologized alongside the Language Poets.) John Tritica, in writing on Sheila Murphy, says: “Murphy’s defamiliarization of familiar words or objects decenters our routinized perception, jarring us into new apprehensions…, leading us to question how language operates”; but he also refers to Murphy’s work in relation to “a dialogical engagement with the world.”[21] In David C. D. Gansz’s densely poetic “credo”, ‘From Truth to the Tribe’, he writes: “We trade the arsenal of intellect for the gnostic flaming sword, accepting dream, “magic”, myth and poetry as interchangeably fluid.” He also speaks of “Brilliance as spiritual radiance (not mental prowess)….”[22]
     The main difference here, beyond the generosity or openness of spirit I take as basic to all these writers, is the element of risk one finds in Howe, Gansz, Waldrop, and the others; whereas in such self-enclosed poetry as that written by the more doctrinaire Language Poets, the risk is not even miniscule. The same thing, I believe, is true of Neo-Formalism.
     Neo-Formalism need not detain us for too long. An aesthetic which could reduce the meaning of Pound’s Cantos to their tone,[23] is revived in the complementary Neo-Formalist privileging of form (in the specific sense of predetermined, metrical verse-forms) over vision, as Ira Sadoff has pointed out in discussing poems by Dana Gioia, Donald Hall and others.[24] In particular, one can point to the tendency amongst Neo-Formalists to elevate metre, conventional form, and stylistic ingenuity to the point where it is assumed that poetry “rightly” consists in these things themselves.
     Poetry is restricted, then, to an area where Robert Duncan once wrote, rules and conventionality are considered absolute:

What form is to the conventional mind is just what can be imposed, the rest is thought of as lacking in form. …Frost is right in his sense that the meters and rimes of regulation verse have a counterpart in the rules, marked areas of the court (establishing bounds and out-of-bounds), and net of the tennis game. (“I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.”) But, for those who see life as something other than a tennis game, without bounds, and who seek in their sciences and arts to come into that life, into an imagination of that life, the thought comes that the counterpart of free verse may be free thought and free movement. The explorer displays the meaning of physical excellence in a way different from that displayed by the tennis player.[25]

     Neo-Formalism refuses to consider the larger context in which form—in the overall sense of rhythmic and verbal patterns, order or structure—arises, and in which it is meaningful. “…what does form mean? I do not even know what it means to ask the question”, writes Carl Rakosi. “All I know is that when I ask it, I am in the existential world and that it can only be answered there.”[26]
     At the same time, it should be admitted that poetry can be “formal”, and still be adventurous. But where this is the case, we are dealing with a very different attitude to poetry than can be found in Neo-Formalism. Duncan wrote of the “psychic need” that lay behind, and animated, Marianne Moore’s work,[27] and he might have said the same of Elizabeth Bishop; or, for that matter, the contemporary poet Amy Clampitt. I would also cite the example of Edouard Roditi’s “formal” poetry, where a visionary or contemplative impulse animates the attempt at a recovery, beyond the self-imposed limitations of avant-gardism, of aspects of older traditions.
The poets presented here were chosen partly by invitation, partly through open submission. Rupert Loydell and I tried to agree as much as possible about which poets (and poems) should be included and which excluded; although not all the choices were, in fact, shared. (The views in this Introduction are strictly my own, I should add.)
     Clearly, we have been limited by questions of space, availability of work, and our decision to only include poets who were relatively little known in the U. K. Given somewhat different conditions, I would also have liked to include Cid Corman, Benjamin Hollander, John Taggart, Brian McInerney, M.J. Bender, David Levi Strauss, Craig Watson, Ted Pearson, Edouard Roditi, David Rattray, Lawrence Fixel, and Frank Samperi, amongst others. I’m sure Rupert Loydell could provide a similar list.
     The poets have been arranged sometimes by affinity, sometimes by contrast, and sometimes according to odd correspondences or connections across so-called “stylistic” frontiers—in short, in any way at all that might prove illuminating and lead the reader to really see the work.

David Miller
January 1991


[1] By “exploratory”, I mean any work that seeks to explore, discover, and deal with the unfamiliar, however much this exploration might take place within, or from, a given tradition.
[2] ‘Introduction’, The New Writing in the USA, ed. Donald Allen and Robert Creeley, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1967; p. 17.
[3] A Homemade World, Knopf, NY, 1975; p. 174
[4] ‘Introduction’, The New Writing in the USA, op. cit.; p. 17
[5] ‘Ideas of the Meaning of Form’, Kulcher, NY, 4, 1961; p. 61
[6] Conviction’s Net of Branches: Essays on the Objectivist Poets and Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1985; p. 10.
[7] Letter to Cid Corman (undated, circa. 1960/61), published in Origin, Boston and Kyoto, Fourth Series, 20, July 1982; p. 34.
[8] At the same time as the person actualizes virtues and qualities specifically, I believe that these virtues and qualities are trans-subjective, i.e. involving the transcendence of the ego’s closures—
to the extent that such qualities are estimable.
[9] Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, in “Repossessing the Word”, write: ….”the idea that writing should (or could) is as bothersome and confusing as the assumption that the primary function of words is to refer, one-on-one, to an already constructed world of ‘things’.” (The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, ed. Andrews and Bernstein, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1984; p. ix.)
[10] Forms/Froms, Potes & Poets, Elmwood, Connecticut, 1988; n.p.
[11] ‘For Open Letter’, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, N.Y., Supplement Number One, June 1980; n.p.
[12] ‘The Death of the Subject: The Implications of Counter-Communication in Recent Language-Centered Writing’, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Supplement Number One, ibid; n.p. One draws a deep breath at the fatuous assumption that all other writing is based on some one-dimensional model of communication, wherein language is “transparent”, and the art of writing is seen as merely “imitative”.
[13] Language Poetry is thus an example of what Roger Cardinal has called “the logological extreme”, in his book Figures of Reality: A Perspective on the Human Imagination, Croom Helm, London, 1981.
[14] ‘Stray Straws and Straw Men’, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Supplement Number One, op.cit.; n.p.

[15] Bernstein writes:
“Textures, vocabularies, discourses, constructivist modes of radically different character are not integrated into a field as part of a predestined planar architecture; the gaps and jumps compose a space within shifting parameters, types and styles of discourse constantly crisscrossing, interacting, creating new gels.” (‘Semblance’, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, op.cit.; p. 118.)

[16] The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy, ed. Charles Bernstein, Roof Books, N.Y., 1990; p. 194.
[17] Quoted in Roger Cardinal, Figures of Reality, op. cit.; pp. 177-78.
[18] The reality of other persons, as they are in their own being, is forever a challenge to the understanding, as long as we don’t reduce them to objects, figures within some ideological schema, projections of ourselves, etc.
[19] Cf. Susan Howe’s remark: “I wish I could tenderly lift from the dark side of history, voices that are anonymous, slighted—inarticulate.” (‘There Are Not Leaves Enough to Crown to Cover to Crown to Cover’, The Europe of Trusts, Sun & Moon Press, L.A., 1990; p. 14.)
[20] I and Thou, tr. Ronald Gregor Smith, 2nd ed., T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1987; p. 22. How else might one put this? In Imagination and Unity & The Poetics of Painting, I wrote of the imagination in the following way:
     By imagination, I mean the power of apprehending some aspect of things or some significance that is usually hidden or invisible. This apprehension can take various forms: an act of understanding, for example, or the working-through of a tacit insight in the making of an art-work.
     What the imagination deals with, in other words, is the symbolic, which is constituted both by disclosiveness, on the one hand, and by a quality of inexhaustibility, or excess of meaning, on the other. It is through this excess that an art-work remains ‘open’ to each present occasion, as contrasted with the essentially ‘transparent’ constitution of factual or logical statements, or of ‘symbols’ in the reductive sense, where one thing ‘stands for’ another and the meaning is simply resolved in an act of comprehension. (Imagination & Unity, Stride, Exeter, 1991; n.p.)
[21] Review of Sheila Murphy’s With House Silence, Central Park, N.Y., 16, 1989; p. 208.
[22] Temblor, North Hollywood, 8, 1988; p. 61.
[23]The Poetry Reviews of Allen Tate, 1924-1944, ed. Ashley Brown and Frances Noel Cheney, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London, 1983; p. 126.
[24] ‘Neo-Formalism: A Dangerous Nostalgia’, The American Poetry Review, Philadelphia, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1990; p. 7. Rachel Hadas and Molly Peacock are other examples of poets who could be discussed in this context.
[25] ‘Ideas of the Meaning of Form’, Kulchur, N.Y., 4, 1961; pp. 74, 72-3.
[26] ‘Ex Cranium, the Poet’, Ex Cranium, Night, Black Sparrow Press, L.A., 1975; p. 117.
[27] ‘Ideas of the Meaning of Form’, op. cit.; p. 65.

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