A Guide to Poetics Journal
Writing in the Expanded Field, 1982?1998
Publication Year: 2013
In making their selections for the guide, the editors have sought to showcase a range of innovative poetics and to indicate the diversity of fields and activities with which they might be engaged. The introduction and headnotes by the editors provide historical and thematic context for the articles. The Guide is intended to be of sustained creative and classroom use, while the companion Archive of all ten issues of Poetics Journal allows users to remix, remaster, and extend its practices and debates.
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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How to Use This Guide
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The present volume is one part of a two-part publication based on the ten issues of Poetics Journal that appeared between 1982 and 1998. The second part is the Poetics Journal Digital Archive, a resource that includes virtually all of the articles published in Poetics Journal. ...
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The first issue of Poetics Journal appeared in January 1982, in the midst of a period of intense poetic productivity, with several North American geographical centers (the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Toronto, and Washington, D.C., being the most notable) and with corollary developments, both historical and contemporary, taking place elsewhere in the world. ...
Part I: Numbers 1–4
Close Reading: Leavings and Cleavings
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Steve Benson’s “Close Reading: Leavings and Cleavings” was first given as a performance at San Francisco artspace 80 Langton Street (14 August 1980). In it, Benson took apart and exploded the scene of the reader’s interaction with the text as a temporal and performative event of meaning making. ...
Writing and Method
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Charles Bernstein was the coeditor, with Bruce Andrews, of the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, which they produced in chapbook format from 1978 to 1982. Radical in style as well as content, the essays they published (and often commissioned) were intended to blur the distinction between poetry and poetics, writing and theory. ...
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Since the late 1970s, Beverly Dahlen has been at work on A Reading, an ongoing long poem that she describes, in a 1980 essay, as “an interminable work” whose compositional method derives from the free-associative practices of psychoanalysis. Her experiments with this method of writing coincided with the rise of French feminism in the United States ...
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Alan Davies’s text-based performance at 80 Langton Street, San Francisco (29 October 1982) is a verbal thought experiment that enacts the disparity between language—divided between speech and writing—and mind. Many of Davies’s key terms are charged with prior usages in philosophy, both Western and Eastern: ...
His Heart Is a Lute Held Up: Poe and Bataille
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Robert Glück is a central figure in “New Narrative” writing, along with Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, Bruce Boone, Dennis Cooper, and Kevin Killian. These writers borrow from the resources of genre fiction, sensational novels, tabloid gossip, and pornography to address questions of gender and sexuality. ...
The Rejection of Closure
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In her essay, Lyn Hejinian takes up a key distinction in American poetry since the 1950s, between “closed” and “open” forms. Charles Olson, in his epoch-making manifesto “Projective Verse,” defined closed verse as “the verse print bred” (and that literary magazines continued to publish), ...
My Emily Dickinson: Part One
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Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, solicited for Poetics Journal in 1984 and published as a book in 1985, led the way toward the feminist revision of Dickinson scholarship, both within the academy and in communities of poet-scholars and feminists. Howe’s approach demands painstaking archival research and focus on the material text of Dickinson’s poetic oeuvre— ...
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Berkeley linguist George Lakoff’s analysis of linguistic devices in contemporary art and writing joins a long conversation between the sciences of language and radical experiments of the avant-garde, from the influence of Russian futurism on the St. Petersburg OPOYAZ (Viktor Shklovsky) and Moscow Linguistic Circle (Roman Jakobson) ...
Some Ways Philosophy Has Helped to Shape My Work
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In a personal account of the relation of philosophy to the making of experimental poetry, Jackson Mac Low shows how his radically text-based writing may be read in terms of its intellectual history. Mac Low discusses the early influence on his work of the Chicago Aristotelians (Richard McKeon, R. S. Crane) and their revisionist reading of the Poetics, ...
Plotless Literature: Vasily Rozanov
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The Russian Formalists were a group of avant-garde Russian literary theorists who emerged in the decade prior to World War I and the Russian Revolution. The term “formalism,” then and now, has been a contested one, both aesthetically and politically. The autonomous and claustrophic (closed) formalism championed by the New Critics was attacked, ...
Migratory Meaning: The Parsimony Principle in the Poem
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Ron Silliman combines key concepts of cognitive linguistics—“frame,” “envisionment,” and “schema”—with the Russian Formalists’ account of the literary “device” in his reading of Joseph Ceravolo’s abstract lyric “Migratory Noon.” Silliman wants to know exactly how this poem, as a communicative act between speaker and hearer, poet and reader, ...
The Politics of Style
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Barrett Watten begins his essay “The Politics of Style” by responding to Ron Silliman’s “The Political Economy of Poetry” (1981), which argued that “poems both are and are not commodities.” For Watten, the politics of poetry ought to be seen “in terms of the function poetry performs within language itself.” ...
Part II: Numbers 5–7
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One of the most influential postmodern feminist writers, Kathy Acker explodes the politics of gender, sexuality, and genre in a series of experimental texts that have revolutionized narrative prose. Her technique of appropriation—pastiching pornography with autobiography, contemporary politics with traditional fiction, ...
Total Equals What: Poetics and Praxis
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Language writing from its beginnings sought to engage political theory and to stage the writing of poetry as a social practice. Bruce Andrews, who since 1975 has taught political science at Fordham University, was cofounder and coeditor (with Charles Bernstein) of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, published from 1978 to 1982. ...
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Rae Armantrout’s “Mainstream Marginality” is a critical send-up of the gap between mainstream and avant-garde poetries, read in terms of the “anthology wars.” For the editors of an anthology of mainstream poets (The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, 1985), the younger poets they select are “rarely a card-carrying group member, political or aesthetic.” ...
“Hey, Man, My Wave!”: The Authority of Private Language
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Cultural studies was emergent when Michael Davidson wrote this groundbreaking essay on the social construction of “private language,” presented at New Langton Arts, San Francisco (22 March 1984). The concept of “private language” originated as a thought experiment in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings, ...
Hypergraphy: A Note on Maurice Lemaître’s Roman Hypergraphique
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Maurice Lemaître was an active participant in the postwar cultural movement known as lettrism (with Isidore Isou, generally acknowledged as its founder). Indebted to, but wanting to go beyond, Dada and surrealism, lettrism emerged in Paris after World War II as a radical avant-garde tendency; ...
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Among San Francisco Language writers, Carla Harryman stands out as a poet working with narrative forms. Her mini-manifesto “Toy Boats” appeared in the context of a “Symposium on Narrative” (PJ 5) where poets, visual artists, and musicians were asked, “What is the status of narrative in your work?” ...
Jameson’s Perelman: Reification and the Material Signifier
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George Hartley’s essay on Fredric Jameson’s reading of Language writing, specifically Bob Perelman’s nonnarrative poem “China,” challenges the critic’s association of language-centered poetry with a litany of postmodernism’s symptoms—depthlessness, the loss of historicity, the waning of affect, ...
Good and Bad/Good and Evil: Pound, Céline, and Fascism
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San Francisco Poets Theater, founded in 1979, was preceded by several prior incarnations. In the early 1950s, Frank O’Hara and his friends wrote and produced plays as Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, Mass.; poets of Jack Spicer’s circle did likewise in San Francisco; and the Judson Church Poets Theater flourished in New York in the 1960s. ...
Pattern—and the ‘Simulacral’
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Leslie Scalapino surveys nonnarrative forms that construct the postmodern present in poets such as Michael McClure, Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, and Alice Notley. If Gertrude Stein’s notion of a bodily “continuous present” represents a modernist account of temporality, postmodernists differ in building up sequences of disjunct temporal moments ...
An Example from the Literature
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Peter Seaton’s poem is both an essay in verse and a lecture on aesthetic theory: an example of poetics as praxis, theory as act. In reflecting on the act of writing as a form of writing, Seaton’s poem continually builds new meanings as it performs its own erasure, canceling out any possible conclusion as it moves forward. ...
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Cinema has provided poetry with many points of reference, from Hart Crane’s The Bridge to Frank O’Hara’s “Ave Maria” and John Ashbery’s “Daffy Duck.” Less familiar are avant-garde cinema’s contributions to poetics, from the modernist period to the present. Warren Sonbert (1947–95) was a San Francisco experimental filmmaker ...
Part III: Numbers 8–10
Seeking a Sentence
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Pierre Alferi’s work represents one of many parallels between French poetry and North American language-centered writing in the 1970s and 1980s, in part due to their shared influence by French theorists like Roland Barthes, Hélène Cixous, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Julia Kristeva. ...
Can’t We Just Call It Sex?: In Memory of David Wojnarowicz
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Dodie Bellamy is a prominent figure in the New Narrative movement, which from its inception pursued writing at the intersection of genre fiction and sexuality. In her essay on David Wojnarowicz, Bellamy takes the often repeated explanation of experimental writing—“the reader makes meaning”— ...
Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, I(s)
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Jerry Estrin’s essay, given at a symposium titled “The Politics of Everyday Life” at Small Press Distribution, Berkeley (1988), explores the dehumanizing experience of postmodernity. For Estrin, the postmodern is a historical endgame in which artistic form and architectural monument collaborate in a no-win situation for the viewer or subject seeking to know. ...
Miscegenated Texts and Media Cyborgs: Technologies of Body and Soul
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Poet and scholar Harryette Mullen critiques the postmodern construction of race, where blackness as “soul” is dissociated from black bodies and commoditized in popular media. Framing her argument historically from slave narratives and abolitionist literature, Mullen shows how depictions of the emotions of the enslaved ...
“A Form of Assumptions”
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Ted Pearson’s close reading of a single poem from Robert Creeley’s Pieces was presented at the 1990 Poetry Project symposium in New York. Nothing less than a “politics of the person”—the title of our lead symposium in the special issue titled The Person—is entailed in the relentlessly autobiographical focus of Creeley’s work. ...
Time and Materials: The Workplace, Dreams, and Writing
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Kit Robinson discusses writing in relation to the time frames of work and dream, after the modern tradition of poets (like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens) who wrote poetry in relation to their employment. The postmodern, post-Fordist workplace is increasingly organized around the scarcity of time, ...
The Death of Lady Day
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Andrew Ross’s reading of Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died,” presented at the 1987 conference of the Modern Language Association in San Francisco, opened an entirely new approach to O’Hara and New York School poetry. Departing from aesthetic approaches that identified O’Hara with painterly form and surrealist influences in the 1950s, ...
What/Person: From an Exchange
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This well-known exchange between Leslie Scalapino and Ron Silliman, over his introduction to a selection of work by Scalapino and three other contemporary poets in Socialist Review (1988), begins with Scalapino’s disagreement with Silliman’s distinction between poets “who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history” ...
The Marks Are Waiting
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Informed by the politics of everyday life in the New York School, Lorenzo Thomas demonstrates how to turn the politics of media language into poetry. In the first half of his hybrid work, Thomas mines the dissociated and conflicted language of the media as a continuous presentation of political irony; ...
Thinking You Know
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Constructing a rich interpretive framework for John Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape,” art historian Reva Wolf questions how decisive such contexts can be for reading the poem. Specifically, she wants to know whether it was possible for Ashbery to have seen a certain painting by Andy Warhol (Popeye, 1962) ...
Memory and Immorality in Musical Composition
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John Zorn is the most visible jazz composer and instrumentalist to have emerged from the Lower East Side in the 1970s. In influential early works such as Hockey, Locus Solus, The Classic Guide to Strategy, and Cobra, he employed techniques of spontaneous choice, improvisation, and constraint, often with collaborators, ...
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Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2013