"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.
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