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Tom Orange

Arrangement and Density:

A Context for Early Clark Coolidge

This piece is 5,600 words or about twelve printed pages long.
Notes are at the end.

BECAUSE the work of Clark Coolidge continues to grow and evolve, and because it remains of continuing importance in the field of contemporary experimental poetry, it is now more necessary than ever to attend once again to his early work. Very little has been written on it since the pioneering essays of Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, and Barrett Watten (a notable exception being Bruce Campbell’s entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography). Moreover, his works from the late 1960s and early 1970s continue to remain out of print and difficult to obtain. The earliest of his books currently in print, Own Face (Angel Hair, 1978, reprinted by Sun and Moon, 1993), is a key turning-point, signalling a pronounced lyricism that would flourish in Solution Passage: Poems 1978–1981and The Crystal Text (both published by Sun and Moon in 1986). Yet while these more widely disseminated and more stylistically “accessible” works show a Coolidge already well into his development as an artist, we risk losing sight of the radical experimentation of his early works. In this essay I will consider several Coolidge texts from the mid–1960s (prior to and including those of Space, his first and to this day only venture with a mainstream publisher),[see note 1] contextualizing them by comparing them to the work of his contemporaries. Throughout the discussion I utilize the terms “arrangement” and “density,” terms that are not rigid formal categories but instead heuristic devices drawn from Coolidge’s own commentary on his early poetics.
    Space stands as a representative selection of Coolidge’s work of the mid-to-late 1960s, something of a selected early poems (although the work does not bill itself as such). The four sections into which the volume is broken roughly correspond, as Bruce Campbell has noted, to the four individual volumes that Coolidge brought out with small presses from 1966–1971.[see note 2] The first section draws exclusively on Flag Flutter & U.S. Electric (Lines Books, 1966) and The So: Poems 1966 (Adventures in Poetry, 1971), the third largely on the eponymous Clark Coolidge (Lines Books, 1967), and the fourth on Ing (Angel Hair Books, 1968). The poems in the second section do not appear in any of Coolidge’s previous books, although “Styro,” for example, was anthologized in both The Young American Poets and An Anthology of New York Poets. It is important to note also that while Space was published in 1970, the poems it contains were written between 1965 and 1968.[see note 3] Such will become the pattern for Coolidge, where a work’s date of composition substantially precedes its publication date, by which point his style has moved in quite a different direction. And while a two- to five-year discrepancy here may seem of minor significance, I will show how Coolidge’s early work can undergo dramatic developments over such a period of time.

Before looking at some poems, I want to establish briefly what I mean by “arrangement” and “density.” The former is Coolidge’s own term, one that he takes to be “basic to my work and art,” according to the talk entitled “Arrangement” he gave at the Naropa Institute in 1977. “I’m partly using that word,” Coolidge says straight away, “because I want to avoid using words like ‘composition,’ ‘structure,’ and so on, which I don’t feel mean much any more.” To flesh out his term he goes on to cite a number of its usages in different fields. He invokes, first, the sense of composition by field: “All right, the word ‘arrangement’ — hear the word ‘range’ in that word — a field which I think we’ve been given as artists since the fifties in this country by men as diverse as Charles Olson and John Cage.”[see note 4] Olson’s notion of composition by field, which involves the poem as “energy transferred from where the poet got it by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader,” seems to play an important part in Coolidge’s sense of arrangement, though for Coolidge and those who would subsequently be involved in the initial formulations of the language-centered project, the energy here comes from language itself.[see note 5]
    Coolidge’s second area of reference for his notion of arrangement comes from fields that have interested him since childhood, geology and natural history, where he sees “minerals themselves as an arrangement of molecules” (147). The third area, understandably for a jazz drummer, is music: “Notes, frequencies, vibrations, positions on a scale. Arrangements of notes.... Thinking of musical space as an arrangement of frequencies, of course, in time” (151). Fourth, Merce Cunningham’s dances: “gestures and movements, the possibilities of the body, arranged. In arrangement” (152). Fifth, “the arrangement of the actual world.... you look out your window and you see trees, and leaves on the trees, and birds. Now, where are they? What kind of pattern do they make? What sort of arrangement?” (153). And finally, in a remarkable passage, Coolidge describes the science fiction story he read in junior high school in which a brother and sister find strange objects down by a creek, “instructional toys that came from another planet in the future” (145), a story which

now comes back to me with all the feelings of great discovery and mystery and desire to do something with this [picks up piece of chalk, a book, etc.]... and this... and this. Where do I put it? What happens when I put it there? What does it do to this? How close is it? Does it repel me? Does it repel you? How much does it weigh down the table? Can I look through it? What do I see when I look through it, and another whole vector of stuff coming in visually? (146-47)

These are the very kinds of questions that Coolidge is asking of words in his early poetry, and that in turn the poems themselves generate due to the way Coolidge arranges their words. Thus arrangement involves the placement of materials in space (in the case of writing, verbal materials in the space of the page) such that energies are released and the materials act upon one another. It is essentially a juxtapositional art and can arise from cut-up, chance procedures or collage techniques, though it is not exclusive to any of these. Nor does it necessarily depend on “open field” composition, as a number of examples in fixed forms by Coolidge and others will show shortly.
    “Density” does not feature as prominently as “arrangement” in Coolidge’s own critical lexicon, though it appears in the statement he provided for Paul Carroll’s anthology The Young American Poets: “Words have a universe of qualities other than those of descriptive relation: Hardness, Density, Sound-Shape, Vector-Force, & Degrees of Transparency/Opacity.”[see note 6] Others have picked up on density as a particular quality of his work as well. In his contribution to the Stations symposium, for example, Alan Davies writes that Coolidge “confronts the words almost head on, has no bias; or motive, except perhaps to have a certain new texture or density.” Campbell cites as an example of Coolidge’s nounal density the lines “mica flask moves layout hasty / bunkum geode olive lion candle” from “The Tab” (in Space), and Watten notes the “weights and balances of words” as arranged in poems like “ounce code orange,” one of “those little constellation poems in Space,” as Coolidge called them in his 1980 interview for Friction.[see note 7] In “Maintaining Space: Clark Coolidge’s Early Works,” Charles Bernstein aptly describes the dense quality of Coolidge’s word “stock” or “mine”; these “word clusters,” according to Bernstein,

have a gooeyness and gumminess, a thickness of texture, hard, ungiving and indigestible — “clump — bends trill a jam” “mid punt egg zero” “copra stewage” “globule” — making the poems dense and heavy, filling their space with a high specific gravity that weighs them down to earth, keeps them resistant to easy assimilation, lets them hold their particular space through time.[see note 8]

Density is thus largely a function of word stock and reflects at this stage in Coolidge’s work an affinity for monosyllabic words, particularly those that couple long vowels or diphthongs with consonant blends. But whereas other words that fit these phonic parameters might carry various associations with them (say, “hate,” “dream,” or “love”), Coolidge’s words are quite intractable: what they resist is easy assimilation to any semantic fields other than their own. Rather than resonating with any other immediate fields of reference, they resonate primarily with their own sound and sense. In the “Arrangement” talk, Coolidge talks of his interest in “making a poem of words that don’t go together in some ways, that have a resistance, that they don’t go” (163). When they are properly arranged and made to go together, however, their dense, intractable sound and semantic qualities release an energy into the field of the poem.
    Arrangement and density operate in tandem. This can be illustrated by looking at a poem from section three of Space, which resembles those in the book Clark Coolidge and was included in the Anthology of New York Poets as well.

ounce code orange
trilobite trilobites

    In the “Arrangement” talk, Coolidge explains that the poem was written in 1966 when he was living in Cambridge with Aram Saroyan, who was “writing these one-word poems, dividing everything down to the smallest possible thing. . . and I immediately wanted to put them together. I couldn’t stand the idea of one word” (161). His gloss reads as follows:[see note 9]

“ounce code orange”: ways of measuring, in a sense. Weight, a symbol system, a color. “a/the”: the indefinite article, the definite article. “ohm” is the unit of electrical resistance, a quality of metal, let’s say, that requires a certain amount of juice to go through. In other words, this is a fuzzy, resistant word. It hangs down here, it affects particularly this space. I wanted these things hanging in the middle because they could adhere to words in either the top line or the bottom line. “the ounce,” “a/the code,” “the orange.” You can’t say “a ounce” or “a orange,” practically. You can say “a code.” So there are those vectors going there. “trilobites”: you know what a trilobite is, it’s an early animal of the Paleozoic Age that was a crustacean divided into three lobes. As a word, to me it’s completely irreducible. What are you going to do with it? “A trilobite”: it’s like a clinker. Angular, uneven, heavy word. (162)

The way in which Coolidge describes the words of the poem hanging, affecting, and adhering to each other illustrates arrangement and density at work: the placement of words on the page with attention to their sound and semantic values. For example, while Coolidge acknowledges the denotations of these words from the outset, denotation gives way to a greater interest in not merely the sound properties of these dense words (long and diphthonged “o” vowels and nasal consonants being the dominants) but the relationality created when they are arranged. This nexus of meaning, sound and relationality becomes especially pronounced when Coolidge arrives at “ohm.” This is a “fuzzy, resistant word,” presumably so in part because of its denotative status as a unit of electrical resistance (and even, perhaps, from its proximity to the mantra “Om”), in part because of its sound properties (the long “o” linking it to “code,” the nasal “m” linking it to “ounce” and “orange”), and in part because of its ability to enter into relationships, “hanging down there” and “affecting” the verbal and phonic space. Likewise, the articles “a” and “the,” though not themselves particularly dense words, nevertheless create relational vectors when combined with the nouns above and below them, less because of their semantic distinction (indefinite versus definite) and more because of their sound properties or possibilities (or impossibilities: “You can’t say ‘a ounce’ or ‘a orange,’ practically. You can say ‘a code’”). The long “i”s in the poems last word, “trilobite,” could make the word the lightest or brightest in the poem, but for Coolidge it is “angular, uneven, heavy” because of its sound and sense. The word seems to confound him: “What are you going to do with it?... it’s like a clinker,” which is itself a kind of indefinable, onomatopoetic word, suggesting that while “trilobite” can never escape its denotation, it can never be reduced to it either. The poem becomes the field in which energies are released through the placement, sound and sense of words.
    These “constellation poems” typify only one of several kinds of language experiments Coolidge undertakes in Space, and I cannot undertake a full taxonomy of them here. But before discussing another exemplary text from Space, I want to look back to an uncollected series of poems called the “Bond Sonnets,” published in the Summer 1965 issue of the Insect Trust Gazette. Coolidge refers to the “Bond Sonnets” as an example of work that he undertook beginning in 1962 in “chance/cut-ups etc.” (Stations 30), compositional approaches he seems to have largely abandoned in Space, as suggested by a passage in the Friction interview:

...those little constellation poems in Space... come very close to the feeling of the kind of indeter... I can’t say indeterminacy because they weren’t made at all that way.... those were very carefully composed in the sense of having really looked at all those words and sounded them and thought about them and put them in proximity (11)

I want to look back at this example of Coolidge’s earlier compositional methods for several reasons. First, the “Bond Sonnets” have not to my knowledge received any treatment in the critical literature to date. Second, they show him exploring the kinds of disjunctiveness that many other poets associated with the New York School were working with at the time; but they also have features that distinguish them from the work of other writers, and that point in directions taken later in Space.
    As an example, here is the fifth of the eighteen “Bond Sonnets”:

kicked by clutching suit down
change ones bomb body fight
exercise now supercargo danger farewell
side done back hour torch

detonator Yeah of boat tail
they plain souvenirs fellow Largo
that recognise satisfied information crew
will with entrance out about

emerald road coral there lead
moon change weakness get sniff
pilot bacon going no wanted

lungs square threshold supreme time
inflated triangle clumsily sat Bond
cabinet James cottagey pain movement[see note 10]

Using a fourteen-line form with five words per line, Coolidge collages verbal material heavy in nouns and adjectives into a syntactically disjointed construction. The compositional units appear rarely to be longer than an individual word or two. Additionally, words like “supercargo,” “boat,” “crew,” “coral,” and “pilot” evoke a nautical field of reference, while “bomb,” “danger,” and “detonator” evoke a sense of terrorism or espionage. A similar lexicon runs through the entire sequence: “captain,” “sonar,” “stern,” “Admiralty,” “lifebuoy,” “outboard,” “subs,” “yacht,” “scuttle,” “ships,” and “dinghy” from a nautical lexicon; “cutthroat,” “detection,” “weapons,” “governments,” “communist,” “culprit,” “C.I.A.,” “comrades,” “mobilization” and “torpedoes” from the espionage lexicon. The name “James” makes its only appearance in the sequence in this sonnet, while “Thunderball” appears in another poem, leaving one to suspect that the source text is an Ian Fleming novel. (Thunderball was published in 1961, and the film of the same name released in 1965.)[see note 11]
    While the chance operations Coolidge uses yield a highly disjunctive text, this sonnet shows little arrangement or density in the sense he subsequently gives it, and not simply because the poem is in a fixed form. The collaged fragments are rather static and do not act upon each other; whatever movement exists in these lines is generated primarily by the linear flow of alternating mono- and polysyllabic words rather than over and across lines via sound-related vectors. There are no sound clusters here as there are in “ounce code orange.” Furthermore, the word stock in the “Bond Sonnets” does not have a high proportion of particularly dense words; it appears to be determined more by its thematic or denotative resonances than sound — even if those denotations do not readily yield a paraphrasable content. As Coolidge himself puts it in his interview with Ed Foster (referring in general to his early work in chance procedures and cut-ups), “it didn’t have enough energy somehow.”[see note 12]
    If we compare this collaged sonnet with similar examples of collage in fixed forms by Ted Berrigan and Kenneth Koch — members of different generations of the New York School with which Coolidge was often aligned at this stage in his work — it will become clear that though Coolidge was not alone in using such a disjunctive compositional approach, there are important stylistic differences. My first example will be Berrigan’s Sonnets, a text composed primarily in spring 1963 and published a year later — roughly when the “Bond Sonnets” were written. The Sonnets achieves much of its power from the cumulative effect of accretion, as individual compositional units are collaged and begin to reemerge in the contexts of new poems. It is difficult to choose one exemplary Berrigan sonnet, so I will consider one which demonstrates a high degree of disjunctiveness:

This excitement to be all of night, Henry!
Elvis Peering-Eye danced with Carol Clifford, high,
Contrived whose leaping herb edifies Kant! I’ll bust!
Smile! “Got rye in this’n?”
Widow Dan sold an eye t’meander an X. Whee! Yum!
Pedant tore her bed! Tune, hot! Full cat saith why foo?
“Tune hot full cat?” “No! nexus neck ink!
All moron (on) while “weighed in fur pal!” “Ah’m Sun!”
Dayday came to get her daddy. “Daddy,”
Saith I to Dick in the verge, (In the Verge!)
And “gee” say I, “Easter” “fur” “few tears” “Dick!”
My Carol now a museum! “O, Ma done fart!” “Less full
Cat,” she said, “One’s there!” “Now cheese, ey?”
“Full cat wilted, bought ya a pup!” “So, nose excitement?”[see note 13]

Many of the materials Berrigan has collaged here are unique to this poem and thus do not accrue resonances from other poems in the book. Additionally, many familiar landmarks of The Sonnets— the recurring lines and motifs, the fixing of time and place, the sayings and activities of friends and poets living and deceased — seem to be absent from this piece. Names like “Henry,” “Dick,” “Carol” and “Widow Dan” act here more as placeholders than persons, and the quotation marks suggest a conversation of sorts. Thus familiar elements from the sequence are indeed present, but the compositional process has deformed them almost beyond recognition. Berrigan’s 1982 annotations to a typescript of The Sonnets, included in Alice Notley’s notes to the new edition, shed light onto the deforming process used in this poem: “see line 1: This sex I meant to be a love night and real, whispered I, etc.  Made up by me — a poem written in phonetics. . .” (83). The sonnet is thus an English-to-English homophonic translation of a prior (and only partially recoverable) Berrigan text. The sound-play of the translation process gives the deformed sonnet a striking playfulness of content. High and low culture mingle, for example, as the leaping herb of Elvis or Carol Clifford edifies Kant; archaic diction (“Saith I to Dick”) collides with domestic flatulence (“O, Ma done fart!”) and other mundanities. Even the “full cat” that recurs as a kind of unifying figure throughout the excitement is contradicted by one of the speakers: “Tune, hot! Full cat saith why foo? / ‘Tune hot full cat?’ ‘No! nexus neck ink!’” In those lines, and in other phrases such as “Dayday came to get her daddy” or the exclamations “Whee! Yum!,” the play of sound is as central to the excitement of the poem as anything else.
    Aside from their use of the same form, how does Berrigan’s sonnet XXVI compare with Coolidge’s fifth “Bond Sonnet”? First of all, whereas Coolidge rarely uses a compositional unit longer than a single word or two, Berrigan tends to work in phrasal units (as opposed to other of his sonnets, which recycle whole lines and parts of lines within individual poems and across the book). At the same time, however, in the instances where he works with contracted words such as “this’n,” “t’meander,” and “A’hm,” Berrigan begins to approach the morphemic focus found in sections of Space (particularly the fourth). Second, Berrigan demonstrates here an attunement to the sound properties of words — in the insistence of “n”s and short vowels in “nexus neck ink,” the repetitions of “fur” and “verge” — that the “Bond Sonnets” do not, but which will become increasingly crucial for Coolidge in the course of Space. Finally, the two poems’ range of reference and tone differ quite substantially. Coolidge is limited in the “Bond Sonnets” to his Thunderball material, whereas Berrigan retains, in spite of the deformative collage, a kind of non- or trans-sensical conversationalism in which speech-registers excitedly and comically collide.
    Another example of a collage process in a fixed form, Koch’s When the Sun Tries to Go On, predates Berrigan and Coolidge’s poems; it was completed in 1953 but not published until 1960 (as the only issue of Alfred Leslie’s one-off journal The Hasty Papers), and was finally reprinted by Black Sparrow in 1969 with illustrations by Larry Rivers. This is the first of the 100 24-line poems that comprise the book:

And, with a shout, collecting coat-hangers
Dour rebus, conch, hip,
Ham, the autumn day, oh how genuine!
Literary frog, catch-all boxer, O
Real! The magistrate, say “group,” bower, undies
Disk, poop, “Timon of Athens.” When
The bugle shimmies, how glove towns!
It’s Merrimac, bends, and pure gymnasium
Impy keels! The earth desks, madmen
Impose a shy (oops) broken tube’s child
Land! why are your bandleaders troops
Of is? Honk, can the mailed rose
Gesticulate? Arm the paper arm!
Bind up the chow in its lintel of sniff.
Rush the pilgrims, destroy tobacco, pool
The dirty beautiful jingling pyjamas, at
Last beside the stove-drum-preventing oyster,
The “Caesar” of tower dins, the cold’s “I’m
A dear.” O bed, at which I used to sneer at.
Bringing cloth. O song, “Dusted Hoops!” He gave
A dish of. The bear, that sound of pins, O French
Ice-cream! balconies of deserted snuff! The hills are
Very underwear, and near “to be”
An angel is shouting, “Wilder baskets!”[see note 14]

Koch’s primarily phrase-based units are closer in length to those of Berrigan than Coolidge. The interjection of quotations into Koch’s piece also resembles Berrigan’s, with an important difference: whereas Berrigan’s quotations retain a modicum of conversationality, Koch’s blend of statements (“I’m a dear”) with stylized apostrophes (“O / Real!,” “O Song,” ‘Dusted Hoops!’” and “O bed”) lend his piece a tone of archness or aloofness, a distancing from the materials at hand. Berrigan, on the other hand, is excitedly, even intimately close to his materials. Even the name references reveal this difference in tone: Berrigan makes frequent references to personal friends and famous figures from high and low culture, but the references in Koch’s poem are exclusively to high cultural figures (Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens,” “Caesar”; the parody of Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H.: “Doors, where my heart was used to beat / So quickly, waiting for a hand”). These differences aside, however, Koch (like Berrigan) shows moments of acute attention to the sounds of words, especially in lines like “Dour rebus, conch, hip, / ham” (diphthongs and long vowels giving way to hard, short-voweled monoyllables), “say ‘group,’ bower, undies, / Disk, poop” (“o” sounds persisting through interruptions of short vowels and hard consonants) and “Bind up the chow in its lintel of sniff” (the long “i” modulating through a string of monosyllables into the short “i”s).
    It would seem then that, in spite of their differences, the texts of Berrigan and Koch are much closer to each other than the “Bond Sonnets” are to them. Their source materials are richer, their tonal registers more varied, their sound awareness more pronounced. And this would be true had Coolidge’s compositional approaches remained at the level of the “Bond Sonnets” — which they did not, as “ounce code orange” shows. But those “constellation poems” in the third section of Space are compositions of quite a different order from Berrigan’s and Koch’s, making comparisons between them something akin to that of apples and oranges. Space does, however, contain other work that meets Berrigan’s and Koch’s more on their own terms — in a kind of half-way step between the “Bond Sonnets” and “ounce code orange” — and that achieves, in terms of arrangement and density, something Berrigan and Koch do not. Here is “Gobi,” included in Space and also The So: Poems 1966, which came out a year after Space:

columnar mufflered huffs    in kelt spit back
top o the morph echo           lifters chaff chapters flue
be Ned ’nd cuff        like mild falls in                       clastic mates
and drop and tip it        laughter     mad calfs             lies & nut
false    side mud pliers     monk girl     window
careen & back in car whites & stew      pen     glyphs puff
bare           lights lights          none fell so
    good bad

rotten            onion owl & morning         meow      cars & pin home
rat flange            a runner nearing recent sinter    Elba
ovoid of fat block        calcium              wheat                rims
pinch          pints           tile ape ketch          rent or ramp if

on         said           gone           fell        smear         flew
    clear        bell           pawn        fed                true row (18)

While the collaged units here — in what, depending on how you count lines, could very well be considered a sonnet — are short phrases and single words similar to what we find in the “Bond Sonnets,” the range of reference is much broader and allows Coolidge to create resistances between words that would not be found together in any ordinary kind of usage. Compared to Berrigan and Koch, Coolidge’s poem uses a shorter compositional unit. The ranges of reference of the three poems are roughly commensurate, but Coolidge’s tone differs from Berrigan’s and Koch’s in a way that is rather difficult to characterize. “Gobi” lacks the archness of Koch and is closer to Berrigan’s suggestions of the everyday: cars, mufflers, laughter, stew, onions, and if not a “tune full cat,” at least a “meow.” “Gobi,” “Ned,” and “Elba” are Coolidge’s only suggestions of person or place, and “top o the morph echo” might be echoing a familiar British Isles greeting, but there is little in “Gobi’s” denotative field that serves to ground such references. Coolidge is not “close to” these materials as Berrigan is; nor is he ironically detached in the manner of Koch. “Gobi” has a more neutral detachment of tone.
    The real distinction of “Gobi,” however, is that from the very first line, and with an insistence that Berrigan and Koch approach but do not fully realize, sound is leading sense here. The words operate through their sound qualities more than anything else, through the densities of vowels and consonant blends: “u,” “f,” and “l” in “columnar mufflered huffs,” the short vowels and consonant blends in “kelt spit back,” the short and long “i”s and nasal blends in “rims pinch pints.” The sonic insistence of “f” is captured in no less than five different graphic configurations (“f,” “ff,” “gh,” “lf,” and “ph”). The arrangement of these sounds creates relational vectors within and across lines. Unlike the way words adhere to one another in “ounce code orange,” here the vectors operate something like a bebop drumming pattern, with the predominant horizontal flow of monosyllables functioning like the ride cymbal by setting up a regular, sustained temporal shimmer, while the dense word sounds offer a vertical, punctuating counter-rhythm like the bass drum. In “Gobi,” Coolidge is riffing on the rhythms and sounds of language.
    This is I think one of the primary achievements of Coolidge’s early poetics: to have tapped into a kind of verbal energy that the cut-up procedures of the “Bond Sonnets” lack and that is latent in the Berrigan and Koch poems. This latency becomes more apparent when one “deforms” the latter poems in a manner suggested by Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann, who, in a recent essay, have proposed “deformative criticism” as “a highly regulated method for disordering the senses of a text” through which “we are brought to a critical position in which we can imagine things about the text that we did not and perhaps could not otherwise know.”[see note 15] If we pare down the Berrigan and Koch poems in an attempt to arrange their denser materials, the results not only bear a closer resemblance to Space, but allow us to see a different order informing the texts:

an eye          t’meander
       nexus                      neck    ink
in the                    verge fur
            few   tears


a shout          dour rebus
conch       hip         ham           bower
how glove towns             impy keels
lintel of sniff          tower         dins a
sound of            dish pins

Coolidge’s concentration on sound, relationality, and denotative resistances is thus already implicit in Berrigan and Koch; Coolidge has simply foregrounded those qualities and carried them to the next logical step.
    The other significant achievements of Space are, first, the exploration of arrangement and density below the level of the word to the phoneme itself in, for example, “A D,” the 20-page poem that concludes both Ing and Space. (It was not an area Coolidge would pursue as extensively as later poets such as David Melnick and P. Inman.) Second, “A D” and other longer poems and sequences from Ing hint at a serial approach to composition; they suggest how arrangement and density are beginning to function for Coolidge beyond the individual page at the level of the book, a development that led to his long poems The Maintains and Polaroid.[see note 16]

Photo of Tom Orange

Tom Orange is a Lecturer and the Undergraduate Studies Coordinator in the English Department at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He is currently working on a book-length study of Clark Coolidge as a central figure between New American and Language poetries. He coordinates a monthly reading series at the District of Columbia Arts Center, and a chapbook of his poems is due out from Edge Books this year.

A version of this essay was presented at “The Opening of the Field: A Conference on North American Poetry of the 1960s,” held at the University of Maine (Orono) in the summer of 2000. My thanks to all those who participated in the panel or otherwise helped further this project along, including Burton Hatlen, Steve Evans, Karen Mac Cormack, Kathleen Fraser, Barrett Watten, Nate Dorward, and Mark Wallace.
1. New York: Harper and Row, 1970. Subsequent page citations appear parenthetically within the text. Under the aegis of editor Fran McCullough, Harper and Row brought out works by a number of poets broadly identifiable with the second generation New York School, including Tom Clark, Dick Gallup, Allan Kaplan, and Ron Padgett. See Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960–1980 (New York: Granary Books, 1998), 192-93. McCullough also brought out Kathleen Fraser’s first book-length collection What I Want in 1974. Shortly after this, however, according to Fraser, “I heard from an agent friend of mine (who had inside contacts at H&R) that even though Fran had been nominated/ selected as one of the top young editors in NYC, she was nevertheless subtly nudged-out.... [They] took away all her advertising budget so that her younger unconventional poets (versus, say, Robert Bly and William Stafford, their money-making staples) — and the other more edgey prose writers she’d brought in to the H&R ‘stable’ — got little if any advertising support. This resulted in low sales figures for Fran’s younger authors, which the people in Sales blamed on her lack of market acumen. . . a tactic to unload all of the innovative poetry by younger authors” (email from Kathleen Fraser dated July 10, 2000).
2. Bruce Campbell, “Clark Coolidge”. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 193 “American Poets Since World War II,” ed. Joseph Conte (Detroit: Gale Research, 1998), 57.
3. See the “Chronology” provided for Stations 5 (Winter 1978): A Symposium on Clark Coolidge, ed. Ron Silliman: “Poems in Space were written mainly from 1966–68, a few from 1965” (30). Subsequently referred to as Stations with page citations appearing parenthetically within the text.
4. “Arrangement,” in Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute, ed. Anne Waldman and Marilyn Webb (Boulder and London: Shambhala, 1978), 144. Subsequent page citations appear parenthetically within the text.
5. Charles Olson, “Projective Verse,” in Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1967), 16.
6. The Young American Poets, ed. Paul Carroll (Chicago: Follett, 1968), 149.
7. Davies, “Clark Coolidge: Don’t Know Mind” (Stations, 10); Campbell, 56; Watten, Total Syntax (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), 92; “An Interview with Clark Coolidge,” Friction 7 (Summer 1984), 11.
8. Bernstein, Content’s Dream: Essays 1975–1984 (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1984), 263. This is a slightly revised version of his own contribution to the Stations symposium.
9. Watten discusses this passage in Total Syntax, 93-94. This portion of the “Arrangement” talk was included in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E 8 (June 1979) and In the American Tree, ed. Ron Silliman (Orono ME, National Poetry Foundation, 1986, 553-54) and should thus be construed as having definite impact on “Language writing,” the precise nature of which cannot be taken up here.
10. Coolidge, “Bond Sonnets,” Insect Trust Gazette 2 (Summer 1965), 55.
11. Coolidge recently confirmed this suspicion: “‘The Bond Sonnets’ was an entirely chance work, generated by a random number system from the pages of (I think you’re right) Thunderball” (letter from Coolidge dated 17 July 2000).
12. Postmodern Poetry: The Talisman Interviews, ed. Edward Foster (Hoboken, NJ: Talisman House, 1994), 21.
13. Ted Berrigan, The Sonnets (New York: Penguin, 2000), 23. Subsequent page citations appear parenthetically within the text.
14. Kenneth Koch, On the Great Atlantic Rainway: Selected Poems 1950–1988 (New York: Knopf, 1994), 17.
15. Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann. “Deformance and Interpretation.” New Literary History 30.1 (1999), 36.
16. A longer version of this essay, which will continue the discussion of Coolidge’s early work through The Maintains and Polaroid, will be available online in Jacket 15 in December 2001 (

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