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Read an essay by Marjorie Perloff last night called "After language Poetry: Innovation and its Theoretical Discontents." It's a really interesting essay.

She begins by talking about the semantic history of innovation. Innovation as sedition and treason esp. in 14th and 15th century. She then gives a short but good background on the innovations and theories of language writings. She mentions how Bruce Andrews called referentiality the misguided "search for the pot at the end of the rainbow, the commodity or ideology that brings fulfillment."

So the very crude version goes a little something like this:

modernists react against the romantics
plain spoken lyric workshop mode reacts against the impersonal modernists
language poetics reacts against plain spoken lyric workshop mode with theory based heavily in Marxism.

So the the signifed as a commodity I can see. But can't the signifier also become a commodity? A fetish?

Newness and innovation are vital to capitalism. Associative logic is certainly employed very nicely to market products.

So the plain spoken Sundance movies and the David Lynch surrealism exist side by side. Does one negate the other?

Then again, I find myself wondering about variety. The presentation of variety in Fence magazine versus the presentation of variety in say, Hambone.

I like a lot of the poems in Fence. They pick some good stuff. But for some reason (maybe Steve Evans has gotten to me) I find the eclectic mix disconcerting. Why?

Does Fence and Fence books employ newness and innovation in a similar way to say Downy? Does Fence make newness a commodity in and of itself?

Is it merely eclectic?

Chicago review is a "well-respected university lit journal" with a history of publishing innovative writing. It feels a lot different than Fence. I am not sure why after a year or two of reading fence I am more drawn to Combo, Hambone, Chicago Review. Some of the same poets publish in both Hambone and Fence.

Does presentation and production of art make a difference in meaning? Will I get something different out of reading a Kasey Mohammad poem in Fence versus reading the same poem in Hambone? If I am honest with myself, I would say yes. I think I might come away with a slightly different reading.

So what does all this mean? Is Fence evil?

I think the editors have the best of intentions. I don't think they are making big bucks off Fence.

Anyway, this is an old debate, but I am still bothered by it.

I do believe in small productions networking with other small productions.

Cells over sales.

The bottom line does not have to lessen the quality of a given art, but it often does.

U2 sucks!


Chris Vitiello said…
Hey Marcus---as usual, your post is provocative. I like following your trains of thought.

You've several concepts in this post. Interesting that you and I have a comparable ambivalence to Fence in particular. Though I'm sure there could be a few other journals listed in there. Proliferation, the journal I created with a couple of grad school friends and co-edited through 5 issues, started out as an editorial idea I still find very exciting, but it had turned into just another magazine by issue 4. This turn is similar to a fad or fashion---a magazine comes out and is hot and different and then everyone sends their work to it and the editors are like "hey, we should publish this person because she has a press and I've got an MS I want to send her; hey, we should publish him because he's a big name; etc." Not all networking is ambition and not all ambition is bad, but it's certainly a commodification of the editorial function. There are editors who edit and there are editors who open the mail, dump the contents into a layout, and send the file to the printer. Capitalism needs us to need new stuff, as you note, and it becomes how your mind works. Why do I suddenly hate all my CDs?

The other line of thought in your post about the Perloff essay is interesting and would be a really worthwhile thing for the Lucipoets to mull. You ask: Can't the signifier become a fetish? That's rhetorical and the real question is: What are the effects and implications of the signifier becoming a fetish?

The trend nowadays (which is probably exactly why you and I are ambivalent to Fence) is back towards the lyric and its modes of expression, and I think it has to do with the fetishization of the entire poem, as well as its discrete parts---indeed of anything that can be said to signify. Poems intensely signify in ways that almost no other texts do---the line breaks, the spaces, the individual lines themselves---prose rarely has these or analogous parts. The Language poets brought focus back to the poem as object, as a manipulated medium, which necessitated a politicization of all the facets, parts, and characteristics of that medium, as well as the motivations behind the poet's specific choices in works. Some of the Langpo is basically an ethics played out in language, encoded in the form and content. So these levels and units of signification were identified and proliferated.

Our subsequent generation has reacted against this (innately driven to innovate) by displacing the politics and ethics back into the langauge in order to express with it. As if the accomplishments and ideas of the Language Poets has been set or commodified in poetic language itself---a default. At the same time the aesthetic characteristics of Langpo have been internalized and inform the surfaces of the poems. So why expression?---because poets have found Language poetry (and some of the poets themselves) didactic, and found their historicization (and self-historicization) off-putting. I should think that witnessing the historicization of any recent artistic or cultural movement would turn anyone's stomach. Imagine living through Surrealism and then having someone say "Surrealism started in 1947..."---talk about commodification.

So, to crystallize and, unfortunately, reduce: the identification and subsequent politicization of the many levels of parts of the poem (and the generalizations of these revelations for language and communication as a whole) has been fetishized by our pre-conditioned capitalist minds into an aesthetics, and the poets have veered back toward the lyric, toward expression set within this aesthetics. And the inherent incongruence is either hidden under or convoluted by the surface of the poem, or is attributed linguistically to the analysis of discourse itself.

Thanks again for yet another good post.

Anonymous said…
why does u2 suck? I mean actung baby and the whole zooropa era sucks mightly, but don't the other albums make up for whatever made them forget the lessons of mon uncle?

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