Charles Bernstein
English 429: Close Encounters of the Poetic Kind [Genre -- Poetry]
Wednesdays 2:30pm - 5:00pm (5:30 on double readings)
438 Clemens

Office Hours: Thursdays 9:30-11:10am or by appointment

This "reading workshop" will be focused around a set of visiting poets, who will meet with the class and also give a poetry reading as part of the Wednesdays at Four Plus series. Please consult out on-line calendar.

The reading workshop is less concerned with analysis or explanation of individual poems than with finding ways to intensify the experience of poetry, of the poetic, through a consideration of how the different styles and structures and forms of contemporary poetry can affect the way we see and understand the world. No previous experience with poetry is necessary. More important is a willingness to consider the implausible, to try out alternative ways of thinking, to listen to the way language sounds before trying to figure out what it means, to lose yourself in a flurry of syllables and regain your bearings in dimensions otherwise imagined as out-of-reach.

Each week, you will be asked to work in and around the forms of poetry that you are reading, through imitation, transformation/translation, and other "wreading" experiments, including autobiographical, aleatoric ("chance" derived or quasi-intentional), rule-governed (constrained/Oulipio), projective or field, sound, visual, collage, neologistic/"zaum," "imploded" syntax, stream of consciousness/free-associative, serial, "new sentence," informal, "beat", comic, personal, journal/diaristic, source-derived/appropriated, performance, "dialect"/vernacular, digital, and prose poetry as well as manifestos and poetics and new versions of traditional forms.

Some experience with formally innovative modernist or contemporary poetry or visual art is helpful but not required.

The basic requirement for the class is a weekly response to the assigned readings - usually a notebook or journal entry plus writing exercises involving the imitation of a poetic form being studied or relevant experiment. Please date each response (and number 2 to 14 according to syllabus, so that the first assignment you hand in on the second week of classis numbered "2").

The responses are open-ended and can be in whatever form you choose -- they are meant to encourage interaction with the poems and also serve as a record of your reading. Each week, I have provided a set of questions on the reading to guide your responses, but these are suggestions and you should feel free to address other issues. In any case, try to be as detailed as you can and try to respond to the full range of the week's reading.

Each week there is also a set of writing experiments/exercises, focused on imitating some of the forms of the assigned poets. Do at least two of these each week; where there are more than two listed, pick the ones you prefer.

A good way to fulfill the "response" requirement is to keep a journal noting reactions, comments, opinions of readings, lectures, and class discussion. The journal -- or notebook -- is an open form in which you can feel free to record your impressions in an informal manner. (The journal is not something different than the "response" papers assigned; rather, it is an alternative way of looking at the assignment. That is, instead of seeing the assignments as a set of 13 short papers and exercises, you can look at it as an ongoing diary of your reading, writing, listening.)

Use the journal (or, if you prefer, response papers) to document what you are reading - both assigned and unassigned reading. What do you think of the poem? Give as much detail as you can as to why you feel the way you do. What does the poem sound like, what does it remind you of? Quote specific lines or phrases that seem relevant. Being specific is the hardest part of this assignment and I almost always request descriptions of the form and style of the different poems: which can be as simple as a description of the visual shape of the poem, its length, the type of lines (long, short, metrical, enjambed), the sort of style or rhetoric or vocabulary (unusual, common, pastoral, urban, urbane, fast-paced, slow-moving, pictorial, bombastic, introspective, descriptive, narrative, fragmentary, etc.).

The point is not for you to analyze or explain the poem but rather to try to react to it. Cataloging the features of the poem won't explain it but it may enable you to enter into the poem more fully.

What follows is an overall guide to each week's responses:
•Of the poems read for this week, which is your favorite? Why? Which is the best. Why? Are favorite and best the same? Rank the poems in your order of preference.
•Of the poems read for this week, which did you like least? Why?
•Of the poems read for this week, which is the worst. Why? What are your criteria for deciding the quality of poem. Can poems that you don't like or understand still be good poems?
•Describe the performance style of the poetry readings/audio files: pace, theatrical style, timbre or tone of voice, rhythmic qualities of the reading, humorous/dry/emotional/impersonal, etc.
•Rank all the poems so far in order of preference: who did the best reading, whose poems did you think were the best? How did hearing the reading compare to reading the work on the page?
•Summarize and then discuss the issues discussed in last week's class.

Attached to the syllabus you will find a "Poem Profiler." (This is also available to download at the web at the address given in the print syllaubs.)

The "Poem Profiler" asks a number of specific questions that should enable you to give detailed, rather than general, responses to a particular poem. Use the Profiler to help specify your responses. Initially, run the Profiler on a several poems; after that, use it selectively to further your reading and if and as you find it useful. After the first couple of tries, don't use it if you don't find it useful.

Here's an alternate way of profiling:

Pick one poem. Describe (or catalog) its features. What kind of vocabulary does the poem use? What kind of diction or syntax is used? What is the mood of the poem? What is the most unusual feature of the poem? What does the poem sound like - give some examples of sound patterns in the poem.

Detail any literary "devices" used.

Compare poems in terms of continuity (hypotactic) / discontinuity (paratactic); fragmentated / unified; symmetrical/asymmetrical; smooth flowing / jerky or abrupt movement.

Detail the connection between the elements of a poem: expository (a discursive argument), narrative (temporal sequence of beginning, middle end), associative, surreal or dream-like, disjunctive, etc.

•Do you see anything that all the poems assigned for this week have in common?

•How does the set of poems for this week differ from the poems from last week?

•What issues of poetics - how a poem means or how it is made - are brought up by the readings. What were some of the issues raised along this line in last week's class discussion?

•[Try this one sometime after midsemester.] Looking back on your previous responses, have you changed your opinions about any poems. How?

It is not necessary, or practical, for you to comment on every assigned poem. But if you choose to focus on one poet or poem, or to do the experiments, preface your response with a very quick take on the reading overall (likes/dislikes, general features, etc.).

Include the contexts in which you are reading or writing in your notebook. What's your mood, what's on your mind. How do the poems affect or interact with that, if at all.

Include, if you like, "diary" material about your life or general or poetic observations, interspersed with comments about the readings. Don't be afraid to go off on tangents, associated thoughts. Include shopping lists, dreams, travel notes, etc.

Each week you should send out part of your week's writing to the listserv created just for this reading workshop or respond to other people's posts. Information on the listserv will be provided at the first class.

The most important requirement is attendance at all workshops and at the Wednesdays at 4 readings. If you miss a class or reading, please indicate that on your next response rather than simply omitting to comment on the Weds@4 event. Grades will be based primarily on attendance, class participation and handing in a one to five page response each week with comments both on the Wednesdays at 4 event and the assigned reading. There is no final exam or paper in this class; you may use the exam period to make up missing response papers or for "extra credit" papers, but let me know if you plan to do this. (Students who miss more than three classes or three responses will receive a grade no higher than C+; students who miss no more than three classes and hand in all 13 "responses" will receive a grade of at least B-. For the purpose of this calculation, if you do not comment on the Wednesday at 4 reading, your response will not be given full credit.)

Please be sure to include your name and the date of the class on everything submitted. Keep your original. At the end of the semester, I would expect to have 13 such submissions for each participant: if you are sick, please indicate that on the response for the week missed and hand in two "responses" at the next class. Because of the grading system, it's better to have a very brief response than to skip a week.

I generally do not give a mid-term grade, but I will let you know if you are not doing well in the course or if you are doing very well in my comments on your weekly responses. If I perceive a problem, I will make that clear in any comments I make. If your response is fine, I will often simply say so; while I do read all the responses carefully, I do not always make extensive comments. If your midterm grade falls below "B-" I will notify you of a possible grade problem. If you don't get such a notice, you can assume your grade is above "B-". For additional feedback: Email me, visit during office hours, or make an appointment.

Extra Credit: Read one book by an author in the anthology and write a response to it or follow-up on the list of digital poets given in the syllabus. Post the response on wreading-l.

WREADING-L: Each week you should send out part of your week's writing to the listserv created just for this reading workshop or respond to other people's posts. Those enrolled in the class in July should automatically find themselves subscribed; if so, you would have received a welcome message. If you are not subscribed, send an email to
the message should say only:
sub wreading-l Firstname Lastname
(to drop out of the list send a message UNSUB wreading-l).
After you have subscribed, send all posts to:
Your posting to the listserv will count toward your grade.

Poetry on the Web
Check out the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics Program's web site, the Electronic Poetry Center
Audio resources also at Factory School
Additional Experiments can be found at the Experiments List on my EPC home page.
Reading and listening assignments from the web are listed in the syllabus; see LINEbreak and Live at the Ear; other audio resources are supplemental.

Books Required at Talking Leaves Books
Pierre Joris, Poasis
Robert Grenier, Phantom Anthems
Nathaniel Mackey, School of Udhra
David Antin, Talking
________ A Conversation with David Antin / Charles Bernstein
Louis Cabris, Mood Embosser
Jackson Mac Low, Representative Works
Anne Tardos, The Dik-dik's Solitude
Peter Gizzi, Artificial Heart
Elizabeth Willis, Turneresque
Simon Ortiz, From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America

1. (Jan. 15): Introduction

2. (Jan. 22): Antin and Mac Low
Antin (1), Talking: "Talking at Pomona" plus Perloff introduction
Mac Low (1), Representative Works, pp. v-70
Discussion questions:
oUse the poem profiler to characterize each poet. Be as detailed as possible, citing specific passages.
oAre Antin's works poems? What is the role of performance in these works?
oWhat happens to originality when poems are composed of "found" material, as in Mac Low?
oWhat happens to intentionality if poems are composed by systematic procedures? Is this a good thing?
oDo you see anything in common between the two poets?
oAcrostic chance: Use one of the assigned books as your source text. Use title of book or poem as acrostic key phrase. For each letter of key phrase go to page number in book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as first line of poem from the first word that begins with that letter to end of line or sentence. Continuethrough all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word. (Cf.: Jackson Mac Low's Stanzas for Iris Lezak.) Variations include using author's name as code for reading through her or his work, using your own or friend's name, picking different kinds of books for this process, devising alternative acrostic procedures.
oTalk poem: record yourself talking a poem and transcribe. Try to transcribe as accurately as you can.

3. (Jan. 29). Pierre Joris class visit; Weds@4: Joris and Nicole Peyrafitte
Joris is a poet, essayist, translator, and anthologist. Recent books include Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999, 4x1: Tzara, Rilke, Duprey & Tengour translated by Joris, as well as the Poems for the Millennium anthologies co-edited with Jerome Rothenberg. He is a professor at SUNY-Albany. Peyrafitte is a visual multimedia artist, and singer. Her performances are a combination of electronic projections of her visuals, poetry, sound tracks, and voice. 300 dpi photos: Joris, Peyrafitte.
Reading: Joris, Poasis and online - "nomadology" essay; Pierre Joris EPC page
oUsing poem profiler, describe key features of Joris's work. Provide detail; cite passages.
oWhat are you two favorite and two least favorite poems? Why?
oHow would you describe the diction in your favorite poems?
oWhat is the connection of Joris's poetry to his poems
oDiscuss or summarize the most useful points from last week's class discussion.
oTake a Joris poem and translate it, word for word, back into English (eg "black" could be translated as "dark" and "above" could be translated as "overhead". Now translate English to English but this time phrase for phrase.
oTake a Joris poem (or several) and reorder the lines.
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.

4. (Feb. 5) Robert Grenier Class Visit and Reading
Grenier's books include Phantom Anthems, A Day at the Beach, Sentences, and What I Believe: transpiration/transpiring. He edited the 1976 Selected Poems of Robert Creeley as well as several collections of Larry Eigner. "Reading Things," his last lecture at UB, has been transcribed for the EPC; read at this home page. Grenier lives in Bolinas, California.

Reading: Grenier, Phantom Anthems; Robert Grenier EPC home page
oUsing poem profiler, describe key features of Grenier's work; be detailed, cite passages.
oMake a list of some of the visual images in several of the poems
oIs Grenier's work close to vernacular (that is, speech-like?) or not. Give examples.
oWhat is the purpose of the visual layout of the book, particularly the typewriter font?
oBe sure to give your response to both Joris's reading and the Weds@4 event.
oTake one of Grenier's poems and so a handwritten version of it, using your handwriting to be as expressive as possible. (See Grenier's holograph -- hand-drawn -- poems on web.)
oWrite an imitation of two of Grenier's poems. Do one "in the manner" of the poem chosen. For the other, write something with the identical number of words and structure as the original but substituting words of your own words those in the poem. Compare the original and imitations
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.

5. (Feb. 12) Nathaniel Mackey Visit and Reading
Mackey's books of poetry include Whatsaid Serif (1998); Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (1994); and Eroding Witness (1985). His novels include Djbot Baghostus's Run (1993) and Bedouin Hornbook (1986). Mackey is also the author of Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (1993) and the editor of a magazine, Hambone. He is Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz. 300 dpi photo of Mackey.
Reading: Mackey, School of Udhra; Nathaniel Mackey home page at EPC
oIs Mackey's work close to vernacular (that is, speech-like?) or not. Give examples.
oWhich are your two favorite poems in the book? Are they the "best" poems? Why?
oUsing the poems profiler, describe in detail the form of one of these poems (line length, visual format, etc.)
oWhat sources does Mackey use for his poems? Discuss.
oDiscuss Mackey's use of the page (line arrangement).
oWhat is the the sound rhythm of his work? Mackey often associates his work with jazz - what connections do you find?
oCompare Mackey's work to Joris, Mac Low, Antin, and/or Grenier.
oBe sure to give your response to Grenier's presentation and class visit.
oWrite an imitation of one or two of Mackey's poems (see week 4 for suggestions).
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.

6. (Feb. 19) Something Wonderful May Happen Film Screening
This lively film from Denmark presents part of the story of the New York School of poets. It includes readings and interviews with John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch as well as rare archival footage of Frank O'Hara. Two younger poets, David Lehman (author of The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets) and Charles Bernstein read poems and discuss the New York School. Also includes interviews with Jane Freilicher, Alfred Leslie, and Larry Rivers.
(no guest in class this week)
Mac Low (2), LINEbeak interview, plus pp. 71-152
Tardos (1), The Dik-dik's Solitude: "Cat Licked the Garlic" (pp. 284-312f), "Mayg-Shem Fish" (pp. 253-264), Uxudo (pp. 209-215), "Beyond the Tree Grail" pp. 108-130).
PLUS: get started on reading for next week, as this is two books; we won't, however, discuss this reading till next week
oWhat is your reaction to Tardos's use if made-up words?
oOf the Mac Low poems you have read so far, which do find most interesting; or is this question relevant?
oDiscuss the Mackey reading and class visit.
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.
oWhat is the significance of Tardos's use of words from several different languages (English, German, Hungarian, French), in, for example Uxudo (pp. 210-215)?
oWrite a multilingual poems in the manner of Tardos
oPick several images from the internet or a magazine and write an accompanying poem (as in Tardos's"Beyond the Tree Grail" pp. 108ff.).
oMake another attempt at a procedural poem such as those written by Mac Low. Describe rules and present results.

7. (Feb. 26): K. Silem Mohammad and Louis Cabri class visit and reading
Mohammad currently teaches literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His books include hovercraft (Kenning, 2000), My Content (Faux Press e-books), and the forthcoming Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises). Cabri is author of The Mood Embosser (Toronto: Coach House, 2001); he teaches at the Alberta College of Art & Design, in Calgary, Canada, and recently co-edited two feature issues of letters to/from poets for Open Letter magazine, available online.
Reading Cabri, Mood Embosser and Mohammad, Deer Head Nation in rtf (I will post URL to list and announce in class) and "Lyric Equivalence"
oNote the mood or tone of several of the poems, citing specific passages. Make a list of the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives in one or more of the poems. Does this list tell you anything about the work?
oWhat difference does it make that a poem is written by a man or woman. Pick a couple of poems and discuss what would occur if you learned the poem was written by the gender other than you assumed.
oWrite a short "content" summary of one of the poems? What's the difference between this and the poem?
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.
oWhat are the politics of the poetry? How is the poetic politics different from an expository expression of politics?
oWhat did you think of Something Wonderful May Happen?
oSubstitution (1) : "Mad libs." Take a poem and put blanks in place of three or four words in each line, noting the part of speech under each blank. Fill in the blanks being sure not to recall the original context.
oElimination: Cut out the second half of sentences or lines.

8. (March 5): Antin and Mac Low (no class visit or Weds@4 event this week)
Antin -- Talking, including Perloff introduction, but start with "Talking at Pomona" since that is where we start class discussion.
Mac Low (3), pp. 152-234
oLooking back on your previous responses, have you changed your opinions about any poems. How? What has been the most useful aspect of the class? What you have you found least useful? What do you like best about the class discussions, what least?
oAre Antin's works poems? What is the role of performance in these works?
oHow would Antin's work change if written in an expository prose style. Try to rewrite a passage in standard style and compare results.
oDo you see anything in common between Mac Low and Antin?
oTalk poem: record yourself talking a poem and transcribe. Try to transcribe as accurately as you can.
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.

9. (March 19): Marjorie Perloff class visit and lecture
Perloff's critical writing is a major force in the study of modernist and contemporary American poetry.Her most recent books include Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and The Strangeness of the Ordinary, Poetry On & Off the Page: Essays for Emergent Occasions, and 21st Century Modernism: The "New" Poetics. A republication of her classic study, The Futurist Moment is due from Chicago and New Directions will be publishing The Vienna Paradox, her memoir of Vienna, the Anschlus, and coming to America. Perloff, who lectures frequently throughout North America and Europe, is Sadie Dernham Patek Professor of Humanities Emerita at Stanford. 300 DPI photo of Perloff.
Reading: from Perfloff EPC home page
Writing: A more traditional assignment: Critically discuss some of the ideas in Perloff's essays. What do you agree with more strongly? Why? What do disagree with most strongly? Why?
oGive your response to the Cole reading.
Be sure to post to the list.

10. (March 26): David Antin class visit and talk/performance
Antin is a poet, critic and performance artist, whose books include Definitions (1967), Autobiography (1967), Code of Flag Behavior (1968), Meditations (1971), Talking (1972 & 2001), After the War (A Long Novel with Few Words) (1973), Dialogue (1980), Tuning (1984), Selected Poems 1963-1973 (1991) and What It Means to be Avant-Garde (1993). His most recent book, from Granary, is A Conversation with David Antin, a dialogue with Charles Bernstein, part of which is available on-line from the Review of Contemporary Fiction, published as part of their special Antin issue.
Reading: Antin (3): "Looking Back at Talking" (in Talking) PLUS A Conversation with David Antin (Bernstein/Antin)
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.
o Which of the poets read this far in the course most closely approximate American speech? Is this a good or bad thing?
oGive your reaction to the Conversations book; how does it relate to Antin's Talking?
oCompare the different talks in Antin's book for form and style as well as content.
oDiscuss Perloff's lecture and class visit.
Wreading: Make a new poems from phrases selected from one of Antin's talks.

11. (April 2): Jackson Mac Low and Anne Tardos Jackson Mac Low visit and reading
Tardos is a poet, performer, visual artist, and composer. She frequently writes multilingual poems and combines them with digitally modified video images. She is the author of the books Cat Licked the Garlic (Tsunami Editions 1992), Mayg-shem Fish (Potes & Poets 1995), and Uxudo (O Books/Tuumba Press 1999), and, new from Granary Books, The Dik-dik's Solitude. Mac Low is one of the major literary innovators of the 20th century and author of numerous books, including Representive Works 1938-1985. His most recent book is Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces 1955-2002, from Granary. Crayon magazine's first issue was a tribute to his 75th birthday. He lives in New York.
Reading: Mac Low (4): pp. 234-336 (that is, finish book); and Tardos (2): remainder of book
oRead one of each of the poet's poems out loud three or more times with different tempos and volume (best if this can be done with someone else): describe the results.
oDescribe the two poems in as much detail as possible (using poems profiler)
oCompare each of the structures in the Mac Low poems: what is most interesting about each?
oHow did Antin's performance and class visit compare to your expectations?
oWrite a poem made up entirely of neologisms or nonsense words or fragments of words. (Cf.: Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", Khlebnikov's zaum, Schwitters "Ur Sonata" (at UBU "historical"). P. Inman's Platin, David Melnick's Pcoet.) Use Neil Hennessy's JABBER: The Jabberwocky Engine to generate lexicon.
oSelect one of Mac Low forms and write a poem using this structure.
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.

12. (April 9): Peter Gizzi and Elizabeth Willis class visit and reading
Gizzi and Willis return to UB, where they both received PhDs the Poetics Program. Gizzi, who currently directs the graduate writing program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is the author of Artificial Heart (Burning Deck), and editor of The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan). Willis is the author of Second Law (Avenue B), The Human Abstract (Penguin), and most coming this winter from Burning Deck, Turneresque; she teaches at Wesleyan.
Reading: Gizzi, Artificial Heart; Willis, Turnesque
oCompare each poet in terms of familiar language/unfamiliar language: give examples. Pick your favorite poems of each author: describe the sound of each (use the Profiler f it helps).
oWhat is the relation of the sound to the poem's theme or point-of-view? Write in some detail about two or three poems. Detail any literary "devices" used (see Profiler).
oWhat is the role of address (to whom the poem is speaking) and voice in these poems? Be specific, citing passages.
oHow would you describe Gizzi's tone (use Poem Profiler to help).
oMake a list of visual images in a single Willis poem.
oHow did the Mac Low / Tardos visit compare to your expectations?
oErasure: Take a poem and crossout most of the words on each poem, retype what remains as your poem. (Cf.: Ronald Johnson's RADI OS from Milton.)
oNegation/Opposites: Negate every phrase or sentence in the poem or in some way substitute opposite words for selected words in the source text: "I went to the beach" becomes "I went to the office"; "I got up" becomes "She sat down"; "I will" become "I will note", etc.
oSubstitution (2): "7 up or down." Take a poem and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index word in the dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement.
oBackwards: Reverse or alter the line sequence of a poem. Reverse the word order. Rather than reverse, scramble.
Be sure to comment on your experiments and to post to the list.

13. (April 15): Simon Ortiz class visit and reading
Simon J. Ortiz is a poet-essayist-fiction writer-storyteller, from Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico and a professor at the University of Toronto. His books include Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories, Woven Stone, After and Before the Lightning, From Sand Creek, and his most recent, Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing, all published by the University of Arizona Press. Check out: Audio and video of Ortiz reding and Ortiz bio.
Reading: Ortiz, From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America
oOn your own: give a full and detailed response to the Ortiz reading using the resources developed in this class.
oReactions to Gizzi and Willis.

14. (April 23): Final Class plus Weds@4: Ted Enslin in Poetry Collection
Reading: No new assigned reading; time to go back and check out what you missed the first time.
oFor the class overall: which were your favorite poets? Are your favorite poems the same as the one you consider to be the "best" poets? If not, why? Are your favorite poets also your favorite performer? If not, why and who did you like more in more in reading or more in performance?
oHow did your conception of poetry change over the course of semester?
oProvide any follow-up comments on visitors or books, especially ones you did not comment on in detail the first time around. (Extra credit: Do a more extended reading of any of the visitors, reviewing other of their books.)
oDiscuss the Ortiz visit and reading.
oAny other general responses to the class welcome.

ALL RESPONSES DUE THE FINAL CLASS. If for any reason you cannot complete all the class work by the last day of class, please send me an email -- or give me a note -- no later than that day. Extensions through Sunday will be automatically granted but only if you request them in advance, by April 23.