The intention of this gathering is to trace the history of that intuition -- & its attendant poetry -- from then to now. From its earliest emergence -- out of the eighteenth-century Enlightment & into the seedbed of a radical Romanticism -- it reflected a tension between the growth of totalizing nation-states & repeated declarations of the rights of "man." In the ensuing conflicts, poets were not only "unacknowledged legislators" in the ideas they projected (Shelley), but trans-formers of & through the language in which the work was written. What began to take shape, then, was the idea of poetry as an instrument of change -- a change that would take place foremost in the poem itself, both as a question of language & structure and of a related, all-connecting vision. Such a change -- deepseated, not cosmetic -- was felt to be a virtual reinvention of poetry (or any other art), even (for some of its practioners) of language itself. So Tristan Tzara, as spokesman for postrational Dada, would quote Descartes as an informing slogan: "I would like to believe there were no other man before me." And yet, as we will say again & again in these pages, a new past was also being fashioned in the process -- many new pasts in fact.
The form of the work we have assembled is that is a synthesizing and global anthology of twentieth-century modernism with an emphasis on the international & national movements that have tried to change the direction of poetry & art as a necessary condition for changing the ways in which we think & act as human beings. While the first volume of the anthology runs -- historically -- from the beginnings of modernism to the middle 1940s, its emphases come largely from concerns of the later twentieth century as the editors & their contem-poraries have experienced them. These emphases include:
Mock on Mock on Voltaire Rousseau
Mock on Mock on tis all in vain
You throw the sand against the wind
And the wind blows it back again
while the emergent new poet (Blake again) blasts the line apart, casts off "the bondage of Rhyming" and "Monotonous Cadence," to produce "a variety in every line, both of cadence & number of syllables." Thus:
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration
That it no longer shall dare to mock with the aspersion of Madness
Cast on the Inspired, by the tame high finisher of paltry Blots,
Indefinite or paltry Rhymes: or paltry Harmonies.
The difference here is what Rimbaud will later call us to, writing in the final quarter of the nineteenth century that "the invention of the unknown demands new forms" or, again along those lines, "one must be absolutely modern."
The story of the modernism that characterized the twentieth century goes back at least to Blake or to Höaut;lderlin at the start of the nineteenth -- poets who took traditional verse to its limits & then stepped across the line into unprecedented "freedom." With Baude-laire another key figure, the old verse was more persistent, however much he was (in Rimbaud's view) the first voyant or "seer" -- also, with Novalis, say or Edgar Poe in his extraordinary Eureka, an early master of the (so-called) prose poem--a form that Lautreamont & Rimbaud, somewhat later, brought to a first fulfillment. In their positioning between the old & new, most of the nineteenth-century forerunners resembled Emily Dickinson, whose recognizable metric was accom-panied by a revolutionary sense of off- or near-rhyme & by the use of hyphens/dashes to call her own set rhythms into question. Only with Whitman do we see the work turning irreversibly to free or open rhythms -- equaled, in a sometimes more radical & quirky way, by the sprung rhythms & soundscapes ("instress") of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Often unrecognized, unpublished or scorned in their own time, these would become the major forerunners of the century ahead. And with them as a master innovator was Stephane Mallarmé, whose extra-ordinary Coup de dés of 1895 both finished the nineteenth century's fade-out into symbolism & marked the beginning of the twentieth's relentless transformations.
It is with Mallarmé then that our view as such begins. In the works that followed his, barrier after barrier began to crumble, toward the construction of new forms, the exploration of new behaviors, and the opening of new possibilities. Early in the twentieth century this expressed itself in movements (some tightly organized, some hardly so) across the arts, as well as in the work of individual poets, acting off a new permission to write a poetry freshly invented -- reinvented -- in each succeeding poem. The first decade of the century was already filled with this new breed of creative innovator -- in poetry as in the other arts. Stein, Apollinaire, Cendrars, Reverdy, Jacob among the cubists of Paris are obvious examples of poet-experimentalists interacting with other experimentalists. This interaction accounts also for the visual edge in Apollinaire, the verbal edge in Picasso's collages (always present, heretofore overlooked). Elsewhere too the push against boundaries & restrictive definitions of poetry & language can be felt: Darió's modernismo, Blok's late symbolism, Huidobro's interaction with the Parisians & self-generated Creationism; the multiple names (personae, "others") created by Pessoa; Rilke's breakthrough into angelic visions (prodded in part by the emergence of expressionism & the rediscovery of Höaut;lderlin as forerunner); Pound's declarations favoring a new poetic image (or, later on, the image set in motion).
The movements of those first two decades functioned also as collaborative vortices (Pound's term), bringing together many indivi-dualities in a common push toward a new dispensation, aimed at a drastic change of poem & mind. Of those movements, Futurism was both the first & the first to have a poetry & a poetics at its center. Based in Italy it was paralleled by Expresionism in Germany, the other Futurism in Russia & in central Europe, Vorticism in the Anglo world, the various new -isms coming out of Paris, & a culmination (circa World War One) in Dada, which was also the first (postmodern) turning against movements & against modernism as such. The highly individuated poets working within these movements include Marinetti, Trakl, Benn, Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, Pound, & Tzara, along with boundary-breaking artist-poets such as Arp, Kandinsky, Klee & Schwitters.
This energy -- first sighted in a time of war & revolution -- continued into the century's third decade & beyond, as typified in what Clayton Eshleman has described as the banner year of 1922. In that year Europe & America saw the publication of Eliot's Waste Land & Joyce's Ulysses, but also Rilke's completed Duino Elegies & Vallejo's incredibly knotted, thwarted Trilce. It was the decade too of the birth of Surrealism (1924), led by poets like Breton, Soupault, Aragon, Péet, Eluard, Desnos, & culminating in a poet-artist like Artaud, who turned against it with unprecedented inner violence. In its central focus on the "dream work" (S. Freud) & in its call for a strategy of moral & artistic transgression that it only (very) partially began to realize, Surrealism has colored a major area of post-Surrealist writing. At the same time it was countered, largely from the American side (for which, see the "Objectivists," below), by a push toward a poetry that would focus on the luminous detail & would allow thereby a reperception of the here & now -- the familiar world from which (Charles Olson later wrote) we were the most estranged. The result -- in Pound, Zukofsky, others -- was to set history alongside myth & dream as areas of mind & practice to be newly rediscovered.
Along with the engagement of the Americas (both North & South) other new modernisms were erupting outside the narrow European nexus (in Japan & China, say) -- not as a worn-out clash of old & new ("the ancients & the moderns") but as a demand to be freed from the tyranny of the canonic past &, increasingly, from that of a degraded present (including -- in some cases -- a gelled & ism-ed version of modernism itself.) What all of these modernisms had in common -- at least in the freshness of their opening stances -- was an urge to decalcify the old literatures, to strip them of their high cultural gangue & return -- or advance -- them to a demotic ideal. The immense labors of lifting that rock were offset by the sheer & actual pleasures of the necessarily transgressive & liberating moves such work required -- in both the purely literary & wider social & political arenas.
Although the concepts of the artistic & political avant-gardes that were to mark this century had been thought out & defined in the previous one, & despite early comminglings or disaffiliations -- Italian Futurism was immediately politically engaged, while Zurich Dada, in disgust at WWI, turned away from any such envolvement -- it is from the late twenties on that the poetic avant-gardes began to link their fate more closely or publicly with movements of social & cultural liberation, or tried to forge alliances -- often disastrous -- with both the (political) left & right. The poets & artists wanted change -- a change that was to affect not only their art but the world as such. The perceived enemies were the luke-warm bourgeois pseudo-democracies (the Weimar Republic in Germany, the Third Republic in France) considered decadent, ineffective, repressive & opposed to any deep-rooted change. The icono-clastic radicalism of the avant-garde would do away with them at any price, although that price -- especially where art's autonomy & dream of liberation were all too lightly cast aside -- turned out to be catastrophic: a choice -- far too often -- between totalitarianisms of the left & right. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Italian fascism had already been in place for a decade, Stalin's empire was a lethal caricature of the revolutionary dream of 1917, while in France left & right were openly battling in the streets. The choice for the avant-garde was not always easy, & Georges Bataille, as witness of that time, speaks of a "fascist temptation" (along with other, likely more familiar ones) that the avant-garde writers had to contend with -- in, & around, themselves. Politically the poets engaged themselves, or were forced into an engagement with the total state, to which they both sumitted & offered up resistance. (Among the murdered in those years were poets such as Lorca, Desnos, Jacob, Wen Yiduo, Radnoti, Mandelstam, while other poets such as Hikmet, Akhmatova, Schwitters, Blaga, Sachs, Neruda, Brecht suffered prison, censorship or exile.) While some parts of the social fabric began to alter, the cultural wars in question were fought on uneven terms, & the suffering (under Hitler, Stalin) is shared with a greater humanity. Whatever the accompanying breakthroughs, their impact on the larger society was still limited & waited for a later decade to be felt.
Or thus, at least, would run a euro-centered narrative of the first part of this century. From a wider perspective, however, the de-composition of the nineteenth-century dream of progress & world-wide power (European) in the mid-twentieth century cataclysm of war (also, predominantly, European) marked the beginning of a liberation from the previous century's still virulent colonialisms. Viewed on such a global scale, it was now possible to see Negritude -- a surge in the 1930s of young African & Caribbean writers influenced by Surrealism -- as the culmi-nating movement of the first half of the twentieth century, with Aimé Césaire as certainly its clearly dominant practitioner. In that sense, if the chronological division has any validity, one can consider the post-modern that follows as a developing response to the decentered/decentering universe of postcolonial reality. Nothing will be complete, of course, but the openings -- the openness -- prefigured here will define the practice of a growing number of poets from throughout the world. In the process, the African & Asian masks looted by nineteenth-century colonialism & which had set ablaze the imagi-nations of Picasso & Apollinaire, of Tzara & Dérain in pre-World War I Paris will also have started their long trek home.
A characteristic of modern art (& poetry) so defined -- but this carries into the "postmodern" as well -- has been the questioning of art itself as a discrete & bounded category. Some such radical questioning of art & of its boundaries is what defines our sense of an "avant-garde" & of some form of "deconstruction" as a strategy for coping with the inherited (authoritative) past. (Both of the terms in quotes are themselves now under question -- the result of two cen-turies of abuse in the former case, of two decades in the latter; or as David Antin puts it elsewhere: "When I hear the word deconstruction I reach for my pillow.") In an essay on Robert Wilson's "theater of images," Robert Stearns writes (in a configuration we would share with him): "The avant garde might be characterized as those creators who do not take their environment & its traditions at face value. They seperate & view its elements & realign them according to their own needs."
This description (while devoid as yet of social/revolutionary purpose) is general enough to include the great range of strategies & stances in experimental poetry & art. Since nothing around us is (ideally) taken for granted & the conclusion or intention of the work (again, ideally) arises or emerges from the work itself, the work by definition is experimental: its outcome unknown, its process crucial. Such experiments/redefinitions/reconstructions may work with & on structures, with ideologies (contexts & contents), with materials & technologies, or (in any instance) with & on combinations of all of the above. From our shared perspective as poets of a certain place & time, we see the coming together of these possibilities as still the great opportunity of art & poetry as these cross into a new millennium. We would want to go as far as to suggest that the experiments of the twentieth-century avant-gardes can be viewed as prolegomena to the realized workings of the century to come.
While the basis for most of these new poetries has been a drive toward social -- even spiritual -- transformation, the experiemntal moves on their structural & compositional side have involved a range of procedures that bring out the opaque materiality of language as a medium as against a "romantic" view of language as purely transparent window toward an ideal reality beyond itself. These have included developments (from Mallarmé & Marinetti on) in visual, typographic & concrete poetry; in primarily English language experiments (from Pound & Williams to Charles Olson & beyond) with "projective verse" & composition-by-field; in systematic chance operations (Duchamp & Arp the early prompters, Mac Low & Cage the leading latterday practitioners); in variations, foremost, of collage & montage throughout the century. Along with such quasi-formalist moves, more strictly ideological/ideational experiments permeated Dada & Surrea-lism during & after World War I, Negritude (broadly defined) by the start of World War II, Beat & Beat-related poetry from the 1950s & 1960s, Situationist street- & pol-poetics of the 1960s & aspects of feminism & other liberationist movements over the last two decades. Equally extreme but often less recognized experiments involved the materials & media of poetry -- from the obvious return to poetry as an art of live performance, to the creation of a new electronic poetry (soundtext, poésie sonore, etc., grounded in its Futurist beginnings), the rudiments of a computer poetry (leading to recent/current hypertext & cyberpunk experiments, etc.), & the beginnings (towards the other end of the technological spectrum) of a poetry without sound in the culture of the deaf. And along with this there have been persistent thrusts to raise demotic,colloquial, common speech as the language of the new poetry & culture. Taking many different forms & challenging many longstanding prejudices & language barriers, this marks a key point at which language experiments & politics meet.
This is a much larger field of experiment & change than has been brought forward in recent controversies about "the death of the author" or "non-referential writing" & similar textual/intertextual modes of conceiving writing & the world. The field is still larger in that the old rules & basic definitions within each art have increasingly & deliberately been set aside or reversed. The terms -- as we may think of them now, at this joining point between millennia -- are thick, still thick with paradox. The imageless (non-representational) art which characterized the American & European mid-century has been matched (in deed if not in prominence) by a wordless poetry: the lautgedichte of Hugo Ball (early) & Henri Chopin (late). Other moves from within language have included those as obvious as the development of a free verse (an oxymoron, as William Carlos Williams taught us) & the parole in libertà (free words) of Marinetti; experiments in the prose poem & the aphorism & their questioning of the boundaries between prose & poetry; nonsyntactic, antisyntactic & "totally syntactic" poetry from Stein to the Language Poets of the 1980s; & a poetry of elementary forms -- letters & numbers -- that works with reduced alphabets (Otto Nebel in the 1920s) or extended ones (Isidore Isou in the 1950s) or invented ones or that reads numbers as words (Kurt Schwitters) or words as numbers (neo-gematria & beyond).
Similarly, the boundaries between the arts have been dissolving into an age of blended media ("intermedia") & hybrid forms of poetry & art. The distinctions between word & picture, action & text, have broken down. Definitions of high & low art have fallen away: the primitive chant, the pop song have become parts of the poet's arsenal -- new instruments at our disposal. The language of everyday speech collides with or expels the exalted language of an older poetry -- like the art that seeks to break the boundaries between itself & everyday life, to reenter the mundane world or to elevate the mundane into art. At the same time that some poets reclaim prophetic & visionary functions (the most expansive claim of all), they or their contem-poraries are altering the physical nature & location of the poem: new shapes of books (the Cendrars/ Delaunay Prose of the Trans-Siberian -- a prime example); new materials to print on (metal, acetate, film & video); poetry as sculpture in the early works of Kurt Schwitters (Merzbau, etc.) or the later ones of Ian Hamilton Finlay (for which, see volume two); the poetry reading & performance, moving poetry off the page & into the cabaret, the theater, the lecture hall, the gallery, the coffee shop, the loft, the prison, & the street. Writes Michael Davidson of a postmodernism that extends one thrust of the modern depicted in these pages: "The boundary to what is possible in writing is a fiction created by & within writing. Only when the boundary is recognized as moveable can it become a regenerative element in art, rather than an obstacle to its growth."
The twentieth century will be known by its push against the boundaries. Where once the definitions were apparent & the frame known, we have now come into the open, have taken up a stance outside the walls. The most interesting works of poetry & art are those that question their own shapes & forms, & by implication the shapes & forms of whatever preceded them. But it is possible for one to become a master of poetry (or even a doctor of poetry) & still be ignorant of all this. (It may even not be possible to do so without that kind of ignorance)
It is our intention in this book to bring that much to light.
If that much is the fault of those who remain hostile to the basic avant-garde gestures, an equally absurd limitation comes from the side of the avant-garde itself -- in particular from many of us associated with the so-called "New American Poetry" & its offshoots in the latter part of the twentieth-century. Coinciding with the 1950s & the pre-Vietnam notion of an "American century," there has been an apparent rejection of an international view with regard to the presentation / publication of contemporary poetry. As a result no general anthology of any conse-quence has appeared during that period that incorporates both radical American & European work -- to say nothing of Asian, African, etc. (Exceptions to this would be anthologies with specific thematic or formal focus, most significantly those on concrete poetry &, more recently, sound poetry, whose significant practitioners are largely, in fact, European or Latin American.) In addition, we know of no post-60s anthology that incorporates both the early & later avant-garde on an international basis, & certainly none that does so with an awareness of the avant-garde's roots & antecedents, & of its relation to radical social & political movements at different points in time.
By contrast, the present gathering as a whole takes the twentieth century as its basic time frame, though we begin the century as such with Mallarm=8E's Coup de D=8Es of 1895 & will end our second volume in a similar manner -- a few years short of the millennium. Following an overture that traces the beginnings of twentieth-century to some of its forerunners (both poetic & ethno-poetic) in the nineteenth century, our opening volume is set between the years 1895 & 1945, marked by the period designation "fin de siècle" at its start & by the African & Caribbean movement "Negritude" (the last great movement of that golden age of literary movements) towards it end. The movements in fact make up a major feature of the first volume's contents, with Negritude preceeded by Futurism (largely Italian & Russian), Expressionism (largely German), Dada (international), Surrealism (French & international), & the "objectivists" (largely American). Along with these movement sec-tions, we have composed three larger, loosely chronological "galleries" of individual poets, without a stress on particular affinities or inter-connections between those represented. Set up like pictures at an exhibition, the order of presentation proceeds by birthdates of the poets, resulting in a number of chance juxtapositions that resemble a kind of modernist collage. We conclude the book with a section called "Origins,": a brief survey of ethnopoetic & historical discoveries & sources from different times & cultures, as they have emerged in both parts of this century, to transform our ideas of poetry in ways as fundamental as those initiated by our greatest innovators. Finally, we have kept the discourse moving by the reprinting of manifestoes & other documents that are themselves a form of literary art, even of poetry, & we have added "commentaries" to all the sections & to all individual poets or poems in the three galleries & the sections of "forerunners" & "origins."
A few further things should be said about our selection procedures, all implicit in the enterprise itself. Our intention from the start has been to show a (literal) world of possibilities & to do so within the confines of a large but necessarily finite work. As a result we have had to go beyond a quantitative strategy & to indicate scope or range by the way in which works are positioned & by what we can say, as commentators, about their importance now & then. It should be clear too that for all our avant-garde emphasis, we have tried not to be restricted by a superficial avant-gardism but to be flexible enough to allow the inclusion of all works we feel significantly test the limits of poetry, both from a structural & from an experiential point of view. On its down side, the attempt to be global -- (maximal) in Charles Olson's 1950s formulation -- has meant that we could rarely show the work of specific poets in depth & that with rare but very deliberate exceptions we could not present key "long poems" in their entirety.
The attempt, further, to make a global anthology is itself a challenge to a whole series of cultural hegemonies & an act of decentering that we find emerging in modern ism & inching toward fulfillment in the present ("postmodern") aftermath. Here again the finite structure of the book has made it impossible to represent "all" nations & "all" languages -- assuming we would have the intention or te-merity to do so. Held back by a paucity of good translations & by limits on our own abilities to know & to judge, we havbe again proceeded by acts of commentary & placement to show how the work of the early twentieth century begins to encourage new acts of experiment & dis-covery across the widest range of human cultures. (An alternative pro-cedure in constructing an anthology of experimental writings -- to con-centrate on European & Euro-American modernisms to the exclusion of all others -- would have been to distort what we take to have been, finally, one of modernism's central issues.) As an indication of the book's openings, we have taken some particular care to presentn a number of key third world beginnings & to position Negritude -- along with the "Objectivist" line of Williams, Pound, & Zukofsky -- as our culminating modern movement. In much the same way we have tried to foreground the work of early women innovators, both known & relatively unknown, while recognizing the historical & ideological circumstances that mitiagted against their greater participation in the initial avant-garde projects. If we have set the groundwork here, then all of these directions will be carried to fulfillment in our second volume.
Yet for all the structuring & inclusiveness on the part of the editors, the book like all such summaries remains a partial view of what was done. We present it with the clear understanding that what has been omitted may, in other contexts, have as much value & interest as what has been included. There are significant areas of twentieth-century poetry that we have not yet explored sufficiently or that may always be beyond our abilities to grasp & understand. And for all of the book's interna-tionalism, we recognize too that its focus is likely too American, not because this has been an "American century," but because our own limitations -- as well as our strengths -- have made America the place from which our viewing starts. The reader may accordingly wish to approach the book, with its divisions into galleries & movements, as the equivalent of an ample but necessarily delimited museum, with a display of art that suggests, always, more than it can actually reveal. Such an open-ended approach -- our Dada forebears wisely told us -- is also part of any modernism still worth consideration in the millennium to come.
Encinitas, CA / Albany NY