Louis Cabri on the Bruce Andrews/Rod Smith PhillyTalks
December 1998 at the Kelly Writers House

Of interest to me over the course of the newsletters has been how each poet-pair "dialogues"; it reflects, in a way, "deeper" aspects of each poet's work and - to use a dated Olsonian word - "stance." Bruce Andrews takes the occasion of contributing to # 8 to reread all of Rod Smith's work, and to write a "reading" of it (a strategy Bruce has used in many responses to other poets). As those will know who have read Bruce's piece in the newsletter, Bruce takes lines from all of Rod's poetry and orders them anew as sentences, then adds bracketed metacommentary in between some of the sentences. The sentences are organized into prose chunks that Bruce then supplies his own titles to. The titles match-up with familiar categories in Bruce's poetics: representation, nonrepresentation, mediation, praxis, and so on. Bruce's "dialogue" with Rod's work, then, is formal, in the sense that "Rod Smith" is wholly "read" through a grid of Bruce's poetics -- it is "dialogue with Rod," on Bruce's terms. The terms are, in fact, the fifteen terms of Bruce's latest writing project, "the millenium project," which he read from the other night, terms which stem from his "Tips for Totalizers" essay in _Paradise & Method_, an essay that was formulated, he says, during the writing of _Lip Service_ (unpublished). Bruce calls his piece on Rod, "Aerializing."

He mailed it to Rod (Bruce does not use email).

So, Rod had to respond to Bruce. Rod's response to Bruce and contribution to the newsletter is poetry, and a piece called "introduction" to Bruce Andrews's writings. Rod could have read Bruce through a grid of Rod's poetics, if Rod's poetics were in some sense structural like that. But that Rod reads Bruce already occurs by default, formally, in Rod's poetry. The lead poem by Rod, in the newsletter, a funny poem, "Taboo gratitude," is marked "for Bruce." Especially when Rod read his work the other night here in Philly, I could hear an Andrews-like organizing of minimal units of maximally-differentiated sound (which is not as apparent on the page, since Rod uses spacing and linebreaks, which emphasize single words and phrases, whereas Bruce's prose fuses sounds in a more apparent way due to the words' proximal syntactic relations). What Rod somewhat thematizes, as an additional component to "dialogue" understood as formal influence, is gratitude (in his lead poem's title, and in the very idea of an essay as "introduction"). Rod presents an affect, that he addresses to Bruce, but also problematizes, as in some sense a "taboo" affect. Is this gratitude as much directed to Bruce as to what Bruce represents when he theorizes poetry through his theoretical grids? Is there some nostalgic return, in the title, "Taboo gratitude," to a memory of theory's role in poetry, for Rod--as in his book title, _In Memory of My Theories_? Affect in Rod's poetry generally is perhaps in some sense a reflexive realization of a _fall_ out of "theory" and into something that has no name as such, but is full of affect. In this his poetic affect is not simply a return to the New York School. The extremes in Bruce - of linguistic "mess" (a good word Rod uses in his intro) and ideational structure - find a middle ground, in some non-middle-road sense, in Rod's work.

So, I think one could extend from their sense of dialogue, a sense which results from material constraints on their practices (that Bruce does not have email, that Bruce mails a completed piece to Rod, partly becuase he does not have email, which makes correspondence easier, etc) to think about their work in general. One little point. Formally, how can one *not* feel at least in a minour but systemic way, other than flattered, if one were Rod, and received one of Bruce's essays incorporating all of one's work (the "Aerializing" essay)? Almost as if Bruce's version of "dialogue" admits, affectively, one type of response: gratitude. But flattery is not necessarily a productive poetic affect to write from, and is in a way taboo for practicioners, and especially to Bruce's practice as he writes about it by means of his grids. Anway. Something like that.


Document URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/phillytalks-andrews-smith.html
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:28:01 EDT