American poetry

Revolutions per minute

Charles Bernstein

Charles Bernstein reads/plays "stop it"
Charles Bernstein at a Poets Against the War reading, Buffalo, March 5, 2003

In the essay “The Conspiracy of Us” (first published in 1979, in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), Charles Bernstein anticipated a key driver of the iterative turn in contemporary poetry when he described his anxiety about collective identity and action and argued for the revolutionary power of poetry to disrupt the certainty of our collective positions.

Calendar of poets and days:

Greeting card poems!

Poet Elaine Equi and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at
Poet Elaine Equi and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at left, in New York City, back in 1992.

A few years back New York poet and friend Elaine Equi suggested she compile a collection of poems like Holiday Cards, by various hands. I once almost applied for a job writing verse for Hallmark Cards in Sydney, back in the 1960s, so I said yes, please do!

Dozens of poets wrote in to Elaine with their poems, and many were supplied  with Collages by Kevin Riordan. They’re all in Jacket 32, here, a feast of quirky, light-hearted calendar verse. Take a look!

Above is a photo of Elaine and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at left, in New York City, back in 1992. Cigarettes… ah, they were the days. Tell me it wasn’t twenty years ago! Photo by John Tranter.

John Ashbery's jacket

Photo of John Ashbery wearing a jacket: by John Tranter (R77-8)
Photo of John Ashbery wearing a jacket: by John Tranter (R77-8)

I first came across John Ashbery’s work in the late 1960s. It had a great influence on my own poetry. As I say in my 2009 doctoral thesis, “the three poets who have most influenced [my] work [are] Arthur Rimbaud, the Australian hoax poet ‘Ern Malley’, and the contemporary US poet John Ashbery.”

The connections are interesting. As a young man, Ashbery lived in France for a decade, and he has recently translated Rimbaud’s “Illuminations”. Ern Malley: back in 2002 John wrote a few poems in the “voice” of “Ern Malley”, whose writing inspired him as a young man at Harvard. Jacket number 17 publishes two of these poems, “Potsdam” and “Aenobarbus”, here.

Tests of Poetry

Is There a Difference between the Literary History of Modern Poetry and That of Nineteenth-Century Poetry? I Say Yes

Spiller's Literary History of the U.S.

In 2003 a forum was held to discuss the Cambridge Literary History of the U.S. One discussion featured disagreements about how to handle the history of American poetry and of literary-historical method as applicable--or perhaps not--to poetry and poetics. I was asked to comment on the debate, and my short essay was published in a special section of an issue of American Literary History. Here is a link to that essay.

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