At 12:52 AM 4/19/99 -0400, you wrote: A Barnard Report: (as reconstituted by two participants, Logan Esdale and Linda Russo)
If you read Logan's email to this effect last week, this will look familiar in places, but I thought I'd post it with my lengthy additions and large gossip-ready doses for interested parties.
LE: A couple weeks back an announcement was posted for a conference held at Barnard College April 8-10, "Where Lyric Tradition Meets Language Poetry: Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry by Women." If you stare long enough at this title you might imagine some of the issues that were discussed. It was apparent that some people brought papers written specifically for this conference, or for this title, and again & again attention went to 3 words there--Lyric, Language and innovation. The definitions of each word were cracked open, mulled etc. The program for the main two days (Friday & Saturday) was solid and continuous, so I skipped some of the panels and readings for food, and some of that culture NY has in excess (of Buffalo and all its minions). Most panels had 3 sessions simultaneously (each session 3-4 talks). With that number and heavy editing, what follows is really just a fraction of the action.
LR: We both missed the Kick-Off Event, a reading with Barbara Guest and Jorie Graham, introduced by Susan Wheeler. It might have been enlightening to witness this event; Susan Wheeler was to come up as a sort of exemplary "meeting" figure in Lynn Keller's response at Saturday's post keynote (Marjorie Perloff) roundtable. And the pairing of Guest and Graham was to come to represent some sort of schism of lineage, especially in light of what was to unfold during Friday's afternoon 8-poets-on-their-poetics roundtable. The significance of this pairing is evident in Panel 1 (each panel consisted of three separate sessions): "On Jorie Graham," "On Barbara Guest," and "Opening a Community: Women Writers at the Poetry Project." (There was also another panel on Barbara Guest on Saturday, as well as panels on Lucie Brock-Broido, Brenda Hillman, Alice Notley, Harryette Mullen, Susan Howe, and Lyn Hejinian and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge.) I suspect that some affiliations were made evident by the attendance at these two opening/opposing panels (Graham/Guest). I attended the latter Poetry Project panel, which, as it turns out, was the only one that spoke to the concerns of the 'younger' generation of women poets. Marcella Durand began by explaining why they had formed the panel, perhaps why they felt it was relevant to the conference, by noting that there have been many women associated with St. Mark's, that it's a public and identifiable space, associated with the mimeo revolution and the women's movement. Pragreeta Sharma spoke first; "Notions of Ethnicity: Creating a Poetic Community"; her mode was autobiographical, a poetic expository: structured loosely around a few central ideas (the sense of community fostered by the project, how that has helped shape of her poetic identity, ethnicity being on of her many identities, and 'lunacy'). A quote from Bernadette Mayer's _Utopia_ was to serve as a touchstone, something about "civilization means I'm not a lunatic." A strange shared lunacy is an idealism of sorts, lunacy in terms of writing means not opposition, but difference, and a sensitivity to the world, of a complicated self wrapped in identities (plural). Sharma proceeded in a sort of thematic spiral: ideas were not driven through, but picked up and carried to another place, to be picked up and recombined with another idea and carried to another place, etc. At St. Mark's, it's the writing, she stressed, that fosters the community, which is non-exclusive (supportive of many kinds of poets and poetries and poetics) and social. She was "amazed at the community built around something so abstract" and offered St. Mark's as a model place, locating 3 elements in particular: 1. the actual project, 2. women's participation, and 3. the fostering/supporting of artistic investigations in a cultural (urban?) context. What struck me most about Sharma's talk was her point that St. Mark's offered her support, a dialogue, outside the academy; that it was a non-institutional space that fostered non-institutional (as in a variety of?) ideas, and she cited the Poetry Project Newsletter as a representation of this. Now, the Poetry Project Newsletter is one of the best poetry newsletters around but it *is* institutional, in that its purpose, as a representation of what goes on there, is to serve a definite membership/readership, and in that sense its obligation is to insure continued financial support. It is also, as Sharma pointed out, part of the community dialogue that goes on there, and that, perhaps is its greatest strength: it serves the immediate community while also serving the interest of poetry in many places (as via its reviews, articles, the regional updates, etc.). Hold this thought.
Kimberly Lyons spoke next, "A Retrospective of Experimental Women's Writing" ; she claimed that a look at the history of the project revealed "bravado and diversity," two characteristics that well-define Lyons' talk: she spoke quickly and enegertically, and citing along the way many facts and quotes and touching on many issues. I have in my notes "experimental/explanatory fashion to express her connection" and I'm not sure if that's something she said or that I thought, but it sums it up pretty well. She touched on women 's roles at the project, as presences, editors, teachers and administrators, noting that this gave direction to the writing that was coming out of the project. Barbara Barg's comment that "the 'male gaze' was 'stupid stuff said by men'" illustrated the sort of backdrop women had to define themselves amidst. It's also an example of St. Mark's healthy humorous skepticism towards potentially stolid or overly academic feminist theorizing. (On Saturday Eileen Myles commented to Anne Waldman [both having just arrived to attend the last event: Armantrout, Hejinian and Mullen's reading] in the elevator "I think these is where they meet.") Lyons then, to "honor presences and projects," read a list of names, noted that currently young men are supportive of experimental women, and that there is a continuous concern with how experimental writing has put gender identity in flux, but that innovative women writers still have to mediate certain pressures. She then read a list of women writers involved at the PP in the 70s, to "put names out there in a receptive auditory space," a sort of geneological celebration of the people involved in various ways, whose lives and writing intersected at various points (as editors, or in terms of 'writing life experimentally'). An interesting fact: the list of readings that have occurred at the PP since the 1960s exceeds 200 pages. According to Lyons poetry circulates in "ways that are uncapturable and unanalyzable."
Durand's talk did in a sense directly counter this claim, her premise being that the Project provides women writers a unique particular space in which to write and publish. She presented more of a materialist history, accounting for how the project developed from a boy's club, and how it incorporated leftist ideas into actual practice. Her talk was very focussed and included a number of interesting examples and diversions. She listed a slew of Project-associated women-edited publications, noting that the inclusion of women at the project mirrored the larger concerns of the community. She cited some eyebrow-arching anecdotes (Ted Berrigan noting he had a competitive eye on Ed Sanders, Berrigan's comment that Lenore Kandel couldn't be that good because she's a woman, etc.) and quoted an equally provocative passage from an early anthology of women poets, _Femora_, in which the male editor claimed that the poets therein were "not over feminine, or over-lesbianized," and noted too the oft-mentioned exclusion of Barbara Guest from Padgett's New York School Anthology, as this had fueled Eileen Myles to edit her own anthology (_The Ladies Museum_). Durand also gave a brief introduction to the mimeo revolution and some of its tenets, discussing the very concrete ways in which it contributed to the 'sense of community' at the Project. She quoted Ginsberg as saying 'the important decisions are made at parties and there should really be more parties' to get at the more social sense of St. Mark's, and, illustrating the focus on production, cited Maureen Owen's rousing call to take control, get it down, get it out. Durand noted that a large part of the project has been the conversation that's been carried on in publishing.
The three together provided a well rounded sense of the project, from the abstract sense of 'formative community,' 'conversation,' and 'space' to the practice of 'forming one's identities as a poet,' to the material intersection of these in the small press, although, oddly I thought, there seemed to be little crossover among the three talks; each fitted somewhat snugly up against the next. If the conversation carried on through publishing was a continuation of the dialogues that occurred in that space, then why was it that what got published was for the most part poetry? Aren' t there other sorts of conversations that go on, that other stuff poets talk about in and around reading their poems, i.e. poetics? I asked why those dialogues didn't make it into print along with the poems, Lyons answered that those conversations occurred where people were hanging out and no one thought to write them down. One can see very well where the impulse comes from historically: those mimeo revolution little magazines of the 60s and 70s that served a tight-knit community -- St. Mark's for example -- where the dialogues that contextualized and realized the work were, literally, "in the air" so that they didn't need to be "in the ink." This is certainly one of the strengths of St. Mark's -- it's an actual place where people can meet and events can occur -- its little magazines (like _The World_, itself a child of the mimeo revolution) serves that tight-knit community, and those interested in it, by sharing the poems that are a result of so much contact. But I was lead to wonder in what way this fostered dialogue in what is today a much larger poetic space, where poets can't always be at the place where things happen, where individual accolades often cross over, and where there are individuals who don't belong to accolades but who access and publish in magazines (via this list for example).
Anyway, all that being said Panel I ran overtime, and I had just time to slip in on the last paper of Panel II, which Logan caught the whole of.
LE: Panel II included "On Language Theory," a somewhat disappointing session since 2 of 3 talks were decidedly out of league with the 3rd, Bob Perelman' s, but made up for by the fact that "language theory" was a topic that eternally returned throughout the conference. Cal Bedient, prof. at UCLA, said beforehand to someone that he was going to attack Leslie Scalapino's "aesthetic theory," but seemed to me only to misrepresent Scalapino's work, I think by misunderstanding it, but I'm not sure. Later in the conference Rachel Blau DuPlessis, in a willful statement of (her) poetics, usefully defined cultural or poetical hegemony as that which need not *know* the opposition in order to operate. We (Language) have to know them (Lyric), but they not us. Bedient later in a roundtable with Rachel and Lynn Keller confirmed his stance in the Lyric tradition (I never really understood how this was a tradition -- can someone help me?), but here he wanted to read a progression in Scalapino's work from Language-centered to Lyric. He did this in such a way, I felt, that suggested women never felt comfortable in Language, and naturally ended up in Lyric, where they belonged in the first place. Scalapino may well write lyric poetry, but Bedient's talk was condescending, to her & to us. The other talk (Joshua Weiner) tried to say "this-Language" "that-Lyric" in Heather McHugh's poetry, arguing finally for some weird happy medium. (This strategy was used more by those on the Lyric *side,* and produced Flat readings of whomever the victim.)
LR: presenter Joshua Weiner quoted these lines of McHugh's: "the poem is for something and the world is small I'll give you that" - but the world is not small! This resonated with Mary Margaret Sloan's sense of the lyric as the poem of 'dominion' (an idea she fleshed out in her talk on Saturday), the sense that the range of the poet's/I's experience is the only necessary range, that the poem encompasses that range but doesn't go beyond it. That' s perhaps why the world seems small. I'm quoting out of context which probably isn't fair but this similarity struck me.
LE: Perelman called convincingly for recognition of Rae Armantrout's books as some of the best in the last 25 yrs. He said she learned much from the Objectivists about cutting away, or starting without, decorative language. Exactitude and Precision. On Saturday she gave a terrific reading, which was given with wry wit and an intensity that was compelling.
LR: for Panel III both Logan and I presented in different sessions, mine being "On Poetics of Production," my co-panelists being Caroline Crumpacker and Rebecca Woolf, who split between them a talk on modernist women editors and publishers. Crumpacker's talk was interesting, largely historical and anecdotal; Woolf's was similarly styled, departing towards the end in her address to her vision for the literary magazine she edits, _Fence_ (of which Caroline is a also an editor), in relation particularly to Harriet Monroe's editorship of _Poetry_. Woolf stated that _Fence_'s goal is to bring poetry to a "general audience." This was interesting in contrast to what I had just heard about the very particular community of St. Mark's, and set me thinking about to what extent editors do or don't envision, problematize or idealize, their audience; and as to just *how* so-called conversations and dialogues get translated via the particularities of that vision. What interested me about Woolf's talk was that it pointed to the moment the conference as a whole also pointed to, a moment of meeting and its implied conflict or consensus, which was also a moment of re-evaluation, of taking a look at what's available and what, in that context, *we* as poets and poetry-readers value and why. The magazine _Fence_ itself is a product of this moment, as it portends to not print what the editors feel to be the *best* poems, but those that represent a range of poetic practice, in order, as Rebecca explained it to me, to bring more radical poetries within the intellectual range of a general readership. This seemed to be, at least in part, what some wanted out of this meeting - a redefinition of innovation so as to make innovative poetry that which is also accessible poetry. But this issue of Production, of who gets to read what and for what purpose, is an issue I wish the conference as a whole could have addressed better, by perhaps taking a step or two back and looking at the way the current situation was envisioned - lyric tradition meeting language. Or by noticing the way in which participants *met*, which was in panels that addressed either side of the envisioned meeting as clustered around a particular poet, rather than a particular practice or ideology (except for the epistolary panel, which focused on Mayer, Hejinian and Scalapino, and a panel called "Multivocal Poetics" which I didn't see). We might have been encouraged to scrutinize what we perhaps *can't* see, but which nonetheless determines what we do come into contact with, which Duplessis termed hegemony, and located in a very material concern: the system of awards that get distributed, a system which has been very generous to Jorie Graham, for example, who's won just about every major prize there is and is taking a cushy faculty position at Harvard. As far as I can tell, Rachel was the only one who addressed this issue, and she was doing it to the effect of pointing out some basic material iniquities, another instance of a system which is invariably unfair as it sees fit (The Academy of American Poet's recent change in chancellorship can only be read as a response to the heat turned up on its ingrained and inbred award-granting). Rachel's point was later dismissed to me in conversation as "that generation of women language poets being jealous because they haven't received the recognition they deserve, and at their age that has an especial sting." To which I can only respond they have every right to be angry, if that's what the response is. But I don't think it is, especially coming from DuPlessis who is a well known poet and critic with a tenured position at Temple University, and who seemed to be a very happy person otherwise (happiest maybe when she was arguing her point!).
LE: Camps set and chosen, a roundtable gathered in the afternoon to work these Lyric v. Language issues further. 8 women: Armantrout, Hejinian, Hillman, Guest, Ann Lauterbach, Brock-Broido, Mullen, and Graham (in order at the table). Each gave a 10 min. statement and discussion ensued. I wished I had a Graham book because I wanted to throw one, maybe even at her. She might then have sensed the materiality of things, but probably not. She was defensive, arrogant, posing.
LR: My favorite part was how she put herself in this 'outsider' position - though she persisted and got the 'last word' when it came down to who would be the final respondent, herself or Guest. She responded to the applause for Guest with "that certainly sounded like the last word to me" - and then, during the Q & A, persistently and aggressively spoke for the whole panel, literally, saying things like "I'm sure everyone will agree with me when I say . . ." and "I'm sure no one on this panel would . . ." etc.
LE: Both she and Brock-Broido felt cornered by the table, and maybe even the audience (it was hard to tell who of the 250~ was there for what reason), and staunchly defended poems as solid as oaks, as beautiful as _______. Armantrout furthered Perelman's reading of her work by pointing to Dickinson and WCW, and the practice of making Things hold up their end of the conversation. Harryette Mullen spoke passionately, perhaps in M.L. King's vein, about wishing to write a poetry for herself, and others, for those not yet born, and for the illiterate. It's possible that the focus of the conference was ultimately on Mullen, on the question of race in contemporary poetry (her reading closed the conference). Perloff later dedicated a good part of her talk to Mullen's work. Perloff's work is usually a touchstone (avant-critic), so we might get ready to watch Mullen's reach expand. Barbara Guest said "I don't think there's a poem that's not experimental."
LR: Guest's talk was by the way brilliant. She started off by saying she hadn't prepared anything, but took a few notes as others were speaking, and then proceeded to give this great, inspiring talk, as if, after so many years of thinking about poetry, it was all in her head and her heart and it just came out beautifully.
LE: Brock-Broido said we should not lift a word we cannot hold. Does word precede world (Language), or world precede word (Lyric)? Questions from the audience, 2 directions. 1. Can't we all just get along? 2. Why not, since you're all here, hash out some of the radical differences in poetries?
LR: There was a sense that what they were asked to do was too general (to speak of their poetics) so a few in the audience landed on some specific things to talk about, which brought out moments of difference; On beauty/perfection: Hejinian: "I like mess I'm not interested in perfection it's beyond me." She compared herself to Brock-Broido, saying something about all of them being real poets, united by their passion about poetry (this all agreed on), but asserting that that they'd (Lyn and Lucie) drive each other crazy if they sat down and talked; Lyn called her poetry "beautiful but twisted" and Lucie returned a sort of blank, diplomatic stare, and said "I'm looking for infinity but I'm seeing finity and I'm settling with it." One response Ann Lauterbach made was "Language poetry, that moment happened quite a while ago. It's not that we want to be polite, but that the points of disagreement are now less under contention and more something like absorbed," to which Mary Margaret Sloan, in the audience, replied, "I don't agree with that. People have staked their whole lives in order to establish a poetics that means something to them. All of you are poets; it's not about that," but there was a general sense of complacency about the fact that they were all there, that this panel was in some way a legitimizing moment that outweighed their personal/aesthetic histories/differences. As if to top it all off, DuPlessis asked from the audience if they'd be willing to speak to how, in the spirit of the conference, the fact of gender has intervened in the dissemination and reception of their work, and someone responded "we'd prefer not to speak of gender," and no one dissented.
LE: Charles Altieri seemed to feel most of the Language poets were repressing the importance of "passion" and "will." Hejinian responded with the obvious (note my adverbs above), that she didn't know what the hell he was saying.
LR: This lead to a very funny, sort of ridiculous moment where, after Graham asserted that she said passion and wrote down emotion, a few people looked back over their notes and said "I mentioned 'passion'" or "I mentioned it but in a different vocabulary"(Rae?) and Hillman said she was going to use the word twice in her reading that night, and one woman in the audience stood up and read from her notebook to attest to Guest's having said passion twice. I loved the literal response to the charge: the turning to the very material for evidence; apparently Lauterbach took exception, exclaiming, "We don't need to protest ideas of attachment and descend into a trivialization of the consciousness we all aspire to." Some else protested (Rae? Lyn?) to the idea that idea and emotion had to be separate. These talks were recorded by the way; I hope someone publishes them.
LE: Saturday morning (Panel I) had a terrific session on the importance of the epistolary in Mayer and Hejinian (Anne Brewster, Lee Ann Brown, Katherine Fagan, Stephen Cope). Most interesting was talk of archiving in the last 10 yrs. Hejinian sold her archives to UCSD 10-12 yrs ago, as have others, both there and here at Buffalo, and she talked (she was in the audience) about the fact that some of the people she corresponded with, like Carla Harryman (who was right beside her), asked that their letters to Lyn be destroyed or returned. Just where the line between private and public falls was very much at issue, since, as in Fagan's talk, archived letters (Hejinian's) can quickly become public or published material.
LR: I thought Panel I was terrific as well; really interesting issues, well thought-out papers. Cope, who works in the archive at UCSD, argued for a new approach to the epistolary, convincingly I thought, that would move away from the public/private binary to consider issues of desire and the 'mothering' of texts, the sort of 'mothering' relationship between sender and receiver, etc.
LE: Later (Panel II) Craig Dworkin spoke of language as a paranoid system, wonderfully performing some of the talk's content. While reminding us, in his own words, of Plato's Phaedrus, which includes the story of the gift of writing (non-mimetic memory), Dworkin shifted to his paper, noting that he "always forgot how the last part went." Paranoia -- a systemized suspicion that everything is connected - as reading methodology, or condition of the (nervous) critic. Are you paranoid enough? His source text was Hejinian's Writing is an Aid to Memory. On the spot again, Hejinian applauded the usefulness of this concept, but cautioned against using real illness as a metaphor.
LR: I sat in on "On Publishing Anthologies" for Panel II, with Annie Finch giving an autobiographical account "On Editing _A Formal Feeling Comes_," in which she professed amazement at the overwhelming response from women who "needed" to write in forms (when she proposed to edit the anthology she received over 60 responses, I think she said); she first mentioned the obviously problematic issues of working in traditional forms (a misogynist tradition, why go back, etc.). She stressed repetition as the overwhelmingly attractive feature for women working in form, and noted that it's in repetition that most women currently innovate. She noted that women have barely begun to explore forms and theorized the overwhelming willingness to do so to mean, somewhat ridiculously I thought, that writing within bounds releases women into a boundarilessness, the most meaningful form of innovation. The implication being, I thought, that women do really want to experiment, but safely. Alan Golding ("Poems for the Millennium and Rothenberg as Editor"), after commenting that he had the rare privilege to be the only man presenting about an anthology edited by men in a conference on women, presented an interesting critique of Rothenberg's editing, citing the implicit irony of an "avant garde" anthology, pointing to earlier writings of Rothenberg's that highlight the irony. He went on to talk about the problems of the anthology, problems of inclusion and omission, especially where these involved women poets (the inclusion of Sexton and Rich, for example, as formal innovators, when they were/are primarily mainstream poets, where no mainstream male poets were represented), also pointing out the fact that the Millennium anthology missed an opportunity to re-examine gender. He suggested that it would benefit from a "feminist poetics" section that included the work of Joanne Kyger, Helen Adam, Guest, Johanna Drucker, Trin Min ha, Mullen. While he was presenting a baby started to cry in the hall and Annie got up and then returned to the presenter's table with her baby whom she proceeded to nurse, which Alan handled really well, much to the delight of the all-female audience, saying "talk about raising issues of gender" to which everyone applauded. Thinking about this later I was struck by the fact that 200+ women could get together and there'd be only one baby, of significance perhaps when one considers not the generation of women who've raised their babies, but my generation, those who are in their child-bearing prime, but who are choosing for whatever reason not to have babies, or not to have them now, and then when one compares the statistics: how many women in the older generation, when they were in their 20s and 30s, DID have babies AND write poetry? Most of them. Now here's a panel I'd like to see: why 20-30something women write poems instead of having babies. Next Mary Margaret presented, reading from her prepared paper and notes that she'd written after the previous day's roundtable. She said she did not propose to police the boundaries of innovation (which are always changing and are particular to each writing) but to focus on innovation as a shift in cognition, a re-focusing to take in new words. She put the title of Kathleen Fraser's 1987 poem on the board "Boundayr" and asked whether the old world was still there, altered? Was the new word a hybrid? Was it difficult to visualize? Did something new result (bound air)? She went on the address the history of women and anthologies, addressing the _New American Poetry_ : "if NAP represented outside, female poets had to be outside outside." She then gave a brief history of women's infiltration into anthologies, first when gender eclipsed other notions, such as poetics and a focus on identity, and contrasted this to women in the avant garde. This lead to a delineation of what a 'mainstream' and avant-garde poem might be: the former she redesignated as a poem of "dominion," the latter, "interconnectedness." She sighted the 1973 anthology of women poets _Rising Tides_ making a convincing case for it as evoking a smothering atmosphere with its anxious tone of apology/plea, which, she asserts, continues to be the underlying social objection to including women poets at all. She compared such an anthology to _Moving Borders_, citing that it is a small press book, and this makes a significant difference. She objected to the simplistic notion of "an avant garde poetry" by citing that poetry writing is clustered around particular writing communities, and their differences are best discussed as a scatter diagram: "A community will look different from the subjective position of any writer in it." She stressed the need not to draw boundaries but meaningful distinctions. She ended by expressing her concern of women poets moving back toward the tone of _Rising Tides_, a populist anthology wherein 'everybody passed for everybody.'
LE: Hejinian and Charles Bernstein then spoke at an exclusive luncheon, which I missed, partly by accident and partly because I was offended that the organizers scheduled this event inside a $15 buffet, on top of a conference fee. I would note that Charles's participation was unique, as the only male poet to talk about a (his) feminist poetics.
LR: I went on the chance that they'd let me sit on the floor. I did get a seat in the back, where I met Bruce Andrews, Sianne Ngai, and Jena Osman, who shared their gleanings with me (you needed the ticket to get food; Susan Bee and Bob Perelman offered us plates of potatoes and chicken and salad, bread and cookies). The talk was memorable as a whole; Lyn and Charles reflected on the conference and issues it raised, and together they provided an interesting sense of the significance of Language to the particular moment. Lyn said "I'd be lying if I said I was a philosopher, but I'll be candid and say I want to be." She returned to and addressed more thoroughly Dworkin's notion of "paranoia" in her work, and the role of poetry and essays: "Language suggested that essay writing did not have to be a separate thing from the practice of poetry, it didn't have to take on an authoritative position, didn't have to be lengthy" and it made essay writing available, said the academy didn't own thought, and that 'outside' had credibility. Charles elaborated, by talking about access and the role of the academy; "poetics shouldn't be locked into essays, embodied in conventions" but should go unstated, and could be expressed in modes of distribution, production, in readings and in reading series, in poems, and most importantly all people have poetics, in their reading and reacting to publications. Lyn added that "a poetics is talking about a poetics, thinking about a power, addressing social, political, philosophical implications of being a poet." A telling moment was when Charles said that the work he's done is based on the women's movement, that without the women' s movement's challenge to masculine authority, and without women saying they didn't want to have this pattern of activity, he might not have made the connection to how dominance occurs in writing. Claudia Rankine, one of the conference organizers, asked a question addressing how different sorts of privilege allow for innovation, and Lyn responded: "Claudia asked about straight white male privilege to entertain form, but if you don't have that what are some other modes of privilege that allow one to be innovative in one's life" and noted that "groups can have efficacy where individual people can't. Language gave a milieu, the construction of community is important and valuable. Who's constituting what gets constituted is the next big social problem." Charles concurred: "I want to have room in the culture to explore how reality gets constituted and by who . . . how do we define what problems are and how these definitions get fixed." Lyn noted that political problems were "deeply linguistic problems" since people are dying for the mispeaking of the population at large: "The challenges facing poetry are to foreground all the elements of language and unveil hypocrisy . . . it wasn' t an aesthetic or surface effect we were after but to make hypocrisy visible, to save lives."
LE: Finally, there was a keynote address by Perloff, "After Language Poetry: Theory and the Question of Transparency" responded to by Bedient, DuPlessis and Lynn Keller. Perloff stirred things up, being "naughty" at times. She interrogated "innovative" poetry, implied that some of Steve McCaffery's early (70s) essays evincing a distrust of referential, instrumental language functioned like Olson's influential "Projective Verse" essay did in the 50s and 60s, and asked that poets stop writing all the "this is my poetics" essays, in which quotes are pulled from the first 3 pages of philosopher's books (Heidegger was mentioned) -- that philosophy is not a spice or distraction.She asked instead that poets write more reviews of contemporary books.
LR: and that editors do more editing. There was attention also, via direct criticism from Perloff, on the role of theory. Each respondent touched on this; Lynn Keller started out by noticing that innovation was "fashionable" for poets and critics (without also noticing that it's often the case that this is the result of commercialization and commodification of what was, primarily avant-garde or outremer) and this hadn't been the case up until the 70s (i.e. Language's intervention), and that this conference was evidence of the "change in status" of experimentation (it's gaining points on NASDQ?). I found this sort of unexamined empiricism troubling, but Keller did wish to draw the distinction between Language and innovation, and call out the binarism of the mainstream/Language model which suggests that where the two meet is problematic when in fact the two _can_ meet, and the result of that meeting is innovation. This argument seemed heavily weighted to fall on the side of lyric, i.e. that if Language women don't come around as a result of this meeting they're not doing their part in innovating. Sounds too much like Finch's 'women want boundaries in which to innovate.' She went on too say that the superficial results that arise from the meeting are not innovation, that the meeting is much more multifaceted than the coming together of two modes. She called for further examination of experimentation, offering a few questions: what is at stake? How is this related to women's desire to theorize their work? Why are women producing theory? Why in the past were women not publicly visible as theorists although the were involved? (Keller at this point didn't offer any specific examples.) Women have been marginalized in the discussion of poetics, and their choices to theorize have to do with their experience as women. She came to a close by noting that the role of experimentation needs exploration if it is to gain acceptance (whose?), and the best strategy would be to read widely and strengthen ones' knowledge of earlier experimentation. She offered Susan Wheeler as a model and read a poem; neither language nor lyric, but engaged with lyric tradition in another problematizing way. Duplessis began with a quote she attributed to David Antin: anthologies are to poets what zoos are to animals, and now, she added, this applies to poet and critic, or poet-critics. Her talk proceeded by way of an energetic meditation on words in the conference title, especially 'women' 'where' and 'meets.' First, noticing our debt to feminist criticism, and especially to Virginia Woolf, who noted that gender is encoded materially: this, she noted, is where we need to continue to deconstruct - gender. Though this is not the only use of feminist criticism: it's crucial to remain alert to gender, rather than settling on certain conventions _as_ gendered. We must be alert to gender on the level of production via a materialist-inflected reception. DuPlessis did not seem happy on settling for an convergence of lyric and language; she noted that it's important to examine why a convention is chosen, thus implicating lyric conventions, because one chooses and enacts rhetorics as use in social engagements. Thus implying that examining poetic conventions is a way to understand/interrogate social conventions. Next she moved to distinguish 'innovation' as a way of addressing 'where.' Innovation has to be critical opposition, set against hegemony; it can't be superficial, it must be set against a deeper structure (recalling Hejinian's & Bernstein's comments at lunch). What's at issue is the formation of communities around a certain task, rather than turning as Perloff does, to a foundational document. DuPlessis prefers 'nexus' as a mode, which the _writing/talks_ of early Language engagement exemplify, making a literary history collectively, as this is more attuned to the presence of female players (as a sort of follow up question the Keller's question as to why women weren't publically visible: where are you looking?). The gender politics of the 'nexus' is the question at large; who afterall, participated in talks? The history of women's participation can't be analyzed or seen without a gender-nuanced lens, or without seeking out documents, letters, etc, whose evidence suggests a strong exclusionist interaction, one that tried to exclude gender as a consideration, as does Marjorie focus on the center-as-great-Man (McCaffrey/Olson). We need literary historical models designed to locate women. She calls Marjorie out on her assertion that there's been enough writing about poetics, as if to say that overt theorizing by men is okay, but when women do it, it's too easy. Next DuPlessis asked, where's the 'where'? Asking us in part to note the institutional constraints around this meeting, and to also notice that the lyric tradition exists in a hegemonic space, with its persuasive system of awards, which uses metaphors of social class and power to denigrate the work done in the small press, those who are left to 'peddling books.' Hegemony - one is obliged to know when it's not obliged to know you. Does the lyric tradition want to share its benefits? What will happen if there is to be a meeting? Rachel moved on to the next words, noting the irony in the fact that 'tradition' goes with 'lyric' when in fact we all have pasts, and that 'innovators' want 'tradition' too, it's just silly to think that we don't all have some relationship to 'lyric' tradition, 'innovation' isn't a flat rejection of lyricism. She then returned to her notion of 'nexus' first by pointing out that whether women are equal or different is an insoluble feminist debate so why not operate under the rubric of a new queerness. She noted that the last 15 years have been marked by a timely moment of nexus, Mary Margaret's _Moving Borders_ anthology, marking a history of serious reading engagement, which seemed to DuPlessis to be underrepresented at this meeting. It seemed a bit unfair, genderwise, that Bedient should have to go last. He noted that he didn't have any strong impassioned quarrels, and declined to read his prepared statement, even after many an entreaty from the audience. He did go on to give a hefty 'summarized' response nonetheless. He too touched on the point of meeting, the distinction between innovation and lyric tradition, though he felt that innovation had been 'over-policed'; 'to alter' is too broad a definition and absent of precedence, but we can afford to be lax because it still has political usefulness in the canon, and other works deserve the term, such as Brock-Broido and Graham and Claudia Rankine, because they have a new music, a new atmosphere, a new tenor, a new signature. Language theorists, he contends, were unfair to lyric poets. He returned here to his favorite victim, Leslie Scalapino, who detaches, opposes subject and ego-as-inherent-self - but who among us feels that we have a static personality? Who among us is the same as she was this morning? "I' is a device for inquiry, it maintains a fluid artifice, not for presenting oneself but a fiction of oneself into a field we inhabit everyday to explain it. (The question of what that field encloses is usefully addressed in Sloan's term 'dominion'). Lyric and Language, he continued, can meet fruitfully because they share a profound similarity. Read Scalapino side by side with Adorno's essay on lyric poetry and you will see a lot of similarities. Lyric and Language both drop out of society - what do they drop into? Language into the non-heg. (Hegelian? hegemonic?) field of language, Lyric into nonconscious me which is the entire universe, which created the consciousness. Language Poetry's gift to lyric is a non-linear procedure (turned Lyric by the 'new elliptical poetry'). Lyric resists linearity, it uses non-sequiter, lineation itself is a resistance to linearity, as enjambment so gracefully makes clear: I have to go on but I'm reluctant to go on. It all come down to lyric and playfulness. Marjorie responded first by saying she used McCaffrey because his piece was the most thematic, not because she wished to set him up as an Olson figure (she really dislikes Olson) and then by disagreeing with Rachel - it's not what or how many, but what's being said is important: it's not that people can't write poetics, but just to say what one believes is a kind of poetics that's not particularly fruitful. There are moments when theory is fruitful, but you have to go back to Pound, to what the formulations actually are, that's what's at stake. She thought it was really interesting that she agrees with Cal in general but not on the particulars: in famous poets there's nothing being said in interesting ways. She responded to Lynn by noting that yes, theory has cultural capital, but there's something at stake in theory that's not so in poetry. Bob Perelman, in the audience, took exception: there's a basic demurral in what you've (Marjorie) left out - that writing practice was the reason why anyone was doing theory in the first place and had the guts to open up to theory and recognize something there that was consistent with writing practice, Silliman's 'new sentence' for example was a noticing of writing practice, theory helped realize that. Theory is not the maker for the movement. Writing doesn't illustrate theory. Give writing 65
in the motor of literary change. What followed were a few exchanges between the audience and the panelists; "everyone is red" my marginal comment.
LE: Contact between philosophy and poetry, how much or little, was at issue during much of this conference, particularly the gender of philosophy. Hejinian said that if she wasn't a poet she have been a philosopher. Arguably, *theory* has cultural capital -- but Graham sells more books than Mullen, so what about lyric expression during moments of emotional intensity? Bedient noted "non-sequitur" and "playfulness" can be found in both Lyric and Language books -- thankfully Alan Golding pointed out that literary devices aren't very good indicators of political position. It was almost as if Bedient had noted that books by Graham and Hejinian both had green covers, and so both loved nature. This related to comments that autobiography has a definitive role in all the poets' books. Points of crossover between the *camps* were found, of course, but, if it isn't clear already, Lyric apologetics were bracketed certainly by the time Mullen closed the show.
LR: Perloff really stole the show, however, when, after some concerted disease on both sides regarding the "we're all poets and that's great" repose, she said (and I paraphrase) "we've all been very polite and don't want to say 'I don't like x' and I can only pick on Jorie Graham cause she's famous, but I wish someone would explain to me what's so great about her poetry. Her language is lame, her rhythm is ugly . . ." and any other criticisms she might have raised were drowned out by a general welter of laughs, applause and objections from the audience. After that, Brenda Hillman raised a heartful object to the tenor of the proceedings; she noted that there are a number of voices in American poetry (and concurred with Keller's choice of Wheeler) - women who are bringing things together, not with the theoretical framework of Language Poetry. She didn't want to be left with the sense that there's an either/or that one has to fall into, but wanted people to be left with a feeling of complication/confusion. Things I think were getting very confused, because Hillman's objection echoed many objections voiced in many different vocabularies to the effect of 'this meeting isn't clean cut and there'll be no clean break' and 'to call it clean is reductive and does injustice to the complexity of poetic practice (no matter where your poems fall).' DuPlessis responded by calling attention again to the material consequences of rhetorical choices, which point toward a system of incommensurability in terms of awards and institutional support, in the condition of poetry. It was obvious to her that if poetic production lay outside this system then it didn't matter. Claudia Rankine, conference co-organizer, had the last word, to say that she doesn't think Language Poetry owns social study, a lot of lyric poets use the traditional consciousness of self as a social being in social and political contexts. That kind of consciousness is negotiated different in lyric. Those of you who don't cross read don't have the right to make that distinction.
LE: After an all-too-brief reception with an open wine bar and some pretty great pickins, there was a reading, with Armantrout, Hejinian and Mullen.
LR: Yes it was terrific - all three were terrific. As Logan noted, Armantrout was very wry and funny, and her poems included some rather pointed (given the occasion) poetics statements. Hejinian read from a recent work, a long poem, and I was struck by her clarity; she read for fifteen minutes, but they were the fullest 15 minutes, and I got the sense that for Lyn it was very important to tell the truth as best the poem can, from the smallest abstract statement to the larger socially situated utterances. Mullen read a few rather short, rather lyric pieces that were playful and funny but also serious, and quite often drenched in media-influenced vocabulary. People hung around for a good while, chatting it up, very cheerful and probably relieved that what amounted to two 12-hour days was over.