Thinking back on my last post here (Dada to Daesh) I realized that the sense of poetry I was proposing (defending?) has been with me for a long time. So, here a short piece that expands on my sense of what poetry can / should be today if it is to be of use. I wrote this back in 1987 as introduction for an international anthology following a poetry festival I had organized with poet Jean Portante in Luxembourg, just a few months before I left Europe & moved back to the U.S.
Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics is an investigation of the appearance of the word trouble in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music. It is a book-length project, comprised of three parts, each broken into modular chapters, or Trouble Songs, which build on one another as a series of albums, but are also intended as remixable and programmable singles. What follows is a compilation that spans those three parts.
“A Poetics of Virtuosity” considers — through the writing of A. R. Ammons, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Rimbaud, William Carlos Williams, and the obscure Trumbull Stickney — what it means to write against the dominant literary modes of your time.
Note: My inspiration for this interview emerged from a sense that something is missing from conversations about sound and poetry. Sound is not necessarily music. Joshua Liebowitz and angela rawlings (a.rawlings) are two artists I see as deeply engaged with the materiality of sound, and yet their work is extremely different. Joshua’s work uses technology to build and alter sound-structures, while, in angela’s performance-based work, I hear voice and breath sounding the limits of the body.
Pleasure in viewing is a pleasure to think freely, visually, without destroying it with interior chatter. (from Notes 3: for Martín Gubbins)
What can you say about seeing? It’s wonderful, well, that’s not nearly enough. Try as you might, and thousands have, to describe the joyous nature of seeing...It’s a passage from the thing through the eye into the brain. Seems like a fantastically long journey where anything can happen. And it does. And no one ever seems to really be there. No one ever gets it right, so we continue to look, to stare. (fromStaring Poetics Appendix One.)
A conversation with Nico Vassilakis about reading, looking, and visual poetry where my questions are invisible.
Perhaps I state the obvious when I write of staring at the alphabet and watching letters dislocate. Few vispoets write about what they do, even fewer about how they see.
The alphabet has a tendency to transmogrify when stared at long enough. It unravels and informs the viewer/reader of its simultaneous realities, that is, the housing of both visual and verbal elements.
After swift exchanges at a University of Pennsylvania conference on April 13–14, 2012, Maria Damon, with a practice of weaving and cross-stitch embroidery, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, with a practice of collage and collage poems, decided to ask each other some questions about this work, their desires to do it and its rationale, given the full-scale scholarly careers that they both have.
I wrote this in 2006 and have not updated or revised it. The history and bibliography are highly condensed due to the space restrictions of the printed volume; so what I was able offer was no more than a brief sketch of possibilities and directions, with much elided.
For the long history of Western poetics any short list is bound to be reductive and misleading; still, anthologies such as Hazard Adams’s Critical Theory Since Plato offer a good start, though, for poetics, it would be better to begin not with Plato but with Heraklitus, who already offers a response to Plato’s banishment of poetics from the ideal republic. Even the quickest tour of the Western canon of poetics would include stops for Longinus and Lucretius, apologies for poetry by Philip Sydney and Percy Shelley, William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s William Blake, William Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, alongside Lautréamont’s Les chants de Maldoror and that still-burning torch, Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying. On the American side, Edgar Allen Poe’s Philosophy of Literary Composition and Emily Dickinson’s letters[i] complement Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.