50s in Orono-the Reviews

50s in Orono: the Reviews

>Date: Sat, 29 Jun 1996 16:02:20 EST
>From: Keith Tuma (KWTUMA@miamiu.acs.muohio.edu)
>Subject: Re: oh no orono

Well everybody's cheering about the Orono conference, and for good reason--lots of excellent papers, seeing old friends, making new ones, attaching faces to pixels, etc. etc. No one's mentioned Jerky the Moose yet, which many laughed at and then proceeded to excoriate in conversation afterwards--"It's Saturday Night Live" a poet-theorist said to me. But Dorn had already proleptically remarked at dinner the night before--"It's about time somebody killed modern poetry"--or some such, I can't remember exactly, and who knows if he was serious.

My favorite moment was Henry Weinfield's remarking after the panel on the New American Poetry anthology that well, really, Frank O'Hara had only three or four poems worth remembering. It's not that I agree, but by that point in the conference it was clear to me that part of what we were about was cheerleading in the woods. Remarkable how much consensus--in poetic and political values, in emergent canons--was in place at the conference. Whole realms of 50s poetic production were written off as a joke--condescension that is, finally, self-defeating. These are generalizations of course;there were exceptions; Bob von Hallberg is one (he's not here on the list to respond to ex cathedra pronouncements). Curious, too, how little the American poetry of the 1950s was set in international contexts, at least in the papers I attended. Jerry Rothenberg's plenary talk was an exception here. We are that provincial? (I know, it was a conference on American poetry, but boosterism is boosterism.) Maria D. has already remarked on the limits of the predominant author-focus.

I guess the best parties are populated mainly by friends--perhaps that explains some of the misty ethos. Nevertheless, it was entertaining too to hear Barry and Marjorie rehearsing political squabbles they've had before (I think) at the cash bar after Dorn's reading. And no doubt productive disagreements were and are ongoing. Would that they were more often out in the open, or not impossible because the NPF tends to attract people like you and me, who mostly agree as we take Olson down a notch or two and elevate Frank O'Hara a little.

Don't get me wrong--I liked many of the papers too (I won't discuss them here) and learned a lot. And it was a blast not only to see old friends but to get to experience for the first time the dignity of Kevin K. and Dodie B., the unassuming earnestness of Paul Naylor, the laughter of you and you and you.

It's boiling here today too--this is my cold dip in the pool.

Keith Tuma

>Date: Sun, 30 Jun 1996 00:52:49 -0400
>From: Loss Pequeño Glazier (lolpoet@acsu.Buffalo.EDU)
>Subject: Harbor Lobster Bar None


I promised not to hiss at New Critics but said nothing
about table manners. In other senses, it's the place that is
material for example where's the moose and why am I
on this bus heading east? "Nature!" I spy and he points
to one's chest & thumps. We've never been on a trip like
this the bus driver asking if it's really a bus full of poets.
Who knows? But I can assure you we talk plenty and
that it's part and parcel of the field trip medium to have
no idea where we're going, how long it's for, or even
what to do once we get there. Voila! We all know there's
momentum just being on a bus! Hail Aldon's patience with
camera lenses strewn on the seat. And the group conversa-
tion that gets us to Mount Desert Island. I kept calling it
a magical mist tree tour and how true! smack dab on top
of old Cadillac Mountain with Jerry past mutinous rocks
in a spitting hissy blind fog bank hiking on & on as if it
goes somewhere other than more fog until we're dripping,
cold and, glasses steamed, he turns to me and asks,
"(he says) vot em I doink here." It's cold, it's wet, but
we make it back and are sitting in the council section of
the bus (which we have named in order to advise the
driver whether to stop at the tourist information center)
& watch frigid poets tramping from foaming mist emerging
Lordy Shakespeare-like with occluded views of the island
tucked like severed heads under dripping elbows. Alas!
Back in & down the mountain we go. Bar Harbor not bad
for hilling around its musical instrument shop though the
town might more properly be named not Bar Harbor but
"Lobster Bar and Gift Shops". But here's a question for
the grammarian of gastronomic plights. Why is only ONE
of these red, lovely crustaceans supposed to satisfy you?
Is it an unwritten rule? Is that what it means to be
"civilized"? (Is this related to poems that rhyme?)
It's a question that's haunted me for years and I lean
towards Bob Perelman with this question and he says
"go for it" so -- (even the waiter does a double-take &
says -- "TWO??") & the next half hour (Maria reading the
Bangor newspaper account of the Ph.D. bearing
invaders of the poetic state) all I experience is the
internal hiss of epicurean bliss. "Lobster be mine - a
Lobster for all time - Hell who needs a variable foot
when there are red claws like this to be cracked?
Somehow in my memory of it, these lines all rhymed.

>Date: Sun, 30 Jun 1996 20:57:02 -0500
>Subject: Orono Others

This is my inaugural message to the POETICS list, but I feel as if much of what I will say is actually a continuation of many of the amazing conversations I had while at Orono. I'm not much of a rah-rah type, but I was reeeeeelly blown away by the quality of the conference (no mean feat to sustain that for five days), the high concentration of people doing original research in their subjects, and the warm atmosphere of camaraderie that was inclusive of a relative stranger like myself. I don't know if anyone else had this experience, but for me, coming from a small department where, as one of my profs so astutely said, "few people are mad for poetry," the conference experience was a heady combination of banquet and boot camp. All this last week I've felt like Oliver with his bowl pleading, "Please, sir, I want more." Instant community.

On to a few more utopic remembrances: meeting Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy (again), meeting Roger Conover and Keith Tuma smoking outside the stairwell while talking about theatrical suicides (I still don't quite get it how Arthur Cravan is supposed to be a "metaphorical" suicide. Keith, any insight?), meeting Michael Basinski, whose work I have admired for a while, a post-cash bar beer and pistachio fest w/George Hartley, Chris Stroffolino, Barret Watten, Al Golding, Star Black, Wendy Kramer, et al (with Wendy punctuating the conversation with her amusing remarks about pinup girls), staying up til 4a.m. chain-smoking and arguing with Dave Kellogg, Chris Stroffolino and Wendy Kramer (I think I slept maybe 20 hours altogether the whole time I was in Orono), receiving the gift of "Jhon the Animal Song" from Natalie Basinski (ringing in my head STILL one week later), going to plenary sessions and listening to the voices of people whose work I've read and admired for some years now, going to poetry readings and being moved by the performances of people who I've only ever experienced in print (or never read or heard of at all), spending most of the Bar Harbor afternoon drinking beer in The Thirsty Whale (and then only having ten minutes to eat our lobster at that nifty '50s restaurant), not to mention meeting a battery of people doing work on Mina Loy, such as Josh Weiner, Susan Dunn and Marisa Januzzi (I know there were more, but I only met so many), and of course, Keith Tuma and Roger Conover.

There were some sour notes, of course, but it doesn't reduce the wonder of the experience for me; rather it gave me more to think about after I left. For example, I wasn't at the Barrett Watten talk on Betty Page, but I, too, was disturbed by what sounded like a knee-jerk response from some feminist attendees, and particularly bothered by someone's efforts to bring about some kind of "punishment" for Watten (demanding the NPF give 'im a spanking or something). And, of course, the commons food was execrable, which made me glad I brought my big cooler of food instead of buying all those tickets. The insistence of the bus drivers that we stop at that Visitor's Center and the topof Cadillac Mountain (?) seemed pointless (although it appealed to my surrealist sensibilities) on our Bar Harbor trip, and all the more annoying since we only had a couple of hours in Bar Harbor because of it.

I also wanted to bring up another small brouhaha from the Cage/Mac Low panel on the last day of the conference, mostly because it's been sticking in my craw all week. Someone made a comment about the Trillings (re: the "Thrilling the Trillings" paper that was delivered at the beginning of tha panel), and I believe Bill Howe responded with an observation or opinion about Diana Trilling, which caused one of the other attendees to tell him his view was "contemptible" (while smiling at him and saying "no offense". No offense? Come on.) and that it was easy for him to say, sitting there enjoying his "white male privilege" etc. etc. This person then went on to say that it is white middle class women who are the last to realize their oppression (as if this makes them more oppressed and more victimized than non-white women of poverty or the working class), AND that before the sixties women didn't realize they were oppressed, AND that "young women of today" don't realize they are oppressed: "They think they are free." This of course places women like this particular person in the small happy category of women from the sixties and seventies who DO realize their oppression and are soooooo convinced that they are the only ones with the 20/20 gender-vision. I was too stunned to respond at the time (I had accumulated few hours of sleep in the last several days, remember), but I can now, in a word: BULLSHIT. I would be interested to hear responses from others who attended that panel--some other perspectives would be valuable as I further sort out my complicated feelings about it.

Anyhow, thanks to all the folks I met for their friendliness and willingness to share their ideas. I should sign off now--I'm not a big-bandwidth person ordinarily. I'd also like to wave in the general direction of any Creative Studies alumni who might be on this list (you know who you are) and ask, wuzzup?

Lisa Amber Phillips

>Date: Sun, 30 Jun 1996 22:30:44 -0700
>From: "Aldon L. Nielsen" (anielsen@email.SJSU.EDU)
>Subject: Re: Jacquee la Mousse

I was ASSIGNED by Loss to report back from Orono on the subject of race & ethnicity -- I didn't get a chance to ask if he meant that I was to review the gathered complexions or the complexities of the papers, or if perhaps I was to examine the demographics of Orono itself -- as if that were not enough confusion, our email system has been returning everything I've attempted to post on this or any other subject ever since I sent in that execrable poem --

but I'll see what I can get in before the whole shebang (and are there any hebangs?) collapses again -- if interrupted, there will be a part two --

"Of the approximately 231 papers delivered at this conference, about 14 were devoted to the writings of minority poets." This observation was part of my introduction to a panel on Langston Hughes and Bob Kaufman. This sentence was also singled out by Robert von Hallberg at the beginning of a five minute long denunciation of the panel which exhausted the discussion time remaining for the session. In the course of his comments, Robert accused the panelists, including me, of "doing the sociology thing," which is reductive, of lending ourselves to identity politics. He said that what should be done instead is close readings of interesting poets, but that the poets discussed here weren't worth that sort of close reading because they were "bad" poets.

Now . . . this is a pretty old hat to those of us who have been studying issues of race and ethnicity in literature longer than two weeks -- But what I want first to mention is that, repeating strategies of the oldest of new critics, these comments required a complete decontextualization (and an evasion of close reading, I might add) of what had in fact been presented. In the interests of saving time, I will only use the example of my opening remarks. The numbers that I noted were offered in response to repeated accusations from many quarters (I used the example of Carol Iannone) to the effect that academic critics had in recent years entirely abandoned "true" critical criteria and were instead simply promoting authors on the basis of an "ethnic agenda." I introduced my numbers with the remark: "Let's see how the ethnic agenda is doing." My point was to offer a simple refutation. The large number of critics gathered at Orono had in fact produced a remarkably small number of papers concerning minority authors. Iy looks to me as if the profession is some distance still from being dominated by an ethnic agenda. This point is truly sociological, but hardly pointless. (Might add that at least two of us there on the panel have devoted considerable efforts to criticisms of identity politics.)

At any rate, I could say much more on this topic, but that's not what I was asked to do -- so --

The first day included a panel on Stephen Jonas, Melvin Tolson and Russell Atkins, where could be heard (gasp) close readings of truly interesting black poets. Mark Scroggins advanced an interesting view of the ever-problematic Jonas, Keith Leonard (one among a stream of Stanford presenters -- Stanford and Buffallo seem to be the hotbeds of poetry criticism now) set up parameters for thinking about Tolson that were later fleshed out in Lorenzo Thomas's talk, and I spoke about the critical theories of poet Russell Atkins (check your library for his old selected from Cleveland State, about the only easily available volume)

On Friday morning I discovered the amazing discussions of O'Hara and race that were already in progress at the conference. Ben Friedlander followed some intriguing wrinkles (already mentioned on this list by others) and Steve Evans followed with exactly the type of scholarly and philosophically informed exploration that some of us have been hoping for for years -- Steve has done what any good Pound scholar would do -- finding himself in a poem to the "French Negro Poets," Steve went and read them (now there's a novel approach folks --) also reading the requisite Sartre etc. -- Steve's paper asks questions about the ideologies of race and their relationships to poetics that have long needed looking into --

The one question I left with (there wasn't time to ask it) is why so many white critics think that desegregating the sex act is a politically radical move -- Tell that one to Walter White --

ooops, have to relinquish the keyboard -- will be back in about 24 hours with rest of my homework assignment --

bottom line is that there were great papers all around on these topics, though there were few of them -- and there really might have been at least one African-American or Asian-American or Latino or American Inian poet reading poems, huh???

but back with the GOOD stuff in 24 hrs --

love to all,

>Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 09:11:38 -0500
>From: maria damon (damon001@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
>Subject: Re: Jacquee la Mousse, ono etc

as long as we're complaining now about our recent love fest, let me say that at this conference i saw something i didn't like --a coupla times, senior, well-established, famous folks excoriating or picking on grad students who were giving their first papers in public. after one such instance i put my arm around louis simpson, took him aside and sd look, louie (for some reason this conference, or maybe it was the sabbatical, being out of the hierarchic loop for a year, has made me less fearful) this kid is never gonna get a job, he's just a student in some third rate graduate program, give him a break. he was reasonably contrite, and hoped he hadnt been too harsh (unlike r von h, he hadn't been). also, two other plenary speakers whispered loudly and passed notes throughout most of lorenzo thomas's talk, right there in the front row. he kept looking over at them but they didn't stop until they decided he was actually saying something (about 3/4 of the way thru). i was embarrassed, cuz these were ladies i expected more from. also, at banquet, ml rosenthal started baiting us younger scholars on "what is 'discourse analysis' anyway and what does it do other than state the obvious in unnecessarily convoluted terms?" but then he apologized. i never use that phrase discourse analysis anyway and neither to my knowledge did any of the other folks (all women) there either. as for lisa amber philips' comments on feminist turf-establishing, there was something very retro about the conference, as i sd in my earlier post. i myself had fun with it because i felt accepted by the male elite, and kinda basked in it, but let's not get carried away with nostalgia for an earlier era when white males could attack accomplished, intelligent women as symbols of the establishment, with no consciousness of their own gender privilege. lisa, you know nothing about what that woman who made the comment about another comment's being "contemptible" has been through professionally, personally, etc, what her struggles with sexism in the academy have been, how these social dynamics have affected her health, her standard of living, her life chances, etc. I don't know where you're at in your career, but i myself never took sexism seriously as something that affected my material well-being (of course i was aware of paternalism and the occasional patronizing comment from a male professor, but i just ascribed that to his stupidity, and it didn't affect my life) until i entered the workforce. as a student i was very protected. now, i routinely see my white male colleagues get outrageous raises for --not mediocre, but --NO scholarly accomplishment, i see white guys with no publications deciding who does and doesnt get raises, fellowships, jobs, etc ...it's the lowpaid and overworked women in my dept who get offers frm elsewhere for endowed chairs, huge salary increases, reduced teaching loads, invitations to give seminars at harvard etc, while at home its the white guys who've never written a word past their disserations 30 years ago who make sure these women don't get a break, and who promote those in their own image. i never would have believed it was that blatant. i know i sound maternalistic myself now, pulling the rank of "older and wiser," and i apologize for that. i could be totally off in my assumptions about where you're coming from. and i know it's not academically "rigorous" (to invoke a word i'm not too fond of) to suggest that knowing the larger context of a particular utterance may nuance our reception of it --that is, a biographical understanding of why this woman said what she did may take it out of the realm of facile post/feminist theorizing and give it some substance. so, i'm sorry if i'm intervening from left field. nonetheless, i think one of the things that made the conference so good, in spite of our complaints, was the relative openness and acceptance. paradoxically, in light of the strictly retro demographics. perhpas, and i hope not, this was due to the relatively homogenous population --that is, social differences were underrepresented, so there was less overt tension and conflict...? if so, and its possible, i can easily relate to how diana trilling must have felt seduced by being a token in the white male literary establishment --i had a great time BECAUSE i wasn't really a threat...?xo, md

>Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 10:42:03 +0100
>From: Kevin Killian (dbkk@SIRIUS.COM)
>Subject: Re: Jacquee la Mousse, ono etc

This is Dodie Bellamy speaking.


One thing you didn't point out in your last post was that the Orono conference had much more to offer to women than acceptance by a male elite that we could kind of "bask in." Rachel Blau du Plessis' and Joan Retallack's talks were *the* best moments of the conference for me. Rachel's talk reminded me that if it weren't for women like Rachel who promoted a specifically female approach to post-modernism, I wouldn't exist. I also found it great to just watch Margorie Perloff, her energy, her awesome confidence.

I think you should do a bit of deconstruction on your post--in your complaints about the conference the men are treated as troublesome boys who do things out of line, but--usually with your guidance--apologize and get their shit together. The only unredeemable characters in your post are the covertly racist female plenary speakers in the front row. Funny, I was in the third row (sitting next to Rachel, who was quiet as a mouse) and I didn't hear any loud whisperings. What female plenary speakers are left? Margorie Perloff? Alicia Ostriker? Couldn't these female plenary speakers be considered a *female* elite whose acceptance a young scholar would want to bask in?

One thing that stuck me about Lisa Amber Phillips' presence at the conference was how clearly she liked women and how much time she spent talking with other women--rather than chasing "testosterone," as you put it in an earlier post. There should more to feminism than demanding materialistic equality.

> Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 10:43:16 -0700
>From: "Aldon L. Nielsen" (anielsen@email.SJSU.EDU)
> Subject: Re: Race 'round Orono II

well, where were we --

Wednesday evening Robert von Hallberg delivered an interesting talk on Robert Hayden -- The talk began and ended with, of all things, a sociological argument, to the effect that "we should" learn to reread poets who have made certain types of arguments for universality, and I would have to agree -- Not much point in making universal rejections of such readings, is there? While von Hallberg seemed to gloss over the specificity of address in Hayden's poem about certain eveangelical types (Daddy Grace, Father Divine, etc.), he presented a good overview of Hayden's long poem "Middle Passage." (By the way, why do people believe that "Those Winter Sunday's has no ref. to race? This is not von Hallberg's argument, but was raised here recently) -- I believe the reading of "Middle Passage" must be part of a longer and more detailed analysis, but this was a good introduction to the important issues in the poem for an audience that might not have been all that familiar with the text.

I'm afraid I missed the papers on Audre Lorde and Gwendolyn Brooks, but perhaps somebody else on the list heard them & can fill us in? Lorde needs to be seen in the fuller context of the avant garde set she was part of in her early years; and Brooks was perfect for a conference at which Louis Simpson appeared. Simpson, for those of you who have not read ALL his reviews, authored a notrious review of Brooks back in the day in which he opined that until she could write poetry without making "us" aware that she is a "Negro" she will never be an important poet --

Saturday included the panel I have already mentioned -- Joe Lockard gave a quick summary of his attempts to lay out a parallel between the racialized social space of 50s America and the racialized space of literary anthologizing, criticism, etc., using the reception of Hughes as an example -- John Millet gave a reading of Hughes's blues lyrics as a form of "projective" community, and Maria Damon, working around a fine reading of Bob Kaufman's "Bagel Shop Jazz," broadened our understandings of the Beat orbits -- if you haven't already read her "Beat Occlusions" essay in the Whitney Beat catalogue, that's a good place to start to pick up Maria's direction --

and that was pretty much it -- no papers, for example, on Chicano poets, though Tino Villanueva's landmark antho. appears in the 50s --

but want to mention too Marjorie Perloff's talk -- As Michael Davidson had started us off by examining the trope of containment as it extended from foreigh policy throughout American culture, Marjorie's paper touched in one respect on issues of race and containment -- I can't go into it all here,,, but in the expectation of this paper's one day appearing in print, let me mention that she offered a brilliant reading of the differing ideologies and aesthetics in two widely circulated collections of photographs -- the infamous "Family of Man" exhibit (the book of which was given even to me as a birthday present still in print in the next decade -- and Robert Frank's (name right?) collection of American photos published by Grove press -- Professor Perloff, now semiretired but hardly slowing down, "read" individual photos as well as the reception of the volumes as context against which to read Ginsberg, O'Hara and that ole gem "Love Calls Us to the Things of this World" -- This kind of paper is really exciting to me -- not an attempt to read the cultural past as a transparently available and stable entity, but looking at, how else to say it, what everyone was then looking at, as a means of deepening our discussions of the, hate to say it, poems themselves -- One of the best fast tours of "AStep Away from Them" that I've heard --

(off the track, but another question -- has any O'Hara critic EVER bothered to read the contemporaneous accounts of the night the police beat up Miles Davis, which episode figures in a lunch poem? This was a major topic in all the black newspapers of the day -- One of the speakers on O'Hara panel No. IV commented that there's nothing wrong with thinking of O'Hara as a poet of surfaces so long as we recognize those surfaces as quicksand -- this poem, I think, offers a good example of that --)

so, in the end there wasn't all that much discussion of race among the papers, but what did appear was worth attending to -- next time, perhaps, we could expect conference notices to go, early, to MELUS, African American Review, Callaloo, CLA Journal, ethnic studies programs, etc.???

and despite what Chris said here a few days ago, and despite my dread of the coming rush of anthologies on the construction of whiteness, I still think that "critics who are regarded as white people" still need to lead a struggle, among "white" people," against racilaist ideology, but there I go being sociological again --

forgive me, love to all,

>Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 11:08:06 -0700
>From: "Aldon L. Nielsen" (anielsen@email.SJSU.EDU)
>Subject: Re: last days and time

got shoved off system before I could insert my final paragraph on the final keynote at Orono -- so here, quickly, before I'm shoved again

The final hangers-around at Orono were privileged to hear a quite good presentation by Lorenzo Thomas on Melvin B. Tolson's major 50s work, _Libretto for the Republic of Liberia_. Thomas did an excellent job of building on the works of earlier Tolson scholars (Farnsworth, Robinson, Woodson, Pinson, Berube, etc) and adding new details to our understanding of Tolson's relationships to his sources -- Particularly useful, though brief due to time constraints, was Thomas's look at the changes Tolson made in his poem between the time a part of it appeared in _Poetry_ (where Williams saw it, to great effect!) and the time of hte book appearance of the poem -- thanks to the great audience response to Thomas's talk, it appears that the Natinal Poetry Foundation will probably see to it that at least some of Tolson's out-of-print work is again made available --

Now that's the kind of reader response I like to encourage --

see y'all

>Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 17:06:42 -0500
>From: Maria Damon (damon001@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
>Subject: Re: Jacquee la Mousse, ono etc

ok dodie. there were wonderful women-generated moments; i too loved rachel's talk, esp the alphabet device, and retallack as well. i guess i was trying to be self-critical cuz i had such a good time --thanks for calling me on my puritanical side. who other than louis simpson did i chastise? are you referring to barry? i didn't chastise him but told him what i thought. i didn't convert him or bring him into the fold. we had a conversation. sorry if i sound self-serving. i didn't, nor did anyone else i saw, chase testosterone. i enjoyed male attention. perhaps i shd be less self-disclosing. the comment was intended not to cast aspersions on the men present, most of whom i like and admire a great deal and have been inspired by, but to question my own sexual politics. as for materialistic equality, i agree that there should be more to feminism, but it would certainly be an obvious place to begin. as for the thomas/tolson whisperers, why should i not feel uncomfortable and critical. i was so not because they were women but because i liked them and they were doing something i didn't like. the truth is, i know the woman who made the comment on diana trilling and i felt the need to come to her defense.

In message (v01520d00adfd4912da0a@[]) UB Poetics discussion group writes:

>This is Dodie Bellamy speaking.


>One thing you didn't point out in your last post was that the Orono
>conference had much more to offer to women than acceptance by a male elite
>that we could kind of "bask in." Rachel Blau du Plessis' and Joan
>Retallack's talks were *the* best moments of the conference for me.
>Rachel's talk reminded me that if it weren't for women like Rachel who
>promoted a specifically female approach to post-modernism, I wouldn't
>exist. I also found it great to just watch Margorie Perloff, her energy,
>her awesome confidence.

>I think you should do a bit of deconstruction on your post--in your
>complaints about the conference the men are treated as troublesome boys who
>do things out of line, but--usually with your guidance--apologize and get
>their shit together. The only unredeemable characters in your post are the
>covertly racist female plenary speakers in the front row. Funny, I was in
>the third row (sitting next to Rachel, who was quiet as a mouse) and I
>didn't hear any loud whisperings. What female plenary speakers are left?
> Margorie Perloff? Alicia Ostriker? Couldn't these female plenary speakers
> be considered a *female* elite whose acceptance a young scholar would want
> to bask in?

>One thing that stuck me about Lisa Amber Phillips' presence at the
>conference was how clearly she liked women and how much time she spent
>talking with other women--rather than chasing "testosterone," as you put it
>in an earlier post. There should more to feminism than demanding
>materialistic equality.

>Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 15:53:26 +0100
>From: Kevin Killian (dbkk@SIRIUS.COM)
>Subject: Re: Jacquee la Mousse, ono etc

Okay, Maria, thanks for listening and not chewing me out. To add a note of compassion, I for one certainly would never be able to survive the hell of academic politics--and I think any woman with the strength to make it in that world deserves--I don't know what: admiration? Awe? But I'm sympathetic to Lisa Amber Philips' complaints. These blanket statements about what White Middle Class Women do and do not know are highly problematic. Also statements about young women. There are lots of young women poets (many of them black, asian, and lesbian) on the scene here in San Francisco, and, from what I've seen, they have a wide range of response to the question of whether or not they're oppressed as women in our "post"-feminist era. I'm particularly close to my intern who's 27, and her frustration over the position of women in the young hip world she operates in is a frequent topic of discussion-- particularly in terms of her acting out her sexual desires.


>Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 20:43:13 -0400
>From: Marjorie Perloff
>Subject: Postmortems on Orono (Perloff)

Postmortems on Orono:

In some ways, this conference was not as exciting for me as the 30s one a few years back because we're in many ways still "in" the fifties and so they're harder to assess and it was painful to have appraisals like Louis Martz's that assumed nothing had changed in forty years and we could still talk about the giant breakthrough of FOR THE UNION DEAD for chrissake.

The highlight (for me) was the attention now paid to Frank O'Hara, our new hero, as it were. It's been 20 years since I wrote my O'Hara book; in the midseventies, I was reprimanded by Don Allen and others for referring to Joe LeSueur as O'Hara's "lover"; the correct word then was "friend." As for race issues--so fascinating at this conference, especially Steve Evans's and Ben Friedlander's analyses--in the seventies, it was all one could do to get people to accept that these texts were passable as poems, much less discuss O'Hara on race. So I was delighted to hear these talks and delighted that the 50s are no longer considered "The Age of Olson" as they once were....

I wish there had been more time for discussion--so many issues were simply left HANGING. After each and every talk I had dozens of questions as I'm sure we all did and so for future reference, I think it would be great to forget having keynoters at all and have fewer sessions, each with an hour of built in discussion. That's how you learn, I think.

Again, poetry readings shouldn't be sandwiched in at 10.30 PM as a sort of afterthought. Either have them or not but if so, give them some prominence.

A larger question I've discussed with Burt is the diversity issue. Are all poets of the 50s of equal interest? Do we make choices and have a point of view? Does anyone get to give readings just because he/she wrote poetry during the fifties? It can be argued either way but I did feel that to have Jerry Rothenberg's account of the making of POEMS FOR THE MILLENIUM followed by Louis Martz's talk which implied that the issues Jerry was discussing didn't so much as exist created a strange empty space. Burt's argument is that this diversity of points of view is valuable. I'd be curious to know how others felt about this.

All in all, despite the horrible weather, awful food, lousy facilities and problems getting back and forth for those of us at the Bangor Inn, I thought it was a fabulous time, including the fabled argument I had with Barrett Watten at the latenight cash bar. We've got to keep arguing and not be too polite. That means not being so hyperpolite to dead poets either. Or in making even Allen Ginsberg a prophet.

Finally: Kevin's fashion report was WONDERFUL. I was one of the few people present who knows Star Black well--she's a really old friend via Paul Monette and Roger Horwitz. Kevin's right: she absolutely won the fashion award and was also like a breath of fresh air in this sometimes hyperacademicized world. Star makes a living as a professional photographer; has covered lots of stories and made artist's books; she's now writing more poetry and is passionate about it. It was also great to have Geoff O'Brien, another non-academic, really fine writer around. And I loved Star's responses to things--you should get her to write them up.



>Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 15:22:01 EST
>From: Robert Von Hallberg -- Forwarded post by Keith Tuma
>Subject: Orono

>Several days ago I forwarded to Robert von Hallberg the comments made about
>his comments in Orono. I did so because I think it's important that people be
>allowed to respond to the charges made against them in what is after all a
>public forum, however circumscribed. I now forward von Hallberg's response to
>Aldon, having been asked to do so.

>I expect that conversation will ensue. Unfortunately, I'm leaving for the
>East Coast for a week on Sunday, and thus will be unable either to participate
>or to forward messages. Perhaps someone might take care of the latter for me.

>best to all,
>Keith Tuma

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

>To: anielsen@email.sjsu.edu
>From: von6@midway.uchicago.edu (robert von hallberg)
>Subject: Orono

5 July 1996 Friday.

Why is it that after all the rhetorical and intellectual training that people like you and I receive, we tend so often to want to reduce intellectual differences until our opponents seem wholly negligible? I have felt this pull in my own writing, and friends have stopped me and reminded me that the issues that divide people are not ridiculous, that it is important to get right what our adversaries are advocating or claiming. And of course I recognize this pull in your representation of my remarks at your Hughes/Kaufman panel.

1. I did not claim that Hughes and Kaufman are "bad" poets, as you allege. This is simply a factual error on your part. I claimed instead that our job as literary scholars is to sort out the best writings of the poets we claim are being wrongly neglected and present them along with principled evaluative arguments to such audiences as the one gathered at Orono.

2. This relates to your quotation of my saying in an accusatory manner that you and the other panelists were "doing the sociology thing." My objection is not at all to the use of sociology or sociological analysis in literary history or criticism; my own work is heavily indebted--as is clear to my readers--to the work of sociologists of American intellectuals, and my most recent book is a sociology-of-art study of East German intellectuals. My objection was then explicitly to simplistic sociology. The example I gave in Orono, you will recall, was not your remark about the number of papers on minority poets, but instead the listing by the first presenter, whose name is not before me now, of the various postwar anthologies and the tabulation of the number of African American poets included: "One" or "none" were the scores repeated a number of times. This sort of sociological analysis is limited because it does not get beyond the obvious point that is not in contention: that African American writers have consistently been poorly represented in mainstream anthologies. I think the word I used to characterize this analysis was "simple." I said that as an intellectual endeavor, this sort of analysis is superficial and not worth doing.
Once one observes, before an audience of teachers and scholars of contemporary poetry, that African American poets are not being discussed enough in conferences, not being published often enough in anthologies, etc., one should go on to the next step: the making of an argument for the teaching, study, or appreciation of particular poems by particular poets. If one does not take that step, one implies that the teaching, study, or appreciation of one African American poet is as desirable as the teaching, study, or appreciation of another. That is, one is refusing to take the poets with full seriousness by not examining their best work in detail. And, yes, at this point I do feel that identity politics misleads literary critics into thinking that any form of commentary on underrepresented poets is itself a good thing and often even a sufficient thing. These poets existed; they were rarely published in mainstream anthologies; document their existence in the future--this is an elementary sort of literary critical project. The training that we have as literary scholars and critics enables us to go much further in the intellectual analysis of poetry. Why should we be timid about subjecting poems by Hughes, for example, to the most rigorous critical scrutiny of which we are capable?

3. One answer that is commonly given to this question is that the methods of critical analysis that are commonly used to scrutinize poems by Eliot, say, or Pound, or Moore, will not get at the full achievement of African American poets. That may be the case. If so, we need to know exactly where it is so, at what point in analysis the critical categories fail to serve the poets well. That is very interesting and worth knowing in detail, through patient analysis. Once we see just where the critical categories come up empty we can begin to define alternative categories that will serve the poetry better and we can theorize the significance of these categories.
I did claim, apropos of your misrepresentation of my statements (cited above as item #1) that the poems quoted by Hughes in the first paper were not on the face of things impressive, and that the analysis presented there did not take them beyond the face of things.
I will relate an anecdote here. Later in the day, after your session, another conferee told me that I just did not understand Hughes. She told me that her husband and she had known him and came to learn of his craftiness. Her husband once remarked to Hughes that he would love to hear Hughes talk about the blues, because he was sure that Hughes would have a different understanding of them than he did (being white). Hughes said, yes, they would have to have that talk, and that maybe they could talk about Schubert at the same time, because Hughes would like to know the white man's understanding of Schubert too. The woman telling me the story said that she wasn't sure her husband took the point of the rebuke right away. Then she told me that what I failed to understand about Hughes was that he was writing for an uneducated, large [black] urban audience, and that of course poems addressed to such an audience would not sound impressive to me. Her point was that Hughes was crafty, knew what he was doing, etc. I asked her if she didn't see any similarity between her claim about Hughes writing simply for simple folk and her husband's presumption that black people have a distinct, circumscribed view of music. She saw no resemblance there. But I think that she and her husband were condescending to Hughes in both instances. Not to subject Hughes's poetry to close analysis and developed evaluative argumentation is to refuse to give him as an artist just what we are trained to give to the work of Eliot, Pound, Wilbur, Lowell, Bishop, Moore, et al.

4. After you misrepresent me by alleging that I said Hughes and Kaufman were "bad poets," you say: "Now ... this is pretty old hat to those of us who have been studying issues of race and ethnicity in literature longer than two weeks."
Let me say forthrightly here what I said to you in Orono: I benefited from your book on intertextuality and race, esp. (as I told you) from your discussion of Robert Hayden's "Middle Passage." You have been working for years on race and ethnicity, and my paper on Hayden at the conference is the very beginning of my effort now to write about African American poetry, as I mentioned. I am a novice, maybe even an interloper, in your field, and I respect the feelings that are expressed by your remark about the two weeks. You are a professional in this area and you are entitled to feel a somewhat proprietary sense toward this academic specialty, African American poetry.
My own view is that outsiders sometimes manage to bring something distinctive and unsettling to academic specialties. For this reason, I repeatedly argue that the writing of poet-critics is of special value to us now that literary scholarship has become thoroughly dominated by academic criticism and interpretation, and I hope that my engagement as an American with East German literary and intellectual culture will be off the beaten track of the straight disciplines that have custodial and proprietary claims to the study of East German literature and culture.
But it is not the case that my advocacy of evaluative argument and close analysis of particular poems is properly characterized as the "strategies of the oldest of new critics," as you claim. The authority of New Criticism has been discredited, but not all close analysis and not all sustained evaluative argument have been discredited at the same time. I am not advocating that the arguments for the poets you admire be conducted by New Critical criteria--analysis of irony, tone, imagery, etc. My claim is rather that advocates of poets excluded from anthologies need to put on the table the evidence of poetic achievement and argue, in whatever terms work best for those poems, for the understanding and evaluation of those poems. Not to do this when an audience is gathered that can make a difference to the dissemination of such poets seems to me intellectually timid.

Robert von Hallberg

>Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 15:54:27 -0500
>From: maria damon (damon001@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU)
>Subject: Re: Orono

hi keith! did you also let aldon know you were going to forward his remarks? it is not at all clear to me that this list is a "public" one, and i have had the experience of having a formal grievance brought against me by members of another list i made reference to on poetix, believing that, tho this is to be sure a conversation, it is a "private" conversation. this is not a rebuke but a reminder --to all, in fact --that there is some uncertainty about exactly what the boundaries of the list in fact are. i guess it's good to assume, as you do, that anything CAN be made public, and that anyone can reach our files thru EPC after all, anyway.

i'll respond to von h at some length later. as i've said, i have had very good interactions with him and consider him a warm, supportive colleague, but i see sometimes the adoption of a persona --the LIBERAL conscience of "what we do" --and the invocation of categories many of us have come to dismiss (he would argue that we're throwing the baby out w/ the proverbial bathwater) --can be startling. he has, tho, written one of the best (and first) of what i would consider cultural studies/poetry texts around, choosing to argue --again, not an argument i make, but a worthy one --that poetry has played a very centrist role in consolidating the American empire. that he does not go on to criticise this role is where i part with him, but i think it important that someone is making an argument different from the common assumption that poetry is necessarily a vanguard discourse. his and my work could be seen in point-counterpoint dialogue, in fact, and i think it matters a lot who it is we choose to study to buttress our respective positions. i do not, for example, think that qualitative evaluation is why we study poetry, or that we should only teach what is the "best." the kaufman poem i discussed ("bagel shop jazz") has, to be sure, some real clinkers in in ("doomed to see their coffee dreams/ Crushed on the floors of time" --for example --i like coffee dreams but anything "of time" sounds soupy to me) but it illustrates a "scene" that is rich, complex, and sociologically compelling to me, which is why i wrote about it.

i agree that listing anthologies and saying how many Black poets were or weren't included is not sufficient as analysis, but i also don't think it can be said often enough as a starting point. i have seen some essays on hughes, for example, that don't attend to his social location and his circumstances, that completely fall flat and end up sounding very bad-faith and just plain inaccurate; for example, rather than looking on his importation of popular Black culture into print-"Poetry" as an intellectual/aesthetic achievement, it was seen as an example how skillfully he "marketed" himself. the critic was clearly trying to get beyond what s/he considered a simplistic boosterish analysis, but the result was, to my mind, disastrous. i think it is possible to be both analytically sophisticated AND advocacy-oriented, as Aldon's, CLR James's, Stuart Hall's, and George Lipsitz's work show. I think also the o'hara/race sessions instanciated this blend of skillful critique/analysis and sympathy.

i do think that marjorie has a point about getting rid of plenary sessions, because it sets up a class system, so that Bob can give what he himself describes as a "neophyte" effort at a plenary, while Aldon, to whose work he graciously describes himself as indebted, is in the position of appearing to take on a "heavy" from the sidelines, as it were. well i guess I have responded to Bob's post here/now after all.

>Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 17:43:04 EST
>From: Keith Tuma (KWTUMA@miamiu.acs.muohio.edu)
>Subject: Re: Orono

No, Maria, I hadn't asked Aldon if I might forward his comments. This is perhaps a lapse in list ethics on my part--if so, I apologize. Like many on this list, I've learned from Aldon, had useful exchanges private and otherwise with him, find him one of the best, friendliest folks in po-biz. So, sorry, Aldon, if you mind. But I expected that the exchange would be productive, and surely wouldn't send just any remark or a remark by just anybody (somebody I didn't or wouldn't necessarily expect to be willing to take on a particular conversation) to a person not a part of the list. And I would never send on a remark of the sort you allude to re your own situation. I know von Hallberg well-enough to know that he would respond to Aldon's commentary in a manner which would raise questions. What happened to you is regretful.

Nevertheless, I do think that some clarification of the parameters of our conversation here is needed--or perhaps I've missed them. The EPC archives are of course available to all interested computer users, and increasingly comments made on poetics are cited in various print venues. (A poetics note of mine, for instance, is cited in Jed Rasula's book; and I have no problem with that, though I was not asked for permission and I'm betting neither was the listowner.) I guess I take it that "private" applies first and foremost to the matter of informing people of the existence of this list. And that there, as elsewhere, some common sense and taste must factor into the decision to "spread the word." Beyond that I'm not sure how this list can be altogether private, but if i'm missing something I'll be happy to be clued in.

all best,

>Date: Sat, 6 Jul 1996 22:35:22 -0700
>From: "Aldon L. Nielsen" (anielsen@email.SJSU.EDU)
>Subject: Re: Orono (fwd)

Here is my response to Robert's message, made before I knew that his message was already on the poetics list. Only note I would add here is that it was Don Wellman who first raises the issue of performative criteria, not Hank Lazer -- Hank raised the issue as a question as we were standing around the podium afterwards --

Have now also read Joe Amato's note on this -- I know that Joe is out of town now, but I want everybody else to feel perfectly free to jump in on the issues involved -- Since Robert felt that I had misrepresented his remarks, I thought it important first of all to state that I had reviewed his remarks carefully -- I am now more than ready to move on to possibly useful discussions of some of the other issues raised in this episode --

And by the way, if anybody on the list whose paper or comments I described in my report feels I have been inaacurate about anything, let me hear about it --

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Sat, 6 Jul 1996 11:02:24 -0700 (PDT)
From: Aldon L. Nielsen (anielsen@athens)
To: robert von hallberg (von6@midway.uchicago.edu)
Subject: Re: Orono

I will respond at greater length later (am on my way to family meetings at the moment) but here are a few VERY quick comments --

First of all, I would be careful about stating that I have misrepresented your remarks. (excuse the oddness of that sentence please; I, of course, would not have made the remarks) You did in fact include a reference to my opening comments about the number of papers at the beginning of your commentary. Perhaps you did not notice the tape recorder that was on the table in front of you. I responded directly to that comment as I felt I could appropriately speak of that which had been directed to my own remarks. If it becomes necessary in the course of public discussions, I will ask your permission to post a transcription of the commentary and will supply you with a copy of the tape. The remark about "badness" is off the tape. As we discussed these issues after the panel broke up, you did in fact say to me that the poems discussed were "bad poems." You will perhaps remember that I told you I would not argue with you then and there over the particular qualities of the poems cited for the simple reason that, in the case of "Montage," I didn't happen to like the poem all that much anyway. My arguments with you were not so much about the value of individual poems as about your mode of address (and the amount of the time it took.)

Now for a few quick matters that are more important to me, but have less to do with what one or the other of us actually did or did not say. (Again, I will gladly supply you with the tape if you wish to be certain about quotations.)

It is true that some people argue that a different mode of critique is required for poems such as "Montage," and I would agree with you that IF that is the case, then we should get down to the business of laying out what we think such an aesthetic might entail. However, please recall that I made no such argument to you on the day in question. Hank Lazer and, I believe, Jerome Rothenberg made a few comments on the need for a "performative" mode of critique as we were standing around debating afterwards. But as we go on with ouur own disucssions, please bear in mind that this is not an argument that I make. I believe that "performative" modes of critique are appropriate for forms of performance. I think it condescending to argue that Hughes has to be read by some other criteria of performance (when we're talking about poems on the page at least) than, say, Hayden.

When I refer in my posts to strategies of the old New critics, I am not speaking of their techniques of close reading, which I continue to use. I was speaking of the strategies used to dismiss black poets in the 403, 50s and 60s. In my other telegraphic reports of Orono (Did Keith in fact send you all of it, or just the part about that panel?) I mentioned an infamous review of Brooks by Simpson. Better examples might be Tate's various responses to African-American poets. What I was getting at in my all too short hand (and perhaps even short sighted) way was that a thorough and close reading of the history of American criticism of African-American poets turns up numerous instances of this same set of remarks being directed to similar panels and critical efforts. I in fact not only welcome close readings of black poets, I produce them from time to time. Mu complaint about your complaint was that you seemed to be ruling out other efforts that I feel are worthwhile and needed --

For example, if I agreed with what you said about the first paper (and I have much to dislike about that paper on entirely other grounds) I would be hard pressed to see much use in Alan Goldings work on anthologies, work that I find useful. If we did not make such arguments, the Heath and Norton would probably not have changed much at all. I believe they have not changed enough, and so I continue to make such arguments.

The word "interloper" does not in any way represent my view. I do indeed believe that any field of criticism is likely to benefit from interventions from well-informed critics who have worked primarily in other fields. I'm not sure what the term "outside" would even mean in this context. BUT, I have to admit amazement at part of our post-session (and therefore post-tape) exchange. When we were discussing the fact that numerous conferences, articles, books etc. were devoted to precisely the sorts of readings you called for, you indicated to me that you did not read journals such as _CLA_, _Callaloo_, _AAR_ etc., because, as you put it, you "can't be an expert in every field." Now, I hardly expect such expertise from anybody, including myself, but I found that a renarkable statement to come from somebody who had just delivered a keynote address on Robert Hayden. I wouldn;t put too much weight on this part of our exchange, as it's not part of the issues you have raised in your post to me, but I am trying to communicate something to you about how certain of your remarks must sound to people, perhaps without your meaning to sound objectionable.

(by the way, I am away from my office for an extended period, and the machine I am using does not allow me to back up and correct typographical errors. I am no typist, so please be forgiving of oddities of spelling, punctuation, spacing etc.)

Again, there is much else we could argue about. (For instance, the phrase "sociology thing" is yours, not mine. -- And I remain puzzled by your remarks about the importance (or lack thereof) of looking at Pound's contacts with black culture (doesn't all that Frobenious weigh on your mind for something?)

It's probably never a good thing to put too much weight upon post-panel discussions. The reason that I tape panels I am a part of is that I hope to get suggestions for further research, new abgles to explore, etc. What angered me that day (and I suppose I am still a bit angry about it) is that you did not ask a question, nor did you offer your comments in a way directed specifically to elements of the papers that might help their authors (or even me) to improve the work in hand. You did tell the panel that they were being reductive, that they were lending themselves to identity politics, etc. If I might take a cue from your own comments, I think you would be far more likely to achieve the result you seem to have aimed at by engaging directly with an element of the readings about which one might argue prodcutively. I suspect that any of us who present a paper of 20 minutes on such topics (or even an address of 40 minutes?) might accurately be accused of being reductive. On the other hand, I do not believe it truly is reductive to examine the history of race and anthologizing or race & criticism -- You appeared to me to go past arguing that the papers had failed in a specific way in the tasks they had undertaken to argue that the tasks they had undertaken shouldn't be undertaken. If I am misreading you on that point, I'm ready to be set straight.

I hope you will remember too that as we left the room I said to you that I felt comfortable having such an argument with you because I thought we could listen to one another (perhaps even mishear one another) and still get somewhere -- whereas I feel there is simply no point in my having such an argument with Louis Simpson. I do not mean by this that I believe you will eventually see things my way, but that I have much to learn from arguing these points with you.

But, as I keep telling my graduate students, we have to look at the same text before we can argue about our interpretations of it.

I am responding directly to you, in private, to the extent that any email is private. If you decide to post your message to me in any public place, please post this with it and let me know where it went. I have much more to say if we are going to debate in public. I have more to say, but perhaps in a happier tone, if we discuss this between ourselves.