Thursday, May 22, 2008

Academic bitching

"Not long after his death in 1978, Zukofsky was taken up by a group of young writers who referred to themselves as the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets. The work of this group was always wrapped in self-justifying, crudely fashioned, post-structuralist commentary, and emphasised indeterminism, resistance to figuration, narrative, subject-matter, verbal music, imagery or any pleasure that might be associated with poetry, pleasure which they believed pandered to bourgeois capitalism."

Thus writes August Kleinzahler in his LRB review of Mark Scroggins' 'The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky'.

Now I won't pretend to be an expert on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry (although I know enough to use the equals sign rather than a series of hyphens). Nevertheless, I find Kleinzahler's description of the work "of this group" rather inaccurate.

Let's take Charles Bernstein - surely one of the key players in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry - is it really true that his work lacks subject matter and verbal music? And, if humour may be allowed as one of the pleasures associated with poetry, there's plenty of fun in a volume such as 'The Sophist'.

Then what about Ray Dipalma? Or Bob Perelman? Or Kit Robinson? And what, in any case, is "subject matter"? Can someone of Kleinzahler's evident stature as a reviewer really be using an argument similar to that used in visual art? "What's it of, then? A bowl of fruit?" Hard to believe.

I'm baffled.

3 comments:

walrus said...

That's right. Put the boot in. Marvellous!

Hello again,

Here at last are some thoughts on your poems. Returning the serve, as it were. More grunts than shakes of the head. The arrival of Laynie Brown’s Daily Sonnets really does seem to have inspired you. My only general thought would be that you must try to hold on to that feeling of excitement that anything is possible, the invitation to “write yourself out of whatever existing parameters you fall into” . . .

“Supermarket Sonnet”: OK. A little too self-consciously trying to make a statement perhaps. Too didactic (I have this problem too!)?

“Sunday Sonnet” strikes me as perfect. I really like it. Deserves to appear really early in any collection.

“Monday Sonnet”: Good too, though not as strong as Sunday’s(!) but some nice touches and a great finish.

“Wednesday Sonnet” works well too. Like it.

“Diagnostic Sonnet”. As I said, a favourite of mine. A pleasure.

“Sonnet Sonnet”: The first stanza a turn-off (is it the difficulty of pronouncing “Turberuile” in the mind? Slows the rhythm). But stanzas 2 + 3 are great, esp 2.

“Sonnet (Top & Bottom)”: Perfect in itself.

“Sonnet In Fourteen Statements”. Well, not quite up there with “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” but a good poem. “Lumbago”? Surely you mean “The Pumpkin”, Mr Zappa?

“Sonnet (Friday)”: A good one. A lot of humour in these, btw.

“Intimate Sonnet”: Ironically, this one left me cold, but it wasn’t meant for me, was it? I just felt it was working a bit too hard to say something and was a bit, well, sentimental. But someone else might love it.

“Sonnet (Sunday)”: Definitely your best day for writing sonnets! This one’s great. Up there with the other “Sunday Sonnet”. Maybe you should just write Sunday Sonnets & call the book that?

“Sonnet (Riddle)”: Yes, a good one, having fun with sounds. A little more self-conscious than the best ones, perhaps.

“Sonnet (40s flick)”: Again, leads us too much (eg. Hotel Desire), self-consciousness creeping in. The need to make a statement. Great subject though.

“Sonnet (‘The Dissonance’)”: Love the title. A more self-conscious piece again, but this time totally successful. Reminded me of Finneganese.

“Sonnet (Emma)”: Hard to judge because it’s so personal, but I liked the last 2 lines.

“Textile Sonnet”: A good one. Liked it.

“Sonnet (ysonge)”: Are you teaching Chaucer or something at the moment? Liked this. There seems to me lots of potential in this language, giving it a modern layout.

“Annotated Sonnet”: Liked the concept (it is like concept art to some extent, no?). “Selfe”: antiquated language in small doses a Duncanesque touch. I liked this too, though it’s interesting to see how far you’ve moved from the first “Sunday Sonnet”.

You said “it seems important to stay on the wave. If it all gets too self-conscious, I suspect I'll fall off” & it does seem to me these poems increase in self-consciousness.

Having no feedback probably didn’t help. Sorry there’s no real discussion of nuts & bolts, but I would say that all of these could go in a collection. I think more need to be written & in a carefree spirit, if at all possible!

Hope that’s of some use.

Walrus

belgianwaffle said...

Dear Walrus

We've been in France for the weekend - a wedding - five hours there, five hours back and then a dance show in Brussels (involving the older Wafflette) which went on late.

Which is as much to say I have just got back into Blogland and found your comments. I deeply appreciate your readings and thoughts. Terrific. Something I find very difficult is to see my own writing from a detached perspective - not, as one might think, to see faults in it, rather, to see what might actually be of value and interest.

In addition, your readings are extremely perceptive in terms of the conditions under (or contexts in which) various sonnets emerged. Uncanny, in fact. Making me wonder again - who are you, really? No matter.

OK. Here's a rather tired Sunday evening reply of sorts.

Supermarket Sonnet

Written on the back of a cash point slip while waiting in the queue (and subsequently tweaked). I agree, it's too 'up front' as it stands. I do like the (unconscious) pun of buy/bye. I've also noticed an odd recurrence of 'itch' sounds. And certain rhythmic patterns. I'm thinking of recutting this one.

*

Sunday Sonnet

Written as I waited outside the Children's Museum in Brussels - Emma's late birthday party - almost exactly a year to the day since we were last there. I'd just bought a tiny notebook and so the page size was a factor. Again, this was tweaked a bit. I suppose I'm thinking how far I can get away with just little 'rim shots' off sounds from one line before (or even two).

*

Monday Sonnet

A composite of different very early morning jottings. Alan likes this one a lot - he hears G M Hopkins-type effects which I'll admit to. I quite like the Lord's Prayer second phase but couldn't really justify why pillows appear. My worry with the last lines are they're a bit too portentous or Gizzi-esque? And then I think maybe the whole piece works by clashing high styles with ironic deflation. (Um, yes?)

*
Wednesday Sonnet

In fact this was initially drafted a bit earlier, left to one side and then I came back to it. It's a real 'in time' looking out the window during class time poem. My working was done with Oppen in mind - esp. Discrete Series. And wonder how much more could be excised to make it really tight? Again, 'ick' sounds - I seem to like them.

*

Diagnostic Sonnet

What really pleases me about this one is the circumstances in which it started: i.e. a colossally dreary after school meeting on learning styles. A sort of poetic sumo throw - using the weight of the Opponent to work to your advantage. The other thing was discovering that absolutely every item was lexically justified. Sound leading sense only to find sense was there ready and waiting. I rarely work as 'free-style' as this - no idea why it came about.

*

Sonnet Sonnet

Here we differ - I like the impacted nature of the first verse (probably some kind of recidivist antiquarian tendency in me). Maybe it's also payback time for the years I spent doing predating for OED entries.

The truth is ('truth'!) the whole text is excerpted from OED etymologies. I agree, though, about “Turberuile” - to be honest, I have no idea how this should be pronounced (which sort of relates to a later sonnet). Are (all) of these to be read aloud - 'Diagnostic' surely - or some merely for the eye? Hmm.

*

Sonnet (Top & Bottom)

Various people seem to like this one - perhaps because it's closest to a comic turn and so obviously provocative. (I think the others offend their sense of what a Sonnet should be). I simply took the letters S-O-N-N-E-T and thought what I could do with them. Having Aram Saroyan's poems to hand also helped.

*

Sonnet In Fourteen Statements

One of the texts I most wanted to get your thoughts on - and you come up trumps twice. First for spotting the Zappa glance (you know the records well, huh?). Second, for being polite about it (and I sense you've spotted a rogue). It wasn't written according to the normal 'rules'. I took another text from the notebooks and reworked it. I'm not at all sure this is the right form for it - although I do like certain lines.

I suppose I'm thinking of Barrett Watten-type banal statements which somehow work in juxtaposition. I think this one really needs more hours in the garage.

*

Sonnet (Friday)

Is the last line too much of a twist? This is a pretty flagrant Lisa J rip-off (but then, why not?). I know she'd send it back with advice to listen closer (sounds and rhythms) and I will. But I think it's worth persevering with. (I seem to like days of the week in poems - and here I was pretty consciously thinking of how 'friday' is so immediately recognizable and ways to return it to being just a two-syllable packet).

*

Intimate Sonnet

Yes, full marks again - another thrift shop job re-using old ingredients. I'm not sure it is so 'intimate' - in fact, I think it's trying to explode such a genre (maybe succeeds too well!).

Again, couplets - to my mind - work independently but - run as a sequence - don't.

Another one to go back up on the ramp.

*

Sonnet (Sunday)

Well, this is a surprise - and why I find your comments so interesting. For me, this one didn't/doesn't work - but I felt I had to put it up anyway. I'm going to look at this one again and see what I might not be seeing.

Sunday sonnets is a nice idea - a bit like Sunday painting! I've alo been thinking about the sun + net/sonnet possibilities.

*

Sonnet (Riddle)

Again, you pick up on a lack of spontaneity & you're right! This one was a deliberate attempt to re-work lines which are hanging around in my notebooks to do with another set of ideas for poems.

I sense the sounds come back too quickly - as against the image juxtapositions aren't always exciting. Another one for dismantling.

*

Sonnet (40s flick)

OK, so, to win the prize, can you name the film?

You're right again - the Hotel Desire is far too in yer face (although I was thinking of those Cornell 'hotel' boxes, too). I was also a little too aware of that Ashbery poem - I'm too tired to go and find it - which seems to me like a deliberate collage of film cliches.

That said, I like Peter Gizzi's advice of taking, say, a film and writing along to it. A way of discovering what you wanted to write about but didn't know.

*

Sonnet (‘The Dissonance’)

Yes, one or two other people seem to like this (and I do too - awful puns make me laugh. Did you hear Paul Merton's crack last week on HIGNFY about 'Patio Doors' - the Irish folk singer?)

But seriously folks ... I was also thinking of cerebral L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E-style games with stock phrases. Proof again of the comedy inherent in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry!

*

Sonnet (Emma)

Yep, probably a bit self-indulgent (although our walk first thing in the woods was far from sentimental - she was being very sharp and observant about our neighbours). This one's trying to work delicate little sound shifts against line lengths - but Robert Creeley is so much better at it!

I agree, the last two lines are probably the best bit.

*

Textile Sonnet

Good. I wondered about this one - and, again, I think it needs a careful going over for sound and rhythm.

My wife knits (by way of partial explanation). A little series of 'dedication' sonnets is beginning to form.

*

Sonnet (ysonge) - no, these days I rarely get to teach Chaucer. However, I'm right with you about the early/modern clash.

However, to be really Laynie Browne about it, I thought about what would be near impossible to write with. Answer: unpronounceable consonant clusters.

So I simply typed in random letters into our online OED search window and ended up with these Old to Middle English tongue twisters. Going back to an earlier sonnet - it's that issue of writing to be read by the eye or ear.

*

Annotated Sonnet

Yes, again. I'd agree with the direction towards a more 'conceptual' approach - is this a result of a drying up or an exciting new seam?

More concretely, all phrases are lifts from the Arden edition of The Sonnets. I suppose there was another type of deflation going on: finding ways to sap the presumed 'passion' of expression by interrogating the structures and contexts around the sonnet as a poem.

*

"The danger lies in self-consciousness" - you're absolutely right. And it will be interesting to see how next week goes. I do want to write more and the form suits my daily rhythms right now.

Alan remarked on a 'cheerfulness' - how jokey many of them were. This hadn't occurred to me. (I'm beginning to think I am a bad reader of my own writing!). This, too, I can trace back to certain things going on in the background.

Once again - many thanks for sending your thoughts. I will go back into the workshop.

Cheers

The C

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