According to Wikipedia, a “Wittgenstein’s ladder” is a reductive explanation of complex material, a “lie-to-children” or “tender introduction,” such as falling apples are to Newton’s Second Law. For her part, Marjorie Perloff’s Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (University of Chicago Press, 1999) supplied an introduction, neither tender nor reductive, to the place where poetry meets the everyday, a place both aesthetic and ethical.
For well over three decades, Marjorie Perloff has been one of the most engaging and engaged poetry critics in America. Her commentaries on individual poets, modernist and contemporary, as well on key poetry movements and directions, have become the go-to source for interested readers, students, and scholars. And these essays are among the best introductions to the poets about whom she writes.
France is a country of translations, but it has taken more than four decades before a book by Marjorie Perloff will have been published in France (a translation of Wittgenstein’s Ladder [University of Chicago, 1996] is to be released in 2012). This situation is not exceptional per se. Other important Anglo-Saxon authors have been ignored in Paris, the most blatant example being the almost Surrealist delay with which the major texts of cultural studies were revealed to Francophone readers. Yet the case of Perloff is different.
My friendship with Marjorie dates back to the early eighties — and, more specifically, to two Ezra Pound conferences, the first held at the University of Maine–Orono (where we sat together listening to Basil Bunting recite his “Briggflats”), and the second at Sheffield University (William Empson’s old redoubt and home that year of the World Snooker Championship). We immediately hit it off, especially upon discovering that we shared a mentor in common in the person of Craig La Driere.
Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media pivots on a seven-word manifesto: “The poet’s arena,” Perloff declares, “is the electronic world.” A key move in a long career, what backs this claim? What leads forward from it? How does it fare in the thoroughly mediated, digitized, networked, and programmable world we currently inhabit?
Keeping originality always in view — for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest […] I […] design to render [“The Raven”] manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to accident or intuition — that it proceeded step by step to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem. — E. A. Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”
I had already started writing my first commentary for Jacket2. But then I had to begin again.
Earlier today I learnt of the passing of a great poet and a friend: Arkadii Dragomoshchenko.
I discovered on the weekend that Arkadii was seriously unwell. As a result, I dedicated the launch party for my book A Common Strangeness that we held in Dunedin, New Zealand, on Monday to him. As part of the launch, the New Zealand poet Cilla McQueen read the first part of his long poem “A Nasturtium as Reality” alongside her own poem “Photon.” It was just the latest in a long line of cross-cultural encounters generated by Arkadii’s work.
Alan Thomas, our University of Chicago editor took this picture at the book launch, in Los Angeles, for Antin's essay collection, Marjoire Perloff's Unoriginal Genius and my Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions.