the only game I play is the millennium
the only game I play is the Great
with me. I won't put up with you!
If the first book was an opening, the second is a continuation and amovement into future works. It is the celebration of a coming into fullness-- the realization in some sense of beginnings from still earlier in thecentury. And yet the poetry like the time itself marks a sharp break fromwhat went before, with World War II and the events of Auschwitz and Hiroshimacreating a chasm, a true aporia between then and now. It is on the nearside of that paradoxical break that our own lives first come in -- not outsidehistory this time but living in and through it. The years the book coversare those of the cold war and its aftermath and, viewed from where we are,the time too of the second great awakening of poetry in the century nowcoming to an end. The story told is one that we have lived in and have foundnever to have been truly told, neither in its triumphs nor its failures(with an affection for the failures sometimes as great as for the triumphs).If ideas like that guided our first book, they will more strongly dominateour second, where we can no longer act as distant and objective viewers,but as witnesses and even partisans for the works at hand.
1. A work resuming "in the dark" ...
The gathering (to use the title of one of Robert Duncan's last books)begins "in the dark": a mid-century of molten cities and scorchedearth, of chimneys blowing human ashes through the air, of slaves in laborcamps and gulags, of nations enslaved to other nations, of racism and apartheidrampant.(1) In that darkness the brilliant, often strident promise of anearlier avant-garde was no longer visible or viable. The surge of totalizinggovernments and the resultant state of war had decimated the former avant-gardes-- in Germany and Russia, Italy and Japan, as in the conquered lands ofEurope, Africa, and Asia. The stakes for some were death or exile, for othersan underground resistance and continued struggle, for still others (all too often) a collaboration with the very advocates of power and repressionthat their work had set out to oppose.
The half century that followed witnessed a continuous wave of wars andrepressions, interspersed with rebellions and occasional luminous victoriesthat for the moment seemed to light the darkness.(2) Sometimes claimed asthe longest "peaceful" period in memory a virtual pax americanait could be felt (and was by those who lived it) as a continuation of themid-century war by other means: a diffuse but unrelenting form of WorldWar III.(3) The wars of the time were not only the American conflicts inKorea and Vietnam -- and the forty-year long cold war -- but hundreds ofother regional conflicts, wars of independence, revolutionary guerrillawars and uprisings, genocides, mass slaughters, cultural wars fueled byideology and, increasingly, by ethnicity and religion. And with this toothere was the sense of a natural world under continuing attack or lashingback with new plagues and hitherto undreamed-of biological disasters.
This was the darkness that came through, along with whatever other formsof darkness -- and of light -- that moved within the cosmos or the individualpsyche. "Poetry therefore as opposition," Nanni Balestrini wrote,within a neo-modernist, experimental framework. "Opposition to thedogma and conformity that overlays us, that hardens the tracks behind us,that entangles our feet, seeking to halt our steps. Today more than everis the reason to write poetry." And Pierre Guyotat, as a further markerof the poet's relation to the art as such and to the sense of earlier betrayals:"The very origin of the whole system of literature has to be attacked."
In the United States, where
experimental modernism had yet to make itsineluctable breakthrough,
the first postwar decade was marked by an ascendantliterary
"modernism" -- hostile to experiment and reduced in
consequenceto a vapid, often stuffy middle-ground approximation. It
was in that sensethe Age of Eliot (T.S.) and of the new
critics, as they were thencalled -- not as an extension of Eliot's
collage-work in The Waste Land,say, but as a dominant and
retrograde poetics in which the old waysof the English
"great tradition" were trotted out and given privilege.The
mark of that time, revived in every decade since, was a return to
prescriptiverhyme and meter: a rejection thereby of the uncertainties
of free verseand the barely remembered freed words of a
Mallarmé or Marinetti.Wrote the poet Delmore Schwartz, as one
of those then in ascendance: "Thepoetic revolution, the
revolution in poetic taste which was inspired bythe criticism of
T.S. Eliot ... has established itself in power." Andhe gave as an
example of new poets writing in "a style which takesas its
starting point the poetic idiom and literary taste of the generationof
Pound and Eliot," the following from W.D. Snodgrass:
The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for ?
at which David Antin looked back and commented (circa 1972): "Thecomparison of this updated version of A Shropshire Lad ... and thepoetry of the Cantos or The Waste Land seems so aberrant asto verge on the pathological."
Yet it was typical. Inevitable in fact for those who couldn't distinguishbetween "the poetic revolution" and a "revolution in taste,"or who still thought of taste as an issue. Even an attempt at such distinctionswas then unlikely, for the careers of the inheritors were too often literary,resting like the idea of literature itself on a fixed notion of poetry andpoem, which might be improved upon but never questioned at the root.And behind it too there was a strange fear of "freedom" as thathad been articulated by earlier, truly radical ("experimental")moderns -- whether as "free verse" or "free love" orthe abandonment of judgment as a bind on the intelligence or of taste asa determinant of value.(4) So if the taste and judgment they still clungto (and which made them critics "inspired by the criticism of T.S.Eliot") demanded "modern" as an article of twentieth-centuryfate, they retained it, but they pulled back into traditional and institutionalsecurities, "picking up again the meters" (Schwartz) as a moral,even a political buttress against their own mid-century despair. And thisitself, qua ideology, was made a part of a modern dilemma, whichcame to define their rapidly evaporating modern-ism -- not as a promiseof a new consciousness but as a glorified "failure of nerve."
Against which a counterpoetics was quickly starting to develop -- apush, foremost, to find new beginnings (or to retrieve old ones) appropriateto the time.
2. The work in all its fullness ...
The postwar when it came, then, came from all directions.In that coming it faced both a modernism stuck dead in its tracks and aresurgence of much of what that modernism at its fullest had setout to challenge. The new turning in America -- in full motion by the middle1950s -- was central to our own perception but only a part (a large partbut a part) of a much greater global whole. The war, which WilliamCarlos Williams called "the first and only thing in the world today,"was of course the great dividing line -- and with it the bomb thatput an end, he also reminded us, to much that was past, while
all suppressions, from the witchcraft trials at Salem to the latest book burnings are confessions that the bomb has entered our lives to destroy us.By which he meant that the stakes were now raised and would remain raisedto the present millennium's end and the next millennium's beginning. Itwas from here -- everywhere -- that the new generations were to taketheir start.
The following, then, are some aspects of that time, which to a great extentis still the time we live in.
There was a breakdown,
first, of the more tyrannical aspects of the earlierliterary and art
movements, and a turning away with that from
totalizing/authoritarianideologies and individuals. Such a stance --
"against all isms,against all that implied a system"
(C. Dotremont) -- was in that sensea matter of both life and
art.(5) On its political and social sides,it was marked by a
generally leftward tilt -- rarely the fascist and
totalitariantemptations of many of the prewar poets, though not
entirely immune to aseductive -- and repressive -- totalitarianism of
the left from time totime. The result was the appearance by the 1960s
of a new "dialecticsof liberation," political and personal,
marked by a sense of resistance,of breaking free (in word and act,
mind and body), while retaining a more-than-formalistconception of the
poem as vehicle-for-transformation. Wrote Allen Ginsberg,drawing from
an older source: "When the mode of the music changes,the walls of
the city shake." And the Japanese "postwar poets"(in a
"demand" voiced by Ooka Makoto): "Bring back
totalitythrough poetry." (6)
The "liberation" saw a resurgence, along with more stabilizedforms of poem-making, of old and new varieties of free verse andfreed words ("concrete," "projective," "open,""variable," and so on). Along with this came the assertion --and practice -- of other freedoms in the poem and, by implication andassertion, in the world beyond.(7) Thus the poem was again and decisivelyopened to the full range of the demotic (spoken) language, but with thefreedom also to move between demotic and hieratic (= "literary")modes, or into other areas of discourse long out of bounds for poetry. Fora number of the poets in these pages this meant an opening to popular modesand voices -- a breakdown of distinctions that both prefigured the "popart" soon to come and later merged with it. At a deeper or older ("folk")level this was matched by the appearance of submerged languages (dialectsand idiolects) as new/old vehicles for poetry: the Viennese of H.C. Artmannand others, the Friulian of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Jamaican "nationlanguage" in oral works by Michael Smith or Miss Queenie (and the writtenvariations by Kamau Brathwaite), the appropriations of "black speech"in the work of African-American writers (and others) too numerous to mention,the pidgin writings of Pacific poets in a range of topoi from NewGuinea to Hawaii. And so on. Wrote the American poet John Ashberyof his own very real and very different aspirations in that direction: "Myidea is to democratize all forms of expression ... the idea that both themost demotic and the most elegant forms of expression deserve equally tobe taken into account."
This, then, is fulflillment. It is a wedge, among many, by which allwords will enter into presence -- as in Whitman's prophecy (circa 1860)of a total poetry that would (like "the Real Dictionary" he alsoenvisioned) incorporate "all words that exist in use, the bad wordsas well as any. ... [Like language itself] an enormous treasure-house, orrange of treasure-houses ... full of ease, definiteness and power -- fullof sustenance." In such a poetry, with its open and unlimited vocabulary,all subjects/themes were also possible -- from the most demeaned to themost exalted, from the most commonplace to the most learned, from myth tohistory and back, from present into past and future.(8) While the firstround of breakthroughs had occurred in the earlier twentieth century, therealizations and divagations now were coming helter skelter -- and withthem a persistent questioning (experimental and [soon to be] "post"modern)of language's relation to any experience whatever, to any reality, eventhat of language itself. (9)
The results are contradictory and often self-contradictory, yetone senses behind them a commonness of purpose: to throw down and restore.And with this comes a necessary reassertion of the role of the poet as seerand chronicler. The former guise, which an earlier neo-classic tilt hadcovered over, was the image that vibrated through the Beat poetics (andmuch else) from the mid-1950s on, and in its assertion across the globeincluded an exploration of different forms of post-surrealist writing andan alliance for some with previously suppressed religious and cultural forms:shamanism, tantrism, sufism, kabbala, peyotism, etc. It also saw the reappearanceof what Allen Ginsberg spoke of as a heroic poetics: a renewed willingnessto thrust the poet forward as a heroic, even sacrificial figure in defenseof self and tribe, of human and mammal life (M. McClure) -- and with that,of poetry itself.(10) (The moments of public breakthrough -- for Ginsbergand others -- were notable in early resistance to the Vietnam War, in samizdatand underground publication in the crumbling Soviet orb, and in the manyindependence movements of the post-colonial "third world.") Inmore literary terms, the second half of the twentieth century was markedby the reassertion, in the persistent (and false) divide between classicismand romanticism, of the romantic impulse -- with a spiritual and materialforce that dominated the early postwar period and has remained a presencethereafter.
While what was at issue here was a poetry of displacements and dreamings,it was accompanied (sometimes in the same work) by a new "object-ism":an imagism of the familiar ("here-and-now") and an unprecedentedpoetry of fact. In the formulation by the Nicaraguan poet ErnestoCardenal, the call was for a new "exteriorismo ... [an] objectivepoetry ... made with elements of real life and concrete things, with propernames and precise details and exact data, statistics, facts, and quotations."Behind it was a half-century of explorations, from those that focused on"minute particulars" (the poems of Francis Ponge and MarianneMoore are eminent examples) to variations on Ezra Pound's recasting of theepic ("long poem") as "a poem including history." Thatdefinition -- or something close to it -- prefigured "maximal"works by poets like William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, Melvin Tolson,Muriel Rukeyser, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Theodore Enslin, Robert Kelly,and Anne Waldman in the United States, and elsewhere by poets like PabloNeruda, Vladimir Holan, Anna Akhmatova, Ernesto Cardenal, Hugh MacDiarmid,and René Depestre. With an eye toward the contemporary politicalimplications of "history," the push was later extended by Ed Sandersto an "investigative poetry" in which "lines of lyric beautydescend from ... data clusters [:] ... a form of historical writing ...using every bardic skill and meter and method of the last 5 or 6generations, in order to describe every aspect (no more secret governments!)of the historical present. (11)"
Such an effort, as (re)visioning, was tied as well to the reinvestigationand reconfiguration of the entire poetic past and present -- a majorsubtext, surely, of the present volumes. In a "post-colonial"world it became one way -- again among many -- for poets to come forwardas voices for "nation" or "tribe" or "community"(as elsewhere for "nature" and "world"), or to explore,increasingly, the specifics of ethnicity and gender as they entered intothought and word. (12) Here, as elsewhere in the art of the postwar, thework laid claim to a renewed permission and validity, both as "investigativepoetry" (above) and as a vehicle for direct political resistance-- in contrast thereby to the outright dismissal of such political poetryby "new critics" and "high" modernists on the one handand by Surrealists in the mode of Breton on the other. Concurrently, andcontrastively as well, there was a renewed sense of history as personalhistory: the inner life, including the deepest areas of sexuality and hithertocovert desires, (again) laid bare. (13) In this the resultant work wentfar beyond the psychological limits and distress of the (so-called) "confessional"poets of the 1960s, edging toward what Clayton Eshleman, with the likesof Antonin Artaud among the forerunners, spoke of as the "constructionof the underworld" and traced back, as a form of "grotesque realism,"to its (painted) sources in the cave art of the late Paleolithic.
Here is a tension, then, between extremes of the personal and communalthe "unspeakable visions of the individual" (J. Kerouac) and thereconstructed "tale of the tribe" (E.Pound). (It is from a numberof such "tensions" or "oppositions" that our work asa whole has been constructed.) In the working out of those extremes, bothformal and historical explorations came up against what Alfredo Guiliani,writing for the Italian Novissimi, demanded as "a genuine 'reductionof the I' as producer of meaning," or what Olson, in a famous act ofcondemnation (more exactly, of realignment and questioning), called "thegetting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego."But alongside the continuing "inwardness" of Olson's developingpoetics (= "projective verse") (14), there were other attemptsat still more objective, non-"expressionistic" methods of composition.These included not only experiments with systematic (objective) chance operations-- a tension (post-Dada) between "chance" and "choice,"as notable in the works, e.g., of Jackson Mac Low and John Cage -- but aconcern with other procedural, even mechanical (machine-derived) methodsthat seemed, momentarily at least, to put the will in suspension, to allowthe poem "to write itself," and by so doing, to invite still moreof the world to enter the poem.(15) There is in this approach -- in Europe,the United States, and elsewhere -- something like Wittgenstein's senseof philosophy as "as a struggle with the fascination that forms ofexpression have upon us." (Both the poignancy and force of such a dictum,when transferred to poetry, are here worth noting.)
This interrogation of language, or of the language-reality nexus as such,was from the late 1940s (and continuing, increasingly, into the present)the second great arena for what came to be called the "postmodern."Here the experiencing self, while never disappearing, was supercededby processes of language and by the appropriation and redirection of textsand utterances already present in the language. The outcome was a numberof versions of what the Cobra poets, say, or the European "situationists"spoke of as a détournement -- not merely a "diversion"or "deflection" of an inherited text but, as stated elsewhereby Ken Knabb, "a turning aside from the normal course or purpose (oftenwith an illicit connotation)." Such a turning, twist, or "torque"(G. Quasha) was deeply sourced in earlier workings with collage and in thelanguage-centered experiments of predecessors like Gertrude Stein, VelimirKhlebnikov, and Kurt Schwitters, among others. But what had been the scattered,sometimes casual breakthroughs of that earlier time now took new directionsand became the central work of poets in many different places. Such foregroundingsof language had also influenced a number of key figures in areas like philosophyor ethnology, and these in turn would come to influence or interact withthe postwar generations of poets, particularly in the reconceptualizationof poetry as a function of language and, inversely, language as a functionof poesis.
At work here was a renewed focus on language's role in shaping the perceptionof reality, with the poets' experimental work vindicated and enriched, forexample, by linguistic investigations like those of Benjamin Lee Whorf onthe nature of non-Indoeuropean languages such as Hopi and Maya.(16) Similarly,many of theold questions on "the nature of representation" receivednew formulations and thought, both in the practice of the poets ( articulatedas poetics by, e.g., the Italian Neo-avanguardia, the U.S.-centeredLanguage Poets, and, maybe primarily, the French Tel Quel group)and in the developing "science" of semiotics (from Ferdinand deSaussure early in the twentieth century to various post-structuralisms inthe [almost] present). If such metapoetic concerns could open a window onalternative language possibilities, they also pointed to the trap inherentin a language-dominated universe -- a trap of language through which thepoet would have to break, Artaud had warned us, "in order to touchlife."(17) Given the allure and danger of that situation , the responsewas either to investigate the laws and limits (= rules) of language or tobreak those rules deliberately; to devise new ways of "making language"(thereby making -- or denying --meaning) or to play variations on languageas discovered in a range of cultural/linguistic contexts.
Related to all that -- and a point of reference, often, in poet-directeddiscussions of poetics -- was the sense that the poet, like all humans,is a vehicle through or by which language speaks. Outside the immediatepoetry nexus, the point revealed itself in Heidegger's insistence, say,that it is language that thinks, rather than man; in Wittgenstein's relatedmeditations ("the limits of my language mean the limits of my world");or in Lacan's formulation that "the unconscious is structured like[a?] language." While such views triggered active responses from poets,they were less a revelation than a confirmation of what had long been known-- that language has always been both familiar and uncanny, and thatthere is a point at which one can say with Rimbaud, e.g.: "I do notthink but I am thought." What was news for critics and theorists, then,was a familiar realization (and practice) for poets, those in particularwho were conversant with shamanic and other forms of mediumship, with western/romanticideas of inspiration and numinosity, with zeitgeists and collective unconsciouses.In its more extreme formulations (early Roland Barthes, say, and the laterpost-everything critical establishment, especially in U.S. academia), theautonomy of language devolved into the canard of "the death of theauthor."(18) Yet news of the latter's death has been much exaggerated:the authors are alive and writing, in full awareness (both ludic and serious)of language's ambiguous and sometimes awesome nature as we hope this volumeshows.
Under such circumstances -- historical and intellectual -- the periodwitnessed the full panoply of modernist/postmodernist projections, increasedin number and pursued with a precision and thoroughness that elevated someareas to the status of a new art, even (though one speaks of this now withcaution) of a new life.(19) As in the earlier half of the century, thiswork was marked by a number of emphases that both denied the possibilityof closure and at the same time moved, however fitfully, toward fulfillment.These emphases, tentatively presented in the first of our two volumes, canbe emended for inclusion here:
With all of this the time has been remarkable
too for the unprecedenteddegree of participation by poets in the
formulation -- individual by individualor group by group -- of a large
array of speculative poetics: writings thatassert autonomy and connect
the work and life of each poet to the largerhuman fate. That there is
an absence of unanimity in these writings is apoint that we would like
to stress, although our attempts at synthesis maysometimes give the
opposite impression. There is also no question but thatwe are
ourselves participants, not just observers, and that our
participationcolors all we've done here. It would be foolish then --
even more so thanwith our first volume -- to view what follows as an
attempt to set up anew canon of contemporaries. Rather, as before, we
would have the anthologyserve a more useful function, as a mapping of
the possibilities -- someamong many -- that have continued to open up
for us -- here and now, atthe century's turning.
It is the richness of those openings that may define this time.
3. The work from all directions ...
That the early
"postwar" corresponded with the great Americanmoment (the
"American century") is quite clear. Its impact onour poetry
as such appeared most convincingly in The New American
Poetry,edited by Donald Allen in 1960: a summary of experimental
work over theprevious decade and a half and the most public challenge
till then to theentrenched middle-ground poetry and poetics of the
1950s. Concerning thepoets gathered therein, Allen wrote: "They
are our avant-garde, thetrue continuers of the modern movement in
American poetry. Through theirwork many are closely allied to modern
jazz and abstract expressionist painting,today recognized throughout
the world to be America's greatest achievementsin contemporary
culture. This anthology makes the same claim for the newAmerican
poetry, now becoming the dominant movement in the second phaseof our
twentieth-century literature and already exerting strong
influenceabroad." Yet what was less apparent for many of those
participatingin or being drawn to it was that what was happening in
American poetry waspart of a larger global awakening, some of
it occuring before orapart from the American influence as such -- and
some of it in collaborationwith or influencing other young Americans
in turn. (That other avant-gardeswere active in the United States
should also be considered.)
We are saying this, of course, with something over forty years of hindsight.What was then revealing itself from outside the United States was from anearlier generation that poets in America were (and, to some extent, stillare) in the process of (re)discovering. Just as word was coming back aboutthe older American "Objectivists" (themselves becoming visibleagain as makers of a transitional "new American poetry"), thepoets recovered from elsewhere included the likes of Neruda and Vallejo(poet-heroes of the other "America"), of Surrealist masters likeBreton and Artaud (disregarded by the American middle-grounders in favorof less "convulsive" practitioners like Eluard and Desnos), ofDadaists like Tzara and Ball or like Kurt Schwitters, whose work was hintedat -- but only hinted at -- in Robert Motherwell's great Dada Artistsand Poets (1951), another generative, albeit historical, anthology appearingin the postwar time. And there were glimmerings too of an older but stillobscure generation of Negritude poets in Africa and the Caribbean a wholeworld, in fact, to reassemble.
What was known then, much of it obscured by the anti-modernist turn atthe beginning of the decade, was imperative to know. What was not known-- obscured here by a heady breakthrough as American poets [pre-VietNam] -- was how much else was coming into presence then or had emerged,even in this most American of centuries and moments, without our blessings.Over the last few years the two editors have had a chance to go over theterrain of the immediate postwar decades (1945 to 1960, the years of theNew American Poetry per se) and to carry that exploration into thestill less charted places that define the boundaries of the present gathering.This has been fired in some sense by our own nomadism (20) and our senseof a community / a commonality of poets that both of us have known (andcontinue to know) across whatever boundaries. Being far enough away frominception now to have a wider view of that terrain, we see the "newAmerican poetry" as itself a part (a key part, sure, but still a part)of a worldwide series of moves and movements that took the political, visionary,and formal remnants of an earlier modernism and reshaped and reinventedthem in the only time allowed to us on earth.
What we would like to give our readers, then -- who will no doubt be Americanin the main -- is a sense of the configuration, the reconfiguration we'veattempted -- both to see how the sweep of a U.S. "postmodernism"fits into that larger frame and how much richer the work from then downto the present is when considered in something like its wholeness. In ourfirst volume we tried a similar approach, covering a range of work "fromfin-de-siècle to negritude" -- from Mallarmé's Coupde dès of 1897 to work appearing in the midst of World War II.The division there was into three "galleries" of individual poetsand six sections devoted to the movements that typified the time but havebeen deliberately omitted or reduced to footnotes in most other gatheringsof poetry. (These were, in order, Futurism [both Russian and Italian], Expressionism,Dada, Surrealism, the "Objectivists," and Negritude.) In doingthis we were not being original (or even "ornery" in some sense)but asserting what for many of us was the actual configuration of that time.We were also setting the stage for the second volume -- approaching thepresent world in which we live and work.
With the second volume -- from World War II to the (almost) present --there is no completion and the omissions and gaps are unavoidable. Havingsaid that, it is our hope that the book will give a view of poetry "fromall directions" and will allow a reading of U.S. poetry and poets juxtaposedwith sometimes equally experimental, sometimes more experimental poetryfrom elsewhere. (For this reason, with America as the point of departure,the amount of American poetry is and remains disproportionate.) Over all,the question of inclusion and exclusion, which can never be properly resolved,was less important with regard to individuals and movements -- more withregard to the possibilities of poetry now being opened. There are two galleriesthis time around, the first and earlier consisting largely of poets whowere or became active during the 1940s and 1950s, the second of those whobecame active in the 1960s, 1970s and (but here our offerings become moreminimal) in the 1980s and 1990s. And within these galleries we've embeddeda number of groupings somewhat like the movements of the previous volume,but often more localized or more restricted (with several notable exceptions)to moves in poetry rather than across the arts, although that poetry mayitself show real amalgams with the plastic arts or music. The point, anyway,is not to trace influences from group to group but to set out a range ofresponses to the postwar (cold war) era and to the time and the places inwhich the poets lived.
The first gallery, then, consists of work from some fifty poets -- fromMarie Luise Kaschnitz, born in 1901, to Gary Snyder, born in 1930. It followsa small opening section ("Prelude"), which announces our pointof departure among the disasters of war and fascism counterpointed by asection of poems by some of the poets who appeared in the earlier volumebut whose postwar poetry -- often "maximal" as Olson would havehad it -- showed a meaningful continuity between the century's two halves.But it's in the contents of the first gallery as such that the richnessof the time begins to assert itself -- a richness measured in fact by itsunboundedness. It is a configuration of contemporaries -- already ours --and of possibilities -- ours also -- with regard to which the vaunted Americandominance (forty years later) seems a clear exaggeration That we may feela kinship (and sometimes open friendship) with all those presenthere and elsewhere in the book is a further point worth making.
The second gallery continues in the same way, taking as examples work fromclose to sixty poets, from the Congolese Tchicaya U'Tamsi, born in 1931,to the American-Korean Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, born in 1951. If there arebreaks between the two galleries, there are also mergers and collaborations,and along with these a growing ease with the means inherited from earliergenerations -- as well as a sense of the problematic and contentious asnecessary charactersitics of poetry in a time of experiment and change.Our own moves here are much more tentative, much more open to question (ourown self- questionings included), than in our first volume, for we are speakingnow from within the field at a point, that is, where participation colorsobservation, and distance, if at all desired, is near impossible to comeby. We have therefore let the poets speak, as much as possible, on theirown behalfs, peppering our commentaries with a variety of poets' self-accountings,in the belief that each citation can in some sense enter as a "specialview" of poetry and of the world and mind-set from which that poetryemerges. In a similar vein, we have compiled a section of poems and extracts,occupying the center of our book, in which poets of the latter half of thecentury continue to exercise and develop the "art of the manifesto"that has been a crucial mark of avant-garde production "from then tonow." And we conclude the volume with a group of postludes two poemsof our own and one by Robert Duncan, which he wrote, still with hope, atthe time of his final illness.
Along with the individual poets presented in our "galleries"-- and there are, clearly, many more of consequence -- groupings began toappear and common themes and practices began to be visible: mini-movementswith some resemblance to the larger movements of the pre-war time. Somewere confined to a single place and language or to a narrow set of places,others to a sweep that cut more boldly than their predecesors across dividesof place and nation. Six of the ones we've chosen and inserted in our gallerieswere already active in the 1950s, two of those as far back as the later1940s, while three were creatures mainly of the seventies and eighties.The remaining two inserted sections, "oral poetries" and "cyberpoetics"(as indications of a possible past and possible future of poetry) are morelike curatorial groupings constructions by the editors, intended to foregroundcertain widespread but largely unformulated currents. The thrust in almostall was toward a rupture with the past, or a renewal of the interruptedruptures of the pre-war avant-gardes, now made more urgent by the wars andcold wars of the time and by a sense of dangers and repressions still persisting.
As with our individual selections, we are aware of many of the other groupingsthat could have been included in a work like ours -- from the German "Gruppe'47" to the poets around the French Tel Quel or Change "collectives,"from key U.S. movements like the Black Mountain poets of the 1950s or theUmbra (African-American) poets of the 1960s to still active configurationssuch as the British Poetry Revival initiated in the 1970s or the Argentinian"Xul" group of the 1980s and '90s. (Individual poets connectedwith some of these groupings do in fact show up in the gallery sections.)Our mapping is thus more an indication of the ongoing importance of communityand collaboration than some final or exhaustive taxonomy of movements. Thisis borne out, as a primary example, by the absence in the book of a sectiondevoted specifically to such a pivotal and genuinely international movementas"Fluxus," despite the fact that we have long taken it as oneof the groupings of artists & poets truly originary for the period.(We had thought, at one point, to use the word "fluxus" in thesubtitling of our second volume.) Still, almost all of the group's centralpoets are presented somewhere in these pages, since in the view of the editorsthe Fluxus stance, with its emphasis on the merging of art and life, onintermedia, and on an ironic relation to the products of consumer culture,can be seen as the "invisible college" pervading much (in somesense most) of this era's central work. With its opening to the wholerange of previously "experimental" methods -- chance operations,textsound, concrete poetry, & so on -- it both challenged the academicized"modernism" of its time and incorporated most of the practicesconnected with the most formally disruptive side of avant-garde poetry andart. That Fluxus has been literally obliterated from other historiesof poetry is yet another point worth making.
Our intention as editors has been to act against such obliterations, nottoward a new narrowing of poetry but toward its further opening. In thatlight we have felt ourselves driven by a sense that the near past of poetryhas never been adequately presented -- that a truer presentation has longbeen needed, both to reaffirm the work of the present and to lay (again)the groundwork for the future. Acceptance or rejection could then follow,but it would no longer be a judgment based on ignorance or on a deliberateignoring or misreading of what had already happened. As with our first volumewe have tried to avoid a doctrinaire avant-gardism while presenting worksthat test the limits of poetry, but we recognize that this has eliminateda number of writers whose achievements in their own terms we have not intendedto put into question. Still others do not appear because of the limits oftranslation or because our book, while large, is once again bounded, asall our works and lives are bounded. We think therefore that offerings beyondour own are needed, and we welcome not only those that agree with ours butthose that bring forward other and different "special views" otherassessments and approaches to an art that we still think of as central toour aspirations as thinking, feeling human beings.
It is our hope that what we have done here will have some resonance inthe century and millennium now emerging. Looking backward at the same timewe are aware of the distance even now between ourselves and most of thecentury in which we're writing: a time of two great avant-garde awakenings,when much seemed possible and poetry held out a still untested promise asan instrument of transformation, even of redemption. We are at the momentin a possibly less threatening but curiously less hopeful state, caughtbetween a rapidly developing technology and a resurgent economic conservatismthreatening to become a cultural and social conservatism as well. In thatsense the core conflicts are very much like those at the old century's beginning.And yet with all of that the idea of millennium still draws us on, alluresus again with the hope of a poetics pointed firmly toward the future. Webegan our assemblage with Whitman's words "for poets to come":
Indeed, if it were not for you, what would I be?
What is the little I have done, except to arouse you?
and we resume it now with those of Paul Celan, two years beforehis death:
above the grayblack wastes,
grasps the lighttone: there are
still songs to sing beyond
Encinitas, CA / Albany, NY
1 "I lived in the first century of world wars. / Most mornings I wouldbe more or less insane" (Muriel Rukeyser).
2 "The dark world that is illumined is the very thing thatleads poetry toward an even darker world." (Adonis)
3 "Pound, Lawerence,
Joyce, H.D., Eliot, have a black voicewhen speaking of the
contemporary scene, an enduring memory of the firstWorld War that has
revealed the deep-going falsehood and evil of the
modernstate. ... Their threshold remains ours. The time of war and
exploitation,the infamy and lies of the new capitalist war-state,
continue. And the answeringintensity of the imagination to hold its
own values must continue."(Robert Duncan, quoted by Nathaniel
And William Carlos Williams: "Poetry is a rival government always inopposition to its cruder replicas."
4 "My eyes are erotic. My intelligence is erotic. / All combinationsare possible." (Göran Sonnevi)
5 "Art's obscured the difference between art and life. Nowlet life obscure the difference between life and art." (John Cage).
6 And from another direction the Nigerian poet/novelist Chinua Achebe:"New forms must stand ready to be called into being as often as new(threatening) forces appear on the scene. It is like 'earthing' an electricalcharge to ensure communal safety."
7 "Today freedom is more in need of inventors than defenders."(André Breton)
8 "The gift is that you are forced to put much more of theworld into the poem. Sometimes it feels as though the poem is carrying youalong. You have access to a universe that begins to carry you ... into somethingthat you would never have been able to see or write." (Inger Christensen)
9 Again Adonis: "The poem will be transgression. And yet, like thehead of Orpheus, the poem will navigate on the river Universe, completelycontained in the body of language."
10 "If anybody wants a statement of values it is this, that I amready to die for Poetry & for the truth that inspires poetry and willdo so in any case as all men, whether they like it or no ." (A.G.,1961)
11"The twentieth century, in its violence, has brought aboutthe marriage of Poetry and History." (Hélène Cixous)
12 "It is inconceivable
that any Caribbean poet writing todayis not going to be influenced by
[the] submerged [Caribbean] culture, whichis, in fact, an emerging
culture. ... At last our poets today are recognizingthat it is
essential that they use the resources that have always been there,but
which have been denied to them ? which they have sometimes
themselvesdenied." (Kamau Brathwaite)
"To write directly and overtly as a woman, out of a woman's body andexperience, to take woman's existence seriously as theme and source forart." (Adrienne Rich)
13 Note, for example, the important assertion within a new feministpoetry & art (circa 1970) that the "personal" is in fact the"political."
14 "... But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained withinhis nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able tolisten, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share."(C.O.)
15 "All of these are ways to let in forces other than yourself... possibilities that one's habitual associations what we usually drawon in the course of spontaneous or intuitive composition would have precluded."(Jackson Mac Low)
16 "We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativitywhich holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidenceto the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgroundsare similar or can in some way be calibrated." (Benjamin Lee Whorf)
17 "Reality is not simply there, it must be searched and won."(Paul Celan)
18 Don Byrd: "[We] can no longer abide the scaleless worldin which theory and its prose disciplines dislocate us." And DavidAntin: "When I hear the word 'deconstruction,' I reach for my pillow."
19 "What, then, is the postmodern? ... It is undoubtedly apart of the modern. All that has been received, if only yesterday (modo,modo, Petronius used to say), must be suspected. ... A work can become modernonly if it is first postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernismat its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant." (J.F.Lyotard) And Jackson Mac Low: "post-nuttin'."
20 "A nomadic poetics will cross languages, not just translate,but write in all or any of them. If Pound, Joyce, & others have shownthe way, it is essential now to push this matter further, again, not as'collage' but as a material flux of language matter, moving in & outof semantic & non-semantic spaces, moving around & through the featuresaccreting as a poem, a lingo-cubism that is no longer an 'explosant fixe,'as Breton defined the poem, but an 'explosante mouvante.'" (P.J.)
21 Where a choice was to be made, however, we put ourselves deliberatelyon the side of what we took to be the "experimental" and "disruptive"in U.S. terms the "new American poetry" (particularly the emphaseson "measure" and "history") and its later offshootsand extensions, alongside the Fluxus tradition (below) of "erasingthe boundaries between art and life," between genres and divergentart forms, etc. Even so there is no way of accounting for all poets of interestduring this time.