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A Journal of Contemporary Poetics

Volume IV, Number Two                SUMMER 1996



_Towards a Free Multiplicity of Form_ by Mark Wallace

_"Our Words Were the Form We Entered"_ by Loss Pequeno Glazier

_Things to Do After the NYU Poetry Talks_ by Chris Stroffolino

_A Hard Day's Night_ by Crag Hill

_Exactitide in Each Collapsing Curl_ by Stephen Ellis




1) The crisis of art in the twentieth century, which has been
essentially a crisis of form, has been consistently related to
the crises of cultural and political life that have marked this
century. In the twentieth century, the idea that a particular set
of artistic forms can constitute not only the best way to create
art but also the best way to live is responsible for the form of
writing known as the Manifesto.

Modernist and Postmodernist theorists of poetics have
consistently found it essential to equate the forms of poetry
which they are promoting to a form of cultural and political life
which they are also promoting. For instance, whatever
contradictions there may have been in his project, for Ezra Pound
the poetics of The Cantos were inextricably linked with his
cultural politics. The same holds true for T.S. Eliot, Langston
Hughes, Allen Tate, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich,
Charles Bernstein, June Jordan, Joan Retallack, Fredrick Turner,
and Nicole Brossard, to name just a few. Because the Manifesto,
of all literary forms, makes the most direct link between
literary forms and cultural life, it can be considered (with only
a little irony) the paradigmatic form of Modernist and Postmodern

Consistently, from whatever source, the poetic Manifesto has
three characteristics: 1) it asserts the value of its poetic
practices; 2) it relates the value of its poetics to the value of
a group of life practices which it also promotes, and; 3) it
denounces those forms of poetry and living which exist in
contradiction to it. The Surrealist manifestos of Breton, Pound's
essays, William Carlos William's commentaries in Spring and All,
Charles Olson's essay "Projective Verse," Ron Silliman's The New
Sentence, and Nicole Brossard's essay "Poetic Politics" are just
a few examples of works displaying the key characteristics of the
poetic Manifesto.

2)     One factor leading to the explosive expansion of poetic
forms during Modernism was the increasing availability of poetic
and cultural alternatives to the dominant notions of any single
culture. The increased availability of information regarding
other cultures, including non-western cultures, as well as of
information produced in the west that was critical of western
culture, helped poets in the twentieth century invent a growing
array of formal possibilities. Many of these forms were created
as direct responses to the social upheaval of the early twentieth

For writers emerging at the end of the twentieth century, this
ever-expanding information gives poets an increasingly wide
variety of poetic forms and traditions in which to explore their
concerns. Having so many possibilities available is leading many
contemporary poets to work in multiple and intersecting forms,
mixing and reshaping forms from a variety of traditions to fit
the needs of their poetry at a given moment. Whereas many poets
of earlier parts of the twentieth century are identified with one
particular tradition or form, even when those forms involve
radical changes from earlier poetic forms, contemporary poets are
increasingly likely to be identified as working with a
multiplicity of forms and traditions.

3)     It would be a mistake to say that in western civilization,
interest in innovative poetic forms begins only with the
twentieth century. However much the nostalgia of various poetics
might wish it was otherwise, poetic form has never been a stable
entity, and has always been related to problems of cultural life.
The rough and colloquial energy of Villon, satirizing the forms
of high European culture, Milton's use of blank verse,
Wordsworth's promotion of a natural rural language as an antidote
to what he saw as the urban, artificial and deadly excess of
European political life, are only a few examples of revolutions
in poetic form conceived of as having cultural and even
immediately political pertinence. The explosion of poetic forms
occuring during Modernism is not a break from past concerns
regarding poetic form, but rather is an intensification of
energies that had always been present in western culture.

4)     While the pre-twentieth century notion that forms of
writing can directly establish transcendent truth has been for
the most part dismantled, the notion that forms of writing still
establish proper modes of cultural life has not only not been
dismantled, but remains an unquestioned mode of activity among
almost all schools of contemporary poetry, despite the increasing
availability of forms from a variety of traditions. Social
groups, publishing enterprises, production networks, poetry
awards, reading series, and academic programs are often organized
around the notion that a particular group of poetic forms
constitutes the best way to write and live. The often
semi-conscious religious motivations behind this behavior were
the subject of my essay "Genre as Conversion Experience."

5)     At this time, I take the major networks of poetry
production in the United States to be the following: 1) the
proponents of "traditional" formalism, with central strongholds
in the South, New England and New York; 2) the proponents of
confesionalism, sometimes related to the first group, but more
specifically associated with university MFA programs across the
nation; 3) the proponents of identity-based poetries, also
associated with MFA confessionalism, but tending to be more
directly political in their concern with poetry by differing
races, classes, cultures and gender orientations; 4) the
proponents of the New American poetry speech-based poetics, often
associated with Beat generation, ethnopoetics or New York school
writing; 5) the avant garde, with current central power bases on
the east and west coast but with pockets of activity in some
other states, and among whom the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E network has been
a vital force (one now beginning to gain some small access to

These groups vary greatly in terms of their access to finances
and institutional power. At this time, Groups 1 and 2 have almost
total control of such resourcespoetry prizes, institutional
programming, media exposure, etc.and are only beginning to
experience some small competition for those resources from Group
3, and to a lesser extent from Groups 4 and 5. However, each of
these groups, on their own, has sufficient power to produce a
broad array of poetry publications.

By no means are these groups absolutely distinct; a significant
level of contact does occur across groups. Particular mingling
occurs between Groups 1 and 2, Groups 2 and 3, Groups 3 and 4,
and Groups 4 and 5 (which are so intermingled as to be
indistinguishable in many cases). There are also very definite
subgroups within each group. New formations are always possible;
for instance, the recent development of a large group of "poets
of witness" has developed out of a variety of conjunctions
between Groups 2 and 3. Avant garde poetry in particular is
marked by a huge variation in localized networks and formal

It is essential to understand, that is, that these production
networks are by no means clearly and singularly defined. They are
complexloosely organized in some places, tightly bound in others.
They often consist of many subnetworks and exist in complex
relation to the activity of individual poets, who may or may not
be aware that they are operating inside a production network.
Some poets are very active power brokers within production
networks, other poets tend to a lower profile in network
activities. Some poets directly identify themselves with one
network, but many poets like to think of themselves as free
agents, whether or not their particular poetic productions match
the professed concerns of a given production network. However,
whether or not given poets thinks of themselves as members of a
production network, it is almost uniformily true that poets
without strong ties to one production network or another will
have great trouble getting their poetry known beyond local

6)     The desire to issue manifestos is more pronounced among
some poets, and more intense in some networks. Groups 1 and 5
tend at this time to be particularly strident in issuing
manifestos, at least partly because those groups are the most
interested in issues of poetic form which U.S. literary culture,
on the whole, tends at the current moment to repress. Group 4,
once a highly vocal producer of manifestos, has tended to become
less so as the more polemical edges of its concerns have been
co-opted by Group 5 or Group 3. Group 3 is also given to
manifesto production, but their manifestos tend to repress issues
of poetic form and highlight issues of direct political action.
Group 2, because of its financial and promotional power and its
current popularity (it is far more popular than the previously
dominant Group 1, with whom it still shares finances and
resources), at this time is the most likely of these five groups
to think of its own poetic practices as natural, and therefore
not needing defense. Thus Group 2, at this time, seems to feel
less need to issue manifestos, although should its popularity and
institutional position be threatened, that feeling will certainly

7)     Poets grouped around a particular poetry production
network not only share many aesthetic values, but tend to share
certain political and social values as well. Nonetheless it does
not logically follow that use of the forms promoted by a given
production network lead necessarily to a form of cultural life
that is in general promoted by that network. Whatever claims of
ownership and value a given network makes about poetic forms,
poetic forms remain free-floating in terms of their possible
cultural implications.

The current avant garde tends as a group (although this is not
uniformily so) to be socially radical in their political and
cultural concerns. But some key Modernist writers responsible for
the invention of many literary forms associated with the avant
garde were conservative, reactionary, sometimes even fascist in
their political and cultural concernsPound, Eliot, Wyndham Lewis,
and Stevens being examples of various degrees. While later uses
of the formal possibilities suggested by these writers have been
more consistently socially radical, nonetheless the uses of those
forms made by high Modernist writers prove that the forms
themselves, as forms, are not by definition radical or liberatory
in their implications.

As an example of the limitations of thinking of certain forms as
inevitably liberatory, it is argued frequently that parataxis (a
technique in which various pieces of writing, sentences or poetic
lines usually, stand on their own as pieces and are not
structured into a grammatical hierarchy) offers a direct critique
of the social hierarchies of western capitalist countries. Yet it
is possible that a social hierarchy of writers could be based on
use of parataxis, with writers receiving resources and
opportunities on the basis of their ability to be expert in
parataxis. Some would sayI don't agree with them, for reasons
unnecessary to go into herethat a similar hierarchy actually
exists in the contemporary avant garde. Whether or not such a
hierarchy exists, the fact remains that it could exist, and that
nothing in the nature of parataxis prevents its existence.
Whatever metaphors about social life parataxis may suggest, they
remain metaphors, and exist in complex relation to the other
social activities of the writers who use parataxis.

The struggles over form of the current poetry production networks
are essentially struggles for the control of metaphors about
form. Furthermore, the implications of parataxis, or any other
formal structure, depend hugely on what the pieces of that
structure actually mean. It is possible that a poem with a
paratactical structure could contain ethnic, racial or gender
slurs, desires for violence, etc. Indeed, one could argue that
the logic of certain extreme hate groups is also paratactical, in
the sense that the logic of such groups is random and
disconnectedalthough such parataxis is unconscious rather than
conscious. In any case, without going too deeply into the
unresolvable dilemmas of form and content, it seems clear that
what one does with a form is the key ethical component of
writing, and not the form as it exists as a possibility, whatever
historical use has been made of that form. The historical
implications of any form are always subject to revision. I would
go so far as to say that there might be a need sometimes to
refigure forms that have historically been used to promote
repressive cultural activity, as a way of proving that those who
have engaged in that repressive activity have no right to the
ownership of poetic forms.

8)     I mean by "a free multiplicity of form" a cultural
circumstance in which knowledge about issues of poetic form is
not repressed and controlled by poetry production networks
competing for ownership of forms. In a free multiplicity of form,
the issue of form in poetry becomes always an explicit problem
which writers of poetry are allowed to explore in all its
variance, and which they must encounter. In such a circumstance,
it would no longer be possible either to ignore issues of form or
to assume that the significance of any form can be known outside
the specific uses that are made of it and can continue to be made
of it. Writers would be aware of the need to question their own
choices of form, and would understand that the value of form can
be discovered only by a conscious exploration of form in
particular instances.

In a free multiplicity of form, all forms of writing are
possibilities that may or may not lead to any particular kind of
cultural life. In such a circumstance, use of a poetic form does
not become the equivalent of a manifesto-like assertion of one's
values, but instead becomes a matter of exploration. Within a
culture open to a free multiplicity of form, any form of poetry
is a legitimate possibility. Furthermore, use of a form would no
longer be considered necessarily an attack, or even a critique,
of other possible forms. Within a culture open to a free
multiplicity of form, a wide variety of forms can be used by any
writer and can exist side by side with other forms.

9)     A free multiplicity of form does not make all partisan
activity on the part of certain forms of writing irrelevant.
Clearly, poets will always have an interest in promoting the
forms of writing that they find most engaging. It is simply that
the promotion of forms of poetry will be adjusted to another
level; promoted as an intriguing possibility rather than as a
mark of group allegiance or of one's position in a capitalist
struggle for ownership. And while, on the level of poetic form, a
free multiplicity asserts, in William Burroughs' phrase, "nothing
is true, everything is permitted," it does not follow from that
assertion that every actual use of a poetic form is of equivalent
significance. Rather, it means simply that all forms are
possibilities. Clearly, poets will continue to be read, and
evaluated, on the results of their writing, and the form that
they use to achieve those results will continue to be a central
aspect of the way they are read.

Secondly, a free multiplicity of form does not suggest that the
aesthetic tensions between various forms of writing will be
resolved into harmony. Rather, in a free multiplicity of form,
even extreme disjunctions of form could be understood as a
fruitful ground of poetic possibility, not as something that
calls into suspicion one's production allegiances.

Thirdly, it is also not true that a free multiplicity of form
eliminates the relation between writing and cultural life. A free
multiplicity of form is not the same as a multiplicity of
individuals speaking in their own individual "voices" without
awareness of form or any possibility of cultural impact, each
equally unable to have any ground other than their own
subjectivity from which to speak. A free multiplicity of form
calls for a conscious exploration of the relation between poetic
form and cultural meaning, in the recognition that the value of a
specific form of writing can be understood only through the uses
that can be made of it. Clearly, within a culture open to a free
multiplicity of form, writers will continue to promote their
ideas about cultural life through their writing, and to critique,
perhaps ferociously, those with whom they do not agree.

10) Any promotion of a free multiplicity of form cannot be
restrained to a discussion of boundary crossings, permutations,
and multiplicities solely in literature. Rather, a free
multiplicity of form extends past and opens the boundaries
between various art forms, exploring the relations between the
visual arts and literature, music and literature, any form of art
with any other form of art. Indeed, opening up such possibilities
is one of the most fruitful areas of current artistic practice
(see for instance, as only one of countless examples the book
_Core: A Symposium on Contemporary Visual Poetry_), with a huge
range of artists exploring a vast array of formal and genre
hybrids. Yet it is important to remember that even inside that
vast array, a free multiplicity of form can be achieved only by
attempting to dislodge the currently existing relations of
artistic production, in which given kinds of artistic forms are
taken to be exclusively proper by specific production networks,
and to be the exclusive property of those networks.

11) Because in the contemporary United States the avant garde is
the one production network that comes closest to regarding issues
of poetic form as not only a necessary but also an open question,
I have found individuals related to that network to be the most
open to possibilities of a free multiplicity of form. Members of
Group 1 tend to insist that poetic form is a predetermined given,
although there are exceptions, like the traditional formalist
Henry Taylor, who has also written an essay promoting the value
of the work of experimental formalist Jackson Mac Low. Members of
group 3 (identity poetries), while insisting on the value of
cultural multiplicity, have nontheless tended to embody that
insistence in overly homogenous uses of form. Thus, while a
collection such as _An Ear To The Ground: An Anthology of
Contemporary American Poetry_, presents a huge range of voices
from many different cultures within the U.S., the form of the
poems in that volume are astonishingly similaras if all these
people from different backgrounds are accidentally expressing
themselves in the same form. Members of Group 2, like many
members of Group 3, often remain unaware that form is an issue at
all, and thus remain blind to the forms of their own writing.

However, it would be easy to exaggerate the openness of the avant
garde network to a free multiplicity of form. Although it is not
uniformily true, the avant garde has tended to vehemently reject
those poetic forms associated with other production networks. In
many ways this rejection is understandable; members of those
other networks have often denied the value of avant garde work,
and have attempted to prevent it from gaining readers or any sort
of institutional foothold. But the mistake that the avant garde
often makes is to confuse certain poetic forms with the
production network that promotes them. The possibilities of lyric
poetry, for instance, are by no means necessarily limited to what
the main proponents of lyric poetry (Group 2) say about its
value. But the avant garde has tended to accept the idea that the
forms being promoted by other groups, because they are promoted
by them, are dangerous in their implications and limited in their

Furthermore, it can be argued that many members of the avant
garde network may not be able to accept these other formal
possibilities because they believe in the cultural correctness of
the poetic forms that the avant garde network promotes. I say
correctness rather than value, because while those forms claimed
by the avant garde clearly have value, it does not follow that
those forms lead necessarily to the establishment of a better
form of cultural life, although it's certainly true that
increased information about them could only be beneficial.

12) Whether a free multiplicity of form is possible, given the
emotional, intellectual, ideological, institutional, and
financial investments of the currently existing poetry production
networks, seems at best an open question. Among writers and
publishers of my own generation, there have been a variety of
attempts to open some of the boundaries determined by the
established poetry production networks. Probably I am familiar
only with some of the attempts that deserve mention.

The review newspaper Taproot Reviews, for instance, reviews small
press books in an astonishing range of forms not limited to the
productions of one network. The poetics newsletter Poetic Briefs,
considered by many people too theoretical and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E
poetry oriented, and by others as too directionless in its
concerns, has offered many essays that challenge the boundaries
of poetry production networks, avant garde and otherwise. In some
of its incarnations, the small press publishing cooperative Leave
Books reached outside the avant garde production network in the
direction of a free multiplicity of form. My own small magazine,
Situation, was defined initially by the issue of questioning and
redefining the relation between poetic form and cultural life,
and has attempted to present work addressing that issue in a
variety of poetic forms. Writers and editors such as Jefferson
Hansen, Elizabeth Burns, Luigi Bob-Drake, Charles Borkhuis,
Christopher Reiner, Rod Smith, Joe Ross, Susan Smith Nash,
Juliana Spahr, Ira Lightman, A.L. Nielsen, Gale Nelson, Nick
Piombino, Buck Downs, Mike Allcott, Jean Donnelly, Susan Schultz,
and myself, among others, have at some point given support to the
notion of a free multiplicity of form, whether in their own
poetry, critical writing, or editorial activity.

However, it would be easy to exaggerate the influence of these
activities. The above publications do not reach a large audience,
and are not well-funded. Furthermore, it is not clear that a free
multiplicity of form is a significant concern even for avant
garde writers of my own generation. At this point in time, for
instance, the most commonly mentioned recent avant garde
publication, Apex of the M, is committed to a program of
ideological uniformity and an editorial policy that is
theoretically and formally exclusionary. Nonetheless I have been
heartened to note, in my conversations with other writers, in the
emergence of truly eclectic reading series and publications, some
broad sympathy for the notion of a free multiplicity of form
among emerging and even established writers both inside and
outside the avant garde. Of course, whether that sympathy will
have any lasting effects on established production networks
remains to be seen.

13) Attacks on any form of poetry, as a form, can only damage the
potential cultural significance of poetry. Certainly such attacks
prohibit individuals from having free access to the range of
poetic possibilities currently available. I would go so far as to
suggest that attacking other forms of poetry would even prove
damaging, in the long run, to a production network that succeeded
in achieving cultural hegemony over poetic production. From
whatever quarter it comes, fixing the value of poetic forms, and
determining in advance the forms that poets may use, will only
shut down, like a case of severely enforced biological
in-breeding, the potential of those forms and make many poets
more committed to finding other forms in which to embody their

14) As I have pointed out in my dialogue with Jefferson Hansen,
"Directing Poetry?," which appeared in Phoebe, it could be argued
that my promotion of a free multiplicity of form contains some of
the manifesto characteristics that I am also critiquing and
ironizing in this essay. Such an argument has value, but only if
one recognizes that my "manifesto" here is not a manifesto
promoting a literary form or genre. In that sense, my promotion
of a free multiplicity of form does not exhibit the
characteristics of the twentieth century Manifesto. That is, as I
also point out in that dialogue, if my argument here is to a
certain extent a Manifesto, it is one that points out that the
quickest road to Rome may be to go someplace else entirely.

15) In his recent series of lectures at the Smithsonian
Instituton on "The End of Art," the philospher and art critic
Arthur Danto has argued that when forms of art are no longer
directly equated to forms of cultural life, and all forms of art
therefore become equally possible (that is, when a free
multiplicity of artistic forms finally exists), art has reached
its end. He diagnoses that moment, in the visual arts, to be now.
When it comes to applying Danto's ideas to issues regarding
poetry (and, by implication, other arts, although their
circumstances of production are different), his conclusions are
troubling for two reasons, but also visionary for a reason he
does not intend.

One reason his conclusion is troubling is that no free
multiplicity of form exists within the poetry world today;
repression of poetic forms remains rampant. The other reason is
perhaps more subtle; in directly equating a free multiplicity of
form with the end of art, Danto is arguing that art only exists
as long as its forms are considered directly equivalent to forms
of cultural life. That is, his arguments are limited by the
assumptions of Modernism. He confuses the limits of Modernism
with the limits of Art.

However, in prophesying that the end of equating forms of art
with forms of cultural life is at hand, what Danto is
unintentionally revealing is that a free multiplicity of form,
should it occur, means the end of Modernism as we have known it.




The West is seized with panic at the thought of not being able to
save what the symbolic order had been able to conserve for forty
centuries, but out of sight and far from the light of day. Ramses
does not signify anything for us, only the mummy is of
inestimable worth, because it is what guarantees that
accumulation has meaning. Our entire linear and accumulative
culture collapses if we cannot stockpile the past in plain view.
(Baudrillard 10)

The Internet eludes definition. It is, of course, possible to
point to the physical composition of the Net: the Internet,
through the connectivity made possible by the TCI/IP1 protocol
suite, is the sum of the information resources made available
through thousands of networks, allowing the interchange of
information between millions of computer nodes. But this
definition does not get us very far. Indeed, it is comparable to
the kind of response you might've gotten in 1450 asking the
question, "what is printing?" To which an enterprising literalist
might have responded: through the connectivity made possible by
the replica-casting protocol, printing is the product of single
letters engraved in relief and then punched into slabs of brass
to produce matrices from which replicas can be cast in molten
metal. Using an ink that will adhere to metal type, a flat
printing surface, and an adaptation of the screw-and-lever
winepress, printing allows the unprecedented production and
circulation of the Bible.

Before pursuing the immense cultural implications of such a
parallel, it might be worthwhile to consider how labor intensive
both technologies are, at least in their infant states. Anyone
who has labored "engraving" ideas then punching them into the
"brass slabs" of HTML is well-aware that the trek from the idea
to the "screw-and-lever winepress" of a Web server is one of
painstaking labor. The "matrices from which replicas can be cast"
are not easily made and are equally vulnerable to the
instabilities, uncertainties, and changeability of the
"mechanism." Though there was no alt.replica-casting to record
the anguish of early frustrations with printing technology, we
can be sure that it was laborious effort that made such early
"productions" possible. That such an immense web of webs is
presently constituted is a tribute to the continued incessant
labor of interested human beings. The chaotic and unpredictable
state of the Internet is equally a reflection of the human
spirit. That such systems constantly escape their originally
stated purpose may be more defining of these technologies than
their proponents would care to admit.

The Internet, like the interstate highway system, is a system
designed originally for military purposes. (Thus the perhaps
underappreciated ironic ring to the term, "Information
Superhighway.") The predecessor of electronic data exchange and
electronic mail, ARPAnet, was pioneered to link NATO bases in
1969. These original technological objectives are in the past,
much as printing's original concern with the Bible, a
manifestation of a controlled use of the word, eventually passed,
even if its trace never vanished. What is most relevant, however,
is how these technologies work against their original design.
(For example, the Web must employ textual strategies rather than
informational ones.)(2) The cultural dimensions of technologies
occur once they escape their original definition, subsequently
undertaking vast production and reproduction of these alternative
subjects. At this point, the purpose of the technology no longer
holds court. Rather, control of its rapidly diversifying subjects
becomes the focus of attention.

* * * 

In the late nineteenth century, book production reached a
crisis point. Until then, libraries were content to use a kind of
ledger system to record their acquisitions of books. Books added
to the collection were sequentially entered in bound catalogs and
inventoried according to a number no more complicated than an
accession code. Someone seeking a title could always ask the
librarian who would examine the entries in the ledger. By the
nineteenth century, however, book production had outstripped a
single human mind's ability to monitor its products. What emerged
were library classification systems: the Dewey Decimal System,
the Universal Decimal Classification, a European adaptation of
Dewey, and the Library of Congress classification scheme. Almost
every library now uses one of these systems, including the
Library of Congress, which presently owns over 88 million items.

What is the purpose of classification? Of the many possible
theoretical positions from which to approach this question, one
simple definition suggests that:

The library's catalog not only lists the library's contents but
also analyzes them, so that all works by an individual author,
all works on a given subject, and all works in a specific
category (dictionaries, music, or maps, for example) can be
easily located by readers. The modern catalog is a practical tool
that is the result of the analysis of the subject, category, and
contents of books, videocassettes, microfilms, compact discs, and
a host of other informational vehicles (Software Toolworks).

Classification, as a form of analysis, attempts to place products
of one system into another system. To achieve the stated
intention of this ordering, an analysis must be performed. Books
must then be removed them from their "natural" order to
accommodate the artificial positions of author, category, and
subject. "Creative" works are arranged by author's nationality,
and within that category, loosely by chronological period
according to author's birth date. A particular author's work is
further ordered according to whether each item is a collected
work, an individual volume, or "secondary" work. There is little
or no attention to the internal order of the book, the familiar
divisions into preface, chapters, notes, and other
bibliographical apparatus. Nor would there be any adjacency in
ordering, for example, if two authors of different nationalities
and of vastly different ages, had a close working relationship.
The science of ordering of books shows a remarkable similarity to
what Baudrillard calls "the logical evolution of a science" which
"is to distance itself increasingly from its object, until it
dispenses with it entirely." Thus, he suggests, a science's
"autonomy is only rendered even more fantasticit attains its pure
form" (8). "Pure form" suggests the creation of a second literary
order. First, writing is placed in books, then books fall into
their place in the order of books, and finally, in the catalog,
they neither exist either as writing nor as books. Consider the
example of the Lascaux caves, where a replica of the caves stands
five hundred meters from the original site. Visitors (who have in
many cases traveled great distances to the caves) look at the
original site through a peep-hole then they are allowed to wander
around the replica. In this way, "the duplication suffices to
render both artificial." (Baudrillard 9) A library also produces
a dual presentation of the printed object. The classification of
books is an act of disinterment, similar to the exhumation of
Ramses's mummy where, once the object is removed from its
original order, strategies must be implemented to deter the
natural decay that follows.

* * * 

"Is the World-Wide Web the "Fourth" Media, a technology
positioned to take its place with the big threeprint, radio, and
televisionas a mass-market means of communications? It's hard to
create an argument against it. The Web has all of the social,
technical and economic fundamentals which could help it achieve
this prominence." (Bonington)

While it took four hundred years for the production of books to
create the need for classification, the issue of order is
immediate for the Internet. In just 12 years, 2.1 million files
or 1/40th the holdings of the Library of Congress, have become
available. The number of host machines have increased from 4
ARPAnet hosts in December, 1969, to 3,864,000 Internet hosts in
November, 1994, with new domains being registered on an average
of every two minutes during business hours (3). External Internet
orders include gopher and the World-Wide Web. Each of these
collect protocols and standards used to access information on the
Internet but in different ways. Gopher is a hierarchical system
not unlike the alphanumeric hierarchies employed in library
classification schemes; the World-Wide Web, released for use by
CERN, the European Particle Physics Institute in Geneva,
Switzerland, in May, 1991, along with later graphical big sisters
like Mosaic, is a hypertextual network of links. Internal orders
include the ASCII text, a rather inert representation of the
paper page on the screen, and the HTML document, a dynamic text
file bearing imbedded links to other Internet resources.

In terms of the relation of the textual unit, the file, to the
controlling system, there are significant differences between
gopher and the Web. For example, in the case of menus, gopher
will by default alphabetize the files within a menu. Though
seemingly innocuous, this default demonstrates a larger system
imposing an "order" on individual files. This is handled much
differently with Web software. Since links form a structural part
of HTML documents, Web software would have to intrude into an
individual file to exert the same kind of external order. Given
the integrity of the individual file as a boundary that systems
do not cross, clearly the order expressed within HTML documents
guarantees the individual document a more faithful relation to
the "world" of related documents. (Further, if files in a
directory are not linked, Web software will, in contrast to
gopher software, ignore them.) Looking at the library parallel,
gopher assumes the librarian's sense of authority at classifying
books according to a prevailing classification scheme. Web
software shares what we can assume would be a librarian's
resistance to entering a "file" (for example, altering the order
of chapters in a published book) to extend the larger
classification scheme into the internal order.

* * * 

Printed texts have for many centuries made use of internal
orders, employing mechanisms such as marginalia, in-text
quotations, bibliographical apparatus, and various forms of
textual notes including footnotes, end notes, and marginal notes.
Earlier in the history of the book, these devices were an
essential part of the text4 until the process of standardization
in print codified present conventions. What we presently know as
the book could have gone in any number of directions. What we
consider to be the definitive format of the book is only one
possible form; it just happens to be an agreed-upon form.

The internal orders mentioned above suggest one way that the
printed word can have hypertextual features; yet the writing
itself also argues numerous orders. Poets and writers have
explored extensively the possibilities of these internal orders.
William Burroughs (an icon of the cyberpunk movement) performed
"cut-up" experiments using a compositional method that included
slicing up a newspaper, throwing it into the air, then
reassembling it as it falls. David Antin composes from
transcriptions of performative improvisations. Louis Zukofsky
used musical notation script in his autobiography. Charles
Bernstein has pioneered numerous "inversions" of expected
literary form. Robert Creeley's early work created continuous
works from "pieces" of texts. Michael Joyce's disk-based
hypertext novels make meticulous use of links. There are
multimedia dimensions to many of Robin Blaser's works: musical
notation in section 11 of "Cups," red type in "Christ Among the
Olives," and phonetic characters in "Image-Nation 10," among
them. William Carlos Williams, in Kora in Hell and Jack Spicer in
_Homage to Creeley_, have written texts where footnote-like areas
occupy nearly as much space as the "primary" text itself. This
format has been explored most recently in "Eclogue" in Bob
Perelman's _Virtual Reality_. Ron Silliman uses the idea of
quadrants of a page to intriguing effect in his Nox, in which
each page is divided into four areas by two intersecting blue
lines. In addition, Silliman's procedural work also demands that
we reconsider internal order. Silliman notes that "all poetry is
procedure" and that writing involves solving the question of "how
literally to proceed" (Interview, 34). Internal orders are also
foregrounded by serial practices such as Ron Silliman's alphabet
series and the form of the serial poem, practiced notably by
Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser and Charles Olson. In the serial
poem, sections of a longer "work" constitute discrete units in
disparate volumes yet also form a bridge extending beyond
individual volumes. (A clear example of the published unit of the
"book" perhaps not being synonymous with a "title.") Charles
Bernstein describes these texts thus:

As to hypertext avant le PC, I am thinking, in the West, of the
seriality already implicit in Buchner's _Woyzek_, or Blake's _Four
Zoas_, Dickinson's fragments and fascicles, or in Reznikoff or
Zukofsky or Oppen or Spicer or Stein; or in Grenier's great poem,
_Sentences_, which is printed on 500 index cards in a Chinese
foldup box; or Howe or Silliman or Hejinian; or the aleatoric
compositions of Mac Low and Cage, Burroughs and Gysin; or prose
works such as Wittgenstein's Zettel or Philosophical
Investigations (and then the earlier history of philosophical
fragment from Heraklitos on); or multitrack fictions by Federman
or Beckett or just now out, Lydia Davis's _The End of the Story_;
or let's not say only fragments and seriality but what Viktor
Schlovsky called the essence of prose in his Theory of Prose,
writing at the beginning of this century: digression...

These textual alternatives provide many examples of internal
systems redefining the notion of a bibliographical unit. Further,
they allow for other internal pointing systems, imbedded links,
as in some instances even more significant than external orders.

* * * 

The purpose of classification is to arrange information
systematically. One presumed reason for classification would be
to allow people to find items of interest to them. How would you
find something you wanted on the World-Wide Web? Searching for
material reveals much about the Web's resistance to
classification. As Aaron Weiss argues, no "perfect" search tool
exists for the Web:

Because of its nature, various search engines use different
search techniques and yield different 'views' of the Web.
Depending on what techniques they use, the automated search
engines are sometimes referred to as 'robots,' 'worms,' or
'spiders.' One of the basic decisions a search engine makes is
whether to follow a depth-first or breadth-first approach." (43)

This would be similar to having a query universe of the titles of
books versus one that contained all chapter titles. The problem
with using the in-depth query universe for the Web is not only
that it is painstakingly slow but that the search engine "can
also end up circling through loops of links that refer back upon
previously covered tracks" (Weiss 43). Another option is a
weighted search. One search tool, LYCOS, does precisely this,
however bases its choices on: "a weighted random choice of which
links to follow in a document." These are "biased towards
documents with multiple links pointing at them (implying
popularity) and links with shorter URLs, on the theory that
shorter URLs tend to imply shallower Web links and, therefore,
more breadth." Finally, LYCOS "not only catalogs a document's
title and headings, but also the first 20 lines and the 100 most
significant words, based on an algorithm." (Weiss 44) None of
these approaches can effectively classify the Web.(5)

* * * 

The space of poetic language is determined by the time it
takes meaning to evaporate. (Dragomoshchenko)

Electronic space as literary space: one must begin by thinking of
our attachment to texts as the embodiment of writing. What senses
of writing are implied by this? First, the text is and has always
been related to transmission. Transmission of what? Many words
jump into the arena here: knowledge, experience, information, and
thought, among them. Though these words have some bearing on this
question, what really concerns us is literary writing. Literary
writing is writing that, whether or not it serves other ends, has
an engagement with its own formal qualities. Whether this
attention to formal qualities is conscious or not, reading texts
as "literary" involves reading writing on formal terms.

All forms of verse, from traditional to experimental, are
attentive to their formal qualities. Metrical verse differs from
verbal communication in attention to the form of the text. Other
poetic forms are defined by a number of "devices," from the
foregrounding of their sounds to enjambment to interruptions as a
metatextual procedure. In the Modernist and Postmodernist periods
particularly, formal qualities have been foregrounded. Jerome
McGann, among many scholars, has investigated typographic (and
calligraphic) qualities as integral to the poetic project of
specific authors. McGann's _The Textual Condition_ investigates the
additional information that can be garnered from the typography
of Ezra Pound's early publications. In _Black Riders_, McGann looks
at moments in the work of Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein,
William Morris, and contemporary poets such as Charles Bernstein
and Susan Howe. Looking at these works he demonstrates the
importance of typographic practice to poetic writing. Following
McGann's arguments, typographic and formal conditions not only
inform, but facilitate the emergence of specific kinds of
writing. McGann writes that "Stein's experimentalism was ...
licensed by the cultural scene in which she moved." That is:
Stein's _Stanzas in Meditation_ ... would be inconceivable without
the late-Victorian Renaissance of Printing, just as Pound's
Cantos and Yeats's "The Circus Animals' Desertion" are
inconceivable outside the same context. (Black 21)

If such a licensing occurs in typographic space, an equal
licensing occurs in electronic space. The literary possibilities
for writing in the technical and cultural context of online space
have just begun to be explored. Electronic journals such as
RIF/T, DIU, and _Passages_, present works not only conscious of
cultural space but of technical possibilities. The Little
Magazine CD-ROM, has explored with great richness the
ramifications of electronic multimedia works. (Future issues of
The Little Magazine will be issued on the Web). The Electronic
Poetry Center (EPC) is also one example of a site that conceives
of the presence of a text as nonspecific to its physical
location. Many pages in the EPC re-position you in physical or
conceptual space. Thus, echoing McGann, such experimentalism is
licensed by the cultural scene of online poetic space. These are
literary developmentsdevelopments in writing inseparable from the
medium which transmits them.

George Landow has suggested that "since the invention of writing
and printing, information technology has concentrated on the
problem of creating and then disseminating static, unchanging
records of language." (18) If texts are static and thus historic,
then it is appropriate to leave their cataloging and indexing to
librarians or even museum personnel. (The most extreme example of
the library as museum is the Special Collections, where the
physical properties of texts become so valorized that protocols
of museums are literally followed.) The problem with a librarian
monitoring "records of language" is the generalist approach that
is used in devising schemes that will equivalently accommodate
particle physics, cookbooks, and Zukofsky's _"A"_. Such a system
becomes extremely unwieldy:

Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the
artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are
placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically,
and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from
subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless
duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will
locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item,
moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new
path. (Bush 101)

Any such scheme must insist on the primacy of the hypotactic
relations. Historically, the counterbalance to this hyperhierachy
was that textual objects could be browsed in the stacks. A reader
did not have to follow the system in any way and could always
wander at will in the shelving areas for books. With the
electronic medium, such browsing is no longer a physical
activity. Nor could it be a physical activity. As the number of
files extends into the multimillions, the idea of such browsing
becomes untenable. Hence, the retrieving system must accommodate
this activity.

* * * 

If the electronic text is mutable, then a theory of
mutability must replace theory of the "embalming" of the text. If
the "information age" exemplifies changes in the nature of
information, for literary purposes what has occurred is the
implosion of the indexing and distribution mechanism onto the
text itself. As well as the collapsing of textual data with
document metadata. Determinations of the relevancy of metadata
will vary significantly by discipline. Literary materials may
pose the most exciting possibilities of any field because of the
complex and associative relations within texts that have become
evident even in the print medium.

In the introduction to his _Selected Poems: 1963-1973_, David
Antin, for example, invokes a number of approaches that evade the
traditional rigidity of the text. Some of these poems, resulting
from "found materials and [and a] salvaging job," were based on
other texts that Antin happened to find at hand:

I took one of the books ... propped it up near my typewriter and
proceeded to flip the pages, reading a line and a line there, and
then I got tired of it and started flipping through another book
... and I realized I was enjoying it.... Then I put some paper in
the typewriter and I began typing what I was reading, and it
became a little gameno more than one line from a page. Sometimes
only a phrase. Sometimes nothing And I never went back. I read
and typed relentlessly forward, quickly making up these little
songs, till I was through. (16-17) In the same introduction,
Antin documents other techniques he used to compose poems.
Meditations was created from word lists, including lists of words
that high school students found difficult to spell. Another
sequence was based on the footnotes to a text by Epictetus. In
this case, Antin simply read the notes in sequence, extracting
poetic materials from each footnote.

William Burroughs offers directions for a similar "inversion" of
intended textual devices, in this case through using a tape

A tape recorder can play back back fast slow or backwards you can
learn to do these things record a sentence and speed it up now
try imitating your accelerated voice play a sentence backwards
and learn to unsay what you just said... such exercises bring you
a liberation from old association locks try inching tape this
sound is produced by taking a recorded text for the best results
a text spoken in a loud clear voice and rubbing the tape back
forth across the head ... take any text speed it up slow it down
run it backwards inch it and you will hear words that were not in
the original recording new words made by the machine different
people will scan out different words of course but some of the
words are quite clearly there and anyone can hear them words
which were not in the original tape but which are in many cases
relevant to the original text as if the words themselves had been
interrogated and forced to reveal their hidden meanings it is
interesting to record these words words literally made by the
machine itself (Odier 161)

Using the example of the machine, Burroughs pushes the
technological features of the instrument beyond their intended
limits to open metatextual areas that result from the
superimposition of the information system upon the text. Not only
is textual apparatus used "against the rules" in these cases, but
the literary in such situations, emerges from an inversion of
what might be thought of as the logical "use" of textual order.
Thus it is possible that entirely different orders may constitute
access to and contents of texts by virtue of the alternative
approaches to textuality that themselves form textualities.
Extended to the electronic text's relation to metatextual
apparatuses, the possibilities are immense.

* * * 

Any classification system can only be expected to perform
as designed. The Web was designed as a system of internal links.
This internal order may never be effectively overridden; in fact,
if written properly, one effective link should be all a person
needs to begin the series of connections that yields relevant
sources. Hypertext for the Web consists of hyperlinks. Important
to this terminology is the prefix "hyper-" defined commonly as
"over, beyond, over much, and above measure," from the Greek uper
through Old English ofer. Bernstein, for example, has referred to
Brecht's theatre (6) as "hyperabsorptive" meaning that Brecht wished
his theatre goers to be involved in the plot of a given play but
"over" involved as well, that is, also engaged in critiquing it.
Bernstein comments that Brecht "doubles the attention of the
spectator" by doing so. I would extend the use of "hyper" in
"hyperabsorptive" to suggest that the spectator's double
empowerment leads to exhaustionnot only is the spectator of the
play exhausted but the spectator's role of spectator is exhausted
by the process of Brecht's play. The OED provides an interesting
assortment of examples of the use of the prefix "hyper." Thomas
Castle's 1831 "A hyperbarbarous technology that no Athenian ear
could have born," Shelley's 1820 "Scorched by Hell's
hyperequatorial climate," and the 1866 London Review use of,
"That which is hyperpathetic, which is really too deep for tears"
give some sense of the historical uses of the prefix. If anyone
would argue that I'm hyperetymologizing, I'd point to the
Internet itself. What is "hyper" about the Internet? Here are
some facts:

The growth of gopher traffic in 1993: 1,076% 
The growth of gopher traffic in 1994: 197%
The growth of Web traffic in 1993: 443,931% 
The growth of Web traffic in 1994:1,713%

Other facts include the number of newspaper and magazine articles
on the Internet in the first nine months of 1994: 2300, the
number of copies of Mosaic downloaded from NCSA per day in 1994:
1600, and the number of attendees at the Internet World
conference which increased from 272 in January, 1992, to over
10,000 in December, 1994. Finally, in terms of speed of
transaction, the time required for an electronic signal to travel
round trip from MIT to McMurdo, Antartica, is 640 milliseconds (7).
"Hyper" is not an inappropriate prefix for the Internet. And
think of contemporary uses of the prefix: hyperacidic,
hyperactive, hyperbolic, and hyperexcitable are all relatively
familiar uses of the term. These varied terms lead to the
conclusion that "hyper" is associated with extremism, manic
activity, and disorder. Hypertext can thus be seen as being
disordered by hyperlinks, destroying classification by the innate
hyperactivity of its imbedded leaps.

This disorder extends to words themselves. Once a word assumes
the status of a link word, it is forever changed. The action the
word performs, or is capable of performing, changes the word
irrevocably (8):

it is the interchange the form took like walking in and out of a
star the words are left over collapsed into themselves in the

between visible and invisible (Blaser 125)

Words and movement, then, become coexistentand assume paramount
importance. Words further become mines for the hyperactivity
inherent in links. It is writing that propels words into such an
"interchange." A well-written link is one that follows a natural
digressive side-thought or astonishes with brazen and quick
abruptness of thought. "Hyper-" expresses an unhealthy agitation.
Hypertexts are not just texts "beyond texts"; they are not merely
texts that are linked to others. Inherent in any use of the word
"hypertext" is a sense of agitation, disturbance, obsessive
instabilityit is this sense that provides the clearest direction
to understand what the character of a true Web-based writing
would be.

* * * 

One of the truly unfortunate propositions to be heard in
hypertextual circles is that the Web links "everything in the
world." To write hypertext from such a perspective would only
continue the "stockpile" of dead objects that is at the heart of
institutions obsessed, as Baudrillard expresses it, with "linear
and accumulative culture." (This use of hypertext simply creates
multiple linearities.) A similar misuse occurs when you stumble
across a Web page which is an interminable scroll. To select a
link in the middle of the page you must laboriously move your
cursor (or slide bar) through dozens of unwanted options. These
points of online textual "form" are not minor ones:
"accumulation" is not the objective of effective web design.
Writing that is conscious of its internal order is writing that
preserves its effectiveness against orders of
institutionalization. Such writing is an engagement not just with
the linear flow of words but a working with forms and relations
of classification. As Robin Blaser has written:

... I know nothing of form that is my own doing all out of one's
self our words were the form we entered, turning intelligible and
strange at the point of a pencil (124).

An imbedded link is not something definable by <a
href="url">link</a> but is a feature of writing itself; links
will continue to embrace both print and electronic technology.
With HTML and other forms of hypertextual writing, links are
simply foregrounded; texts continue to engage their own internal
dynamics, but literally-or is it figuratively?- have other texts
superimposed or imbedded in them. Since imbedded links are not a
feature unique to HTML documents but are an extension of the act
of writing, it is crucial to understand the importance of
internal orders. Though it runs contrary to what is apparently
true, libraries have survived as an institution in part because
of the success of the internal orders of books. That is, the
tension between the library's external order and the internal
order of books makes the library a success. The internal orders
of books contain and supersede external orders through their
status as writing. If the Internet is to provide new locations
for texts, its status as a form as writing must not be
overlooked. When HTML is written, it should not be mistaken as
simply a vehicle for the presentation of text. (Just as "verse"
form is not, externally viewed, simply a vehicle for the
presentation of text. There is much published poetry that will
attest to the uninteresting results of such an approach.)
Instead, each word, each link written, is a re-inscription of
form, a hyperinscription, an opportunity to keep Ramses both in
and out of his crypt: in a place of action rather than one of


Antin, David. _Selected Poems: 1963-1973_. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon,

Baudrillard, Jean. _Simulacra and Simulation_. Ann Arbor: U of
Michigan P, 1994.

Bernstein, Charles. "Artifice of Absorption." A Poetics.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. 9-89. . "An Mosaic for Convergence"
[unpublished paper].

Blaser, Robin. _The Holy Forest_. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1993.
Bonington, Paul. "Publishers Note: The Fourth Media." Internet
World 6, no. 4 (April 1995): 6.

Bush, Vannevar. "As We May Think." From Memex to Hypertext:
Vannevar Bush and the Mind's Machine. Ed. James M. Nyce and Paul
Kahn. Boston: Academic, 1991. 85-110.

Dragomoshchenko, Arkadii. _Xenia_. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1994.
[Cited by Coolidge, Sulfur 35].

Landow, George. _Hypertext: the Convergence of Contemporary
Critical Theory and Technology_. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP,

McGann, Jerome. _Black Riders: the Visible Language of Modernism_.
Princeton, Princeton UP, 1993.

-- The Textual Conditon. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.

Odier, Daniel. _The Job: Interviews with William Burroughs_. New
York: Penguin, 1989.

Silliman, Ron. "Interview." _The Difficulties 2_, no. 2 (1985):

The Software Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia on CD-ROM, 1992,
entry for "catalog."

Weiss, Aaron. "Hop, Skip, and Jump," Internet World 6, no. 4
(April 1995): 41-44.


(1) In the words of the Netscape Handbook 1.1, TCI/IP is "short
for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol [and] is the
standard communications protocol requiredfor Internet

(2) The conundrum with information has been the fact that
information seekers usually do not only not have the information
they seek, but that they don't even know what they actually want.
Thus a person looking for the address of a sporting association
might ask for a book on tennis. (What the person actually wants
is an encyclopedia of associations.) It is fairly typical for a
person to not be able to articulate the information source they
need. This is further complicated when a person is operating on
misperceptions (confusing etymology for entomology, etc.) or
errors of fact. When information is sought in person, the first
step in satisfying the information-seeker's request is to
determine what need the person actually has, rather than what
need the person thinks is there. The Web, since it is writing,
must negotiate such a situation textually: that is, a screen, if
it is to succeed, must through its writing, channel an
information seeker's energies, provide a path, and textually
circumnavigate any common or predictable difficulties for its
usual clientele.

(3) Statistics are based on those reported by Win Treese in The
Internet Index, available at

(4) See Jerome McGann's in depth exploration of Ezra Pound's
"scriptural imagination," Pound's play on these textual
apparatuses in the Cantos as originally published. McGann
suggests that "one of Pound's greatest contributions to poetry
lies concealed in his attentiveness to the smallest details of
his texts' bibliographical codes."(Textual 137) These "codes"
are, of course, his texts' "orders"its references, contexts, and

(5) Obviously, such search engines will continue to be developed.
Though significant advances can be made in the design of such
engines (Alta Vista is relatively recent service that does a very
good job), the point is that the assumptions of indexing systems
must always be questioned.

(6) In "Artifice of Absorption." See esp. pp. 67-68.

(7) Again, statistics are based on those reported by Win Treese
in The Internet Index. (8) Another decision about link words
involves what color they should be before and after they are
clicked. Does having them a different color overly forground
their status as link words? Indeed, should links be the same
color as regular text (invisible)? If they were the same color,
would it be apparent enough they should be clicked?




Date: Mon, 1 Apr 1996 19:45:03 -0500 From: Chris Stroffolino
 To: Poetics Group

of mysterians

Ask Carla Billeteri if I can see what she's written on Laura

Ask Joel Kuszai, Beth Anderson, Sean Killian and others on that
panel if they'd be willing to continue the discussion of
maximalism vs. minimalism in a forum Mark Wallace will do his
damnedest to get published

Ask Kim Rosenfeld (and others) if debating about gendered
essentialism would be considered "collaboration"

Try to get a copy of the Shaw/Strang collab. piece in which they
say "reality threw [or is it through] a series of backbones" and
refer to the "boxy little realism" of "lineage"and the Louis
Cabri piece in which he says "i wanna be erected" and "ego chaos

Condemn the privitization Buck Downs spoke in favor of (Jordan
claims he seconded Buck, but I remember him only half jokingly
begging for a local millionaire)

Reopen the question, posed by Kristen Prevellet, and evaded by
her immediate interlocutors, about what "language itself" really
means, and how it functions in discourse? transcendental
signified anyone????

Get Rob Fitterman to expound on CONTROL and LETTING (i mean LET
him....) Write Dan Farrell in appreciation of BOO magazine

Question the "young" advocates of the lyric as to whether their
"stance" is a mere "reaction" that may repeat the gestures of
previous exclusionary tendencies? Or does it allow a new
eclecticism, if not per se a new synthesis? Send Stephen Rodefer
poems, and try to get the copy of his broadside to Stephanie

Read "In Memory of My Theories" and write an essay called "In
Memory Of My Queries" which argues that I am no more Nietzsche
than he is Lao Tzu Write to praise Jennifer Moxley on her "Ten
Still Petals"

Get Marcella Durand to turn off "Wish You Were Here" at Bill
Luoma's apartment so I can ask Mitch Highfill about his "Liquid

Write Sianne Ngai for a copy of the poem in which she wrote "I
had nothing in my mind/ But I changed it" and send poems to her

Ask Joe Ross to tell some "success stories" about how he, as
editor of Washington Review, was able to overcome specific
resistances to non-linear, non-"realistic" verse, etc.

Try to get X and/or M and/or R and/or A to leave her boyfriend,
at least for an affair.

Try to get Bill Luoma to write an essay explaining what the
restaurant MONTE's symbolizes in his allegory (but don't expect a
straight answer).

Thank Louis Cabri for allowing me to trade my EAR for his BIBLIO
Get a tape with the panel with Ben F. and Nancy S. (etc) that I
missed.... See if Jordan D. wants to continue the collab. we
started during the collab panel.

Quote this Ashbery for Mark Wallace: "But most of all she loved
the particles that transform objects of the same category into
particular ones, each distinct within and apart from its own

Reopen the question as to whether what is needed at this time in
Canada is similar, and/or how it differs, from what is needed at
this time in the States, and ask what can be learned by the USA
poets from the Canadians present (or absent) and is it possible
to go the "wrong" way down the one way street of imperialism i
mean the free trade agreement....

Notice how the Americans for the most part dodged any question of
politics (much less economics) raised by the Canadians except
those of "the politics of poetic form..."

Wonder why no one ever expressed an inclination to ask me if I
liked Gilbert and Sullivan and when I said yes call me a fool

Resist the temptation to compare this conference unfavorably to
the NEWCOAST ONE (in terms of diversity, lack of coffee, two
panels at once...) or favorably (in terms of the great FORM
panel, the superiority of NYC to a "riot proof campus"...)

Hope and prey someone publishes it as a book (good suggestion,
ron) and keep reminding Rob F. to include the question and answer
sessions in it too and let people revise their comments (which I
have a hunch Perelman did with WRITING TALKS...)

Suggest that there be commemorative t-shirts with BIG QUESTION
MARKS on the back, and tell Kevin Davies he can wear it over his
CLASS OF '78 shirt. Ask Bernadette Mayer for her correspondence
with Laura Riding, then try to get it published.

Ask James Sherry if I can stay at the Hotel Sherry-ton while I
look for a job in NYC.

Ask Jessica Grim if she was serious about her banishment of
"touchy feely stuff....heaven forbid" from what Larry Price would
call an "explanatory register" and ask Doug Rothschild if he's
serious about his desire to abolish all heirachies.

Ask Lisa Jarnot, Ben F. and others, why they thought my "Fish"
poem was so great, and ask anybody to describe the taste of the
editor of ARSHILE. Never forget the ghoulish doorman at the ICHOR
and the rose colored glasses Charles Bernstein (if not willie
loman) had on...

And be sure to wish Bruce Andrews a happy april fool's day And
Gil Scott Heron a happy 40 something....




_Truth, A Book of Fictions_ by bpNicol (edited by Irene Niechoda,
the Mercury Press, 1993)


As I write this review, mainstream media is going gaga over the
Beatles again. Twenty-five years after the band's demise, the
remnant Beatles have issued a boxed CD collection of previously
unreleased material. A new wave of Beatlemania floods the public:
a six hour documentary flashes over three nights of prime time
television; newcasts sight local angles, interview consumers at
record stores waiting in line to buy boxed sets; newspapers and
magazines expound on the Beatles phenomenon, then and now. The
hype works; sales instantly boom. Though bpNichol was never hyped
beyond belief or relief, his career has some parallels to the
Beatles' career. Not only did he achieve international prominence
in the early 60s as a poet of twenty years of age, his rare
combination of virtuosity and wit, two qualities the Beatles
possessed, ensure that his poetry is as fresh today as it was

The Beatles were an extraordinary group of musicans. Virtuoso
rock artists, they handled their fame with an aplomb uncommon in
the rock music industry, rife with bands presumably more
interested in their clelbrity status than in their music. The
Beatles laughed, cavorted, looked silly and absurd, made the
media look silly and absurd, made and remade themselves and their
music with the sheer joy of making. Serious artists, the
Beatles's music survives because of the joy of living it evinces.
Nichol's poetry has the same everlasting buoyant spirit. Truth: A
Book of Fictions, a selection by Irene Niechoda from twenty years
of material, is pleasurable evidence of that.

How else can one play so delightfully with truth, one of the most
somber topics of our age? Truth, Nichol implicitly argues in all
his work, is a book of fictions, something invented by the
imagination. Imagination, not reason, is indispensable in the
construction of truth. Reason plods while imagination flies
through space it creates as it flies.

Nichol frolics with lost exts, ancient alphabet cults,
probability systems, and maps, teasing truth into human relief.
For Nichol, truth is not an object to consider heavily, gravely,
but a subject to explore, surely, lightly, playfully. Nichol
plays like few poets play, but never aimlesssly. In this book, he
romps with the comcept of books, runs a series of "Studies in the
Book Machine" from the very first page until the book's last page
and inside the back cover

"Studies in the Book Machine 14"

If this is a page

(printed on the book's last page)

is this a page?

(printed on the inside back cover)

throwing the truth about books into the air.

Weaving together hand-drawn visuals, found texts, diagrams, blank
pages, "pataphyctions" (as he has done in Love: A Book of
Remebrances, Zygal: A Book of Mysteries and Translations, and Art
Facts: A Book of Contexts) the book also includes what one might
read as straightforward lyric poetry, or, as in the following
poem, a personal manifesto:

"i don't need the framework

i don't need the crutch

(this is the personal section)

what i need is the trust in my own being

you don't need the system

you don't need technique except as a way to get you there


(from "Maps," page 8)

Nichol has this trust in his own creative being, this integrity.
His deployment of a wide variety of techniques serves to embody
his spiritspatial, spacious, unfettered, creative writing that is
always in a state of readiness, ready to be read.

Nichol flaunts the construct of truth in its many guises. For
example, in his satirical scholarly articles "Probable Systems,"
he mocks the truth spewed from academia. In "Probable Systems 36:
Digging up the Pas T," Nichol interprets the traces of a
prehistoric alphabet cult discovered during a field trup to
Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1978. Nichol decodes the messages written
to us from the past by people whose skies were inhabited by
alphabet configuarions (the only letters remaining are H and L,
still seen floating above earth). These people lived more
intimately with poetry than we do, poetry a part of their biome,
not simply an intellectual diversion.

Nichol has this intimate relationship with poetry. He held true
to his own ideasthe ultimate truth for artistsas did the Beatles.
He broke the boundaries we build to prop up the heavier sides of
our nature, to hold us together. His oeuvre shows it is just as
easy to construct a light, playful, intelligent world, a world
that's more fun to read.



_Wave-Run_ by Tod Thilleman (Spuyten Duyvil, 1995)


First take on Tod Thilleman's Wave-Run is that it's a kind of
closely attended watchfulness at the beach. It takes as its
initial object the sea, though not that body's obvious breadth.
Rather Thilleman concentrates on the area that might be thought
of as coastthe indefinite yet clearly present space between where
waves initially crest and where they finally land. By
concentrating on that especially turbulent area of near-jointure
(land and sea) Thilleman marks out that arena in poesis which
brings repetition and method to attention in an equally ambiguous
jointurelanguage itselfambiguous because each 'take 'doesn't
stay, yet the jointure, take-to-take, holds in the sense of water
droplets or molecules in a wavethe form that crashes in
definition of its precise pattern, in a precise place, at a
precise time, the shoreline also a measure of time, of the

The record of such timing is what Thilleman's Wave-Run is all
about. Which is to say it is about devicesmethodsthe writing and
sounding that such make possible. The poems themselves (53 of
them) are all shortthe longest still less than twenty linesand
make extensive use of internal rhyme to create surges and pauses
in the rhythm, which would seem mere mimesis (albeit an
interesting one) of the movement of the sea were it not for the
fact that Thilleman seems to be getting at something other than
watchful duplication. What is sought in this sequence is clarity
in terms of the size of creation itself, in which case, the sense
of coast as the continuous rim where it both begins and endsand
most readily reveals useful evidencesis where that clarity is
most achievable; where creation rises and where it breaks,
yielding ever-different patterns.

Timed patterns, patterns of time, the variability of the crossing
flow, all thought here in language. Themes other than the
physical patterns of the sea are also attended; they rise, each
of their own occasion, and slip back, their appearance adding
density to the sequence, yet neither continuing nor concluding
any part of it in any terms but the literal, continual &
sequential curl of form, in the language as the sea, "Weather's
whorling waft weather's wave's /Immense ascension" (pg 37).
Alliteration here's meant to give weight (to give weigh) to the
sea as site, with reference as well to "the sea within"the
sounded depth of one's creature, its system, context, the total
form of it. The language sounds its own sea-swells, as well the
presence of all its referential wave can curl up to, down, under
and in upon. Thilleman means to refer, not just to shapeliness
for its own sake, but to living form, where creation itself
closes the gap between living and recording.

The gap between these two is a product of objectification, which
by exactly such a division, yields the possibility of method.
Method is a process of reasoning that brings difference to light,
yet such difference is shown to be the rise and fall of time,
observed in the analogous rise and fall of pattern in the waves
which disperse themselves in further patterns along that
ambiguous area, the littoral, not only along the shore, but felt
in and this attuned from, the literal body of the observer, who
is no longer solely observer, but participant in exactly that gap
his observation opens, i.e., his observation, so recorded, is
fulfilled by a physicality felt inside himself, passing wave upon
wave that both defines time, even as it gives cause for staying
with it. Staying with the size of things, the stays of each
seizure bound up each to its next, the unbound contents any
modality must stir and serve.

Thilleman's sequence invokes both mass and duration, measured not
so much as objectification, but far more as pattern within
pattern within pattern, not concentric, but composed of obliquely
conjoined instances, the roar of surf let pass into a text in
suchwise manner that that primary sound is beset byand equally
part ofthought's pattern's music. The limit of such passage is
not so much the visual one of outline, but far more the aural,
the oral, the call-and-response of movement, to-and-fro, breathe
in/breathe out, rhythmical beat of alliteration which gives that
plangently ambiguous area of coast its perpetual
freshnessThilleman's method resonates in the body, the sound of
sea-size, a call toward the literal dimension of our ability to
feel it so, each our "inland" a share in its scoring, its depths,
ours in no way other than method shared whose substance is the
language itself.

The work itself is taut, closely negotiated; the arrangement of
the poems seems in some ways arbitrary, mimesis of the manner
with which the sea itself tosses its contents along the shore, as
if meaning were somehow less essential than the impermanence of
the patterned swirl of the sea's waters. The control commensurate
with keeping such movement constant through the sequence of poems
is considerable, and Thilleman manages this exactitude in terms
of constant motion with great care, never lending to the rush of
language more than seems available; his particularity is of
position, the esctasy of telling it all as if the literal waves
of inspiration were best made clear in the rise of
understatement, the pull of undertow, alternatively lax and taut
in the count of syllable-sounds.

Mimesis as method. It is an ancient practice, straight out of
Homer, who knew the sea's poluphloisboios. It was once thought
that recognizing in the sea's sounds and movements the mind's
musical patterning of the heart's beats was a prerequisite to
becoming a proper poet, the human story manifest in the ordered
chaos that foamed forth along the littoral, the senses ever
watchful of what new dieritic goddess would be washed up in
evidence upon the sand. Thilleman returns to that sense of
sounding; his wont is to make depth show clear in feeling its
dimensions, i.e., he is the person it, even as the poems are
those individuated pulses, tossed, the ordered reference of time
and size, in the language, negotiated water among waters, and the
craft of his attentions a boat by which to ride his obsessed
soundings home, back, down, in, to where the flanges in the body
can be referred to as wide, and fully felt as full.



WITZ is a journal of critical writing edited by Christopher
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