Commentaries - October 2011

From the shelves of the makeshift OWS library

photograph taken in New York by Lawrence Schwartzwald

Paradoxical print publishers TRAUMAWIEN

Shocking Blue Demon Lover, a TRAUMAWIEN book by Margit Hinke
Shocking Blue Demon Lover, a TRAUMAWIEN book by Margit Hinke

Since the advent of the internet, advocates and critics alike have heralded the end of the book. And yet, despite the worst efforts of the publishing industry, not only has the book persisted, it has proven to be a particularly elastic form, adept at adapting to remarkable changes in the way we read, write and interpolate narrative.

For centuries the printed book operated as a closed system, invested in concealing the structural processes of writing from the reader. In his now infamous 1992 New York Times article, "The End of Books," Robert Coover observed, “much of the novel's alleged power is embedded in the line, that compulsory author-directed movement from the beginning of a sentence to its period, from the top of the page to the bottom, from the first page to the last.” And yet, as Vannevar Bush astutely commented nearly 50 years earlier in "As We May Think," published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic, "the human mind does not work that way. It operates by association.

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)
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.”

PoemTalk's first 46 episodes

PT#1: William Carlos Williams between walls
: Adrienne Rich won't wait
: George Oppen's ballad
: Allen Ginsberg sings Blake
: Ted Berrigan's "3 Pages"
: Jaap Blonk sound poem
: Jerome Rothenberg's paradise
: Rae Armantrout's "The Way"
: John Ashbery at a crossroads
: one of Gertrude Stein's portraits
: Erica Hunt's "voice of no"
: Ezra Pound's America
: Kathleen Fraser's dangerous highway
: Wallace Stevens at the end
: Lyn Hejinian's change
: Creeley driving the car
: Rodrigo Toscano's political poetics
: Lydia Davis has a position
: Bob Perelman's inner unruly child
: Amiri Baraka's Kenyatta
: Charles Bernstein's restlessness
: Louis Zukofsky begins anew
: Cid Corman really knew terror
: Barbara Guest, a poem about painting
: Alice Notley on the Lower East Side
: wild Vachel Lindsay
: Robert Duncan opens the field
: Jack Spicer to shrink: drop dead
: Kit Robinson ponders mad men
: the W. C. Williams we remember
: Robert Grenier's box of poem-cards
: Susan Howe's Emily Dickinson
: flarfist Sharon Mesmer
: Charles Olson's Maximus
PT#35: Bruce Andrews at the center
: J. Scappettone writes through H.D.
: Jena Osman drops leaflets
: Norman Fischer would like to see it
PT#39: Etheridge Knight & Gwendolyn Brooks
PT#40: Susan Schultz blogs dementia
PT#41: Ezra Pound in Venice
PT#42: Nathaniel Tarn's eco-poetics
PT#43: John Weiners by night
PT#44: Fred Wah's race to go
PT#45: Eileen Myles does what she teaches
PT#46: Jackson Mac Low writes through Ezra

The idea of failure in constraint-based writing

On March 15, 2011, we celebrated the potential of literatures through the Oulipolooza, a Kelly Writers House-style celebration of all things Oulipo. The OuLiPo, or “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle” (workshop of potential literature), is a group of experimental French poets founded in 1960, devoted to exploring the potential of literature, language and freedom through the lenses of different constraints. Oulipolooza included readings about the Oulipo by Jean-Michel Rabaté and Katie Price, a reception full of Oulipo-inspired foods, and the launch of "An Oulipolooza": a collection of oulipian texts.