This feature celebrates the life and work of Marjorie Perloff at almost exactly the moment she receives the honor of induction into the American Philosophical Society, headquartered in Philadelphia, which happens to be — some blocks west of that venerable institution — home base for Jacket2. APS election is something like what in L.A., Perloff's own home, is called “a lifetime achievement award.” So it seemed time for us to bring together not just friends but also critical admirers at various distances to write brief retrospective reviews of her work over the years.
On April 25, 2011, Perloff delivered a lecture on Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” at the Kelly Writers House as part of her visit as a KWH fellow. Though the talk served as something of a premiere for that particular examination, readers of Perloff easily recognized her longstanding interest in Duchamp. As she said toward the end of her lecture — after linking Duchamp’s famously transgressive work to that of a host of contemporary writers: “oppositionality has thus made opposition not to the aesthetic itself, but to the status quo.” Indeed, Perloff’s enthusiastic, often polemical support for avant-garde writers and artists has set her in opposition to conservative literary critics. The contributions that comprise this feature aim to commend and investigate the oppositional, pedagogical spirit that distinguishes Perloff’s criticism. Brian Reed starts early, with a piece on some of Perloff’s publications from the ’70s on Robert Lowell and Frank O’Hara; Al Filreis looks even earlier, at the young refugee from fascism and at effects of that dislocation; Jan Baetens considers her reputation among the French; Richard Sieburth recalls his first meeting Perloff at conferences on Ezra Pound and offers a reading of Perloff in the ’80s; Dee Morris focuses on her recent occupation with new media and its relation to digital and conceptual poetics. And so on. A range of poets and critics offer commentary on the many aspects of Perloff’s critical projects across the decades, each focusing, for the most part, on a single work.
As Charles Bernstein writes in his piece, called “Ways of reading”: “Perloff’s readings are remarkably apt but their aptness is part and parcel with their aversion of the definitive or of a logic of substitution. Her readings are probes not summaries. They elucidate rather than explain. They model reading practices that are suggested by, even necessary for, the poem at hand (rather than deductively using poems to illustrate a previously existing idea).” This character of critical inquiry — open and exploratory — bears its mark on the contributions below, but will also surely serve as a touchstone for scholars, poets, and artists in the future.