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Poetics at Buffalo

from the Archives: June 1999 version of the Poetics Program flier.


The Poetics Program, Department of English, SUNY-Buffalo was founded in 1991 by five literary artists affiliated with the English Department -- Charles Bernstein, Robert Creeley, Raymond Federman, Susan Howe, and Dennis Tedlock -- in cooperation with Robert Bertholf, the Curator of the Poetry/Rare Books Collection. In 1995, the faculty expanded to include, from English, Joseph Conte, Art Efron, Jill Robbins, and Neil Schmitz; from Comparative Literature, Henry Sussman; from Modern Languages and Literature, Gerard Bucher and Jorge Guitart; from Anthropology, Barbara Tedlock; and from American Studies, Lawrence Chisolm.


The Poetics Program has an interdisciplinary approach to literary, cultural, and textual studies. Our programs include:

Visiting Writer Residencies. Readings by and seminar visits with both American and foreign poets, fiction writers, critics, theorists, and philosophers, featured as part of our ongoing "Wednesdays at 4 Plus" series. Visitors have included Michael Palmer, Robin Blaser, Jerome McGann, Rachel DuPlessis, Lyn Hejinian, Tom Raworth, Clark Coolidge, Lorenzo Thomas, Nicole Brossard, Leslie Scalapino, Ron Silliman, Ann Lauterbach, Barbara Guest, Cecelia Vicuna, David Antin, Ulla Dydo, Richard Foreman, David Bromige, Ray Young Bear, Norma Cole, Erica Hunt, Bruce Andrews, Bob Perelman, Al Cook, Rosmarie Waldrop, Edward Dorn, Kathleen Fraser, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Curtis White, Ron Sukenick, Susan Stewart, Eric Mottram, Stanley Cavell, Arkadii Dragomoschenko, Jackson Mac Low, Jorie Graham, Michael Joyce, Cary Nelson, Kathy Acker, Joan Retallack, John Taggart, Michael Davidson, Douglas Messerli, Rae Armantrout, Andrew Benjamin, Fanny Howe, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Marjorie Perloff, Paul Auster, Michael Ondaatje, Fiona Templeton, Carla Harryman, Christian Prigent, Emmanuel Hocquard, Claude Royet-Journoud, and Michel Deguy.

Poetry/Rare Books Collection. The Poetry/Rare BooksCollection has one of North America's most extensive holdings of twentieth-century poetry books and manuscripts and continues to acquire archives from innovative contemporary poets. Each year, a few graduate students have the opportunity to work in the Collection, placements that are integral to the goals of the Poetics Program.

Graduate Seminars. The essence of the Poetics Program is the series of interrelated graduate seminars offered by the faculty in such areas as ethnopoetics and native American verbal arts; the European tradition from Mallarme' to present; twentieth-century English-language poetry and poetics, with emphasis on the radical modernist approaches and the relation of poetry to the other arts; the American traditions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century; twentieth- century innovative prose, fiction, and surfiction; philosophy, ideology, and literature; poststructuralist approaches to poetry, philosophy, linguistics, and ethics; poetics and/as cultural studies; language and performance (including visual and concrete poetries, as well as sound and performance poetries); the poetics of prose; and "core poetics"--a history of poetics from the pre-Socratics to the present (including the philosophy of language and related work in linguistics).

Publications. The Poetics Program, in conjunction with other funding sources, supports a large number of magazines and presses, which are independently edited by Program participants. These publications include poetry magazines, chapbook series, critical anthologies, broadsides, and newsletters.

The Art of Nonfiction Writing. Through a series of prose writing workshops and individual consultations, the Poetics Program provides support for investigating and developing new approaches to critical writing. By emphasizing the importance of the mode and style of all types of writing, the program encourages -- and supports -- students in writing essays and dissertations in creative, exploratory, dialogic, and self-constructed forms.

The Poetics of Translation. Many of the programs in poetics emphasize an experience of the verbal arts of languages other than English, both in terms of the sound and music of other languages as well as considering a variety of approaches to translating from these languages in, to, and around English: translation as a poetic process.

The Art of Teaching. Through its various offerings, the Poetics Program emphasizes teaching of the arts at the college level, with special emphasis on how to teach innovative works of literary arts to undergraduates.

Individual Consultation. Faculty members are available for individual consultation on course selection, oral examinations, dissertation topics, and all aspects of writing and poetics.

Electronic and Media Resources. The Poetics Program has a strong presence on the internet through the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC), directed by University at Buffalo Libraries Web Manager Loss Pequen~o Glazier. The EPC features RIF/T, its own electronic poetry journal; small press information and on-line texts; and archives of our international discussion group; the Poetics listserv. The Program also sponsors Linebreak, a weekly radio program aired locally and nationally. Festivals and Conferences. The Poetics Program sponsors both student-and faculty-initiated conferences and festivals. Such events have included "Writing from the New Coast," a milestone gathering of newly publishing poets from across North America; "The New Gothic," readings and discussion with Kathy Acker, Peter Straub, Bradford Morrow, Paul West, and others; "Samuel Beckett Conference"; and the "Festival of French Poetry."

Reading Workshops. UB undergraduates participate in the Poetics Program through "reading workshops" featuring class visits and readings by visiting poets and writers and interactive and creative responses to assigned readings in modern and contemporary poetry and fiction.


While poetics suggests a long history of laws of composition, the Poetics Program stresses poiesis -- the actual making or doing: poetry as process. Every doing carries the potential of something new, emergent, something not already predicated by poetics. Practice overtakes theory, practice changes theory. And not just writing practice, but performance practice, the practice of sound.

To write is to produce meaning and not reproduce a pre-existing meaning. To write is to progress and not remain subjected (by habits or reflexes) to the meaning that supposedly precedes language. To write is always first to rewrite, and to rewrite does not mean to revert to a previous form of writing, no more than an anteriority of speech, or of presence, or of meaning. The book creates meaning, and meaning creates life (and not vice versa). Fiction or poetry is never about something, it is something. Writing is not the living repetition of life. The author is that which gives the disquieting language of fiction or poetry its unities and disunities, its knot of coherence and chaos, its insertion into the real. All reading is done haphazardly. Now some people might say the situation (of poetry and fiction) is not very encouraging but one must reply that it is not meant to encourage those who say that!

Poetics is "an unruly, multisubjective activity"; the reading of poetry, just as the writing of poetry, is beyond the control of any authority. Poetics opens the space of a page to interplay and contradiction, to many voices, a complexity of words. A poet brushes scraps of themes against the continuum of history. Language surrounds chaos. Poetry brings similitude and representation to configurations waiting from forever to be spoken. A poet is writing from inside the opening where the writing subject disappeared without writing. The search for traces is a polyphony of stories.

Ethnopoetics is not simply the poetics of exotic others but calls attention to the ethnicity -- the particularity and nongeneralizability -- of all poetic practices. Oral poetry is best thought of as something not older than or prior to or simpler than the written, but as something that goes on coexisting with, and interacting with, the written. Thus, our attention is to alphabetic and nonalphabetic writing, to codes of the historical past and imaginary codes of a potential present.

Poetics stays grounded in the fact of making, the complex of that which has so made such "it," inside and out, the intimately present (oneself, like they say), else the vastness of all possible dimension. "To measure is all we know..." Such reference proposes world in all its times and places, in determined labors of common body, constructs of passage and echo. "Only the imagination is real..." (As in New England--to work...)

Participating Faculty

The Poetics Program is one of several special programs and centers sponsored by the Graduate Program in English at UB. There are no individual degree requirements for these programs, which are open to all enrolled students. The existence of the Poetics Program is a testament to the active involvement of practicing literary artists in the teaching of poetics and critical theory in the graduate program. Our approach to ‘poetics‘ resonates with the orientation of many of our colleagues in literary and cultural studies at UB. The Poetics Program is dependent on the active participation, through seminars, co-sponsorship of visiting writers, as well as through orals and dissertation committees, of a significant number of critics and scholars in the English Department and Comparative Literature Program, as well as in the faculty of related fields such as Modern Languages and Literatures, Art History, American Studies, Philosophy, Classics, and Media Studies.

Core Funding

Core funding for the Poetics Program comes from the Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities (Robert Creeley), the Melodia E. Jones Chair in French, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (Raymond Federman), the David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters, Department of English (Charles Bernstein), and the James H. McNulty Chair, Department of English (Dennis Tedlock), as well as from the Department of English.


The Poetics Program is an integral part of the graduate program in English at the University at Buffalo, with special affiliation with the Program in Comparative Literature and the Poetry Collection.

Any graduate student in Arts and Letters at UB can participate in Poetics seminars and special programs. Applicants applying for admission to the Ph.D. or M.A. program in English should contact the Director of Graduate Admissions, Department of English, 306 Clemens Hall, SUNY, Buffalo, NY 14260.