introduction to Marjorie Perloff
Kelly Writers House
October 20, 1999
(by Al Filreis)

(The event is described here.)

Susan Stewart: "Marjorie practices what she preaches, beginning again and again; every poet and critic I know is hanging onto the bottom rung of Perloff's ladder."

Robert von Hallberg: "I don't know anyone else like her."

Susan Stewart: "If you are stuck in your thought, Marjorie can come in like a force of nature to help you get unstuck."

Robert von Hallberg: "Many years ago, when Marjorie was merely an author to me, I growled over an essay she published in ELH arguing that Charles Olson was utterly derivative from Pound and Williams. One of my senior colleagues then asked me, at lunch one day in my first year at Chicago, what I thought of the piece. "Oh, you mean the piece that shows that my interests and enthusiasms of the past few years have been ignorantly expended on an unworthy character?" I thought. That was not an auspicious beginning for my friendship with Professor Perloff. Not long after that, in my world, she became a person. When we met, she immediately put me at ease by recanting, to some degree, and from then on we have been fast friends. Generous, is one of the first things to say, enormously so: I have met many people--poets and scholars--from all over who have received her encouragement and support, in the form of timely reading, criticism, or letters, as I too continue, nearly three decades after my first growl in her direction, to work with the knowledge that she is always there ready to talk with me, or advocate my case to someone or other. This is so not just because she is a nurturing person, though she is that, and particularly with young people not yet established, as I was not when I met her. I think it is also that she is extremely curious. She really wants to know what everyone, young and old, is doing now, what they're thinking and why. She tracks the current literary, critical, and artistic scenes with more energy than anyone I know."

Bob Perelman: 'Didn't someone in some universe once say, "May the Force be with you"? Poets in the innovative universe say it this way when any new project is being launched: "May Marjorie be with you."

Susan Stewart: "Marjorie loves language as language and art as art more than anyone else in the universe."

Bob Perelman: "Over the last three decades, Marjorie Perloff has had more influence on the flourishing innovative scene than any other critic, by a long shot. Her interventions are always forceful; she makes people take notice. Her erudition and productiveness are stunning. What fuels all her activity is that she loves good writing."

Stuart Curran: "Marjorie Perloff is a force of Nature - in six languages and twice that many literatures."

Ron Silliman: "Sooner or later, the new upsets everyone, suggesting as it does a continuous dynamic of change against which all metanarratives must eventually melt into air and that not all of history was fated to lead solely to your (or my) favorite teleological impulse. Marjorie Perloff has been one of the major critics of contemporary poetry for a generation, starting even before her groundbreaking work on Frank O'Hara. She was, however, the first, and for a considerable while the only, established critic to seriously address a generation of writing that came to be known as language poetry. After others stopped by just long enough to fashion one brief article here or there to fill out a c.v. on the latest fashion, Perloff has continued to seriously articulate, inspect and question the dynamics of this work and many other tendencies within the avant-garde tradition. It's an exploration that makes everyone nervous because Perloff will tell you, always and at all points, exactly what she thinks."

Susan Stewart: "Marjorie, unlike other American intellectuals, thinks constantly about the future. This is why she is one of my favorite European intellectuals."

Ron Silliman: "When she was first being hired at Stanford, Denise Levertov put a letter into the mailbox of every member of the department there warning them of what a dangerous person Perloff was. More recently, Leslie Scalapino has written a short book attempting to prove the same thing, although from exactly the opposite angle. Along the way, Perloff has created the intellectual space for an entire younger generation of critics, from Alan Golding to Linda Reinfeld, from George Hartley to Michael Davidson, to investigate worlds of literature that were simply off limits before her work. In this sense, both Levertov and Scalapino are right - Marjorie Perloff is a dangerous person. And we are all infinitely richer as a result."

Susan Stewart: "Marjorie is a fearless driver, an unstinting cook, an inspiring mother and grandmother, a connoisseur of the absurd. She has taught me that the world of the happy is a happy world."