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.
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 writtenstraightaway 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.
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.
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:
AFTER I HAVE VOTED
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!
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.
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.)
anthologies are characterized by bias of one sort or another. Our bias has been
towards work that is in some sense both “exploratory”
and unaffiliated. At the same time, we have tried to avoid being ruled by this
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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[………]
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) –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.
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
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
For the Objectivists, echoing Whitman, the
world is fact, and the poet is its agency.
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.
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.” [……………………………….]
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
some of Language Poetry’s theorists/practitioners have spurned the notion of
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.”
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.”Within such writing, meaning tends to collapse inwards, so that the poem
functions as autotelic.
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”;
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
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.”
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.
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?”
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.”
particularly misses in such poetry is any sense of otherness, whether this is the alterity of other persons,
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
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.” 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
Severalof 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 relationis 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.”
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)….”
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 need not detain us for too long. An aesthetic which could
reduce the meaning of Pound’s Cantos to their tone,
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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,
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
‘Introduction’, The New Writing in the USA, ed. Donald
Allen and Robert Creeley, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1967; p. 17.
‘Introduction’, The New Writing in the USA, op. cit.; p.
‘Ideas of the Meaning of
Form’, Kulcher, NY, 4, 1961; p. 61
Conviction’s Net of Branches: Essays on the Objectivist Poets and
Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press,
Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1985; p. 10.
Letter to Cid Corman
(undated, circa. 1960/61), published in Origin, Boston and Kyoto, Fourth
Series, 20, July 1982; p. 34.
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—
the extent that such qualities are
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.)
‘For Open Letter’,
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, N.Y., Supplement Number One, June 1980; n.p.
‘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”.
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.
‘Stray Straws and Straw Men’,
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Supplement Number
One, op.cit.; n.p.
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.)
The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy, ed. Charles Bernstein, Roof Books, N.Y., 1990; p. 194.
Quoted in Roger Cardinal, Figures of Reality, op. cit.; pp.
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.
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.)
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.)
Review of Sheila Murphy’s With House Silence, Central Park, N.Y.,
16, 1989; p. 208.
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.
‘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.
‘Ideas of the Meaning of
Form’, Kulchur, N.Y., 4, 1961; pp.
‘Ex Cranium, the Poet’, Ex Cranium, Night, Black Sparrow Press,
L.A., 1975; p. 117.
‘Ideas of the Meaning of
Form’, op. cit.; p. 65.