These poems come from Bernadette Mayer’s long-unpublished early book, The Old Style Is Finding out Something about a Whole New Set of Possibilities, which was written mostly from 1966 to 1970, when Mayer was between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five. Unlike the majority of the poems in the book, they were never published in any form until their appearance in Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer (Station Hill Press, 2015), which we coedited. When Mayer began The Old Style, she was a student at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, taking poetry classes from Bill Berkson.
There’s a stir going on, a textual free-for-all, a visible shift in how language is being handled in response to the machines in our lives. This is not unusual. We have seen it before: the way in which technology affects the environment that created it. In Finland, visual poetry, in some way, sprang up almost fully formed. There are few antecedents that point to its appearance, yet here it is.
This feature on Conceptual writing collects thirty-five responses from a wide group of practitioners and critics of diverse method, intent, and position, who responded to Divya Victor’s 2015 call for writing: 1) To expand the field of critical influences and frame its discourses through the lenses of anti-imperialism, postcolonialism, spirituality studies, disability studies, ecocriticism, and critical race theory; 2) To create records of aesthetic and political genealogies which resonate as true and lived for practitioners; and 3) To articulate the critique of dominant and hegemonic genealogies or histories associated with contemporary conceptual and conceptual-like writing.
For a poetry that yields such immediate and immense pleasure, the work of Joseph Donahue remains hard to characterize. As the author of seven volumes — including the forthcoming Red Flash on a Black Field and Dark Church, the third installment of his ongoing Terra Lucida serial project — Joseph Donahue has spent almost three decades crafting a sensibility that straddles the often-reductive binaries of literary discourse.
I once heard a story about a biology teacher who asked a student to look closely at a fish, then write a description of it. The student took a good look at the fish, then wrote down everything he could think of to say about it.
After the student had brought back his description, the teacher told him to look at the fish again, and to write another description of it. This time the student took it home and went into real depth about everything he could find out about that species of fish, as well as this particular specimen.
After he had brought back his second description, the teacher told him to look at the fish again and write another description of it.