Showing posts with label Bruce Andrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bruce Andrews. Show all posts

Friday, November 07, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

@ Brown, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Don’t neglect to click on the pic

Dyl Dawg

3 hours of Bruce Andrews reading
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from UC Davis

Your host is Brian Ang

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Tom Bell writes:

     Is there room on your blog for a consideration of “asyntactical tactics of Language poetry?” (p. 13 in O’Leary’s Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness?). This struck me as a misapprehension that is probably common but I’m not sure why as I can’t tell if the ‘a’ in asyntactical is to be read like the ‘a’ in agnostic or the ‘a’ in atheistic. Actually, I don’t think either applies?

I can’t say that I know Leary’s text, but I’ve heard that charge before. It’s one of my Top 10 Myths about Language Poetry:

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is non-narrative
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is a- (or anti-) syntactical
(alternate version: language poetry = word salad)
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is academic
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is poetry written to prove a theory
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is New Criticism with a human face
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry has no humor
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry has no interest in people
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry began in 1978
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is anything written since 1978
(alternate versions: since 1970; since 1990)
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Language poetry is anything “I don’t understand”
Some of these of course are simply silly. Of the 40 writers included in In the American Tree, exactly eight have (or have had) tenure track positions in college-level literature programs. Of those eight, three (Watten, Perelman, Davidson) were hired as modernists rather than as poets, while David Bromige was hired onto the Sonoma State faculty before anybody there had ever heard the dread phrase “language-centered writing.” This leaves exactly four human beings who could plausibly have been hired in part for their accomplishments as poets related to the social phenomenon that is langpo: Bernstein at Buffalo, Hejinian only very recently at Berkeley, and Susan & Fanny Howe, both now retired. More language poets work in the computer industry, frankly.*

But to tackle the non-narrative & word salad canards, lets take a look at some recent work from Bruce Andrews’ Lip Service, a “recasting” of Dante’s Paradiso. This passage comes from “Moon I,” the first piece in the second section of this book:

     Charm Master, let’s say I repeat mere outline of
somehow pumps
                                   look I lose in looks
’to become’ & ‘to appear’ are the same
                                   a contrario goof, a spell behaved
souvenir pinch painted wardens
scared to fake redress by projective graphic lids
laid eyes on – what opals, what clovers, eye-level stress
imagery sale cipher fitted to inwards as if
                                                                     into the distance:
                                      simulcrayon scopafidelity.

Andrews describes his process on the back cover of the Coach House volume in very straightforward terms:

Its ‘christmases of the heart in syllables’ take Dante’s thematic cues & path through ten concentric planetary bodies to rechoreograph several years’ worth of poetic raw material of mine – on love, erotic intimacy, gender socialization & the body. Dante’s topics & tercents & punctuation give its 100 parts their internal shape, with a drastic constructivism of syntax, with denotations & fluidities magnetizing its word-to-word attractions or pushes & pulls as ‘valedictory honeymoon burns in the pagination’.

What Lip Service is not, then, is either free writing or a homophonic translation of Paradiso. Its actual relation to Dante’s work is at the level of structure – akin perhaps to Joyce’s use of Homer’s poem in Ulysses but with one eye toward the exoskeletal features of the text. Without going into the thematic correspondences between Dante’s work and Lip Service, the passage above – picked primarily because I want to think a little about that remarkable last line – seems to me perfectly readable. It is neither asyntactic nor non-narrative. Built out of Andrews’ reservoir of “poetic raw material,” one could conceivably argue that it is a hodge-podge of found language, jumbled together into an aesthetically pleasing shape. But a closer reading reveals – constantly, throughout the entire text – that more is going on.

The opening line of this passage is an address to a named Other & addresses, in fact, the form of the poem itself (with the articles removed a la Ginsberg). The next line appears to shift context entirely & in fact does. Doing so, the language moves away from comment toward prosody, thus it also pumps. But that is as much a comment on the form as was the prior line. The third line shifts again. As it does, it invokes two other aspects of language – its role as embodiment of voice, thus insinuating character, and as depicter of the visual. The line is a good example, actually, of Andrews’ sense of humor, which generally has a lighter or more mellow touch in Lip Service than the biting sarcasm of his earlier writing. The humor is couched precisely in the alliteration of the line itself: “look I like lose in looks.” Looking here may lead to a sense of presence – we hear a voice, perfectly identifiable with that first line to the Charm Master – but we don’t see so much as we hear. The fourth line in the passage can be read as a direct comment on the problem: you appear, therefore you are. The italicized phrase in the sixth line is a metacomment on the entire passage, joining (by no coincidence) Italian to a noun associated with Allen Ginsberg. Andrews is invoking multiple lines of simultaneous heritage here. The phrase that is not italicized (i.e. in roman type) is itself further metacomment – with a soft pun echoing out from spell to an absent spelling.

Metacommentary, the use of one line as a kind of an equivalence with its predecessor, but composed in such a fashion as to also (déjà toujours) further the argument, is a fundamental poetic process, proceeding forward by operating precisely along what Roman Jakobson used to characterize as the vertical axis of language. While it is not identical to metaphor, the process is not far removed.

The four terms of the next line “souvenir pinch painted wardens” can be read as a single complex noun phrase and as four characterizations of a writer’s relation to the use of appropriated language. A halfway attentive reader will even hear the joke in the term wardens, that old double meaning of parole. The line which follows is also a complex phrase, one that invokes multiple approaches to contemporary writing:

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>as trauma testimony (scared)
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>as sincerity (to fake), a concept that insinuates both Zukofsky’s test of poetry as well as the mock humility of American Poetry Review free verse
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>as identarian advocacy (redress)
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>as both – and the contradiction here is not accidental – persona (by projective) and voice-as-breath-as-persona (Black mountain projectivism)
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>as sight, depiction (graphic)
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>as object, closed containers of content (lids), with of course that back-pun towards sight hidden in the suggested “eyelids”
The following directly addresses language’s relationship to sight – one of the most interesting and still under-theorized linguistic dimensions we have – but ends it with a term (stress) that also invokes metrics & does so after bringing in the visual domain not a specifics but as categories (what X, what Y). The line after this – “imagery sale cipher fitted to inwards as if” – is the most polemic in this passage, suggesting as it does that visual details are in fact mechanisms by which the language of the written pulls the reader into a mode of subjective acceptance. The next-to-last-line here, “into the distance,” follows, suggesting that this interiority is thus projected outward as if real or objective.
Which brings us to our pair of neologisms: simulcrayon scopafidelity. The first jokingly characterizes the omnipresence of immanence’s lush visualityit’s just there, everywhere. The second suggests that the allegiance of the visual world is to a state that could be characterized as psychotropic or drugged. It projects us, and is as much an element of ideology in the Althusserian sense of that term as any aural or vulgarly political paradigm. It constitutes the field of our interior lives.
None of this is rocket science. I haven’t even broached the question of Dante and the layers of meaning waiting at that level. But I’ve performed this sort of reading exercise before with texts by writers as diverse as Charles Bernstein & Rae Armantrout. Andrews is using poetry to make an argument here, quite like Dante, and the exposition is hardly impenetrable. Nor is his thesis so revolutionary that it should cause a reader to stumble. None of it requires the kind of mind-numbing detail that I’ve laid out here – a casual reader should be able to sense almost all of this just perusing the text. Any college senior, regardless of major, who can’t pick up 80 percent of it just by reading the passage above ought to demand a refund of his or her tuition – because this isn’t scholarship, it’s literacy. And the inability to do this suggests a pretty sad state of affairs.
I am amazed, therefore, and invariably depressed, whenever I see – as I do too often in even our most famous literary critics & in more than a few poets – that this basic level of reading competence appears to be missing. It’s almost a form of aphasia, as though the reader were a citizen of the cinematic city of Pleasantville before the advent of color. Thus I take Andrews’ suggestion that the vocabulary of color itself, and all the other linguistic minutiae of the “reality effect,” including voice, projection, even character, are a part of this conspiracy to make idiots of us all quite seriously. How else explain how someone like Richard Wakefield cannot see what is wonderful, say, in the work of Jena Osman? How else explain the idea that language poetry is either asyntactical or non-narrative?

* Count them: Kit Robinson, Alan Bernheimer, James Sherry, Tom Mandel and myself.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

A first book of 175 pages is simply remarkable. It can also be tough going at times. When I noted at the outset of the blog that I am a slow reader, Tan Lin’s Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe (LBG) (Sun & Moon, 1996) was one of the books I had in mind. I began it sometime in 1999 and just finished it this morning.

I’m not certain as to whether or not LBG is organized chronologically. I imagine that it might be, at least because I found myself quite resistant to the earliest sections of the book, but largely persuaded by the work later on. Either Lin improved as a poet, or else he simply convinced me over time.

Because Lin, at least in LBG, is very much an abstract poet (with a healthy Spicerian influence poking its head out from time to time), my experience reading the volume at moments reminded me of first reading the poetry of Bruce Andrews. Of all the language poets, Andrews was virtually the only one who apparently never went through a phase as a young poet writing in some variant of a New American poetry genre. It was, to borrow a trope from music that I’ve heard Andrews himself make, as though a young pianist had been exposed to the work of Cecil Taylor at the very beginning and just never saw the need to plod through the texts of Beethoven & Brahms before getting on with “the real work.” The result was that many readers took awhile to trust Andrews because his early books seemed so largely devoid of links backward to a knowable literary tradition.

Lin of course comes a generation later & does have some visible roots, including both Spicer & Andrews, Clark Coolidge, and what feels to me like pretty predictable elements of surrealism, dada & conceptual art. It’s an interesting enough gumbo, but it wasn’t until the final 50 pages that it felt as though the work here was really Lin’s own. As with all writing that tends toward the abstract, so much depends upon the ear of the poet. While there are a few authors with a genuinely great ear, such as Coolidge, Ken Irby or, most recently, Rod Smith, most writers have one that is only average. When that is the case, the poet needs to have something more going on in the poem, the way, for example, Andrews’ texts are resplendent with social satire & comment. That next dimension doesn’t quite ever show up in LBG, but the evolution of Lin’s book – or at least in my response to Lin’s book – makes me realize that I want to read more to find out what’s come next.