A Journal of Contemporary Poetics

Volume I, Number one					Summer 1992


		"*Witz*, as we receive it from German Romanticism,
		is a profoundly social and revolutionary faculty.
		Friedrich Schlegel describes it as 'absolute
		social feeling, or fragmentary genius,' as 'an
		explosion of confined spirit' and likens it to
		'someone who is supposed to behave in a manner
		representative of his station, but instead simply
		does something.'  Novalis designated it as 'a
		principle of affinities' that is simultaneously
		'the menstruum universale.'  In old and
		middle-high German the term 'witz' describes an
		intellectual faculty based on ingenuity, mental
		acuity and (in contrast to mathemata ) the ability
		to grasp truth unprovably, non-scientifically and
		at a single glance." 
				--Steve McCaffery, _North of Intention_


By Stephen Radcliffe

[Editor's note:  The original version of this article used
boldface type to indicate the "interuptions" (i.e.,
interpolated quotes and commentary) in the text.  Since this
would be impossible to reproduce in ASCII text, I have
chosen to indicate these "interuptions" by indenting them. 
I am not completely satisfied with this method, but I think
it is the clearest and least complicated way of reproducing
the article.]

What are the assumptions of the ordinary workshop poem--the
poem aimed at an audience not only of peers but superiors
(teachers, editors, judges, heads of English departments)
whose power to bestow grades, grants, prizes, publications,
and jobs invites (and indeed coerces) the poet to write
according to certain normative modes?  I am thinking about
that body of poetry published in America in the 1970's and
not 80's, largely by University Presses (Yale, Princeton,
Massachusetts, Wesleyan, Pittsburgh, Cleveland State,
Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, etc., to name only the
best known of these) and to a

				"what interests me is the coincidence and
				juxtaposition of the words on the page
				in their natural formation (alphabetical
				order).  In reference to each other,
				they have a story of their own."

lesser extent by the New York trade publishers, which have
for the last ten years put out five books of poems annually
in the National Poetry Series, reportedly conceived of and
garnered support for by that noted friend of poetry James
Mitchner; poetry which, because of the financial backing of
publishers capable both of relatively large press runs (2000
copies of any book of poems being a LARGE press run in
America, whereas in the Soviet Union 10,000 copies of a book
of poems by Yevteshenko will, I'm told, sell out; but that
is as they say

				"Work described as this may discomfort
				those who want a poetry primarily of
				personal communication, flowing freely
				from the inside with the words of a
				natural rhythm of life, lived daily. 
				Perhaps the conviction is that poetry
				not be made by fitting words into a
				pattern but by the act of actually
				letting it happen, writing, so that that
				which is 'stored within pours out'
				without reference to making a point any
				more than to making a shape.  The thing
				is not to create programmes to plug
				words into but to eliminate such imposed
				interferences. An influence of work that
				appears to be of this (other) type is
				the sanctification of something that
				gets known as its honesty, its
				directness, its authenticity, its
				artlessness, its sincerity, its
				spontaneity, its personal
				expressiveness; in short, its
				'naturalness.'  (As the pastoral was
				once natural, & likewise the

another story), reaches a relatively large audience of
fellow poets who are themselves teachers or students of
poetry; poetry, that is, largely written by
"professionals"--poets who are in some real measure the
products of the institutions which publish their works;
poets who have been trained, whether as undergraduate
English creative writing majors or at the MFA level, in the
writing programs which sprang up and proliferated in English
departments during the early 70's, many of whom now earn
their livings by teaching in those same writing workshops at
colleges and universities from Maine to Hawaii and Alaska

				" . . . in the early 70's, when John Cage
				used chance operations to compose a long
				four-part poem made up of language
				elements drawn from H. D. Thoreau's
				Journals, he called it Empty Words,
				implying that these words, etc., have no

to Florida; career poets who write (in order to teach) what
has been and will for convenience here be called the
"workshop poem." Let's take a look at what I take to be a
rather typical workshop poem, by Rebecca McClanahan Devet,
from her book called _Mother Tongue_, published in the
University of Central Florida Contemporary Poetry Series:

_Grandmother Died a Virgin_

It's all in your mind 
she once told me,
				"When I think in language there aren't
				'meanings' going through my mind in
				addition to the verbal expressions: the
				language itself is the vehicle of

knitting needles clicking 
rows of yellow, bright 
as Illinois corn 
outside the window. 
I nodded, remembering 
that afternoon's picnic, 
the first time I noticed

				"I want to establish the material, the
				stuff, of writing, in order, in turn, to
				base a discussion of writing on its
				medium rather than on preconceived
				literary ideas of subject matter or

a man's sandaled foot and 
counted the soft brown hairs
dreaming his breath 
warm on my neck, 
and fine as corn silk
my hair unbraiding.

Watching her weave
				"I became more and more excited about
				how words which were the words that made
				whatever I looked at look like itself
				were not the words that had in them any
				quality of description."

her tight clean rows, 
my mind unraveled, 
spun out free.
Granddaughter of a virgin. 
Thirteen.  And already 
wondrously undone.

The title is of course a tease, a curiously impossible
entrance into a

				"Often one word, phrase or sentence seems
				to follow another with little regard for
				the recognized imports of these signs
				and strings.  Their concatenation seems
				governed not by their referents, or by
				relations among them, but by features
				and relations intrinsic to them as
				language objects."

poem whose first line, a virtual cliche+ reflecting a kind
of homespun skepticism of one for whom observable phenomena
in the world out there isn't "real" ("it's all in your
mind"), is presented as the actual spoken words of the
poet's grandmother.  "It's all in your mind / she once told
me."  And with this second line the poem's speaker becomes
established: the poet, Rebecca Devet herself, is the first
person speaker narrator who writes a poem whose purpose is
to recall a juxtaposition of real events in her life--in
this case her encounter at age 13

				"The sanctification of the natural comes
				up in terms of 'voice' & has been
				extended by various excursions into the
				oral. . . .  there is the assumption
				that poetry matures in the location of
				'one's own voice' which as often as not
				is no more than a consistency of style &
				presentation.  'The voice of the poet'
				is an easy way of contextualizing poetry
				so that it can be more readily
				understood (indiscrimately plugged into)
				as listening to someone talk in their
				distinctive manner (i.e., listen for the
				person beyond or underneath the poem);
				but this theatricalization does not
				necessarily do the individual poem any
				service & has the tendency to reduce the
				body of a poet's work to little more
				than personality."

with her grandmother and her perhaps first sexual attraction
to a man.  The poem is well-crafted on a number of levels:
it's unified by the image of knitting/cloth/thread, for
example, ("knitting needles clicking," "fine as corn silk,"
"hair unbraiding," "watching her weave," "my mind unraveled,
/ spun out free," "undone"); and unified by patterns of
sound as well, which in effect knit together syllables and
words within the individual line ("knitting needles
clicking," "rows of yellow," "man's sandaled," "counted the
soft brown,") and

				"Words--consisting of syllables, in turn
				made up of phones that are denoted by
				letters that were once graphic symbols
				or pictures.  Words grow out of affects
				of A.  Sight, touch, taste, smell B. 
				Hearing C.  Thought with respect to
				other words, the interplay of

from one line to the next ("already / wondrously undone").
But if we press the poem beyond these easily observable
features of its well-madeness, press it that it is to an
account of what it's saying about the world, and how, what
exactly do we find?  In what specific sense, for instance,
could a grandmother be a virgin? What exactly is the
connection between what the grandmother says about "It" in
line 1--whatever "It" refers to--being all in your mind and
the afternoon the poet first noticed a man's "sandaled

				"In what way does this sentence ('Bananas
				are an example.', Bruce Andrews'
				one-line poem which appeared in _Paris
				Review_, 1972) differ from the poetic
				metaphor of the modernist style?  It is
				that it is truncated.  An 'example' of
				what? The sentence remains open,
				available to multiple continuations.  It
				thrusts polysemanticism into a new
				space. It is no longer a questions of
				allusive obscurities, as in Pound,
				Eliot, and Olson, nor of the
				metaphorical system of surrealism. . . .
				 It addresses in the present the
				ambiguity that language itself possesses
				and requires collaboration from the

foot," and dreamed "his breath warm on [her] neck"?  And
what, finally, are we to make of the poem's "wondrously
undone" ending--an ending seemingly designed to make us
think about, or imagine, that state of mind a thirteen year
old experiences on the occasion of her first sexual
awakenings (an experience, not incidentally, that would be
be perceived by the thirteen year old in quite those terms,
the phrase "wondrously undone" clearly "poetic," an adult
perspective grown out of this occasion of looking back on a
reconstructed adolescent

				"In constructive writing, the outer
				structure or parameter, or the method by
				which a wok is generated, is made
				visible. By 'constructive' partly I'm
				trying to point to certain radicalities
				or extremes of compositional strategy
				that tend to increase the artifactual,
				non-naturalistic sense of the poem--"
experience)? It's interesting to look at the blurbs that
accompany the announcement of Rebecca Devet's book, because
in praise they address some of the qualities that I take to
be most characteristic of the workshop poem:  according to
Charlene Swansea, "Rebecca Devet is elegant in the southern
tradition of women who listen well to the world and speak
from their heart"; George Garrett finds that "out of the
small and ordinary these poems make things new and
mysterious, immeasurable

				"any new direction would require poets to
				look. . . at what a poem is actually
				made of--not images, not voice, not
				characters or plot, all of which appear
				on paper, or in one's mouth, only
				through the invocation of a specific
				medium, language itself"
and simply wonderful"; and for A. R. Ammons, "Poems of
family gone, here, and to come are at the center of our
feelings."  Underlying each of these comments is a notion of
the poem as a poet's own speaking--the poem as
"voice"--speaking from the heart (her emotional core, "the
center of our feelings,") being the prime virtue of the
contemporary poem.  The "I" is central to the workshop poem,
which foregrounds the poet as first person psychological
self whose feelings of love, want, loss, regret, self-doubt,
anger (and, less frequently, joy and

				"I'm not interested in myself--that's
				just this guy who sits here drinking
				coffee and making a fool of himself.  If
				only a self got posited in a poem we may
				as well be having lunch somewhere and
				not bothering with poems.  A self that
				is transformed through language,
				however, interests me, though that
				already includes the reader as we are
				all part of a shared language.  It seems
				to me to become reductive, however,
				exactly at that point where you focus on
				the self and thus end up with a poetry
				of personality , and that exhausts
				itself as soon as the personality
				exhausts itself."

pleasure) in response to her experience is the poem's prime
constitutive element. The poem will be image-based,
referential, and narrative, with language ordinary enough to
sound "natural," i.e. be believable as the actual spoken
words of the poet/narrator, who is one of us, someone we
could know and probably like, a fellow American woman or
man, a neighbor. I don't mean to single out Rebecca Devet
here for a poem which is in its own way clearly
accomplished.  My point is rather to set forward, by

				"Not 'death' of the referent--rather a
				recharged use of the multivalent
				referential vectors that any word has,
				how words in combination tone and modify
				the associations made for each of them,
				how 'reference' then is not a one-on-one
				relation to an 'object' but a perceptual
				dimension that closes in to pinpoint,
				nail down ('this' word), sputters
				omnitropically (the in in the which of
				who where what pointillistically, fixing
				a reference at each turn. . . ."

the chief features of that body of poetry out of and against
which Language writing sets itself.  And I want to focus
attention a bit more on the presence and effect of the first
person speaker in the workshop poem, which is at once
narrative and personal, presents itself as the actual and
natural voice of the poet speaking.  Take for example the
poem "Spider Plant" by Michael Ryan, whose Threats Instead
of Trees won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award in 1974,
which appears in the current issue of _American Poetry
Review_, one of the

				"This writing does not concern itself
				with narrative in the conventional
				sense. Story, plot, any action outside
				the syntactic and tonal actions of the
				words is seen as secondary.  Attempts to
				posit an idealized narrative time would
				only blur perception of the actual time
				of writing and reading.  Persona,
				Personism, the poem as trace of the
				poet-demiurge--these, too, are now

two or three literary magazines in which poets engaged in
writing the workshop poem would most like to see their work

Spider Plant

When I opened by eyes this morning, 
the fact of its shooting out 
long thin green runners on which miniatures 
of the mother will sprout,
				"The fact that language as writing and
				language as speech are entirely separate
				is evident in the fact that they
				contribute to entirely separate sorts of

and that each of these offshoots 
could in its own time repeat this, 
terrified me. And something seemed awful 
in the syllables of the word "Brenda," 
sounding inside me before they made a name, 
then making a name of no one I've known. 
I had been dreaming I was married to Patty

				"Compare / these two views / of what /
				poetry  / is. In the one, an instance (a
				recording perhaps) of reality / fantasy
				/ experience / event is presented to us
				through the writing. In the other, the
				writing itself is seen as an instance of
				reality / fantasy / experience /
again.  She kept coming on my tongue 
and I knew if I put myself 
in we'd have to stay together this time. 
But I wanted to, and did, and as I did 
the sadness and pleasure of our nine years together 
washed through me as a river, yet 
I knew this wasn't right, it couldn't

				"Just what are words & what do they do?"

work, and though we were now emeshed 
forever I began to rise from my body 
making love with her on the bed and to hover 
at a little distance over both of us. 
That's when I awoke and saw the spider plant.

To adapt Bob Perelman's comments on an earlier but similar
poem in the same tradition (William Stafford's "Traveling
Through the Dark"), this is a "voice"

				"Talk about poetry has at some point got
				to be abstract, in order to maintain
				itself in relation to the poetry.  'I
				like this line here.  I like this one.'
				That isn't abstract. 'Notice this rhyme
				here.  See how this device works.'
				That's not either.  The talk becomes
				abstract when it is about these patterns
				of talk, of recognition, repetition,

poem.  Michael Ryan has "found his voice."  It's all
realistic, straightforwardly autobiographical, invoking
memory in a narrative whose language seems singularly empty
of charge even as it moves from a kind of neo-gothic
self-importance ("something seems awful/in the syllables of
the word 'Brenda'") to psychotherapeutic confession ("I knew
this wasn't right, it wouldn't work") to pseudo out-of-body
romantic epiphany ("now enmeshed/forever I began to rise
from my body/making love with her and to hover/at a little

				"Rather than making the language as
				transparent as possible, where these
				other qualities are repressed as a
				matter of technique (by creating,
				stylistically, the illusion of the
				invisibility of wordness and structure),
				the movement is toward
				opacity-denseness--visibility of
				language through the making translucent
				of the medium.  To actually map the
				fullness of thought and its movement."

over both of us".)  Michael Ryan is in the driver's seat
here ("I knew if I put myself in/we'd have to stay together
this time") and firmly in control of the meaning ("But I
wanted to, and did").  His "I" is squarely in the
foreground, a private self disclosing itself in public--in
words it remains essentially free of and unengaged by. To
get an idea of the range and characteristic tone of this
kind of speaker in this kind of poem, listen to the
following passages drawn at random

				"Writing is reading.  I live in a world
				of signs which acausally direct my
				consciousness. . . .  At the root of all
				comprehension exists an indeterminate
				number of possible meanings which are
				coming into being, into consciousness."

from the same issue of _American Poetry Review_:

As you read me the etymology, it melted 
easily into the sacred music of Scarlatti 
and aroma of coffee and bacon that
swell our home on Sunday mornings 
when live seems uncomplicated and kind. 
I don't remember what I said or did

				"Referentiality is diminished by
				organizing the language around other
				features or axes, around feature which
				make present to us words' lack of
				transparency, their physicality, their
				refusal to be motivated along schematic
				lines by frames exterior to themselves. 
				Refusing to 'point,' or to be arranged
				according to a 'pointing system,' they
				risk the charge of being pointless, 
				That is, to be a self-sufficiency of
				event--confounding the inadequation of
				words and referents that we mistakenly
				call meaning.  This is not meaning. 
				Instead, this is meaning. This."

the rest of that day--worked in here probably, 
read the paper, watched baseball on TV. . . 
--Michael Ryan,"Passion"

Most of the night it rained and there was little I could do
to convey how sorry I was how surprised at the laundry's
				". . . words can be brought into one's
				more total awareness in reading, where
				in reading you are brought up short to
				the point of the text becoming
				viscerally present to you, the 'content'
				and the 'experience of reading' are
				collapsed onto each other, the content
				being the experience of reading, the
				consciousness of the language and its
				movement and sound, the page."

white returning drift. . . --Suzanne Matson, "Debussy"

I watch the one who is leaving walk to the front door 
The night is as blue as the stillborn calf dropped last summer
in the woods behind the barn. 
There are things worse than loneliness. . . . 
--Jan Freeman, "Contemplating the Latest Departure"

				"you want / the fact / of things / in words,
				 / of words"

For the pause, the stutter of Sabbath 
Is awkward only, the silences are lively. The gift 
Is blind.  I kneel down, I begin to pray, I hear 
My own authority, cool voice which says that beauty 
Bears the numen, spirit.  I am numb. . . .
--Stephen Sandy, "Allegheny Front"

Those bleached lavender flowers weaving in clusters through
the spruce,

				"it's very tiny, content"

hairy with Spanish moss, I called 
lilacs, my favorite flowers.  Imagine 
my embarrassment when I learned 
they were wisteria. . . . 
--Barney Kirby, "Untitled"

Early morning, I bathe and step 
out onto the high porch to dry

				". . . the desire is to reveal the
				specificity, the tone and texture as
				much as 'content' 'summary' (of
				experience). Making writing, the
				activity itself, an active process, the
				fact of its own activity, autonomous,

off, naked in the sun.  It is 
another summer, one more year
in another place.  I listen. . . 
I bring out my notebook and write. . . . 
--Geoffrey Gardner, "Starksboro"

You were willing to like me, and I did something, 
and blew it,

				"Distance, rather than absorption, is the
				intended effect."

and your liking me would have saved me. . . 
	--Jean Valentine, "High School Boyfriend"

The lines here are loose and prosey, colloquial, talky: "you
were willing to like me and I did something,/and blew
it,/and your liking me would have saved me." The speaker in
each of these poems is believable in the sense that she or
he appears to be a "real" person, someone again we might
meet or could conceivably know.  Their personalities bodied
forth in these poems, moreover

				"When Carla Harryman writes, 'Although
				temperature flags on its own, the past
				dissolves.  I wanted to settle down to a
				nap.  The sand settles at the bottom of
				the ocean.  I sink to the top of the
				water' (Sites, Hills, #4), the word
				'although' prepares the reader for a
				contradiction between the clauses in the
				first sentence.  When no contradiction
				follows, the reader's attention
				increases. The concept of contradiction
				is rooted in the laws of logic, cause
				and effect. Harryman wants to throw
				these 'laws' into question. There is the
				jar of discontinuity between the
				clauses, sentences and paragraphs in
				this work.  The lines I quoted do not
				follow  logically, but they are united
				linguistically by the near -synonymous
				verbs.  Harryman puts content at odds
				with syntactical (or sometimes
				narrative) structures in order to make
				these structures stand out, enter our

appear to be "real" to readers of _American Poetry Review_ not
only through their words but by means of photographs of the
poets which APR includes with the poems, photographs which,
as Lee Bartlett has written, "are especially interesting in
light of the participation of the workshop poem in the
'optical illusion' of the first person; it is as if the
editors go so far as to distrust even the I of the poem and
so must reinforce the false realism by having "real" people
staring back at the reader."  The speakers in these poems
serve what

				"a poetry of shape.  His works are
				composed very explicitly under various
				conditions, presenting a variety of
				possible worlds, possible language
				formations.  Such poetry emphasizes its
				medium as being constructed, rule
				governed everywhere circumscribed by
				grammar & syntax, chosen vocabulary:
				designed, manipulated, picked,
				programmed, organized, & so an artifice,
				artifactual--modadic, solipsistic,
				homemade, manufactured, mechanized &
				formulaic at some points:  willful."

Bartlett has called a "Wordsworthian sense of the poem's
task--to recall through a fixed and definable identity a
moment in time and space."  The first person "I" is squarely
foregrounded, privileged, the center of the poet's (and
therefore reader's) concern.  Words and language are here
transparent, a medium to be passed through to get to the
experience behind the poem, the experience which generated
the poem and to which the poem would return us.  In the
workshop poem, as Marjorie Perloff puts it, "the experience
is prior to the language

				"It is a sentence which lacks a verb yet
				remains active, even restless, and in
				the present tense.  'Along the coast, on
				cots, in coats.  A warm new storm. "Blue
				ink on a white page between red lines.' 
				This is not a diarist's record of
				observed detail; no eye ('I') could be
				this ubiquitous.  It is the realism of
				language, language under pressure, fully

that communicates it: the story of [Michael Ryan's spider
plant] exists in a mental realm waiting to be activated by
the words of a poet who can somehow match signifier to
signified." ["The Words as Such" APR May/June 1984]  That is
to say, the poet's task is to find words--a way of
speaking--that will summon up for the reader the actual
prior experience that generated the poem.  The meaning of
the poem lies in the experience it attempts to convey.  We
have here in effect a poetics of the documentary, words as a
camera the reader isn't

				"Meaning is thought of as the product of
				language rather than its source."

aware of, a camera aimed at and focused upon some phase of
ordinary everyday personal experience.  The focus will be as
sharp as the "aroma of coffee and bacon/that swell our home
on Sunday mornings," mornings--i.e., experience--the poem
aims to convey from writer to reader. Memory is central to
the workshop poem, which tries to (re)present, by means of
image and to a certain extent tone of voice, what happened
"back then"--the past recollected in the tranquility of poet
sitting at desk.  Thus

				"Writing as a process of pushing whatever
				way, or making the piece cohere as far
				as can: stretching my mind--to where I
				know it makes sense but not quite
				why--suspecting relations that I
				understand, that make the sense of
				ready-to-hand--ie pushing the
				composition to the very limits of sense,
				meaning, to that razor's edge where
				judgment/aesthetic sense is all I can go
				on (knowhow). . . . So that the form,
				the structure, that, finally, is the
				poem, has emerged, is come upon, is

Geoffrey Gardner at "Starksborough," who "listen[s] . . .
bring[s] out [his] notebook and write[s]."  Thus Grey
Kuzma's recent poem "Childhood memory" (Poetry Northwest
Autumn 1987), which talks about his experience at age nine
or ten (the experience of a child who would ask, "Did they
have sex--father and mother--/who knew?") in what amounts to
a confession calculated to sketch out that experience in
language, ordinary language, words bent upon creating the
illusion of a real person's speaking voice, a person who is
one of us, just

				"an invisible & steadying "is" behind
				everything. . . all particles in the
				pile soon to reach / nounal state . . .
				the word "air" & its immediate
				prepositioning . . . these "scenes don't
				exist, never have . . . the poem is
				built // each line / equals / its own
				completion // and every next line / its
				consequence . . . wholes are made only
				by  motion . . . Each poem sights into a
				distance of all the others following. .
				. word-activation of the imagination in
				the act of seeing . . . a synthesis of

a regular guy, part of the illusion being that poets are no
different from any of us, that poetry is simply talk that's
written down, transcribed speech, and that the elements
which have traditionally distinguished poetry from
prose--which have to do most with the ear, and which result
from the poet's awareness of the rhythm of the line and
syntax played within or against the line break, of the
melodic pitch of vowels and consonants juxtaposed as
syllables in words set on after the other into lines, and of
the necessary implication of

				"One is brought back to the entirety of
				the single word which is in itself a
				relation, an implied metaphor, an
				argument, a harmony or a dissonance. The
				economy of presentation in writing is a
				reassertion of faith that the combined
				letters--the words--are absolute symbols
				for objects, states, acts,
				interrelations, thoughts about them. If
				not, why use words--new or old?"

the poet's present thought and/or feeling in the present
moment of her or his writing--that these elements of poetry
tend in effect to be sacrificed in the workshop poem, whose
poetics proposes "voice"--poem as confession, actual poet
speaking--as its primary motive. To carry this tendency of
poem as speech (Saussure's parole, as distinct from langue,
poem as writing) toward its natural end leads inevitable to
a kind of poetic self-indulgence ("bad" writing, though my
purpose here is less to

				"To make language opaque so that writing
				becomes more and more conscious of
				itself as world generating, object
				generating.  This goes not only for
				making palpable the processes of the
				mind and heart (inseparable) but for
				revealing the form and structure in
				which writing occurs, the plasticity of

evaluate than to describe), passages such as Kuzma's,
"Mother though sat and/swung her hands and passed the
beans/and talks Frank Glass this Frank/Glass that, while
father stared down/at his plate. . ." or "Mother/did the
dishes, having assigned me/the towel."  All this being
memory ("my wretched memory," as Kuzma waxes in the
penultimate line), designed to leave the reader somehow in
awe of the poet who has had this experience, or who had the
skill to write it down. But we might ask is this poem not
written in prose sentences?  What

				"Let's list these qualities of the new
				sentence . . .: 1. The paragraph
				organizes the sentences; 2.  The
				paragraph is a unit of quantity, not
				logic or argument; 3.  Sentence length
				is a unit of measure; 4.  Sentence
				structure is altered for torque, or
				increased polysemy/ambiguity; 5.
				Syllogistic movement is (a) limited  
				(b) controlled; 6. Primary syllogistic
				movement is between the preceding and
				following sentences; 7.  Secondary
				syllogistic movement is toward the
				paragraph as a whole, or the total work;
				8.  The limities of syllogistic movement
				keeps the reader's attention at or very
				close to the level of language, that is,
				most often at the sentence level or

dictates the need to break these lines where they do?  Why,
to take another example, is Alan Shapiro's poem "Cold Wood,"
which appeared in a recent issue of _Threepenny Review_, not

One night I heard my parents calling 
my name softly through the dark house; 
their voices nothing but a mild 
greeting I didn't know I longed for 
till I heard it, mild and yet

				"Materialist philosophers of history may
				do well to think about Bach's remark:
				The order which rules music is the same
				order that controls the placing of the
				stars & the feathers in a bird's wing."

so far away in the quiet that the sheets 
I slid from and my softest step 
were loud enough to make it vanish 
from me as it drew me on, from bed 
to hall, to landing, half way 
down stairs to where the bannister 
between floors straightened before 
descending toward their room.

				"In the end, a result of this conscious
				constructing is that of 'making
				strange,' the 'alienation effect':  To
				be able to see and feel the force and
				weight of formations of works, dynamics
				that otherwise go unnoticed; to feel it
				as stuff, to sound the language, and in
				so doing to reveal its meanings"

This poem by Sapiro, whose practice as a poet was shaped in
the mid-seventies in the writing workshops of Stanford
University and who has advocated and is noted for poems that
return to the strict formality of meter and rhyme (which he
here abandons in favor of the find of "fashionable" free
verse poem he has criticized (see "The New Formalism,"
Critical Inquiry), a poem whose lines seem nonetheless
singularly non-compelling, whose content stretches

And it came to me

				"The weight of the writing at the tip of
				the hand / just as it enters the paper
				. . ."

they must have flown up through the stairwell, beyond the
window, to the tree where the leaves shivered the
streetlights and the lights from other windows into
branching stars, tangling comet trails, whose shadows slid
down the wall over the bannister and through my hand.

				"This writing has been laying bare the
				devices of statement and signification,
				exploring and elaborating new
				possibilities of syntax.  Extending this
				investigation beyond the sentence
				approaches and redefines narrative."

It's all very romantic and wonderful, loved parents who can
fly out the window and up through the night to the stars,
which are lo and behold "tangling comet trails" (as if
comets were as nightly an occurance as stars), whose shadows
slide back down to the poet's hand.  But how exactly are we
to read the next line without making it seem either
ridiculous or so self-important as to inspire a hushed
reverence:  "Yes, they had dreamed themselves up there--";
how to take seriously the straight-faced revelations which
Shapiro's first person speaker

				"Voice is a possibility for poetry not an

subsequently leads his poem to--"And I knew if I could find
my way to the/all life would be that greeting/in the
constant moment of my coming home"? Well, enough of this, I
think you catch my drift.  Which is to say that the
projection of one's autobiographical self has become the
central feature of the contemporary workshop poem, whose
cult of the first person(ality) presents us with a
confessional "I," draws an equation between that "I" and the
poet, becomes in effect celebration of self, a poem of
limited interest.

				"Language is no longer an intermediary
				between the writer and the world or
				between the concept of the work and
				content.  Language is not the instrument
				of expression but the substance.  It is
				inseparable from the world, since it is
				in the nature of language to be
				entangled in a system of reference and


Bruce Andrews, "Text and Context," in _In The American Tree_
(Orono: University of Maine at Orono, 1986).

Rae Armantrout, "Why Don't Women Do Language-Oriented
Writing?" _In The American Tree_

Charles Bernstein, "Semblence," _Content's Dream_ (Los
Angleles: Sun & Moon Press, 1986)

Charles Bernstein, "Stray Dogs and Straw Men," _Content's

Charles Bernstein, "Thought's Measure," _Content's Dream_

Charles Bernstein, "Writing and Method," _Content's Dream_

Clark Coolidge, "A LETTER TO PAUL METCALF (jan 7 1972)" _In
The American Tree_.

Clark Coolidge, "From Notebooks (1976-1982)" _Code of Signals_
(Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1983)

Robert Creeley, _Pieces_.  (New York: Charles Scribners,

Jonathan Culler, _On Deconstruction_ (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1982).

Tina Darragh, "Procedure," _The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book_
(Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984).

Alan Davies, "Language/Mind/Writing," _Signage_ (New York:
Roof Books, 1987).

Alan Davies, "notes for CONSTRUCTION," _Signage_.

Willem de Kooning

Lyn Hejinian, "For CHANGE," _In The American Tree_.

Michael Palmer, "The Flower of the Capital,"_The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E 

Michael Palmer, "A Conversation with Michael Palmer,"
American Poetry 3 (Fall 1985).

Bob Perelman, "for CHANGE," _In The American Tree_.

Nick Piombino, "Writing and Conceiving," _In The American

Ron Silliman, "Language, Realism, Poetry," _In The American

Ron Silliman, "The New Sentence," _The New Sentence_ (New
York: Rood Books, 1987). Gertrude Stein, "Portraits and
Repetition," Writing and Lectures 1909-1945 Baltimore:
Penguin, 1971).

Nasnos Valaoritis [?]

Barret Watten, "Method and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E," _Total Syntax_,
(Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985).

#	#	#

By Nick Piombino
	"God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness
shows through." --Paul Valery
	1.  A penchant for philosophizing has gradually led me
in the direction of a kind of pragmatism of heart, while my
mind is left free to speculate on what it will.  I say
gradually only with hindsight because the onset felt sudden.
One day--it seems to me now, it was very clear to me that
the life of my ideas and the life of my feelings, while
being clearly connected, in sure and satisfying ways,
ultimately were in some basic ways completely independent of
each other.  I didn't think this pragmatism was ever really
absent in me--deep down--but there was a period in my life
when it was possible for more or less long periods of time
to suspend obedience to the clear dictates of practicality.
I call it a pragmatism of heart because what was really
being preserved was access to a range of feelings.  It has
become very clear to me that when this range of feeling is
more or less palpably delimited I have committed myself
frequently to an action or connected group of actions which
go against my perceptions of my world.
	2.  By continuously apprehending a certain range of
feelings I ensure a sense of self.  Yet at certain moments I
sometimes get a glimpse of how this sense of self so
intimately and immediately connects me with the many
universes of other selves.  With what relief I obtain to
such feelings again and again.  They also, by means of still
another doorway lead out to all kinds of past atmospheres
and textures, many small neighborhoods of forgotten
experience as specific as particular tastes and smells.
	3.  Many of my friends and acquaintances in their writings
seem to distrust this word "I."  Is it seen as an insatiable
monster made of mirrors, more like an inorganic substance
than a breathing being?  To what lengths some will go in
their poems and other writing to avoid any allusion to it.
Have they thus isolated it, and by so doing only contributed
to its influence by means of a powerfully notable absence?
To have one thing to deal with--like an ideal or set of
ideals--than have to admit that one could not bear to live
for very long in a selfless world--which would be like a
sunless world--perhaps it's a mode of simplification.  Could
the absence of an abstract I be a kind of lighthouse or
guidepost in itself? 4.  So let this I be like a sun, or a
star.  It is but one among countless others, but it is also
a complex world in itself.  It can be forgotten that that
which gives sustenance also consumes it.  We too often split
and divide modes of being and even beings themselves, in
order to conquer--even this is ultimately mainly a way of
comprehending again that much more than there are things and
people, with all knowledge and truths about them, there is
nothing, just like in the inorganic universe.  If we tried
to compose a universe without this empty part we would be
terribly crowded--and would spend more time filling than
	5.  Imagine how frustrating it would be if we always forgot
that a sense of being full is quite dependent on the
experience of being emptied--and that a sense of doing
something is equally dependent on the sense of doing
nothing.  Significance pales before insignificance--and
because of this we're soon back again for more.  The
greatest frustration of all is to forget that we live on a
pendulum in every way.  To forget this (the forgetting can
never be absolute) amplifies the sensation of anxiety, which
feels like the Earth is slipping away.  All becomes hurry
because closure is impossible.  There is no place to stop.
As Bob Dylan put it: "There must be some way outa here/Said
the joker to the thief/there's too much confusion/I can't
get no relief."
	6.  I accept comparison and laughter, love and diatribe,
doubt and fecundity as my daily diet.  I can't reject the
bitter taste of disappointment either.  To avoid this
compulsively may mean paralysis.  What we remember best is
what we sensed was the actuality of the situation.  But this
doesn't nullify the other thoughts and soundings.  There
were innumerable small venturings that led to the knock at
the door.  There were moments of strangeness too before the
smile of recognition.  This happened so many times it became
like breathing.  But the first few times seemed infinitely
long.  Once your mind has segmented the leap into human
strides the abyss has measure if still as daunting.  Even
chaos may get less forbidding as its features (ever
changing) start announcing themselves as provoking a
recognizable feeling or constellation of reactions.  The
giddy dizziness will finally relent and the familiar
landscape will once again reveal itself.  Only one or more
elements have been added with this sighting.  Each round of
lostness and foundness leaves its own set of markings on the
map we make inside and constantly consult.  Like any map,
the more it's shared with others, the more useful it
becomes.  If they ignore it, don't let that stop you from
proceeding on your quest.  After all, it's just a map.
	7.  The recitation of pains gives way to the recitation
of pleasures which gives way to the recitation of confusions
which gives way to the recitation of assertions which gives
way to the recitation of triumphs which gives way to the
recitation of dangers which gives way to the recitation of
discoveries which gives way to the recitation of solitudes
which gives way to the recitation of judgments which gives
way to the recitation of reveries which gives way to the
recitation of satisfactions which gives way to the
recitation of predictions which gives way to the recitations
of resentments which gives way to the recitations of
memories which gives way to the recitation of personalities
which gives way to the recitation of histories which gives
way to the recitation of feelings which gives way to the
recitation of intuitions which gives way to the recitation
of visions which gives way to the recitation of experiments
which gives way to the recitation of theories which gives
way to the recitation of constellations which gives way to
the recitation of origins which gives way to the recitation
of languages which gives way to the recitation of alphabets
which gives way to the recitation of elements which gives
way to the recitation of characteristics which gives way to
the recitation of qualities which gives way to the
recitation of things which gives way to the recitation of
combinations which gives way to the recitation of movements
which gives way to the recitation of structures which gives
way to the recitation of wholes which gives way to the
recitation of fragments which gives way to the recitation of
tones which gives way to the recitation of echoes which
gives way to the recitation of recitations.
	My poetics is concerned with a form of willful
disorganization which results partly from a wish to retrieve
and sustain the energy contained in the process of one idea
dissolving into a set of transformations, the way a
surfboard rider follows the entropic energy of a collapsing
wave front.  As you might expect the price I pay for the
occasional sensational ride is innumerable occasions of
stasis and many falls on my face and other vulnerable spots.
* An important difference between a skilled poet and a
clumsy one is that the clumsy one stops when there are no
more words and the skilled one stops when there is no more
beat. * We depend on the aesthetic to loosen the tight
garments woven by necessity on the one hand and morality on
the other. * The truth is what we must repeat.  The facts
are what we must accept.  This is why the truth is poetic
and the facts journalistic. * We live in a time when to
systematically search out almost any form of knowledge
invariably moves us in a direction of a relationship with
others of a deeply compromising kind.  Why this should be so
is a complex question.  In many areas of study it is an
avoidable question to some degree.  In the area of poetic
creation this is an unavoidable question.
	One systematic study of human beings which is considered a
form of psychology I consider in part of branch of
poetics--this is psychoanalysis.  It is an area of poetics
which concerns itself with the enduring yet in many ways
incomplete connective link between people.  That connective
link is ensured by the human desire for others, and the
human need for others.  One aspect of this desire for others
places the poetic impulse in jeopardy.  This aspect consists
of the failure to be understood.  In its earliest form in
childhood the failure to be understood places the
possibility of a person understanding themselves in
jeopardy.  The poetic impulse moves in at this point to
transform the wish to be understood into another register.
The human--that is, the face to face encounter with
incomprehension--has upset the delicately balanced system of
introspective versus comparative (differentiating) and
deciphering functions which make possible the infinitely
complex sensor mechanisms that in turn enable individuals to
guide themselves through the labyrinths of contemporary
existence.  The poetic impulse bypasses this flawed
give-and-take by means of a fusion of communicative and
receptive linguistic gestures.  It is other than a mere
humming to oneself and it is other than a rhapsodic singing
to others.  It is a way out of a deathly trap--the ultimate
snare of human communication itself.  Yes, a joke.  But some
	Poetry is always out to prove that individual people can
help transform, soothe, awake and not too occasionally laugh
at others and themselves.  One form of this is to confuse
themselves (or disorient themselves) for simple out and out
relief from the ultimately deadening aspects of the too many
and too rational and controlled expectations of the human
being.  As Novalis--an 18th Century visionary poet put
it--"Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason."  And
Blake: "If a fool would persist in his folly he would be
wise."  And Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin
of small minds." Our closest impulses are hard to find.  We
turn to group solutions, we feel challenged, warmed,
encouraged, accepted, but somehow less clear.  This is
because the truth is composed largely of ourselves,
particularly in the application.  We need something for
this.  Something that lets us sell our dreams to each other
instead of our schemes.  What is interesting about this
transformation is that it is constant.  The professional
poet takes this constant and moves it into the direction of
a kind of knowledge.  The blurry boundary here is between
the breathing constant and the formal expression.  The limit
of one turns us back on the receptive regeneration of the
other.  The thing said becomes the gestural marker of the
shared space between readers and writer.  The thing said
looks after those things in language that make a mind
comprehensible to another mind.  Something like a poetic map
is drawn.  "We sing ourselves like this in poems/rising in
speech we do not speak" (Wallace Stevens).  There is an
enchantment in drawing close enough to hear each other.
Understanding is understood before anything in particular is
understood.  Play between two is felt before anything at all
need be expressed in this play.  In psychotherapy all is in
place by now except the record of the event--to compare this
discipline to poetry.  This may come.  New forms discover
themselves slowly and there are healthy reasons for this. It
is because we are much more in a hurry to live than we are
to discover and make notes about the reasons for living.
Then again, there is more than one kind of psychotherapy and
there is more than one kind of poetry--as there are many
ways of living a life.
	Why should searching for knowledge together lead us towards
the danger of compromise?  The obvious reason is that people
compete and people fight for control and though these fights
and competitions often have very good reasons they are
sometimes injurious to the open and generous sharing of
knowledge--the main way it can be copiously accumulated.
Such sharing obviously goes with appreciation and fighting
does not go so well with accumulation, although competing
can be a challenge to gathering knowledge.  We move forward
by means of revolutions and resolutions and we sometimes go
right by what's apropos.  This is because the group has
resolved together to decide what is true and sometimes the
united mind is wrong.  Sometimes a long look back can help,
but most often an individual poet will detect by means of
some kind of visionary process the direction away from the
now paralyzing misapprehension which led to less vibrant
states of being.  This kind of apprehension is rarely
fashionable.  And we must have fashion.
	This does not leave us with a point.  Rather, it leaves
us with a cloud--a blurry cloud of thought.  We're back
where we were when the impulse brought us here.  There is a
common ground in such shared confusion which may be better
than shared delusion.  A shared delusion can result from the
need for an explanation or a guiding principle or person
when any one of these "solutions" may be more destructive
than instructive or constructive.  In government this can
show itself in providing a rationale for choosing expediency
over good judgement.  In psychoanalysis and social work such
shared delusion may be implicit when procedures are blindly
followed as a clinician's shield against an analysand's
overwhelming anxiety and chaotic behavior.  Such
defensiveness often grows out of a fear of loss of control
which is frequently the underlying motivation for what
psychoanalysis terms "resistance":  the unconscious
reluctance to search further.  In art, poetry and other
forms of writing such difficulties usually announce their
presence by the notorious"writer's block"--or in strong
impulses to find avenues of escape, such as certain kinds of
counterproductive and masochistic behavior, or the artist's
tendency to anxiously rush into the completion of a specific
work or group of works.
	Not long ago I ransaked the meager writings of one of
my favorite composers, Claude Debussy, in an effort to
discover his artistic "secret," particularly the ability of
his work to retain its aura of mystery despite many
listenings.  What I found was this:
		Time spent carefully creating the
		atmosphere in which a work of art must
		move is never wasted.  As I see it, one
		must never be in a hurry to write things
		down.  One must allow the complex play
		of ideas free rein: how it works is a
		mystery and we too often interfere with
		it by being impatient--which comes from
		being too materialistic, even cowardly,
		although we don't like to admit it. 
		You put such strong pressure on your
		ideas that they no longer dare present
		themselves to you, they're so afraid of
		not being dressed in a way you'd approve
		of.  You don't let yourself go enough in
		particular you don't seem to allow
		enough play to that mysterious force
		which guides us towards the true
		expression of a feeling, whereas
		dedicated, single-minded searching only
		weakens it. 
	1. _Debussy Letters_, Selected and Edited by Francois Lesure
and Roger Nichols, Translated by Roger Nichols, Harvard
University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 122 (in
a letter to Raoul Bardac, Saturday 31 August, 1901)
	2.  Ibid., p. 65 Monday 5 February 1894 (in a letter to
Ernest Chausson)
	Presented as part of a talk at the State University of New
York at Buffalo in the series "Wednesdays at 4 Plus"
sponsored by the David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters
(Charles Bernstein), Department of English, December 6,


Reviewed by Edward Foster

	In this year's January/February issue of _Poets & Writers_,
Joel Lewis identifies _Scarlet_ as "the first exciting and
innovative magazine to appear in the Nineties."  There are
in fact few poetry magazines around which are as
consistently well edited.  The editors distribute only three
hundred or so copies of each issue, and you are almost
certainly not going to find one at your local newstand, but
it is a magazine to which poets are giving much attention.
	Edited by Douglas Oliver and Alice Notley, _Scarlet_
publishes a very diverse group of poets: Jerome Rothenberg,
Bob Holman, Anselm Hollo, Clark Coolidge, and Anne Waldman,
to name a few.  Aside from an apparent New York emphasis,
don't try to find common denomiators: they simply aren't
there. Scarlet wasn't founded to publish manifestos,
establish party lines, or define another avant-garde, but
you won't find your own work there unless it happens to be
very good. There are some things the editors do not prefer,
however, as this review will later make clear.
	Oliver and Notley have regularly included their own poetry
in the magazine, and now they are publishing a special
issue, _The Scarlet Cabinet_, collecting their work from the
last few years in prose fiction as well as in poetry.  The
result is a book (a very substantial 442 pages) with some of
the best recent writing you will find anywhere.
	Oliver is, of course, among Britain's foremost poets, but
his work is not well known here.  (Provincials that we are,
how many contemporary British poets are widely read on this
side of the Atlantic?) That problem should be resolved by
the first work in _The Scarlet Cabinet_, Penniless Politics,
in which Oliver adopts an essentially traditional satirical
manner to criticize contemporary American politics.  That's
something that is long overdue. American poets may have
little, if any, effect on American political life, but they
are guaranteed to have none whatsoever if their observations
cannot be understood without a substantial background in
current political and linguistic theory.
	_The Scarlet Cabinet_ also includes Oliver's novel Sophia
Scarlett [sic]  (a rewriting of what Robert Louis Stevenson
might have written had he written one more novel) and "Nava
Sutra or The Sutras of Marudevi Chopra, a Fiction," the
"underlying structure" for which, according to a concluding
note, is "the Jaina bible, the Tattvartha Sutra," ". . .
although no Jain would accept the . . . doctrines" in
Oliver's work.
	Among Notley's contributions to _The Scarlet Cabinet_ are
"Beginning With A Stain," "Twelve Poems Without A Mask," and
the poems which she included in Homer's Art (1990).  Each of
these works is important, but the one on which I would like
to focus is _The Descent of Alette_ as it most clearly
focuses, for me, the poetic suggested by all of the work
collected here and indeed by _Scarlet_ itself.
	_The Descent of Alette_ is a long poem on which Notley has
been working for several years.  In "Women & Poetry," an
essay published in the September, 1991, Scarlet, she argued
that "most ways of composing & setting down lines of poetry,
of grouping them into poems on the page" are "largely male
solutions to male-generated formal problems."  And among
other things, what this suggests, of course, is that the
problems confronting a woman poet who would not merely
repeat "male solutions" must include a new measure and new
verse forms. _The Descent of Alette_ begins,
		"One day, I awoke" "& found myself on" "a subway,
		endlessly" "I didn't know" "how I arrived there
		or" "who I was" "exactly" "But I knew the train"
		"knew riding it" "knew the look of" "Those about
		me" "I gradually became aware--" 	

	Ordering words this way obviously breaks up and distorts
the grammatical current as well as rhythmical expectations. 
The poem is constructed as a traditional narrative, but
syntactical and rhythmical conventions are repeatedly
disrupted and shifted into new rhythmical patterns that in
turn intensify one's awareness of the narrative.  _The
Descent of Alette_ is rhythmically intricate, but the story
itself, essentially a sequence of dream visions, is
relatively straightforward; rythmical complexity, in other
words, plays against narrative directness, and grammar,
syntax, and rhythm never become transparent, unquestioned
means of telling.
	_The Descent of Alette_ is political both in its narrative
and in its measure, offering as it does an alternative to
"largely male solutions to male-generated formal problems." 
It is quite political in another dimension as well: Notley,
who argues in her introduction to _The Scarlet Cabinet_ that
poetry "has increasingly become an expression of the
individual self, at least in this culture," is by no means
going to adapt her work to the interests of those who write
and read poetry as extensions, in effect, of contemporary
critical theory (a largely male domain, one might add).
Indeed, Lewis quotes her in _Poets & Writers_ as saying that
in editing Scarlet, she and Oliver "do hate poems that are
about writing, literary criticism, linguistics, or French
philosophy."  In the introduction to _The Scarlet Cabinet_,
she writes that "one must not make poetry boring by
reasoning the human figure, the poet with mouth & tongue,
out of it."  Notley is asking for much more than strictly a
personal poetry, however.  She believes that "[t]]he poet
must prophesy the future, speak to it, educate it."  She is
also seeking "a holy story, that is told again & again."
	It seems a very long time indeed since a poet as
accomplished as Notley has had either the ambition or the
courage to speak so strongly.  At a time when many otherwise
capable poets seem either to quail before critical authority
or to bring their work into delicate balance with the
expectations of highly attenuated literary theory, it is
good to find one who will insist that words are exactly what
the poem itself intends.  Whatever value literary criticism
and theory may have, they always follow poetry and never
precede it.  Notley's achievement in _The Descent of Alette_
has everything do do with her refusal to let anything except
the words she is using dictate the course of her work. 
Oliver's position is obviously similar. Whether invoking
Stevenson, the satirical tradition, or Janism, he is
obviously not interested in regimenting his work according
to the expectations of critical theory.  But then again, no
poet whose work outlived a generation ever did.


Reviewed by Michelle Murphy
	John High's _the lives of thomas - episodes & prayers_,
creates a prismatic landscape: a pasticcio of jazz hip-hop
rhythm, violent passions and borrowed (sometimes convoluted)
passages from the _Gospel According To Thomas_.  A tangled
conterpoint of memory is revealed, interlocking narrative
with poetry.  Whose memory?  Ghosts hover on the
peripheries, as if not quite dead enough to go away for
good.  Slipping in and out of the story, they stroll back
porches dressed in drag, eat fat-back and pinto beans, swig
whiskey, grappel with a broken gospel.  Love is made and
then denied.  Whose love?  Whose bodies?  Through this
fragmented telling, the story spills into other direction,
contradicting the details of the story we had taken as the
"facts."  Only the chosen details survive.
		in the day when you devoured the dead, you made it
		alive, when you come into the light what will you
		do?  do you hear us still?  on this day of our
		mutual birth & dying?  on the day when you were
		one you became two but when you have become two
		what will you do?  where to uncover the parched
		leaves, skins beyond the word known to all
		tongues?  tell us now in order to leave this, the
		other fiction where we became them, can you hear
		us now?  this is the last call, our only eyes, a
		final horn 
				(from _playing tongues on new year's eve_) 	

	Against a series of accounts that evaporate in the telling,
details are recalled through glimpses rather than direct
explication.  Faces are deliberately blurred, voices give
way to peculiar meditations.  When the hammering preacher
takes over, pointing his finger in the air, thundering and
blustering, a furious evengelical barrage moves the language
forward in periodic bouts of fire and brimstone.  High's
characters are charged with subjective truths, and part
truths, a dichotomy of seductive, sometimes violent
language; its source of memory, the vanishing points of
story. Images stack up back-to-back against each other,
forming the layers of a palimpsest.  Outlines of each story
act as an existing canvas on which the same story is told
from a different character's perspective.  Images that Fanny
Howe describes as "soft light, motion--but now underscored
in positive black . . . ."  Images that are difficult to
decipher but contain a strange saturating power all their
own. Through High's eclipsed language, jazzed up energy,
the reader slips in and out of time; its linearity
undulating beyond chronological events, into an isolating
loneliness. Still, there is the desire to connect with the
world, make sense of the confusion that protects us from our
violent natures.  Consider this passage from "solitary
		He looks through the broken glass of the kitchen
		window, touches the cuts left on his face earlier
		by Scooter's boys, fondles the old burns sister
		Katie gave to his throat. Finny knows Charlie's
		dead, this one he never wanted except inside him
		like his own blood or the beginnings & he thinks
		of the nights he slept on Charlie's shoulder
		afraid of everything that moved, afraid of his own
		sleep & how Charlie could calm him then, saying my
		mouth will not be capable. 	

	Blindness is a recurring motif throughout the book.  The
characters are blinded by the horrors they witness, and
their own culpability in these events.  High's characters
grappel for sight through a splintered memory that connects
them to the present.  The eye absorbs the shifts, the
staccato pirouettes.  As Peter Weltner says, "Its language
also resembles an old-time preacher's, cajoling, imploring,
lamenting, consoling & witnessing, visionary and exact."  He
reaches into regional Southern myth and beyond into
timeless myth.  Blindness as metonym, patricide, incest, the
journey quest. Through the shifting opposites of love and
violence, redemption hovers, the paradox of fall and grace
revealed.  Near the end of the book is this passage: "no
longer desperate in the troubles found, worship the time
remaining.  rain in it.  the slow growth & rain (reign) of
rite."  High's work is incandescent; it hardly matters what
you call it--story, poem, or as C.D. Wright called it, a
"poem noir."  In _the lives of thomas - episodes & prayers_ we
land on our feet, off-centered but strangely balanced.


Reviewed by Stephen-Paul Martin
	One of the presiding concerns of twentieth century
intellectual activity has been a questioning of the
narrative as a means of describing experience.  While some
have argued that the conventions of narrative representation
falsify the more complex patterns that characterize
day-to-day social life, others have maintained that
storytelling is part of a tradition whose contributions to
human experience are too valuable to simply discard.  Every
serious reader of literature has felt the irritation of
being asked to look at yet another plot/character /setting
scenario, wherein a protagonist we are supposed to "identify
with" undergoes a psychological transformation. But of equal
irritation these days are the increasingly predictable
metafictions in which the story calls itself into question
and the author undermines his/her own authority.  Is there a
way to avoid falling into either trap while preserving the
most interesting qualities of both, producing fiction that
is neither self-deceived nor self-obsessed?  Is there a way
to re-animate certain elements of narrative representation,
perhaps using them as points of departure, structural
devices whose conventions can be called into question even
as they provide us with the pleasures of storytelling?  In
Jacques Servin's recent collection of fiction, _Mermaids for
Attila_, the synthesis these questions suggest is achieved
primarily through the humor that develops as the stories
tell and untell themselves and the language works in
opposition to the normative syntax that sustains it.
Servin's fiction is ironic without being overtly satiric or
moralistic.  The tone is distanced and critical but at the
same time amused, as if the words were secretly aware of
their own limitations, as if they knew they were trapped in
and sustaining a medium whose instabilities were

		Suddenly the living room opens its mouth and tells
		of the work of a frail young man of Bangladesh,
		how he went and went and went until finally he
		couldn't and simply died, there, in Bangladesh, on
		the road to riches but no closer to his love, an
		equally frail young woman named June who lived in
		Alaska and had seen the young man once on a trip
		through the East.  June died too, the living room
		says, in a great heap of snow, in winter. 

	A number of "anti-realistic" elements are at work here, the
most obvious of which is that the story is being told by a
living room.  The two people involved are not fully rendered
literary characters, but stick figures who seem to represent
polar oppositions--the young man seeking "riches" in a poor
country like Bangladesh, and the woman whose name (June)
suggests summer, but who dies in winter, as if her name were
somehow the cause of her death.  Exactly what we are
supposed to make of this odd little anecdote is not clear,
and what makes it even more perplexing is the fact that it
occurs in what seems to be a story about a suburban family
having an argument after a party.  Is the living room's tale
in some way a comment on the family's dilemma, or is Servin
challenging the cause and effect logic that generally
operates in conventional fiction?  If we were dealing with
typical workshop storytelling, this question would suggest a
loose end in the author's narrative technique.  But in
Mermaids the loose end seems deliberate, an amusing way of
overturning our fictive expectations.
	Later, as the suburban family stands of the verge of an
argument, the living room speaks again: "This is another
one, a story about a family's confusion.  Why do the family
members gawk and not speak?  Who do Ron, who was naked with
Deirdre, and Arch and Czechoslovakia--why do they not commit
themselves to a course of action that will result in
something more than the glancing of sport off habit?"
	The living room accuses both the family of not being
capable of decisive action and the author of not being able
to avoid a predictable fictive situation.  But the family
members respond by "declaring their depth and questioning
the living room's understanding of their 'habit.'"  As a way
of proving their "depth," they abandon the living room--the
conventional family space--and plunge into the unknown:
"They walk away through the house, turning off the lights as
they go, farther and farther, through more and more rooms,
endlessly...".  This can be read in at least two ways--as a
suggestion that to escape suburban tedium the family will
have to go "farther and farther" into its "depth," and as a
suggestion that fiction writers, to avoid the tedium of
realist fiction, will have to go farther and farther into
the kind of bizarre narratives that populate books like
_Mermaids for Attila_.
	At times these narratives seem too predictably
self-referential.  What works against this (by now) stale
avant-garde procedure is Servin's sense of humor.  His
stories are constantly asking us to question how seriously
we should take them, how far we should pursue interpretive
complexities when the narratives themselves seem to be
laughing at the possibility of complex interpretation.  The
title of the piece described above, for example, is "Angry
Suburb Story," suggesting ironic distance from the subject
of suburban anger and from the tendency to write
stories--even metafictional stories--about it.  But the
problem here is in part semantic, since Servin is not
writing about anything; rather, he is writing to evoke a
feeling that our conventional vocabularies have no word for,
a feeling which is suggested by the title of another story
in Mermaids, "Spooky Days of the Wide-Eyed."
	This story focuses on the narrator's dialogue with someone
named Mary, who seems to represent our nation's fading
social conscience.  She asks, "How else to safeguard the
stuff of our poetry and of our souls, our fucking souls,
than to learn?  Learn learn learn? So we can help the
president and through him ourselves?" This Jeffersonian
ideal of a democratic participatory society is too
idealistic for the narrator, who feels that "there's nothing
to learn, it just hurts too much."  In this despairing
condition, he tells us that he "invented the symphony
orchestra, which received a major grant from the president,"
leading him to conclude that this "humane entity was my
friend for sure."
	This split between an idealism that is too lofty for its
own good and a resignation that is willing to surrender its
integrity and unite with established interests is an
all-too-familiar aspect of contemporary political activity. 
Yet Servin's purpose is not to provide a profile of our
collective psyche.  Rather, the dialogue between Mary and
the narrator is subsumed in a language which pretends to be
unaware that it can only take its expressive possibilities
with a grain of salt.  As the narrator says, "I fixed a
funny sandwich and laughed as I ate it.  The upstairs tenant
stomped three times and I laughed some more, then stifled
myself in a pillow."
	Trapped in narratives whose instability is on full display
at certain points, just barely concealed at others, Servin's
"characters" routinely find it difficult to play their
expected roles as representations of human beings.  The
things they do and the places in which they do them often
dissolve into a discourse whose attempts at rational
progression playfully and disturbingly break down,
suggesting that the map is not only not the territory, but
is also not really the map.  It is instead a design, a
pattern of linguistic energies that develop out of what used
to be fiction, but should now perhaps be called something
else.  If at times Servin's writing seems to fall too
conveniently into the metafictional tradition, this can
perhaps be understood as an expression of the author's need
to avoid the banalities of conventional realist
storytelling.  At the same time, some kind of storytelling
is present in _Mermaids for Attila_, with subversive humor as
its engine. 

Reviewed by Keith Waldrop 
	The beauty of _Park_, by Cole Swensen* is obvious at first
reading.  Then, once read through (it is a single poem in
verse and prose) its parts can be savored separately.  They
certainly repay rereading, in and out of order. The poem is
grandly laid out, suggesting a large design, but there are
also layers of uncertainly--as if a formal garden were, in
flickers, a folly.
	In the narrative of Part Six, the various planners cannot
decide what kind of park to build. And, more importantly,
the park (of whatever kind, and built or unbuilt) is seen
only from chance positions in space and time, from outside,
from inside, from the air, day or night, through an iron
gate . . .  Some sections are glimpsed as if while walking,
fragmented by bars in the fence.  Phrases recur in different
settings--or as fragments.
	It is a poem to walk through and around and check out from
various angles.  The repetitions then lose their air of
puzzlement and--still mysterious--become landmarks. I've
gone back to _Park_ a number of times and still find I don't
know altogether what to expect.  It does not lose its
beauty. And as one of its voices says, "every time I've been
back . . . I've had the distinct impression that everything
is moving.
	[* anagram: clew on sense]


Reviewed by Susan Smith Nash

	Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, whose Tsunamai Editions Oral
Tragedy, was a runner-up in the 1989 bpNichol Memorial
Chapbook contest, has written a provocative collection of
experimental poetics which challenges notions of the role of
the avant-garde.  In this collection, she juxtaposes recent
theoretical discourse issues with an aggressively
de-signified poetic language.  The result is challenging,
invigorating, and eminently subversive.
	In many ways, Lusk's work is representative of the kind
of writing being produced now, which demands critical
thinking and a response, and often results in a cluster of
writings that historiographers later designate a "school" or
a "movement."
	Redactive refers to the ability of something to provoke the
editing process. It implies a consciousness of the writing
process itself, and embodies Lusk's self-awareness of her
project.  In the first poem, "Anti Tumblehome" which she
dedicates "to our fallen comrades," Lusk unabashedly
incorporates current literary criticism issues,
acknowledging Derrida in "This subject to erosure.  Not to
address itself simply."
	Referring to Foucault, Lyotard, and others who have
explored issues regarding the nature of authorship, Lusk
writes, "An putative author interrogates her silence." 
Later, the text of _Redactive_ moves locate poetics within an
idea of a genealogy of intent, incorporating Said, Spivak,
and other post-colonial critics, "What WON'T we do for
history," and "He often seeks a gentle point to sift through
a film-- / HOW to get into synthesizer position."  Lusk
indicates that questions of intent and genealogy are, at
least in some respects, spatial concerns when she writes
"Tangling the illegitimated suprajective / 'wrongside' of
the sheets."
	For all practical purposes, these allusions are endless,
which, of course, is Lusk's point.  "Anti Tumblehome," "The
Worst," "Historical Necessity," and other poems set off
chains of allusions, each spilling out from a single
referent, calling into question the concept that the reader
creates his or her own meaning from the text.
	Lusk demonstrates that meaning is generated by what could
be called "dislocated parallels," writers who had nothing to
do with the writing of the text, but whose works may have
influenced the readers.
	With such self-consciousness, one might suppose that all
possibilities of interpretation of the text would be
carefully orchestrated and controlled.  "Oral Tragedy" puts
that thought to rest, demonstrating that awareness leads to
a loss of the "I," and with the accompanying dismemberment
of the self comes a type of transcendence, allowing a
multiplicity of narratives to emerge.  The structure of the
text allows the reader to transcend pure "logos" and
signification.  This could be a dangerous thing, leading to
(as Habermas has pointed out) the sins of Heidegger, who
devised a philosophy, in part, to justify his
Holocaust-denying version of reality.
	In "Stumps," the visual is foregrounded, with text and
white space elegantly ordering the page, in a style similar
to that of John Byrum. Interestingly enough, this return to
a schema imposes a system of organization and implicitly
valorizes conventional ideas of order.  Thus, Lusk's project
proposes that the avant-garde cannot exist without the
	Yet, there is hope for change, even as we read, because the
experimental, the raw, the subversive, and the alive do
exist.  These are being produced with a passion that defies
the mainstream motives of comfort, complacency, and
myth-making, and function to remind us that while there is a
mainstream, it can always be called into question by artists
and writers who have the courage to look into an issue with
honesty and compassion. 

Reviewed by Bruce Campbell	

	The first words of Walter Abish's new book announce a
certain problematic: "These works were undertaken in a
playful spirit--not actually 'written' but orchestrated"
(9).  Abish is clearly warning us away from one kind of
expectation.  But how does being "orchestrated" differ from
being "'written'"?  And what does it mean to be
"orchestrated"?  "Writing" we might equate with
expression--whether that expression be of a self or ideas, 
In this expression lies a touchstone of sincerity (as well
as responsibility): the writer stands by (or behind) his
words.  More simply: he means it.  But "orchestrating" has
nothing to do with expression.  (Or, perhaps, I should say
nothing directly to do with expression.)  "Orchestrating" is
a matter of distribution.  As such, it depends upon a kind
of community--a community of texts, which is a community of
language: "In using selected segments of published texts
authored by others as the exclusive 'ready-made' material
from these five 'explorations,' I wanted to probe certain
familiar emotional configurations afresh, and arrive at an
emotional content that is not mine by design" (9). 
"Orchestrating," therefore achieves the design of the
"not-mine," and it can do so because it substitutes the
distribution of the "'ready-made' material" for the concept
of creation.
	Abish's quotation marks around "'writing,'" however,
implicitly query the idea that writing can be
unproblematically contrasted with "orchestration."  And,
this means we are already a part of the "emotional
configurations."  Let us stress that what comes first, in
Abish's "explorations," is the "configuration."  The
problematic leap here is that from the "configuration"
(which is, first, "familiar, and, then, "fresh"--or, at
least, that's the avowed purpose of the orchestration) to
"an emotional content."  It is important that the
configuration is the "not-mine" because, as "not-mine," it
breaks the habits which reinforce "mineness." 
"Orchestration" evokes a cognition beyond habit.  But we can
reach this same point by taking the indefinite article
seriously (i.e., "an emotional content").  What is
habitual is "the emotional content."  This is what makes it
"mine," in the first place; or, if you prefer, this is how I
know it to be mine.  Conversely, through orchestration, we
move to the indefinite; which is also to say, to the new and
the "not-mine."  Thus, by arrangement (represented by the 99
of the title), we reach The New Meaning.  But "the new
meaning" is definite only in the sense that it is
distinguished from other meanings; not in the sense that it
is definitive.
	For orchestration to succeed in this purpose, however,
there can not be a one-to-one relation between
configuration and content.  (Where there is, the content
shall always be definite--and singular [i.e., "the
content"]).  Thus: "[N]othing is really antagonistic,
everything is plural" (59).  But let us consider that it is
possible to take the sentence as a kind of configuration,
too.  What do we gain by doing so?  If configuration
operates throughout (on the small, as well as the large,
scale), then all content is problematized; or, we might say
that no content is self-evident.  Therefore, it depends on
something else: context (or at least, that's usually what we
call it).  But what is the context of the statement?  "[I]n
the text of pleasure, the opposing forces are no longer
repressed but in a state of becoming: nothing is really
antagonistic, everything is plural" (59).  Here, we are
given the co-ordinates where the statement is true: first,
the place ("in the text of pleasure"); second, the reason
("the opposing forces are . . . in a state of becoming"). 
While "becoming" points to the magnetized pole of Hegelian
dialectics, there is a possible contradiction of such
dialectics.  It depends upon how we read this "becoming." 
For, it may be that "becoming" shall lead these "opposing
forces" into a mature antagonism.  As a possibility, this
content stands like an indefinite article in relation to the
configuration.  "For the history of sources we should
substitute the history of figures" (100). 
	We might say that something is always left out of the
co-ordinates.  If nothing else, the future tense.  Thus,
it's up to us to determine those co-ordinates, as best as we
can.  The truth of the statement (i.e., the "really")
depends on the co-ordinates (or the perspective; the state
of mind; etc.).  Which is to say that, even if we do not
concern ourselves with the outcome of "becoming," the
matter of co-ordinates may be problematic; if for no other
reason than that there are other places where everything is
antagonistic.  "What is thought, but disease of action?"
(37).  How should we take this?  Does thought arise because
our actions are "diseased," or is thought itself a
"diseased" action?  There is certain provocation here.  And
provocation makes itself felt through the emotions.  That
is, the emotional configuration of the sentence evokes an
emotional content, which may either second the statement or
reject it.  (Of course, another perspective is possible,
too: the matter of emotions [or provocations] simply proves
that thought is "a disease of action.")  Emotion holds the
interpretation to the configuration.
	After all, let us consider the role of "I" in this
orchestrated text.  On the one hand: "I am no different as
an author from all authors who ever existed since man first
began to write" (37).  The important phrase is probably "as
an author;" which indicates a certain narrowing attendant
to the roles one assumes.  Therefore, "as an author," there
has been no difference between any of us.  Wouldn't it then
follow that it makes no difference who writes this?  "Then
it strikes us how much the void resembles us" (22).  And,
yet, "The author is undecided" (43).  Perhaps, however,
this indecision is not experienced "as an author."  Even so,
let us consider what this does to the reader: "[T]he
challenge is more severe when it is not clear who is
speaking, where the ordering of the parts is less controlled
or where there are more than two parts" (54).  Certainly, we
can go a long way to smoothing the differences between
these passages.  For instance, we may contrast writing with
speaking, or the author with the reader (or with
characters).  Whatever contrast we make is already in the
service of an interpretation.  What we have, then are two
levels: language (comprising all the possible
statements--more concretely, all of _99: The New Meaning_) and
interpretation (or the meaning one makes out of those
possibilities).  Interpretation, therefore, is partial. 
"How do you mean all this?" (37).  One answer is we can not
mean "all of this"; which is why, by design, "all of this"
(i.e., _99: The New Meaning_) reveals, through orchestration,
the hand of the "not-mine."  "It is possible to think of
language as the most versatile, and maybe the original, form
of deception, a sort of fortunate fall: I lie and am lied
to, but the result of my lie is mental leaps, memory,
knowledge" (30). 


By David Bromige
	Lunch time: all the women were out to it.  The King grew
hornier and hornier.  He had a jester.  By two o'clock, the
loading dock was covered with punchline.
	The perfect joke, the speaker said, would already be more
than a joke, and therefore not funny.  He was stoned on this
occasion, which took place in a quarry.  He got the pitcher.
 He thought he was the catcher.  Then the batter rose up,
making Yorkshire pudding of his theory.  It was delicious,
	A Pole goes into a jokeshop to tell a joke.  (My family
is Polish.)  But it isn't funny.  The Pole gets mad.  "If I
were Italian, if I were German, then you'd laugh."
	"It's not that.  But this is 1992."
	When the only consensus possible was that this was no joke.
 (The Pole is blond, too.  Blonde and blue-eyed.  My family
is beautiful.  Yours, too?)
	The tragic, on the other hand.  Witzend in quicksand
at Whitsun.  Jesus in slowdeath at Easter.  Orpheus in the
Underground at Oxford Circus, dead of rosin poisoning while
polishing Rossini.

	Tell Mona Lisa she is beautiful.  You already did?  She
says she wants to sing harmony on "Shenandoah"?  Wearing the
Groucho mask?  While the President robs the bank?
	The middle distance, that's where I'd live.  If I ever
lived.  (My family is almost mortal.)

					W I T Z

WITZ is a journal of critical writing edited by Christopher
Reiner (creiner@crl.com).  It is published three times a

The contents of this issue are copyright (c) 1992 by WITZ.

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