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?

Cures for Poetry Burnout?

Wow, it’s been a while.  My Internet was down for a while there, but I’m back now.

And I have a problem.

Since finishing my MFA, I’ve been suffering from poetry burnout.  I don’t want to write it, and I don’t want to read it.  I’m not so worried about the writing end of things, since inspiration comes and goes and all, and I’m puttering away on revisions and submissions and non-fiction in the meantime, but the lack of urge to read is getting to me.  I’m eating up novels and non-fiction, but poetry, not so much.

Has this ever happened to anyone else?  Anyone have any great suggestions of poets or books to jump-start my stalled brain?

Room Mag does Spec Lit

The creative writing program where I did my MFA, and for which I now work, won’t go near so-called genre writing, including speculative literature.  Actually, I’m not sure if that’s as strictly the case now as it used to be; nevertheless, I didn’t encounter a single example of spec lit or other types of genre writing in my two years there.  This has always bugged me.  I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi and I’ll argue ’til I’m blue in the face that there are plenty of examples of speculative literature that are every bit as literary, intelligent, innnovative and beautiful as the best examples of “literary” writing.  There are also many authors who’ll write speculative work but won’t call it that.  It’s a complicated discussion and I could go on and on about it, but the purpose of this post is to point out that top-notch Canadian literary journal Room (formerly Room of One’s Own) is dedicating an entire issue  (Spring 2009) to speculative literature.  This makes me very happy indeed, and I hope it’ll encourage the wider writing community to accord more respect to quality speculative writing.  I know some of you Vary the Line contributors write speculative poetry, so I’d encourage you to check this out.  The deadline for submissions is January 19, 2009.  Room is a woman-run journal and it only publishes work by women.

What is experimental poetry?

My friend Ray Hsu gave a reading at my alma mater yesterday, and he summarized a conversation with his friend Tim Yu about experimental poetry.  Yu mentioned how everyone seems to call themselves an experimental poet these days, and Ray responded by saying that maybe that means that nowadays, truly experimental poems will be ones that don’t look experimental.  Tim Yu said, “Or maybe they won’t look like poems.”

I thought that was a totally fascinating idea.  Ray went on to talk about a poem he wrote and then folded up into an origami man (ETA: Ray just told me this piece is called “The Coroner”).  To read the poem, you had to unfold the origami, and the way that you unfolded it determined how you read the poem.  This led into a brief discussion of the limitations of publishing–what publishers will and won’t publish, where the line is, how an editor determines a book’s coherency and what they’ll keep and cut from a manuscript to obtain that, and so on.  Ray said he likes to test the boundaries and will send his editor things like scraps of poetry written on a map.  Sometimes the editor goes for it, sometimes not (he didn’t go for the map–too bad!). Obviously, you can’t publish an origami man–at least not in the same way you publish a book.  I wonder what other options there would be for distributing that kind of experimental writing?  You could hand it out at readings, maybe, or sell it at a bookstore.  I told Ray he should conscript his undergrads into an origami poetry assembly line for extra credit.

On the way back from the reading, my husband and I talked a bit about whether the publishing industry censors/controls the literary scene more or less than it used to, and whether newer phenomena like zines and the Internet contribute to that control and/or the diffusion of control, especially when it comes to experimental writing.

Just a few disjointed thoughts on publishing, production, and experimental poetry.  What do you think?  Do too many writers call themselves experimental?  Has the term lost all meaning?  What would, or could, an experimental poem that doesn’t look like a poem actually look like?  Where does experimental writing best find its home?

Introduction – Brianna Brash-Nyberg

Hi there, everyone.  How many make up the “everyone” who read poetry blogs, anyway?  We should start a betting pool, making guesses on what our readership will be.

I’m Brianna, and you can find me elsewhere at my weblog, Jouissance, and my business site, Borealis Creative.  I write poems, plus a healthy dose of fiction (I’m working on my first novel–who isn’t?) and creative non-fiction.  I’ve also been making websites for fifteen years, almost since the Internet was born.  These days, I make websites for writers and other creative people.  I’m also the director of Booming Ground, UBC Creative Writing’s non-credit online writing studio.

In August of this year I finished my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.  For my thesis, I wrote a book-length manuscript of poetry called Botany.  I’ll be starting the process of sending it out to publishers later this month.  I write a lot about plants, birds, mindfulness/wise mind, weather, the city, and other West Coast-y and nature-y things.  My poems have popped up here and there in Canadian literary journals, including The Malahat Review and Room.  I’ve taught writing to high school students and single moms, and I hope to continue to teach throughout my life.

I was at a party with a bunch of other poets last week, and we made each other name five favourite poets on the spot, without thinking.  I chose Anne Carson, Louise Gluck, Roo Borson, e. e. cummings, and Eric Miller.  If I had room for a couple of extras, I’d’ve thrown in Homer and Sappho–for my undergrad degree I did a minor in Greek and Roman Studies.  I still remember a few words of ancient Greek.

I’ve been “friends in the computer” with Mary for quite a few years now.  I don’t even remember how I found her journal.  Regardless, I’m thrilled to be a part of this wonderful collective and I’m very much looking forward to thinking about and with poetry in the company of these other three talented women and those of you who pause here for a while, read along, and hopefully join in the conversation through the comments.  There’s plenty of talk on the Internet these days about elections and economics and war and global warming and on and on.  I’m glad we’re making some space to talk about poetry, too.

In real life, I live in a cozy apartment near the beach with my husband of almost 6 years, Mike Borkent, who’s working on his MA in English Lit at UBC (focusing on cognitive poetics and the concrete poetry of bpNichol), and my fat and handsome old cat, the Gak, who’s working on convincing me to feed him, pet him, and/or let him outside.  It rains a lot in my city, but it doesn’t get too cold, so it all more or less evens out.

In my spare (ha!) time, I like to cook and experiment with raw food, make things with beads, travel, hike, camp, swim, do church-y things (I’m a progressive Christian, and generally hang out in the Anglican church), do yoga (it’s a requirement for citizenship in my neighborhood of Vancouver) and sleep.  I’m not so good with memorizing poems, but the one that’s always lurking at the back of my mouth is Ezra Pound’s “In A Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.