August 07, 2006

A Rose is a Rose is a Room is a Rose

I was working (read: snooping through the internet) and came across this old essay by Joshua Clover on the origins of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, "The Rose of the Name," in the premiere issue of Fence--

It is a smart essay, and appealing; it reminds me that I wish sometimes that I was a language poet, as they seem to have slightly better parties with stiffer drinks and more talk of God. That's a joke. Mostly. I admire the philosophies and styles of Language poetry, the brassy humor and the willingness to be apropos of nothing. But the trick is that, at the end of the day, so few of the poems truly move me. So few seem to take what, to me, is the greater risk of personal (rather than merely cerebral) investment. As a poet and a reader, I'm always on the lookout for a good human moment, a moment of resonance and even comfort; I'm selfish that way. Anyone else have this problem? Maybe I am just not looking hard enough, in the right directions.

[8/9/2006 - Draft of poem that was posted here removed to maintain publication eligibility.]


Unknown said...

thank you for posting the draft.

Anonymous said...

Did you know women used to feign childbirth and people would fake their own deaths to get out of Nero's fiddle concerts? I loved finding that out.

As for your question... I do look for investment by the poet in their poem. Language poetry should not be random. Every word must have a reason for being in the poem, and especially a reason for being in "that particular order". Every image should have a reason for inclusion. Every punctuation mark should be placed with specific intent. Will the reader be able discern the reasoning or intent of the poet? Maybe, maybe not. To me, the most important thing is that the poet "intend" everything in his/her poem.

I notice someone (Deb?) recommended "Best Words, Best Order" as reading material for your Millay getaway. If poetry is truly "the best words in the best order," language poetry should not be exempt from that.

tmorange said...

hi sandra,

i like clover's essay too: it's smart, and fun, and gives a good sense of language poetry's stakes without insisting that these are the *only* stakes (i.e. that he could've told the story any number of ways). personally tho, i don't find the idea of language poetry as essentially a philsophical exercise that may not even be poetry very useful.

i think what it does as poetry is far more effective than what it does as philosophy or politics or theory. and that is, it shows me that poetry does not have to be limited to merely reflecting the world of experience but that it can have an active role in changing and shaping that world.

this certainly isn't anything new (it's part of sidney's argument in his defense of poetry) and language poetry is hardly the only poetry to do this. john ashbery apparently came to a college course where the students read his poem "leaving the atocha station," which begins with the line "the arctic honey blabbed ober the report causing darkness,"
and a student asked him "what is artic honey?"

ashbery laughed and replied, "it's probably something cold and sweet." right? on some level ashbery himself doesn't know, because "artic honey" isn't a reflection of anything that exists in the lived experience of most humans i would imagine. but it exists now in a sense, thanks to ashbery's poem. this is poetry as poesis (making), not just mimesis (reflecting).


shanna said...

have you read *my life* by lyn hejinian? i think you might like that. i found it moving, & it's certainly personal.

there are some really gorgeous things in ron silliman's *in the american tree,* i think. kit robinson, jean day, bernadette mayer. though i'm not totally sure she'd identify as LP.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Good use of line and form. "how the wires fray, how the baseboards splinter to tinder" Wow to this line.

The dark progression in the poem pulls me in, especially the second stanza. The voice echo is effective. And the poem's ending with music, flames, and the mouth/city preparing itself to sing catches the moment -- and holds it. I like that.

Thanks for sharing the draft.

Sandra said...

See Deb, I can put my money where my mouth is. = ) Thanks for all these thoughtful posts.

Bernie, it's interesting that you're willing to entrust so much value to what the author intends, versus what the reader discerns--this works for me when I'm thinking about word choice/inclusion, but not as well when I'm thinking about images/symbolism.

Tom, thanks for visiting! After reading your note I went back to the essay and found this: "It may be that Language poetry isn't poetry particularly--it's the heisting of the century's language game...The weird thing is that Language poetry is no harder to "get" than Cubism..."

That's an interesting parallel to make, since Cubism is, so often, figurative in its roots (see Picasso or Braque versus someone like Pollock or Rothko, where the color field is its own referent). In Cubism, the mode of delivery/composition is where the obfuscation/constraint takes place, not in the originating elements--so it seems somewhere between mimesis and poesis (terms you helpfully added to the discussion).

The Ashberry anecdote is amusing. But I would have been much more intrigued to hear how he "translated" "blabbed over the report causing" than "arctic honey," because the syntactic dislocation is much more interesting than a mere unfamiliar image composed of comprehensible terms.

Shanna, my friend Carly is a Lyn Hejinian fan, yet I have not read her. Thanks for the nudge. I appreciate the suggestions--as you might know from my earlier blog entry, I can add these to the big box o'books. = )

Sam, I adore you for feedback on the poem! This is one of those rare scenarios where I wish I'd kept all my drafts (drat, computers)...this poem has done a lot of wriggling around on the page since I started it last week. I think I like these line breaks the best, for now. Maureen Seaton once told me to not be afraid to stick with end-stopped lines. She compared them to breaths of fresh air in this overly-enjambed world.


P.S. - Bernie, I yield to your ownership of those *great* facts about Nero. I could never steal them to put them in a poem...but you really should.

shanna said...

the first LJ i read (long time 'go, and i wish i could remember what it was, somebody had recommended her or mentioned her somewhere in something else i read or something so hazy anyway) didn't turn me on *at all* and in fact made me kinda mad/frustrated. but then i tried again.

steve mueske said...

I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, not just about LP but also other avant forms. I think that they are necessary, because they stretch the idea of what is possible to do with words. My personal criterion, though, is, what poems do I return to? Which ones haunt me enough to thumb through a book to find an image from memory? I have very eclectic tastes and seem to like work all over the spectrum. I guess the work I like best has a certain wildness about it, a sense of inevitability and strangeness.

Sandra said...

Yes, wildness, yes strangeness. Steve, your comment made me wonder--I wonder if part of the tipping point, for identifying poems that "haunt" me, is that they be in a format that lends itself to being recorded in memory? A lot of LangPo that engages me at the time of reading does not lend itself to being recorded in units of image of line, versus the fuzzy whole (which is never as effective at luring me back).

Hejinian has officially made it into the box. = ) Nothing quite like being stranded in the wilderness of upstate NY to encourage repeat readings...

newzoopoet said...

Hey, Sandra-
I'm with you on the whole language poetry thing. Sometimes it seems like an exercise, pure and simple, albeit an impressive one and likely good at limbering up one's writing muscle. Have fun in NY!

newzoopoet said...

Oh, I forgot to say...adored the poems in No Tell Motel, especially the story of you on the back of the bike! :-)

Sandra said...

Welcome, Angela!

It is lovely to see you on the blogsphere, and thanks for the kind words about the Allergy Girl poems.