Features

Contemporary English poetry and North American influences

Left to right: Tim Atkins, Amy De'Ath, Jeff Hilson, Richard Parker, Holly Pester, Sophie Robinson, and Carol Watts.

Perhaps more than at any other time in recent decades, the influence of North American poetry and poetics on English poetry is surfacing in a number of different ways. Sharing a language but positioned at a distance from the personalities and occasional conflicts between schools and coteries, contemporary English poets combine their North American influences differently, perhaps more flexibly, than North American poets do. As the works collected here demonstrate, the results of these combinations are surprising and exciting, distant and familiar; this poetry is engaging even and especially when considered apart from its influences and precedents from across the pond.

North American groups like the Language poets or institutions such as Black Mountain College and the Kootenay School of Writing have undoubtedly influenced much recent poetry in the UK, including that of Tim Atkins and Holly Pester. This influence, of course, is felt in varying ways and to indistinguishable measures; Atkins and Pester both emphasize the influence of pop-cultural forms such as cartoons and comedies. However, they also foreground their debts to North American communities and groups — for Atkins, Poets Theater in San Francisco has been crucial, while Pester takes her precedents from Canadian sound poets like the Four Horsemen.

From a slightly different quarter, Jeff Hilson and Richard Parker place Olsonian emphasis on breath and line alongside humor that is often similar in tenor to the New York School poets of the 1960s and ’70s. Both Hilson and Parker experiment with the sonnet, which Hilson reminds us has been called an “American form” in the twentieth century. But where Hilson brings together James Schuyler’s lyricism and Ron Silliman’s new sentence, Parker combines Louis Zukofsky’s late style with Herman Melville’s Pierre. Both range freely — and perhaps capriciously — across the terrain of North American writing, wearing their influences on their sleeves.

Contemporary English poets are extending and re-weaving various threads in North American feminist poetics: the work of Amy De’Ath, Sophie Robinson, and Carol Watts is characterized by playful speech rhythms inspired by William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, and Lisa Jarnot; political commitments; and a somewhat relaxed, nonchalant feminism. The space-clearing gestures of Bernadette Mayer, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Lyn Hejinian, Alice Notley, and Erín Moure, among others, have enabled these poets’ work, especially their ability to presume the significance of a feminist poetics. As Amy De’Ath explains in her statement: “I don’t feel the need to ‘invent a new and total culture’ that a previous generation felt: in poetry that’s been done for me.”

The poetry compiled here offers a range of perspectives on what’s “been done for me” — on what has come before, and on the possibilities it offers to new poetic projects. It is our hope that this work will extend the conversation among Anglophone poetries further still. 

Poems by Tim Atkins Tim Atkins
Poems by Amy De'Ath Amy De'Ath
Poems by Jeff Hilson Jeff Hilson
Poems by Richard Parker Richard Parker
Poems by Holly Pester Holly Pester
Poems by Sophie Robinson Sophie Robinson
Poems by Carol Watts Carol Watts

Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia: Part 5

Louis Armand, "Mir."

The fifth and final installment of Pam Brown’s feature “Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia” (ordered, “[i]n the interest of objectivity” by “a recently invented ‘downunder’ method — the reverse alphabet”) includes work from Justin Clemens, Bonny Cassidy, Michelle Cahill, Michael Brennan, Ken Bolton, Judith Bishop, Louis Armand, Chris Andrews, Elizabeth Allen, Ali Alizadeh and Adam Aitken, along with artwork by Louis Armand and Ken Bolton. You can read Brown’s introduction here, and the first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here. — Michael S. Hennessey

Marjorie Perloff: A celebration

Marjorie Perloff in 1984.

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.