Thursday, June 16, 2005

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and water

Almost too much to keep up with these days. For those of you who’ve been wondering how the WCW is coming along (not that you asked), I’ve gotten through Paterson and am now among the uncollected poems around the period of Pictures from Brueghel. Some of it’s pretty disspiriting, particularly Paterson VI, which the newest edition from New Directions reproduces in its full-of-errors typescript. Sad, knowing how debilitated WCW was when he struggled to type those pages, and sad how poor they are as poetry.

As to Bob’s “Bleed-Over and Decadence,” I must note that I didn’t say just “what both Bob & Josh are talking about is Language poetry” but “Language poetry in its first, second, and third generations, or what Ron Silliman is wont to call the ‘post-avant.’” And I should have taken care to mention that I included in my thinking there the various conversos (Jorie Graham – the Vanilla Ice of avant-garde writing – the most prominent example, but we can all name a half-dozen others) who began writing in a “scenic” style and then got the indeterminacy religion. I dunno whether I find “bleed-over” any more useful a term than “influence,” ultimately, but what it comes down to is that a Language-like difficulty (sort of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and water, like Edward Carpenter is Whitman and water) has become one of the period styles of our moment, one of the approaches the young Iowan can adopt at her/his pleasure. And thereby it’s been drained of much of its oppositional power: one way of conceiving it would be to say that the oppositional force of the “original” Language writing lay as much in its social formations, its rejection of conventional circuits of consecration and validation (the academy, trade and university presses, high-tone magazines), as in the forms and modes of the poetry itself; now that those forms and modes have begun to be common parlance and entered into the APR-AWP jobsearch marketplace, it becomes difficult to pretend they’re oppositional any longer – at least in the same way, or to the same degree. I'm frankly uncomfortable here, and need to think more about the issue, especially in regards to the creeping suspicion I have that a form or mode of poetry has no determinate ideological valence outside the social formation in which it is composed and received.

Of course, there are still certain poets and bodies of work that resist and will continue to resist incorporation into the poetry industry: limit-texts like Melnick’s PCOET and Coolidge’s Space, the entire corpus of J. H. Prynne, and so forth. Let’s one of these days make arguments for Ronald Johnson.

To Eric (in earnest of a longer response anon): What that Extraordinary Fellow G. Steiner actually said, in a manner far more constipated than either Bob’s recalling or your Austin Powering-up, was: “A move in American slang, though already somewhat dated, may pinpoint the cardinal distinction: we ‘get the text’ but we don’t ‘dig it’ (and the suggestion of active penetration is exactly apposite.” [Beavis: What did he say? Butthead: He said “penetration”! Both: heh heh heh.]

To Peter: Golly, I had no idea you were such a geek, Monsignor O’Leary! I won’t admit to which of those musical eminences I listened to in my formative years, but Triumph…

of the earbuds:
Rush, Hemispheres – no, just kidding – Anthony Coleman, Selfhaters

1 comment:

Norman Finkelstein said...

The real question for me, Mark, not that I lose any sleep over it, remains how "oppositional" language poetry ever really was. I've been asking this in one form or another for well nigh 25 years now (check out the 2nd edition of Utopian Moment and some of the essays in Lyrical Interference). Recent developments in American poetry (are there really workshops in MFA programs on indeterminacy or is this just my lurid fantasy?) only confirm my long-held suspicions. For a recent big conversation on this matter, check out “Avant, Post-Avant, and Beyond: An email-assisted round table discussion”

BTW, I was an avid YES fan back in the early 70s too.