Bruce Andrews

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Ron Silliman, 1981

Photo by Betsi Brandfass

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Ron Silliman’s tape for an unrealized transcript captures a wealth of improvisatory high-level thinking about particulars of contemporary American class structure and poetry. The result manifests a sustained thread about social formations in contemporary American poetry with strong relevance for the present. Near the end, a phone call is received from Ray DiPalma clarifying details about the group reading of their collectively authored LEGEND four days later.

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Ron Silliman
Bernstein’s apartment, New York City, March 6, 1981
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, 1979

Andrews and Bernstein by David Highsmith

Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein’s interview with Susan Howe captures their early poems and thinking about Language writing poetics: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E was just over a year old with Number 7 to be published that month. I will investigate this formative moment for the ideas that continue to be crucial, that were effaced, and that enter into productive crisis in the present.

Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein
Susan Howe’s WBAI-Pacifica radio show, New York City, March 14, 1979

Full Program:
Bruce Andrews, from R + B (R + B, 1981)
Bruce Andrews, How (Wobbling, 1981)
Interview
Charles Bernstein, Matters of Policy (Controlling Interests, 1980)

Edited transcript published in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Supplement No. 3, October 1981.

Andrews and Bernstein sketch the by-now-familiar program of Language writing, an invocation of writing’s “modernist project […] an exploration of the intrinsic qualities of the media […] which from our point of view is language […] not some concocted verse tradition […] through academic discourse and […] book reviewers in The New York Times.” The “repression of knowledge” through such academic and publishing institutions contributes to a deficiency in “people’s awareness of what poetry and what other writing forms there are.” In addition, Andrews and Bernstein interrogate the very idea of genre in writing and propose “less intrinsic reasons for [the novel, philosophy, and poetry to be] separate than for music to be thought of as separate from painting or painting from writing.”

Bruce Andrews, Michael Lally, Ray DiPalma

from left: Bruce Andrews, Michael Lally, Ray DiPalma

This photograph of Bruce Andrews, Michael Lally, and Ray DiPalma was taken by Elizabeth DiPalma in early September 1975, in Michael Lally's then Sullivan Street apartment. The print of the original photo, now among Ray DiPalma's papers at Yale, is 8"x10".  We at J2 are grateful to Ray DiPalma for making this reproduction available to us and our readers.

I just now listened (for what must be the third time overall) to a triple reading given by Andrews, Lally, and DiPalma together at the Ear Inn in New York on November 10, 1977. DiPalma read “Exile,” “It makes of nonsense,” and “I am in the mountains,’ and also a 4-minute section from The Birthday Notations. Andrews read mostly from Moebius (published as a chapbook much later, in 1993); one of these Moebius poems became the focus of an episode of PoemTalk ("Center").  As for what Lally read that night, I'm sorry to say that PennSound's Lally page needs work; it's not clear which recording is the November '77 reading (we'll work on fixing it).

As Bruce Andrews's world turns

Bruce Andrews

One day, on the street, Bruce Andrews found several thousands of pages of scripts from the soap opera, As the World Turns. He then created an untitled piece we might call “This Is the 20th Century” (using its first line). It was apparently written to serve as a preface or blurb for a book by Johanna Drucker (Dark Decade). Andrews uses phrases from the TV scripts and also some language from Drucker. He read this stray-ish piece at an Ear Inn reading in 1994. Here is the recording — from PennSound's Bruce Andrews page where this '94 reading has been segmented (thanks to the talented Jenny Lesser). The blurb did not appear on or in Drucker's Dark Decade and remains unpublished.

Legend: Group shot

Silliman, DiPalma, McCaffery, Bernstein, & Andrews, circa 1980

Legend 1

Perelman, Andrews: On the brink of fetish

Poetry is an art of constitution. Not only plastic "composition." But not a graceful maneuvering of representations or descriptions or stories or denotations, all of which teeter precariously on the brink of fetish. - Bruce Andrews, "Constitution/Writing" (1981)

It turns out that people can't hear words in isolation very well. - Bob Perelman in "Sense"

Sources: Andrews: Open Letter 5th ser. 1 (winter 1982): 154-165. Perelman: "Sense" in Writing/Talks, p. 76.

Bernstein asks Andrews

Are you writing poems?

During a LINEbreak show, hosted by Charles Bernstein in New York in 1995, Bruce Andrews was asked: "Do you think of yourself as writing poems?" Here was his answer:

That's an interesting question. I do now. I guess when I started, I started writing in the 1969-1970 period, I thought of it as a kind of literary writing or experimental work in writing, more than I thought of it as poetry. Poetry I think of now as an institutional designation, so as soon as I began publishing and getting in touch with other writers, it was clear that any future for anything I did or anything they were doing was going to be under the category of poetry as defined by other people. So, over the years I've just accepted that. I remember, for instance, when the term 'language poetry' started getting thrown around, and my original nervousness about the term stemmed mostly from the P word rather than from the L word. You know, that I thought of it as language writing, a term that I wasn't all that displeased with, because it suggested almost a new genre or a new sub-genre possibility that hadn't yet been defined, so that it would be a type of writing that had the certain way of foregrounding the way meaning was produced and operated on in a social world, rather than language poetry, which then implies that language is the adjective referring to a sub-category of what we already think of as poetry.

Here is an audio recording of the LINEbreak show featuring Bruce Andrews.

Trained listener (PoemTalk #35)

Bruce Andrews, 'Center'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

The range of Bruce Andrews’s work is fairly well represented by the recordings available on his PennSound page. The earliest recorded reading we have dates from late 1977, the most recent (as of this writing) is from 2008. Generally it is true that PoemTalk’s format – the choice of a single short poem for which a recording exists – will tend to misrepresent the whole of the poet’s work. Fortunately it’s not the aim of PoemTalk to represent the whole, but to have a good and earnest listen and look at the single instance along the way, Having done this 35 times in this series, we find, mostly to our surprise, that tenable general statements of a poet’s mode and aesthetic disposition do come through the back door of low conceptual expectations. Surely that’s what happened here, when Tan Lin, Chris Funkhouser, Sarah Dowling and Al Filreis took on a single poem from Andrews’ sequence called Moebius. Moebius was written in the late 1970s but not published until 1993, when a chapbook appeared from the Generator Press in Ohio. On November 10, 1977 Andrews came to the Ear Inn in New York, performed at a reading alongside Ray DiPalma and Michael Lally, and gave us fine readings of many of the Moebius poems, including “Center,” which is the piece we discuss in PT35.

First we found something we took to be unusual in Andrews: the emphasis on distancing goes along with a tone of softness and wistfulness (as Sarah suggests), perhaps even vulnerability notwithstanding the aggressive idiom (“I make the rules here”). But soon we sensed we were seeing the Bruce Andrews we would know from later works. Naturally one asks if the speaker of these masculine phrases--all this deliberate 70s guy talk--is an individual, a single subject. No, Tan Lin suggests, the poem’s phrases comprise not those of an individual speaker but identify the language production we associate with a particular kind of speaker. So the poem is a meta-statement on how language is generated and that, in turn, constructs a kind of identity, although that identity is never really offered. As Chris points out, the poem feels like an aggressive encroachment on the white space of the page. The poem, spiraling down the page, forces one to think of a moebius shape which claims centrality (has a center but yet doesn’t quite). Such a claim, because of the moebius, will seem repeatedly arbitrary, and so does the normative standard for the discernment, by socio-linguistic cues, of a fixable speaking identity, and so that (the emptiness of that effort) is your center. (Which is to say: what center? why are you looking here for one?)<--break- />

Trained listener (PoemTalk #35)

Bruce Andrews, "Center"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

The range of Bruce Andrews’s work is fairly well represented by the recordings available on his PennSound page. The earliest recorded reading we have dates from late 1977, the most recent (as of this writing) is from 2008. Generally it is true that PoemTalk’s format – the choice of a single short poem for which a recording exists – will tend to misrepresent the whole of the poet’s work. Fortunately it’s not the aim of PoemTalk to represent the whole, but to have a good and earnest listen and look at the single instance along the way, Having done this 35 times in this series, we find, mostly to our surprise, that tenable general statements of a poet’s mode and aesthetic disposition do come through the back door of low conceptual expectations. Surely that’s what happened here, when Tan Lin, Chris Funkhouser, Sarah Dowling and Al Filreis took on a single poem from Andrews’ sequence called Moebius. Moebius was written in the late 1970s but not published until 1993, when a chapbook appeared from the Generator Press in Ohio. On November 10, 1977 Andrews came to the Ear Inn in New York, performed at a reading alongside Ray DiPalma and Michael Lally, and gave us fine readings of many of the Moebius poems, including “Center,” which is the piece we discuss in PT35.

First we found something we took to be unusual in Andrews: the emphasis on distancing goes along with a tone of softness and wistfulness (as Sarah suggests), perhaps even vulnerability notwithstanding the aggressive idiom (“I make the rules here”). But soon we sensed we were seeing the Bruce Andrews we would know from later works. Naturally one asks if the speaker of these masculine phrases--all this deliberate 70s guy talk--is an individual, a single subject. No, Tan Lin suggests, the poem’s phrases comprise not those of an individual speaker but identify the language production we associate with a particular kind of speaker. So the poem is a meta-statement on how language is generated and that, in turn, constructs a kind of identity, although that identity is never really offered. As Chris points out, the poem feels like an aggressive encroachment on the white space of the page. The poem, spiraling down the page, forces one to think of a moebius shape which claims centrality (has a center but yet doesn’t quite). Such a claim, because of the moebius, will seem repeatedly arbitrary, and so does the normative standard for the discernment, by socio-linguistic cues, of a fixable speaking identity, and so that (the emptiness of that effort) is your center. (Which is to say: what center? why are you looking here for one?)

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