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Post-war American Poetry Conference in Liège,Belgium
Wednesday 3 to Friday 5 March, 1999
at Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres,
3, Place Cockerill, 4000 Liège, Belgium
Crest of University of Liège
Editor's comment: Belgium is the birthplace of Art Nouveau and the home
of the greatest range of beers on earth . . . need I say more? [J.T.]


Robert Archambeau
Conference Report: Post-War American Poetry Conference at Liège
Just now back in Sweden recovering from a continental tour that included a few days at the Post-War American Poetry Conference at the University of Liège in Belgium. For me the Liège gathering ranks up there with last summer's Anglo-American Poetic Relations Conference in London and the Fall '96 Assembling Alternatives Conference in New Hampshire as one of the best conferences for experimental poetry in the last few years.
      Paul Hoover kicked things off in the plush and impressive Salle Academique with his talk "Murder and Closure: On the Impression of Reality in American Poetry," in which he asked "How might the ceaselessly closing 'new sentence' and the experimental formalism of language poetry relate to New Formalism and its demands for a return to closed form?" -- a big question,m with a long answer that took us from Oulipo to the present day via Marshall McLuhan and Walter Benjamin. Luckily, the conference proceedings will be published next spring, so everyone who wants to will have a chance to go over Paul's dense survey in detail.
      Other highlights included the stunningly well read Peter Middleton speaking on the apparent narrowing of avant-garde possibilities between the demise of Caterpillar and the rise of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E IN 1978. (Peter began his talk by playing Steely Dan -- not only a good way to remind us of how far off '73 has become, but also a good way to wake up a groggy morning crowd). Steve Evans made some good points afterward about the way poets have reacted to being labeled with the 'L= word' -- nobody thinks it is quite right for them, but then again they see some parallels, and in the discourse about avant-garde poetry, one seems to be either a language poet or not to count at all, so poets seem to ultimately accept the label, albeit with reservations. I'd like to hear more from Steve on these issues someday.
      Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop were there, giving a reading with Jennifer Moxley and serving as the great eminences gris for the whole affair. There was also a panel on Rosmarie's work with papers by Kornelia Freitag and Ann Simon, and at least one magazine on display that carried an essay on her work (Samizdat #1, edited by yours truly).
      If you're wondering who to watch among young Belgian poet-critics (and who isn't) I'd say Michel Delville is your man. At 30, he's done a lot: become junior professor at Liège, helped organize the conference and give it its experimental emphasis, written experimental poetry in English and French (we hope to have some of his work in a future issue of Samizdat) and published a book on the American Prose Poem with University Press of Florida (a damn good book, too, with a long section on Rosmarie Waldrop, and a detailed tracing of the roots of the American prose poem in European literature). In fact, Delville is so smart and talented and conscientious and cool and darkly good looking one is driven into fits of envy. But I digress.
      There was a fun double-reading by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover at a jazz club where we all drenched ourselves in Belgian beer. Maxine read dialogue-poems about a 'fictitious' husband of hers and the odd sounds he makes while orgasming, while Paul looked distinctly uncomfortable -- makes one wonder about referentiality and the scene of reading in a whole new way.
      Joe Amato and Kassia Fleisher gave a simultaneous double-voiced reading on the subject of collaboration, and, as Paul Hoover pointed out, it posed some interesting questions about the politics of listening -- Joe was on one side of the room, Kass on the other, and Paul felt that those of us on Joe's side were encouraged to listen to him, in a sense to root for him, just out of proximity. Some women on our side of the room objected, saying they felt solidarity with Kass, who was speaking in a kind of feminist discourse -- I found myself feeling the urge to listen to Joe precisely because he was a man and Kass was giving a strong feminist line, then I felt guilty about that and made myself listen to Kass. Hmmm...
      Afterwards, instead of giving a paper Joe "gave paper" -- he handed out a piece of text/image design and encouraged everyone to e-mail him about it later. So the discussion continues.
      Other good things, drawn up from an embarrassment of riches: Nick Selby of the U of Wales on Gary Snyder, Diederik Oostdijk of Nijmingen on Poetry Magazine's decline, Franca Bellarsi of Brussels on Beat Orientalism, Sharon Kennedy-Nolle of Paris on the politics of the Pound Museum.
      The Waldrops read with Jennifer Moxley, but I had to miss this in order to catch a train to Copenhagen. I'd love to hear about it, if anyone else was lucky enough to be there. I also missed a panel on Rosmarie's work and a language poetry panel chaired by Antoinne Caze from the Universite d'Orleans, who is quite brilliant and ought to be published in the States.
      An interesting reversal of the usual conference, in which innovative work exists only on the margins. I remember one conference participant, who was giving a very good paper on James Merrill, expressing his frustration -- "Is this the picture of American poetry we want to paint? Is formal work so marginal as to disappear" On the one hand, a completely fair question. On the other hand, I couldn't help feeling a kind of "now the shoe is on the other foot" sentiment.
The book of proceedings will be published in the Spring of 2000 by the University of Liège Press, and will be a bit hard to get in the US. You can send orders in advance to:
L3 Liège Language and Literature
University of Liège
English Department
3 Place Cockerill
B-4000 Liège, Belgium
or e-mail
There's a web site with a full conference schedule, still up at:

Robert Archambeau
Engelska Institutionen
Lunds Universitet
Michel Delville
English Department
University of Liège
3 Place Cockerill
4000 Liège
fax: ++ 32 4 366 57 21

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