back toJacket2

This is Jacket # 2  |   # 2  Contents   |   Homepage   |    “Marginalization”

Ann Lauterbach

Lines written to Bob Perelman
in the margins of
The Marginalization of Poetry

This paper is taken from the Vol. 1 No. 4 May 1997 pamphlet in The Impercipient Lecture Series, edited and published by Steve Evans and Jennifer Moxley in Providence, Rhode Island. It is about 11 printed pages long.

"It is remarkable that, little as men are able to exist in isolation, they should nevertheless feel as a heavy burden the sacrifices which civilization expects of them in order to make a communal life possible."
- Freud (The Future of an Illusion)

"They look vociferous and ferocious and I think it had to do with the idea of the idol, the oracle and above all the hilariousness of it. I do think that if I don’t look upon life that way I won’t know how to keep on being around."
- Willem de Kooning, (speaking of his Women paintings,
as quoted in the New York Times)

It would have been nice
to write a response to your
book in six-word per line
couplets, although heroic couplets,
the ones that rhyme and exhibit
constant closure, would be more
daringly apt as paratactic form.
I would also like to have attempted
New Sentences which might
as you say reinvigorate verbal perception
and sweep away the epic of false consciousness

but my habits of digression are fully formed
and I haven’t time for rhyme so I’m
going to settle for sloppy arbitrary couplets.
Let me say first that I
admire you for writing this book
it must have been difficult
to try to be clear and specific
to write a quasi-history
about something in which you are a
player without blowing your
horn or stepping on too many toes.
I myself have a profound fear
of gangs, those of the common street
variety and those of the more rarefied
aesthetic variety, the us-them, in-out,
inclusion-exclusion stuff makes me
paranoid and/or sad, so it is
good that, in this instance, I consider
myself a distant relative, a sort of second cousin
by marriage, and as such see myself
as a cross between
disinterested onlooker
and advocate or fan.
The parts of your book
I enjoyed most are chapters one, eight and nine
those in which you
say things most directly but I had
some difficulty figuring out
what your current view is toward
language writing. You say
A world lost, a world unarticulated,
beckons to new genres
and no poetic value (eternal) is
so unnegotiable as the memory
of value lost.
And you say also
When we traduce tradition and produce
group feedback, hunting and pecking for
private truth on public screens, think
that you see words in lines,
moving in the world that is
moving with your Use.

That last
reminds me of a
time ten years ago when I was
teaching at Iowa and Stacy Doris
in her dulcet tones
asked what the job of the
poets is. I don’t know what
I said then but I often read poems
to find the answer. In any case
I am going to be somewhat
willfully naive in what follows
as if I had really just gotten off
or had been thrown off or
perhaps had just plain missed the boat.

The Presence of the Voice

I take the main purport of your
book to be a not disinterested
look at the relation between
theory and practice
in language writing, and an effort
to situate it in the context of
"literary history" but not to
fully historicize or contextualize the movement.
Reading it, I tried to articulate for myself
what the ambition of language-writing
really was or is, other than to have
subverted existing notions of what
poems are or might be. This is not nothing
but it does point to a kind of negative
ideology: not that, not that either.
There are a lot of implied
and not so implied no-nos, many
of which seem to have stemmed
from European theoretical writings
- the usual suspects -
which in itself is interesting
as it seems to carry forward
some of the modernist
engagement with French culture
in particular. I hope this doesn’t
sound like incipient xenophobic isolationism
but I am interested in how
theoretical critiques might be
housed in prior cultural beliefs
and practices and wonder if they have
universal application. Is there
a way we can say that
theory makes universalist claims
and that poems are by nature
more specifically culturally bound? Was one
aim of language-writing to
try to break this specificity
without falling into the trap of
unified selves and
universalist vocabularies?
I want here to mention the fact
that in your book at least
it seems that the men are theorists
and the women practitioners.
You have Silliman, Watten,
Bernstein, Andrews and Grenier
as theoretical architects and you have
the women writers
as exemplars, sort of live-in girlfriends.
Leslie Scalapino gets
a long footnote to Chapter Four where
she is seen arguing with Ron Silliman
about theoretical matters but that is it
in terms of women theorizing,
although I suppose the caveat here is
the women writers you discuss, Hejinian, Harryman
Dahlen, Howe and Armantrout in particular,
practice what they preach: theory
is subsumed wholly into practice.
I want to again ask
exactly what "positive values"
were or are being put forward?
You make frequent reference
to the poem as "eternal occasion"
but you are, are you not, being more
than half-ironic about any such claim.
You show on a number of occasions
the kinds of formal investments
most admired
and which certainly don’t need
reiterating here, but this brings me to
ask an embarrassing question
about the place of affect or feeling or spirit -
there is a pervasive sense that, unless
ironized or satirized to extinction
or, as in the case of Bruce Andrews,
emitted as full-throttled Eros
embracing Thanatos in a cultural headlock,
these are verboten. This perception
is undoubtedly misguided
and I have put my question awkwardly.
None of the writers
you talk about is without feeling.
It has to do with the objectification of feeling
or rather the rendering of sites of feeling
in such a way that structural or formal
aspects are foregrounded and the
subjective or expressive self is eclipsed.
See for example, your note on page 171
on Creeley in which you say, quote:
Pieces ends with Creeley and an
unnamed woman having sex
as his wife is getting his children
off to school. This does not make
Creeley confessional, however:
the difference between his writing
and Lowell’s or Plath’s is that
the focus of the poem remains
at the level of the syllable; nor
are the events presented as
subjects for agony.
This strikes me
as an almost comical disclaimer
which you then modify by saying
Nevertheless, to ignore Creeley’s
frankness and to regard his work
as purely formal seems a distortion.

And, similarly, in discussing Ron Silliman’s
work, you say At such times,
the writing seems autobiographical, even
though the narrative is focused
more at the tip of the pen
than in the memory of the writer.

I really am not sure I know
what this means, or rather it seems
to be begging the question.
What I understand you to mean
is that emotionally-charged subjects
like sleeping with another woman
or the death of a loved one are
admissible only if or when they are in some sense
objectified, made ironic, or held in cheek by
clearly demarcated formal structures.
The resistance isn’t so much to
the unified subject, the lyric, or to narrativity per se
but to a certain display of subjectivity
in which the self is staged as either exemplary
or unique. O’Hara as the hero of
"Personism" gets away with it because his
tongue is in his cheek. But is it possible that
this bracketing of emotion
along with constant emphasis on the present
here nowness, materiality of language,
resistance to narrativity and so forth might be a
denial of mortality, literary as well as
actual, a fundamental resistance to change?
I think it is interesting that there can be
a logical lyrical mourning for the
degradation of the public sphere

which is unironic, but not a
lament for the lost maker.
Perhaps the central issue here, I mean
actually here, tonight, is
the relation between private - read individual -
and public in postmodern late capitalist America
in which the poem or poetry is
the paradigmatic cultural site.

The Spirit of Capital

The Spirit of Capital, New York City.
Photo copyright © John Tranter, 1997

Swirling around this issue are even more
intractable ones which
now devolve on the younger poets
who are hoping to graduate into
a new movement tonight.
I like very much
your dialogue at the end of the book
between O’Hara and Barthes, I liked hearing it
when you read it at Cornell and
I liked reading it in your book.
It is clever and clever of you to
place it in the post-Hegelian, post-Alphabet, end
of your literary history. I suppose if I were a really
good deconstructive post-Freudian
with lacings of Lacan and Kristeva
I might want to say something
about the return of the repressed
or the mirror stage or symbolic orders
or something obvious
about intimations of immortality
but luckily I am running out of
time. I did want to point out
that Father Pound, whose era it seems always-already
to be, famously said, which you quote -
nothing - that you couldn’t,
in some circumstance, in the stress
of some emotion, actually say.
main emotion seems to have been rage.
Here we have two big no-nos in one fell swoop:
emotion - not recollected, but
stressed and stressful - and saying, as opposed to
writing. But then you write, For the
record: Speech is writing,
writing speech. That is the lesson
the body waits to hear with
every word it reads. The voice
which might still be Whitman’s emerges
from the wash of static on
the old wax cylinder and names
America the center of equal daughters,
equal sons, perennial with the earth,
with Freedom, Law and Love, and
Ginsberg noted the Brooklyn accent of
End quote. Jefferson did not
free his slaves, but he did write
the Declaration of Independence.
Gee, Bob, I am already out of time
and I haven’t even gotten around
to saying a lot of what I want to say,
so maybe I have to switch over
to prose.

Ann Lauterbach lives in New York City and teaches at the City University of New York. She has taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Brooklyn College, and is a contributing editor of Conjunctions magazine. Her books of poetry include Before Recollection (Penguin, 1987) and Clamor (Penguin, 1991).

J A C K E T # 2  Contents page | “Marginalization”
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © Ann Lauterbach
and Jacket magazine 1997
The URL address of this page is