first message on language poetry

Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 09:19:56 -0500 (EST)


Thanks to Mike Magee for joining us for the chapter 8 listserv
discussions. Mike is now going off the listserv, and our old friend Louis
Cabri is joining us for part of chapter 9. Welcome back, Louis!

Even though the listserv is on "break" for Thanksgiving until Sunday
night, Shawn and I do expect 88'ers to begin reading the work on the web

 week 11a, 11b - Nov. 29-Dec. 5 - introduction to the "language poetry" 

As for the "Language poets" themselves, George Hartley notes that

 "from the first issue of *This* in 1971 to the present, [these poets]
 have establish[ed] an elaborate network of small presses and talk series, a
 network which has possibly allowed for a greater degree of
 cross-fertilization and of independence from the defining process of
 academic criticism than perhaps any group since the Black Mountain

Hartley's helpful intro essay on these poets is here:

Hartley talks about influences on this poetry. He writes:

"I trace . . . the recent history of formal concerns in the works of Emily
Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams ... Louis Zukofsky...
and John Ashbery."

Of this group, of course, only Louis Zukofsky is a poet we haven't
studied, so what the language writers think and do shouldn't be too much
of a surprise. It should flow fairly logically from the earlier chapters
of 88.

One of four points Hartley makes about Stein's influence on language
writing is this:

Stein "does not write in order to enclose (define, delimit, decipher) the
world but to move within it; in other words, she does not function
according to the static determinism of the noun but through the process of

In this sense of relationship, think of Ashbery's "Some Trees."

Hartley summarizes language writer Bruce Andrew's sense of the importance
of John Ashbery:

 According to Ashbery, as Bruce Andrews sees him, "The answer is not
 give up on language and meaning-why write if such were the case?--but to
 put forward a writing of self-conscious production that recognizes the
 arbitrary but necessary hoices behind what we determine as truth."

Williams is important to these so-called "language writers" because WCW
seemed to combine political ideological critique with disruptions in
conventional language. This nicely establishes a key point for us: these
contemporary writers take a lot from early modernist poetry:

Hartley writes: "The notion of poetry as ideology critique, as a specific
mode of ideological struggle, associates much Language poetry with the
various avant-garde manifestations which occurred earlier in this century
(such as early the modernism of Williams)."

MORE ABOUT THANKSGIVING BREAK: yes, the listserv is on official hiatus
until this Sunday, but...but...that doesn't mean you can't post to it!
I'll certainly reply to any and all messages you send. If you have
questions about what you're reading from chapter 9, don't hesitate to

Yet when Sunday evening comes along, you should again feel a sense of
obligation to read the listserv messages and post replies.

Now have those disjunctive conversations at the Thanksgiving table. I can
just see Sara R. beginning such a conversation with her family:

"Some turkey," says Sara.
"These are amazing," says her mother (seemingly about the yams).

Gobble, gobble, goo,


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