In Wave Books’s new Touché, Rod Smith is a tender, often hilarious skeptic. His brilliance as a poet is strongest performing the many voices of willful ignorance and hard-earned perspective, often confusing the two in poetry that merges personal doubts with public ones. Built on a negative capability, Touché’s “futility as figurative / extreme” (81) is strikingly analytical about uncertainties in private awareness, domestic American politics, and the malleable referentiality of language in relation to the author’s scatological, punny, and aesthetically “clumsy” organizations of it, much more punk rock in Smith’s DIY grammatics than actual idiocy.
Maude Fife Room, UC–Berkeley, November 18, 2011. As eight of the ten “pianists” — Rae Armantrout, Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Tom Mandel, Ted Pearson, Kit Robinson, and Barrett Watten — worked their way through a performance and Q&A session of The Grand Piano, a few things quickly became discernible.
Last fall, I asked Jacket2 if I could review Joel Bettridge’s Reading as Belief. The book closely considers the relationship between acts of faith and the practice of reading, and both are processes that are of primary interest to me. Reading and belief are similar, Bettridge claims, because both entail vulnerability, willed credulity, and commitment. As such, both reading and faith are systems of valuation that make demands on those who subscribe to their terms. Through a series of coincidences and mutual friends, Bettridge and I met electronically. I had already written the following summary of the book. This served as a starting point for our conversation and so I include it and Bettridge’s first response here. The questions and dialogue that ensued follow this summary of the book. —Elizabeth Robinson
New Solutions to New Problems Might be New Problems The Individual as Social Process: Writer and Self in the Work of Nick Piombino
Of all the poets associated with language writing, Nick Piombino focuses most directly on the problem of the individual, both as writer and as source of experience. While the theoretical focus of most language writers can be said to be socialist and materialist, Piombino’s use of psychoanalytic theory and his experience as a practicing psychoanalyst marks him as different in focus while at the same time his work is closely related to language writing.
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).
I've made available a several-page excerpt from George Hartley's book on language poetry. This is the passage in which he outlines modernist influences: Dickinson, Stein, Ashbery, Williams, and Zukofsky. I chose a section that focuses particularly on Steinian and Ashberyian elements of the movement. On Stein:
Stein's importance for them appears to lie in the following qualities of her work:
1. Although her work appears to be meaningless, it does have meaning; in fact, it seems to be an exploration of the very conditions for meaning.
2. Meaning is not forwarded as something existing out in the world but as an interaction between subject and object.
3. Her work appears to operate under the assumptions of the Saussurean conception of meaning as a function of a system of difference.
4. She does not write in order to enclose (define, delimit, decipher) the world but to move within it; in other words, she does not function according to the static determinism of the noun but through the process of relationship.
5. Her foregrounding of the material side of language (sound, rhythm, syntax) is a formal analogy of the process of perception--the "movement 'spreading' from transparency . . . to the implied darkness & opacity of blindness."