Commentaries - August 2012

Succinct thoughts on this summer of the MOOC

Screenshot from a video discussion of Ron Silliman’s “Albany” in preparation for “ModPo,” a ten-week course hosted by the University of Pennsylvania and Coursera beginning September 10, 2012.

New article about MOOCs (the “massively open online courses” that have become all the rage this spring and summer — of which I am myself teaching one): link.

“Some educators say these cyber courses can’t replace the academic community and learning experience of a traditional campus education.”

Well, they’re not supposed to.

“If students can get high-quality academic material for free, colleges and universities will be pressed to demonstrate the education value they offer beyond lectures and exams.”

Excellent form of pressure; on-campus face-to-face education should eliminate the lecture entirely. I’ve been publicly calling for the end of the (live; face-to-face; on campus) lecture since 1995, but I think these MOOCs might just force the job to be done.

“Once up and running, most courses can almost run by themselves.”

I seriously doubt this. The discussion forums are crucial and the instructor must be involved. Teaching a MOOC well is hard work and requires just as much engagement — possibly more — than traditional classroom teaching.

Tamburlaine's footstool, part 2

Footstool by David Scher
Footstool by David Scher

“Stoop, villain, stoop, stoop” (Tamburlaine, Part 1, 4.2.22-23). Marlowe liked the sound of the vowel in “stoop” so much that he wanted to hear Tamburlaine say it three times. Then he wanted to hear it again in Faustus: “Saxon Bruno, stoop” (Doctor Faustus, B-Text, 3.1.89). But this was not enough! Adrian says the word another time — a fifth repetition — just seventy lines later: “Then thou and he and all the world shall stoop” (3.1.158).

Maybe it was the final “p,” the only sound that “stoop” doesn’t share with “stool,” that Marlowe really wanted to hear. In any case, the frequent returns of the simple command to stoop suggest a frustration of someone’s desire. No matter how many times you indulge this desire, it’s still not enough. Maybe the command simply isn’t working except as a sound effect. (You might say that Tamburlaine has to give the command a third time because Bajazeth hasn’t carried it out after the second.)

The fact that Tamburlaine is talking at all is somewhat gratuitous. The entire exchange could be replaced by a short stage direction: “Bajazeth kneels before the throne. Tamburlaine steps on his back and climbs into the seat.” The scene doesn't go like that. Instead, they command, reply, curse, and wrangle, for thirty-two lines. Marlowe wanted to hear all of the words. The king and the footstool have to be talking the entire time.

Tamburlaine’s counselors observe the inefficiency of the play’s language and try to correct it. “You must devise some torment worse, my lord,” Techelles offers, “to make these captives rein their lavish tongues” (Tamburlaine, Part 1, 4.2.66-67). Techelles has a point. The efficient political solution would be the destruction of Tamburlaine’s enemies. Recall Bajazeth’s preferred solution: “First thou shalt rip my bowels with thy sword . . .” (4.1.16). He will be a footstool only when Tamburlaine has him killed and fabricates a useful object from his skeleton.

This is not a solution about which Tamburlaine ordinarily has any scruples. In Part 1, Marlowe dramatizes this solution in Tamburlaine’s unflinching destruction of the city of Damascus, starting with the slaughter of four virgins (“O, pity us!” “Away with them, I say, and show them Death!” [5.1.119-20]); in Part 2, in Tamburlaine’s murder of his son Calyphas.

That would be one way of handling the problem of Bajazeth. A less efficient but equally effective solution would be to use brute strength to enforce Bajazeth’s unfree status. Punish his body. Take away his voice. Teach him the consequences of disobedience. Curiously, Tamburlaine is far less disciplined in handling his enemy emperor than in handling enemy towns. For although he threatens to have Bajazeth torn to pieces, which he fancifully compares to shavings from a cedar tree struck by a thunderbolt, the threat is empty. He has no intention of doing any such thing. Why does he make so many allowances for the eccentricities of his furniture? “My lord,” Queen Zenocrate wonders, “how can you suffer these outrageous curses by these slaves of yours?” (Part 1, 4.4.26-27).

Tamburlaine’s answer is instructive. “I glory in the curses of my foes” (4.4.29). He wants the footstool to be a living, conscious, willful man. He wants him to have a voice. He wants to hear his curses. He wants to step on his back — an emperor’s back — while he resists. The political point of the command was never to conquer the object’s resistance. The point is for the object and the speaker to hear the command and the curse over and over.

Footstool by David Scher


The political point has a dramaturgical explanation. Marlowe’s theater typically uses sonorous diction and extravagant imagery to create action and spectacle. All of Marlowe’s readers must confront this tendency eventually. As Harry Levin succinctly puts it, “Driven by an impetus towards infinity and faced with the limitations of the stage, the basic convention of Marlovian drama is to take the word for the deed” (Christopher Marlowe: The Overreacher [Faber, 1965], 62). Important elements of drama are narrated, but not quite in the manner of Greek chorus or Shakespearean soliloquy. A peculiar sort of dialogue sets lyric utterances against one another.

Think of the psychomachia in Faustus.

— O Faustus, lay that damnèd book aside.


— Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art.


— Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin

To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess.


These commands are spoken by the Good Angel, the Bad Angel, and Faustus, each one a different aspect of the same character. Three actors appear onstage to represent a single voice talking to itself, translating action into lyric utterance, and fragmenting lyric into dialogue.

The scene in Vatican City is more complicated, because there are three distinct characters, two of whom believe themselves to be the one and only pope. The dramaturgy, however, is the same. Adrian declares his papal state by loading his entrance with commands — first directed to his retainer, then to his furniture, and finally to himself. When Tamburlaine ascends the throne, he and Bajazeth trade impossible commands: Bajazeth tells the “dread god of hell” to make the earth swallow both kings, and Tamburlaine calls on some of the stars to outshine other stars (4.2.27, 33-34). Psychologically, the effect may be compared to that of whistling a sprightly tune on a walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood. You are announcing your presence and your nonchalance to the residents, and convincing yourself that you exist. Here I am. Listen to my soundtrack. Come inside my head where that tune is always playing.

According to the enigmatic pronouncements of Allen Grossman’s Summa Lyrica, lyricism is an ideal special effect for showing majesty.

In the lyric ‘space of appearance,’ all being is celebratory. . . . The speaker in lyric has mastered the process of manifestation, and endured the tragic losses which manifestation entails, without being destroyed. The speaker in lyric has not lost heart. To go on speaking, not to lose heart, is an occasion of celebration and an attribute of majesty.

(Grossman, Summa Lyrica 21, “Scholium on didacticism”)

In the story that Grossman tells, all people were originally invisible. Early civilizations developed poetry as a technique for making special people, kings, visible. As a result, almost anything that appears in a poem looks more or less like a king. For modern poets with democratic ambitions, the tendency of poetic language to multiply images of kings might sound like a problem. For Marlowe, it sounds like the solution to a problem.

At least, Levin makes it sound like a solution. According to Levin, Marlowe uses poetic language as a compensatory mechanism reconciling “an impetus towards infinity” with “the limitations of the stage.” This formula echoes Barabas’s entrance in The Jew of Malta, which takes the form of an impossible command addressed to his wealth: “Give me,” he says, carriers of wealth with greater value than gold pieces, so as to “enclose/ Infinite riches in a little room” (1.1.19, 36-37), and obviate scenic representation. Elsewhere Levin expresses his appreciation for this line, remarking that “nothing could be more Marlovian. . . . It is hard to imagine how a larger amount of implication could be more compactly ordered within a single pentameter” (The Overreacher, 87).

 To Tamburlaine’s political advisors, poetry seems to be a needless expenditure; to a literary critic (putting aside the rarity of Marlowe’s genius, even in the cultural flowering of the Elizabethan period), it seems a thrifty allocation of resources. On a practically bare stage, using only human voices, Marlowe shows infinite wealth and absolute power. Very economical.

Jonathan Goldberg has a different interpretation of this tendency. In a reading of Edward II, Goldberg highlights a speech by Gaveston that “defines in advance precisely the kind of theatricalization Edward II will not offer” (Sodometries [Stanford, 1992], 115).  Gaveston imagines seducing Edward by producing entertainments in which boys wear women’s clothing, playing on the fears of Puritan antitheatrical writers, and anticipating the hopes of some modern readers, for the effects of this Elizabethan stage convention. However, Goldberg points out, Gaveston seduces Edward using his own body and voice, without transvestite performers, and in fact without professional entertainers of any kind. Gaveston does not need to wear a dress in order to become sexually interesting to Edward.

What if this interpretation — lyricism undone by performance — were the model for Marlowe’s dramaturgy? Rather than constituting action, the speeches would be fictions even within the fiction of the play, providing a view into a world distinct from the scene in which they are spoken. This is how the impossible commands seem to work in one of Marlowe’s most celebrated set-pieces, Faustus’s descent into hell. As the time of his spiritual contract runs out, Faustus calls on all the stars to stand still, for the sun to “make/ Perpetual day,” and for his body to be sublimated into a cloud. As though Faustus’s wishes to slow time have the effect of making it run faster, an hour passes before he has finished reciting a speech of fewer than sixty lines (with more of the lines spoken before the clock strikes the half-hour than after).

Because Faustus’s desires are impossible and because they keep changing, Stephen Greenblatt concludes that they are ultimately objectless: “Faustus speaks endlessly of his appetite, his desire to be glutted, ravished, consumed, but what is it exactly that he wants?” (Renaissance Self-Fashioning [Chicago, 1980], 217). It’s true that Faustus is rarely satisfied with what he gets, but Greenblatt’s question only makes sense if Faustus is allowed to want exactly one thing. I assume that Faustus wants everything that he says he wants — in other words, he wants to see the stars stand still, and he wants to experience being a cloud — and is not obligated to seek a common principle unifying his desires. The objects Faustus wants are easy to grasp, starting with this one:

I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk,

Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad.


I work in a school myself, and can testify that it would be cool to have the entire campus wrapped in layers of silk like a Christo and Jeanne-Claude project. I would also appreciate new kimonos for the students and faculty to wear as uniforms. Is it really necessary to explain these desires?

Everyone onstage looks like a king, even the furniture, because everyone onstage, including the furniture, is voicing wildly unreasonable commands. The shape of the political hierarchy finally depends on dramaturgy. (Which of the incompatible verbal cues do you follow? One can imagine stagings of Faustus in which Adrian defiantly asserts his ascension from beneath the foot of the Elector of Saxony, or stagings of Tamburlaine in which which Bajazeth makes Tamburlaine his eunuch, or in which the mouth of hell swallows both of them.) The problem lies not in determining what the characters want, since their desires are spoken in “high astounding terms” (Tamburlaine, Part 1, prologue), but in conforming them to what others want, since they tend to view one another as objects of desire, instruments that will help them get what they want, or obstacles. Only in Hero and Leander does Marlowe suggest “mutual appetence” even as a possibility (2.56).

Next: the character of a small poet.

[Thanks to David Scher for the images.]

Etudes anglaises: Flirting with form – Experimental poetry and contemporary audacity

issue #2, 2012

order from Klincksieck, Paris.

Penelope GALEY-SACKS : Introduction. A Field of New Voicings


Charles BERNSTEIN and Penelope GALEY-SACKS: Poetry's club-foot: process, faktura, intensification (an interview)

Marie-Dominique GARNIER: Madeline Gins’s Ors Poetica Or Reading "Critical Beach" (Helen Keller Or Arakawa, 1994)

Hélène AJI: Un(decidable), Un(creative), Un(precedented), Un(readable), Un(nerving): Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin, Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place

Penelope GALEY-SACKS: Songlines and Entropy in Ron Silliman’s Ketjak

John SEARS: The Horizon of the Poem: On Matthew Cooperman and Ecopoetics

Axel NESME: Etant Donné(e) Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Intertextuality and Intermediality in Drafts 1-38, Toll

Geneviève COHEN-CHEMINET : La matérialisation de la marge dans la poésie américaine contemporaine

Dominique DELMAIRE: The love poetry of George Mackay Brown, or “The Escape of the H(e)art”


Penelope GALEY-SACKS: (Charles Bernstein on) Language and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E


Marie-Dominique GARNIER - Madeline Gins's Ors Poetica Or Reading "Critical Beach" (Helen Keller Or Arakawa, 1994)
Except for an isolated attempt at translating one of Arakawa and Gins’s early essays, To Not To Die (Pour ne pas mourir), the poetry of Madeline Gins has not, so far, been translated into French—although her first volume Word Rain was published to great acclaim in 1969. Gins’s 1994 Helen Keller Or Arakawa belongs to no known genre. Part-“novel” part-aesthetic philosophy and survival manual, it belongs to the genre-to-be of many-body biography, one in which bodies and their surroundings are treated as part of a common bioscleaving project. While “ecosophy” or “ecopoetry” might come to mind as ways of describing the sort of “atmospheric” connectivity Gins and Arakawa are seeking, both terms miss the radical novelty of their biopoetics. At work in Gins and Arakawa is a critique both of the “I” and of the “environment,” each being remodeled into a “sky-of-an-I” and a “surround” or an “atmosphere.” In the last “chapter” (or plateau) of Helen Keller Or Arakawa, a beach gone “critical” speaks a post-human, minor poetic tongue of its own. This essay addresses the “ecopoetics” of critical beach parlance—a beach devoid of any phenomenological horizon. Differential, repetitive, each throw of Gins’s poetic dice looks or gropes ahead in the direction of an exopoetics: a turning inside-out of the “innards” of language.
Mise à part la tentative isolée de traduire To Not To Die, un des premiers essais co-écrits par Arakawa et Gins, la poésie de Madeline Gins n’est pas, à ce jour, traduite en français — et cela malgré le fait que son premier recueil, Word Rain, ait été acclamé à sa publication. Le volume in-titulé Helen Keller or Arakawa ne ressortit quant à lui à aucun genre répertorié. Mi-« roman », mi-traité de philosophie esthétique et manuel de survie, cet « essai » poétique relève d’un genre inconnu, celui de la biographie à n-corps — biographie dont les corps et ce qui les entoure; relè-vent du même projet de « bioaderrance ». Si des mots-clefs tels que « écosophie » ou « écopoé-sie » peuvent a priori sembler en adéquation avec la connectivité de type « atmosphérique » que cherchent à construire Arakawa et Gins, ces termes restent l’un et l’autre en deçà de leur biopoé-tique d’un genre radicalement nouveau. Une double critique opère chez Gins et Arakawa : celle du sujet, et celle de l’environnement, l’un et l’autre revus et corrigés en « aire-de-je » et en « pa-rages » ou « atmosphère ». Le dernier chapitre (ou plateau) de Helen Keller Or Arakawa donne la parole à une plage devenue « critique », plage post-humaine possédant sa propre langue poé-tique mineure. Il s’agit dans le présent essai d’établir le profil « écopoétique » de cette plage par-lante — et dépourvue du moindre horizon phénoménologique. À chacun des lancers de ses dés poétiques, répétitifs et différentiels, l’écriture de Madeline Gins en appelle à un deve-nir-exopoétique — à une mise au grand dehors du dedans du langage.


Hélène AJI - Un(decidable), Un(creative), Un(precedented), Un(readable), Un(nerving): Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin, Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place
Attempting to account for the recent emergence of American Conceptual writing, this article picks on five terms that are involved in the preoccupations and theoretical statements apparent in the texts of Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin, Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place. “Undecidable” in-troduces the debate that presides over the publication of the anthology Against Expression, desi-gned as a manifesto to differentiate Conceptual poets from their Language predecessors. “Un-creative” analyses the stakes of a self-definition of the movement focused on new media and the vogue of digital writing in the winning over of the general public. “Unprecedented” deals with the literary filiation of these poets, a filiation which cannot be reduced to Minimalism in the visual arts but includes Modernist poets, and the procedural work of the Language poets. “Unreadable” theo-rizes the methods of Conceptual writing in the perspective of cultural critique, as détournement proves to be only one of the strategies to undermine established discourses. “Unnerving” con-cludes on the return of ethos and pathos in the context of a logocentric poetics so as to hypothe-size over the objectives of Conceptual writing.
Afin de rendre compte de l’émergence récente de l’écriture conceptuelle américaine, cet article met en jeu cinq termes qui sous-tendent les préoccupations et les déclarations théoriques for-mulées dans les textes de Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin, Kenneth Goldsmith et Vanessa Place. « Indécidable » ouvre sur la discussion qui entoure la publication de l’anthologie Against Expres-sion, pensée comme le manifeste susceptible de distinguer les poètes conceptuels de leurs prédécesseurs, les Language Poets. « Non-créatif » analyse les enjeux d’une autodéfinition du mouvement centrée sur les nouveaux media et la vogue de l’écriture électronique dans le but de conquérir un large public. « Sans précédent » aborde la filiation littéraire de ces poètes, filiation qui ne saurait se réduire au minimalisme plastique, car elle inclut les poètes modernistes, et la poésie à contrainte des Language Poets. « Illisible » fait la théorie des méthodes de l’écriture conceptuelle dans la perspective d’une critique culturelle, où le détournement se révèle n’être qu’une des stratégies mises en œuvre dans la sape des discours conventionnels. « Déstabili-sant » conclut sur le retour de l’éthique et du pathétique, dans le contexte d’une poétique logocen-trique, et propose quelques hypothèses sur les objectifs de l’écriture conceptuelle.

Penelope GALEY-SACKS - Songlines and Entropy in Ron Silliman’s Ketjak
Leaning on Ron Silliman’s Ketjak, this article demonstrates how the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem defiantly questions the notion of readability. The logic behind flirting with ambiguous reference be-longs to a conscious ebbing of the narrative process structuring our perception of the spatial and the temporal. The unquantifiable “remainder” Barthes sees as inherent to any literary text takes on specific pertinence within the zap-code æsthetics of a poesis that seeks its grounding somewhere between Wittgenstein’s highly philosophical interrogation of language and meaning, and the intuitive yet complex en-chanting play of primitive ritual. The poem appears to sprout from the accidental or chance encounter of word with world. In an entropic fashion, it illustrates the highly organized, even mathematical growth of language itself, whilst following the musical logic of polyphony, the songline merging with the poetic.
Prenant à l’appui le Ketjak de Ron Silliman, cet article se propose de montrer comment le L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poème conjure la notion du lisible. La logique qu’implique la rupture avec la référence littérale est liée à un reflux du narratif et, par conséquent, à la neutralisation de la per-ception linéaire spatiale et temporelle. Le reste non-quantifiable, que Barthes considère comme inhérent au texte littéraire idéal, assume une pertinence nouvelle au sein d’une esthétique de zap-ping qui se cherche dans l’entrelacs de l’interrogation philosophique du langage chez Wittgenstein et le jeu intuitif et en-chanteur du rituel primitif. Le poème semble surgir de la rencontre fortuite ou accidentelle du mot et du monde. Il illustre de manière entropique le développement organisé voire mathématique du langage, tout en suivant une logique polyphonique où la ligne de chant se mêle au poétique.

John SEARS - The Horizon of the Poem: On Matthew Cooperman and Ecopoetics
Matthew Cooperman’s poetry offers formally experimental engagements with insistent ecopoetic themes, understood as “habits” (playing on “habitat” and with all the Heideggerian implications of “dwelling”). This essay reads Cooperman’s poetry (in A Sacrificial Zinc, 2001, and DaZe, 2006) as carefully modulated explorations of the ecopoetic potentials of the poem. Topographical, cyclical and related tropes are traced through careful readings of individual poems to reveal patterns of connection and repetition. These are examined through analysis of the poetic activity of what Co-operman calls “topological maundering,” the process of movement of the eye and mind across poetic space.
La poésie de Matthew Cooperman propose au lecteur de participer à des expériences formelles qui exploitent des thèmes écopoétiques entendus comme autant de réflexes. Ceux-ci exploitent l’association en anglais des mots habits et habitat (avec toutes les implications heideggeriennes du mot habitation). Cet article interprète la poésie de Cooperman (dans A Sacrificial Zinc, 2001, et DaZe, 2006) comme -l’exploration du potentiel écopétique du poème. L’interprétation des poèmes met en évidence divers tropes topographiques et psychiques (connexions et structures de répéti-tion) en analysant ce que Cooperman appelle des « errances topologiques », c’est-à-dire le mou-vement de l’œil et de l’esprit dans l’espace poétique.

Axel NESME - Étant Donné(e) Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Intertextuality and Intermediality in Drafts 1-38, Toll
In Drafts 1-38, Toll Rachel Blau DuPlessis undertakes the task of mourning the I of post-romantic lyrical utterance to the benefit of an aesthetics of the fold which might afford the poet an escape from the gendered dichotomies that have shaped her heritage. The volume’s telos is to explore modalities of telling the loss of a unitary voice by confronting the reader with the demands of mul-tifold and polyglossic deciphering. As words are bereft of directionality and their paronomastic vir-tualities unfold, a textual space opens up where their “whirlwind” of poetic potentialities may “roar.” Blau DuPlessis’ project thus involves revisiting a number of intertextual as well as intermedial sites, entering into ironic dialogues with other poets, but also tracing the destiny of the gaze in order to restore the tension between the figural and the literal that is temporarily silenced by Du-champ’s work, thus allowing for the first person voice to be partially reclaimed. Blau DuPlessis’ own voice skirts the space between the critical and the poetic, which is why it hinges on a reeva-luation of such seemingly neutral signifiers as the pronoun “it” or the preposition “of.”
Dans Drafts 1-38, Toll Rachel Blau DuPlessis se livre à un travail du deuil, celui du « je » lyrique post-romantique, au profit d’une esthétique du pli qui permet au poète d’échapper aux dichotomies genrées qui forment son héritage. L’œuvre se donne pour telos d’explorer les modalités selon lesquelles la perte de la voix unitaire se conte et se compte en mettant le lecteur face aux exi-gences d’un déchiffrement multilingue, aux nombreux plis. Tandis que les mots une fois libérés de toute téléologie, leurs virtualités paronomastiques se déploient, s’ouvre un espace textuel où leur « tourbillon » de potentialités peut « rugir ». Le projet de Blau DuPlessis passe par le quadrillage d’un certain nombre de lieux intertextuels et intermédiaux : par le dialogue ironique avec les autres poètes aussi bien qu’en examinant le destin du regard dans les Étant Donnés de Duchamp pour rétablir la tension litéral/figural d’abord réduite au silence par l’œuvre de Duchamp, la première personne retrouve en partie sa voix. Quant à la voix de Blau DuPlessis, celle-ci côtoie la limite en-tre critique et poésie. Aussi la réévaluation de signifiants apparemment neutres, tels le pronom « it » ou la préposition « of », y joue-t-elle un rôle charnière.

Geneviève COHEN-CHEMINET - La matérialisation de la marge dans la poésie américaine contemporaine
À partir du constat de Bob Perelman dans The Marginalization of Poetry (1996), cet article envisage la manière dont la marge matérielle, iconique, générique et politique, structure la poésie américaine contemporaine. La lecture de deux textes fondateurs de Charles Bernstein, Artifice of Absorption (1987) et The Difficult Poem (2003) me conduit à l’hypothèse d’un renversement des positions de la marge et du centre, du dissensus et du consensus : l’avant-garde poétique prend appui sur la marginalisation de ses œuvres pour œuvrer sur tout le champ discursif à partir de sa marge matérielle. La marge de l’œuvre devient alors l’œuvre de la marge. Cette visée militante prospective conduit à s’interroger sur une poésie conçue comme action ou agir politique: comment le poème travaille-t-il une marge adjacente, un lieu d’adjacence et de frottement entre espace social et espace public, comment le poème installe-t-il une marge, un degré d’écart entre le dit et le dire dans le dispositif du poème mode d’emploi ?
Since Bob Perelman’s 1996 The Marginalization of Poetry, the opposition between margin and center has been renewed. This article argues that attention to material margins, be they iconic, generic or political, has turned them into fighting positions against center and consensus. This working hypothesis is based on a close reading of Charles Bernstein’s 1987 landmark Artifice of Absorption, and 2003 The Difficult Poem, which have turned margins into strategic weapons meant to besiege all social discourses. Artworks in the margins work the margin against the cen-ter. This prospective oppositional mode raises questions about poetry as constructedness and poetry as dissensus or political act: how do poems work on the margin between social and public spaces? How does poetry address the divide between the saying and the said? what is the impact of readymade forms like How To Do Manuals on intention and meaning in a poem?

Dominique DELMAIRE - The love poetry of George Mackay Brown, or “The Escape of the H(e)art”
George Mackay Brown claims that his poetry, which is mostly narrative or dramatic, contains no traces of himself. His lyric verse, usually presented as “authored” by other historical or fictitious poets and merely “adapted” by him, seems to be no exception. As to those very few love poems written in his own name, they shift back to a narrative mode that seems to leave little room for the expression of feelings. This essay aims to show that the very scenarios played out in these latter pieces disclose the speaker’s innermost desires and that the voice which is audible in them is un-mistakably Brown’s own. Because it is also very similar to the voice of those lyric poems suppos-edly written by others, it appears in hindsight that the latter are but personae through which the poet expresses his personal emotions.
La poésie de George Mackay Brown, pour l’essentiel narrative ou dramatique, ne contiendrait, à en croire son auteur, aucune trace de celui-ci. Ses poèmes lyriques n’échappent pas à la règle, puisque ils s’affichent le plus souvent comme ayant été « écrits » par d’autres poètes, historiques ou fictifs, qu’il aurait simplement « adaptés ». Les très rares poèmes d’amour composés en son nom propre s’avèrent basculer vers un mode narratif laissant apparemment peu de place à l’expression des sentiments. On s’efforce de montrer ici, d’une part, que par le biais des scénarios mis en place se révèlent les désirs enfouis du locuteur et, d’autre part, que la voix que ces poèmes donnent à entendre est indubitablement celle de Mackay Brown. Le fait qu’elle ressemble beaucoup à celle des pièces lyriques prétendument écrites par d’autres suggère après coup que les « auteurs » de celles-ci ne sont que des personae.

order from Klincksieck

"& you know it don't come easy . . .": alternate titles for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (1977)

Bruce Andrews & I compiled this list (from the archives)