Leaping into Language Poetry

I’ve been AWOL, but I haven’t forgotten about Vary the Line.  I’m still recovering from poetry burnout.  A friend told me today that her poems are just starting to re-emerge, a year and a half after she graduated from her MFA.  I think mine might be hibernating.  I’m hoping they’ll wake up with the bears.

In the meantime, I’m going to try reading language poetry.  This is my husband Mike’s field of academic and creative expertise, but I’m pretty unfamiliar with it.  I know at least one of my fellow blog authors here doesn’t care for the stuff, and I think that’s a common sentiment.  I’m not sure how I feel.  It sounds interesting when Mike talks about it and it is interesting when he writes it.  Beyond that, my knowledge is pretty much limited to bpNichol’s concrete poetry, a dash of Christian Bok’s Eunoia, some a.rawlings, and bill bisset–in particular, his poem th tomato conspiracy aint worth a whol pome.  You can read it here.  That poem was in my high school poetry reader, and I loved it then.  I still do, even if it’s completely silly.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure th tomato conspiracy is language poetry at all.  It’s definitely a purposeful manipulation of language in a non-standard way, but are mis-spellings anything more than that?  Hmm.

I thought I’d start my forays with bpNichol’s The Martyrology, Book One.  I’ve read the first 50 pages and I’m not sure this is language poetry, either.  It’s experimental, but so far I haven’t encountered much linguistic craziness.  I just assumed that since bill bisset writes language poetry, Mike studies language poetry, and Mike likes and studies The Martyrology, then The Martyrology must be language poetry.  But according to Mike, the language stuff doesn’t kick in until at least book 3.  Yikes.  That’s a lot of bpNichol to wade through. I might just jump straight to Sylvia Legris, or even Christian Bok.

The point of all of this is to say that I’m going to chronicle my language poetry experiment here.  I’m not sure what form that chronicling will take, or how detailed I’ll get, but hopefully it’ll be an interesting experience.

Any language-poetry suggestions for me?

8 thoughts on “Leaping into Language Poetry

  1. Pretty well anything by Ron Silliman is good, especially Tjanting which is available from SALT. Lyn Hejinian and Susan Howe and Charles Bernstein are all fantastic poets.

  2. > I know at least one of my fellow blog authors here doesn’t care for the
    > stuff

    But I am interested in hearing about what you learn as you explore.

  3. You know what’s hilarious? Most “avant-garde,” “experimental” poets aren’t really as experimental as you might think. I finally read Ron Silliman’s books, and I thought – oh, this is just a stream-of-consciousness diary. Nothing too difficult or hard to follow there. I liked it, but I didn’t really find it challenging. I’ve found the more I actually read what the “experimental” poets are writing, I find it’s not too different, really, from anything else I read. Visual poetry, flarf, they are still poems, read in the same way I read any other poems.

  4. Joanne, I think that IS the same book! I definitely recognize that painting. Funny.

    Jeannine, that is interesting. I’m planning to look up Ron SIlliman soon. I don’t tend to find visual poetry particularly hard to read either (I do like it, though). I’ve come across experimental stuff that I find VERY difficult, though. I’m really interested in figuring out where my personal line is–what makes a poem too obscure, obtuse, closed, or difficult for me? When and why does it shift from being a work I’m engaged with on some level (doesn’t have to be a logical one–it can be intuitive, aural, whatever) to a drone that’s not making any impact on me at all?

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