English 339
Postmodern American Poetry: A Reading Workshop
Fall 2002
Charles Bernstein
Wednesdays at 2pm
bernstei@buffalo.edu, 645-3810
office hours Thursday 9:30am-11:30am

Who put the hop in hip? Who put the beat in Beat? Where's the swing in "spontaneous bop prosody"? How long has this been going on and how do you say that in seven varieties of English?

The explosively innovative and radically exploratory poetries of North American and Britain from the past 50 years (from 1950 to present) will be explored in this "reading workshop." The emphasis will be on poetry that works in nontraditional and unconventional ways to create new music and new meanings.

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.

Books by the visiting poets reading in the "Wednesdays at Four Plus" series will also be the focus of discussion. Works will be presented from some well-known poets but there will be greater attention to a range of lesser-known poets and younger poets now actively working to delight, inform, redress, lament, extol, oppose, renew, rhapsodize, imagine, foment . . .

The "Wednesdays at 4" poetry series is an integral part of the class: the readings are scheduled to make it possible to attend during class time and a number of this Spring's visiting poets will meet with the workshop before their readings. There will be readings or other presentations every week of the semester except the first and last. Readings start at 4pm the Screening Room of the main floor of the Center for the Arts. The class will take a brief break at 3:40 on the days of the reading and reassemble at the CFA at 4pm. The readings will be over at about 5pm for single readers, about 5:20 for double readings and film screenings, though you are welcome to stick around and chat after the event. Please arrange your schedules to stay until 5:20 on the days of the readings.

The readings for this workshop are extensive and cannot all be discussed in class in any detail. The concept is for you to saturate yourself in postwar 20th-century North American innovative poetry. If you have specific questions, please bring these up in class or on the listserv.

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 listserv@listserv.buffalo.edu
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: wreading-l@listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu
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; LINEbreak and Live at the Ear are required; other audio resources are supplemental.

Required Reading
Paul Hoover: Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology
Régis Bonvincino: Sky-Eclipse: Selected Poems
Rae Armantout, The Pretext
Abigail Child, Scatter Matrix
Michael Magee, Morning Constitutional
Rosmarie Waldrop, A Key into the Language of America
Keith Waldrop, The House Seen from Nowhere
Mark Wallace, Nothing Happened and Besides I Wasn't There
Books available at TALKING LEAVES BOOKS in Buffalo


1. August 28: Introduction

2. Sept. 4: Hoover 1: Black Mountain/Mythopoetics/Projective Verse/SF Renaissance
Olson, Duncan(A), Spicer, Creeley(A), Levertov(A), Eigner (A), Wieners. Note: In Hoover, read and both poems and poetics by Olson, Duncan, Creeley, and Levertov.
LINEbreak: Creeley; Duncan reading “My Mother Would Be a Falconess
•Rank the poets in order of preference. Of the poets you liked best and least: What is your favorite and least favorite poem? Why? Run the Poem Profiler on these two poems. What does this tell you about your preferences?
•What are you able to say about the poetics of the poetic values these poets articulate? Olson writes about "pejorocracy" (the worsening rule of government): what is the political and social attitude of these poets?
•These poets came of age in the 1950's -- how does that context figure in the poems?
• What is the relation of Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay to his poems? How about the relation of Creeleys’ poetics to his poems? For each poet, discuss what you find most distinctive (use the Poem Profiler as necessary). List favorite/worst. What kind of allusions are used by these poets? What function does Creeley’s short lines serve? On diction: which poems come closest to spoken American English, which the least? Is this a value you like or don’t like in poetry?
• Write a Creeley “thin” poem, that is one with very short lines OR take a poem with longer lines from the anthology and rebreak the lines in the manner of Creeley. Next, write a poem using some of the techniques you have gleaned from “Projective Verse”: line as breath, parataxis. Write a poem with the visual layout and “breath” breaks of Olson's “field” poems, possibly using materials from anthologies, e.g. score “Projective Verse” as a projective poem.
•Note the mood or tone of several of the poems, citing specific passages. Eigner is a poet of the everyday/common: describe how he articulates this. He was also confined to wheelchair all his life due to cerebral palsy: is this something reflected in the poems? 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? Read one of the poems out loud three or more times with different tempos and volume (best if this can be done with someone else): describe the results.
::Be sure to comment on your results and post to the listserv.

3. Sept. 11: Régis Bonvincino visit
Reading: Sky-Eclipse: Selected Poems
•Pick two poems and give a brief summary of their content. How is this summary different from the poem? Describe the "form" of a poem by two other authors. (By form, you can simply note the length of the line and number of lines, kind of words used, emotional tone of the words, the sound conveyed, or any structural or prosodic features of the poem.) How does the form of each of these poems contribute to the content?
• List favorite/worst. What’s the difference between this set of poems and the ones read for last week. Run the poem profiler on a few of these poems.
•Go to the bilingual page for some of this week's poems: do a homophonic translation of two of the poems. A homophonic translation follows the sound rather than the lexical meaning (i.e., French "blanc" to blank or "toute" to toot).
•Substitution  (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. 
::Be sure to comment on your results and post to the listserv.

4. Sept. 18: Hoover 2: New York School
Guest, Schulyer, O'Hara (A) (and in Poetics), Ashbery, Berrigan(A), Padgett, Notley, Lauterbach
LINEbreak: Guest; Ashbery sound file .
• It is often said that these poets work on the “surface” in contrast with the “deep” poetics of some of the poets read last week. What is meant by this? Which of these poems comes closest to speech/vernacular? What kind of allusions are made? How does the comic work in these poems? Briefly, differentiate the five poets? Can serious poems be funny? Compare these poems to the previous poems in terms of the use of the everyday or commonplace? Does trivial subject matter make for trivial poems?
•What 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.
• Write a letter poem, as O’Hara’s “Day Lady Died” or one of Schuyler’s letter poems, possibly mentioning the names of friends, in the informal manner of O’Hara’s “Personism”.
•Write a Schulyer-like poem articulating the nonevents of the everyday (as “Crystal Lithium" in Hoover).
Write a Berrigan-like sonnet, taking material exclusively from the anthologies.
• Write a poem in a “novel” form: index, table of contents, obituary, catalog, resume, course description, an advertisement for an imaginary or real product, an instruction manual, a travel guide, a quiz or examination, etc.
::Be sure to comment on the Wednesday at 4 reading and to post to the list those reactions and your responses to this week's poets.
Perfomance this week will be Digital Poetics
Further reading in Digital Poetics (perhaps as an end-of-semester extra credit assignment):
Brian Kim Stefans, The Dreamlife of Poetry; see also Stefans’s digital picks.
Charles Bernstein, "An Mosaic for Convergence"
John Cayley, Indra's Net
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum,"Machine Visions: Towards a Poetics of Artificial Intelligence" and his home page
Jim Rosenberg's “Diagram Series” see also his home page
Jim Andrews’s “Nio
Jennifer Ley, see for example “Amniotic Meaner
Loss Pequeño Glazier’s digital works
Tammy McGovern’s “Order 2001” (wait to load, click on screen, requires SHOCK)
Kenneth Goldsmith, “Fidget”
PLUS surf two sites: the Digital Poetry pages at the EPC and UBU web.
For the Extra Credit assignment:: Post at least one work of digital poetry that you want to recommend to the class, create a digital poem or plan for one on paper, or discuss visual poetry and its possibilities.

5. Sept. 25: Rae Armantrout visit
Reading: The Pretext
•How would you describe Armantrout's tone (use Poem Profiler to help).
•Make a list of visual images in a single Armantrout poem.
•Write a short "content" summary of one of the poems? What's the difference between this and the poem?
• Which of the poets read this far in the course most closely approximate American speech? Is this a good or bad thing? What about Armantrout and speech?
•How does gender play out in these poems: does it matter “who” wrote the poem? What is the gender of a poem turned out to be different (e.g. if an Armantrout poem was written by a man, etc.)?
•Imitation: Write a poem in the manner of three of the five assigned poets. Do at least one “in the manner” of the poem chosen. For the others, 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 the Wednesday at 4 reading and to post that and the Armantrout response to the list.

6. Oct. 2: Abigail Child Visit
Reading: Scatter Matrix
• Take all the words in one poem and make another poem by reordering them.
•Do a homlinguistic translation (that is from English to English) of a poem: substitute equivalent words or phrases.
•What technique does Child use to edit or cut her poems (use Poem Profiler); what is the effect of the editing in terms of mood and texture.
•Compare one poem of Child's to one poem of Armantrout.
::Be sure to comment on the Wednesday at 4 reading and to post that and the Child response to the list.

7 Oct. 9: Hoover 3: Beats and Beyond
Ginsberg (and Poetics), Kerouac (listen to sound clips), Corso, Rothenberg (A), Baraka (also Poetics), Cortez, Mayer(A)
•Compare 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, without necessarily filling it out).
•What 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). Are any of these poets more or less political than the others: explain.
•Write an imitation of “Howl”.
•In Cortez's poem "Rape": how does the form contribute to the message? What is the message?
•Take one, two or three different poems and cut each somewhere in the middle, then recombine with the beginning parts following the ending parts.
•Compare the experience of listening to Kerouac and Rothenberg to reading the work.
LINEbreak: Rothenberg
::Be sure to comment on the Wednesday at 4 reading and to post that and the "Beats" response to the list.
Performance this week is Humberto Ak'abal

8 Oct. 16: Michael Magee visit
Michael Magee, Morning Constitutional
•Looking 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?
•Using the poem profiler or previous questions, present your responses to this work.
•Compare Magee with the poets for last several weeks in terms of familiar language/unfamiliar language: give examples from each.
• Pick your favorite poem from the book: describe the sound of each (use the Profiler, without necessarily filling it out). What 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). Are any of these poets more or less political than the others. Explain.
•Recombine: takes words and phrases from the book and recombine them to make a new poem. Use a web cut-up engine.
: :Be sure to post to the list.
Susan Gevirtz will be reading with Michael Magee at 4pm. Read on-line her Domino: Point of Entry, from UB's Leave Books.

9. Oct. 23: Johanna Drucker Visit
Reading: Drucker's artist's books, at the Special Collections, 420 Capen Hall, open M-F 9-5 only.
From A to Z, A Girl's Life, History of the/My World, Simulant Portrait, and/or Word Made Flesh
A Girl's Life
will also be on reserve at the library.
•Discuss the relation of image to text in Drucker's work.
•Discuss the way Drucker uses typography.
•Make your own visual poems or visual books based on the model provided by Drucker. For other examples of visual poetry go to UBUWEB.
Give a detailed response to listening to the poets read their work during the past Weds@4 events: How is that different than what  is on the page?
•Can the visual setting of a poem be seen as a kind of performance?
::Be sure to comment on the Wednesday at 4, Magee/Gevirtz reading and to post that and the Drucker response to the list.

10. Oct. 30: Hoover 4: From Chance to Performance
Cage (& Poetics); Mac Low(A), Weiner(A), Antin, Mackey*(A) ,
LINEbreak: Mac Low, Weiner
Live at Ear: Weiner
•What happens to originality when poems are composed of “found” material, as in Mac Low and Cage. What happens to intentionality if poems are composed by systematic procedures? Is this a good thing? •Are Antin’s works poems? What is the role of performance in these works?
•Acrostic chance: Use one of the anthologies 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.  Continue through 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.
•Talk poem: record yourself talking a poem and transcribe.
•What role does voice play in the poems of Weiner?
•Discuss the poetics articulated by the poets in their LINEbreak interviews and by Cage in the Poetics section.
•Compare reading and hearing the poets.
::Be sure to comment on the Wednesday at 4 Drucker performance and to post that and the Hoover response to the list.
Performance this week: the films of Henry Hills.

11. Nov. 6: Hoover 5: Materializing the Word 1
Coolidge, Susan Howe, Thomas, Grenier, Scalapino(A) , Ward
Live at the Ear: Scalapino, Howe.
LINEbreak: Scalapino, Howe.
Plus Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop selections in Hoover, in advance for Nov. 20.
•Try to characterize the difference between each of these poets. Select several poems and discuss the form and mood of these poems and the relation among them.
•Coolidge suggests that Kerouac is his most important influence? Why is that? Give a detailed response to listening to the poets read their work: how is that different than what's on the page?
•Write a poem (see for example Coolidge in Hoover) consisting entirely of one or two word lines in “field” layout, all words taken from the anthologies.
•Write 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.
• Describe different ways disjunction is used by these poets. Is it possible to paraphrase any of these poems: which ones is this possible for and which not? Why? Paraphrase one poem and compare the paraphrase to the original: what is the difference?
•Discuss Susan’s Howe’s use of history in one of her poems.
::Be sure to comment on the Wedsnesday at 4 film screening and to post that and the Hoover response to the list.

12. Nov. 13: Mark Wallace visit, followed by Yunte Huang and Wallace reading
Mark Wallace, Nothing Happened and Besides I Wasn't There
This week you are on your own for experiments and responses.
• ::Be sure to post to the list.

13. Nov. 20: Keith Waldrop and Rosmarie Waldrop visit
Reading: Rosmarie Waldrop, A Key into the Language of America
Keith Waldrop, The House Seen from Nowhere
Also, listen to Rosmarie Waldrop in Factory School and Live at the Ear
•Following Waldrop’s example in Reproduction of Profile: take a passage from one of the other poets so far read and change the gender of the speaker and cast in the context of a relationship between speaker and interlocutor.
•Using previous questions, give your specific reaction to these poets
•Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem and translate it "English to English" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence.
::Be sure to post to the list and also to comment on the Wallace/Huang reading.

14. Dec. 4: Hoover 6: Materializing the Word 2 (Last Class)
Hejinian (and Poetics), Palmer, Silliman(A) (and Poetics), Perelman, Andrews, Watten
Live at the Ear: Andrews, Silliman, Watten.
LINEbreak: Andrews, Silliman, Hejinian.
•For 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? Any general responses to the class welcome.
•Discuss the poetics articulated by Hejinian and Silliman, in Hoover poetics and their views, along with Andrews's, in the LINEbreak programs. What do you see as the relation of the poetics to the poems? Which “poetics” did you like the best? Find most interesting? Found most provocative?
• “My Life”: Write down a set of autobiographical sentences. Arrange them in nonsequential orders.
•Procedural form (writing a poem according to some prescribed numeric pattern): try for example a Fibonacci (cf.  Silliman’s Tjanting): 1,1,2,3,5 to construct the units of a poem: words, phrases, lines, sentences. Invent new material or use anthologies for source texts.
•Serial sentences:  Select one sentence each from a variety of different books or other sources or from the anthologies.  Add sentences of your own composition.  Combine into one paragraph, reordering to produce the most interesting results.
•The Andrews System: Use a small cut-up blank pages or pad or memo book; over the week, write down from a couple of words to at most a couple of phrases on each page. Shuffle the pages to lose any temporal sequence. From the results, compose a poem.