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notes on lyric 10 and last for now

My two un-comprehensive and provisional cents:

What’s characteristic of lyric isn’t “musicality” per se, but a relationship between the musicality of the text and its having been produced by a “subject.” That relationship can be posited explicitly or implicitly, textually or contextually, and can take various forms. In the most traditional case, the poem is conceived of and treated as (somewhat metaphorically) “sung” by the poet; that relationship, and the conceptual framework that underlies it, brings along with it strong though defeasible connotations of self-expression.

One way that modernist and subsequent poetries tend to complicate this picture (which may be a caricature) is by raising doubts about the autonomy or coherence of the language-producing subject. (These doubts can lie in the theoretical background, but the poetic text can also display that they are on the table by various techniques, including grammatical fragmentation, collage/montage effects, suppression of the word “I,” and the creation of texts that are difficult to interpret as emanating from a unified subject position.) To write out of a nuanced or troubled account of the subject (or self) and how it is constituted is not necessarily to deny its function, or even its ontological status; hence the persistence of “lyric subjectivity.” But if the singer isn’t quite what we once thought she was, in what sense do we are we still privy to her “song”? I don’t mean to suggest any specific answer, or close off any possible answers, but it does seem like this is a productive question: How, given a more complex view of subjectivity or self-expression, are we now to understand the musicality of the lyric text? (This is a question for poetic practice as well as interpretation.)

I must admit that I would like to see more care and less handwaving in accounts of exactly what it is to speak of a decentered, fragmented, or somehow "fictional" self than one sometimes encounters -- I think that would help make these questions less inchoate. Also, I don't mean to ignore the question of what "political possibility" or related categories have to do with all this; it might well be the most important issue, but by the same token, one that's too complicated to admit of a facile comment.


notes on lyric 9

The contemporary English-language innovative lyric captures some of this – text and sound to be received on a mnemonic level, but also need to be processed and thought about. Reading and listening should be work as well as reception.

Poorly copyedited; the two clauses after the dash aren’t parallel. What worries me here is that the slippery slope with respect to what counts as “meta-textual” now looks like a mudslide; putting the focus back on “sound” makes the set of techniques pointed at in this formulation look meta-linguistic, which is not the same thing.

The notion that mnemoticity (a word I found in Scott’s book) is wholly non-cognitive (doesn’t require processing) is odd. Similarly, the second sentence is less tendentious if “reception” implicitly means “passive reception” – but who ever thought this? Not Modernists, or modernists, and not (if JK’s “poetry was never so easy” is to be taken seriously) pre-modern poets/”intellects.”

Might as well register that questions about the status of a written text as the presumed record of a “sounded” one have been under the surface throughout the text. JK doesn’t try to bring them forward except by occasional gestures like “reading and listening.” I haven’t done any better – can’t talk about everything at once, though it may look like that’s what I’ve been asking JK to do.

Each of the poets in this anthology challenges us to think about how the lyric works, and whether it is a relevant literary concept in whatever environment/spatiality we experience it in.

New paragraph. “Environment” is just a metaphor for “context” (here, context of reception, though we’ve also been told that a concern with context of production [“intentionality”] is a feature with which audiences should be concerned with.) Fine, but adding “spatiality” (no more or less pretentious a word choice than “mnemoticity,” I’ll allow) gives the metaphor an air of (Jamesonian?) materialism, as though JK’s given the notion of environment content of a more concrete kind. Which he hasn’t. Do I receive the poem differently in a room, or “in the street”? (Cf. Dan Thomas-Glass.)

The power of the word itself, of the line, of the packaging and distribution of those lines, is in play.

This, again, is something one might claim about any poetry (any lineated poetry – is this a minimum requirement of the lyric.

Cf. second paragraph: “It’s a question of where the packages of word, or words, disseminate…” The occasional recourse to the image of “packaging” seems intended to remind us periodically of a kinship between the stages of linguistic/literary “exchange” and the commercial kind. It’s a potentially interesting way of thinking about lineation (the rhythm of units coming off the production line is rather different than the measure of song), but I suspect it’s more relevant to some poets than others, and, like “spatiality,” it’s here no more than a gesture.

The lyric has never been the prisoner of convention that some would have us think – metrical consistency in English, or the conventions of the French syllabics (for example, with the alexandrine, placement of caesura, alternating rhymes, and so on) have always been displaced or eroded without the loss of lyrical effect.

True in the very general sense that all texts possess musicality (prosody, etc.) if one chooses to attend to it; the contextualization of a text as poetry invites us to attend to it; lineation is perhaps the most common signal of that contextualization. Also true in the somewhat more specific sense that musicality can be foregrounded by means other than adherence to tightly regulated prosodic convention. Quite likely false, however, if “lyrical effect” is closely tied to mnemoiticty, as it has at times seemed to be in the last paragraph or two. (Translation – it usually takes more effort to memorize free verse than metrical verse.)

The metrically variable lyrics of Sidney through to the resonant para-tac-tics of Prynne, have in no way impaired the singing of the language.

[The dash between “para” and “tac” is part of the prose lineatation; the one between “tac” and “tics” is not, but may just be a typo.] Seems to just support the previous sentence, though a bit elliptically. I guess “have in no way impaired the singing of the language” just means “have in no way impaired these poets capacity to sing the language.” “Sing the language” is an interesting phrase and I’m unsure how precisely to take it. It’s not quite Heidiggerian (the language would sing us), but it connotes something more grandiose than the production of a specific song. It could be this: in the course of the poetic act, the poet takes the entire linguistic system (langue) as his or her instrument -- plays “upon” it, like (of course) a lyre, or in the way that a conductor “plays” the orchestra. I don’t think a reading of this sort is inconsistent with anything JK has said, but it’s a new note. Or, I may be making too much of rhetorical nicety.

Rather, they have developed sophisticated layerings of political possibility.

This is what Sidney and Prynne have done instead of impairing the singing of the language. Ok, how? We might take it that the poets stretching or breaking of prosodic convention is related to questioning of the status quo in other respects. (Sidney, here, would be grandfathered in as a modernist avant le lettre; again, despite the gestures toward a “historian’s modernism” at several points, JK ultimately thinks that these possibilities are always already there for a property self-conscious poet/intellect.) I have no reason to doubt that this relationship could be made out interestingly on an actual reading of these poets, or others, but I have to admit I dislike the manipulative way this move is made here, and not for the first time: JK not infrequently shifts suddenly from talking about musicality to talking about “opposition” or “political possibility” or vice versa, as though aware that, these days, a theoretical or quasi-theoretical statement on lyric had better keep both music and politics on the table (not to mention decentering of the self), but too easily satisfied that the connections can be established by “para-tac-tics.” [If taken this text on its own terms as much as possible, but it’s also an instance of a genre: the sophisticated but necessarily compressed contemporary anthology introduction. It might be interesting to attempt a similar commentary on some others – Charles Bernstein’s preface to the mini-Language anthology in Paris Review, which was my own introduction to those writers, is a candidate.]

Much more charitably, JK is alerting us to look for the relevant relationships when we read the poetry.

This is not a “school” of poets, but a grouping of unique voices. Some speak more directly to us than others, but the sheer power of the lyrical template must bring our certainties into question.

Last paragraph. The “certainties,” I assume, are those related to “death of the lyric”; JK is allying his position, and the anthologies, with “post-lyric,” and pointing us back, more explicitly than the previous sentence, toward the poetry. This is welcome, though it’s also standard rhetoric for the anthology-preface genre.

The details are odd, though. “Template” brings back a sense of reliance on pattern that has been denied throughout; it’s unclear, given the range of formal possibilities, what a general template for the lyric is supposed to be. We’re not told (and never were, beyond references to mnemoticity) what lyric has the “power” to do -- and the “sheer” makes this power sound irresistible, sublime, beyond questioning. Some poets, apparently, do speak to us fairly “directly”; this might register that some of the poets included will be less difficult at the level of determinate semantic content, but you’d think directness would be out the window with all of the questioning of the world/word link that’s gone before. (Not that JK says that the more “direct” poets are better.

Going back to the penultimate sentence: Denying that the poets included form a school or movement is de rigueur in contemporary anthologies (except those that are explicitly about movement-formation or –codification, such as In the American Tree. And it’s certainly true in this case, given the book’s explicitly international (U.S./U.K./Australia) and less aggressively but noticeably intergenerational perspective. Still, it’s funny that at this last moment we’re promised an array of “unique voices” beholden to no principles but their own, given that the denial of the privacy and autonomy of the ego (supposed to be part to the ideology of traditional, pre-Modernist lyric, except when it wasn’t) is supposed to be central to the M/modernist critique, as well as a starting point for (oppositional) “political possibility.”

[End of JK's intro. Some reflections tomorrow, perhaps.]


notes on lyric 8

In recent years, there’s been talk of new lyricism, post-lyricism, and the gamut of groupings that comes with a need to reconcile past with present poeticizing.

True. Cf. Lee Ann Brown, “My Uncruel April, My Totally Equal Unforetold April Unfolded” (in the anthology): “As with all good (real) poetry movements we splice the past.” My sense is that, as much as anything, the programmatic rejection of lyric modes in heroic language poetry (or its theory – the practice was always more complex) was seen by emergent (hate the word) poets coming after as too constraining – to that extent, recuperating or reincorporating the lyrics is no more or less than finding a way out, a way to write. One could also be more cynical and point out that, in some of its guises, this is also an academic recuperation – or, perhaps, a way for some poets to do what they really want to do to anyway with some degree of theoretical cover. This impression is very strong in the Swensen/St. John American Hybrid anthology (2009), where the editors make what might be called a neo-liberal argument that some conflicts between mainstream and counter-traditions in American poetry have been transcended. (Silliman and other have pointed this out.) This anthology and the way it’s framed, isn’t nearly as objectionable in this respect (however difficult it is to draw a bead on its actual stance on a number of points.)

There has been a sense of the meta-textual, but this is not necessarily a new thing. Thomas Stanley, “Lesser Caroline” poet, was a great translator. Most of his own compositions still show traces of those poets he translated. He brought Italian, French, and Greek conventions to play within his strictly formal English verse. He replayed popular conceits in new frameworks. He was an intellect: he was a meta-textual poet.

I don’t know anything about Thomas Stanley, and the argument made doesn’t require that I search beyond this gloss; I’m more interested in what JK means by “meta-textual” The term is primarily used in translation studies: translations are said to be “meta-textual” in that they cannot be understood comprehensively without reference to a “source text” – that is, the object of translation. This is a truism, as far as a contemporary thinking about poetry in translation goes; this is one reason bilingual editions are far more common for poetry than prose fiction and non-fiction. Beyond this, how translators and readers should conceive of relationship between source text and “target text” is a matter of contention. (I’m also reading a book by Clive Scott, Translating Rimbaud’s Illuminations [2006] that is essentially an extended defense of the author’s “experimentalist” translation practice – he produces various concrete, graphic, etc. versions of R’s prose poems that pursue various kinds responsiveness to the source texts rather than the will-o’-the-wisp of semantic or lexical equivalence.)

JK doesn’t have to take a stand on those debates, but he wants to extend “meta-texual” to cover not only translations, but poems that are informed by poetry outside of one’s own narrow linguistic tradition. Fine, and I assume that one could also extend the notion quite a bit more, to cover various kinds intra-linguistic dependency on other poems and elements of other poetic traditions (forms, measures) – from parody on down. I think the danger here is that one can easily slide into calling any poem that can be profitably read as read as responsive to other poetry – which is to say, any poem -- “meta-textual.” As he says, this is “nothing new”; this is a bit of refrain in the piece, as JK has said more or less the same thing about modernist dubiety about the autonomy of the self and the transparency of language. As in these other cases, the issue raised is what makes meta-texuality more common or more urgently foregrounded at this poetic juncture than others.

Other than the fact that JK is saying something about broad trends in contemporary poetry, I don’t see what the tighter connection of this point, or the example of Stanley is, with the concern with “lyric” and “post-lyric.” Not saying there isn’t one – it’s just that no argument presents itself without a great deal of guesswork.

He [Stanley] replayed popular conceits in new frameworks. He was an intellect: he was a meta-textual poet.

I wish we had a more concrete description of these “popular conceits.” Devices from “popular” non-English poetry? Genre conventions within English poetry? Can’t do much with this (someone more handy with the references might).

Thanks to the colon, there is no way to discern the intended relationship between being an “intellect” and a “meta-textual poet.” Are only intellects (intellectuals?) meta-textual poets? Given the breadth of practices that might be labeled meta-textual, this could only be true on an equally broad conception of who counts as an intellect. Are only meta-textual poets intellects? Seems doubtful – at least, we’d have to find some non meta-texual poetry, and make some judgments (on what grounds?) about the attainments of the poets who write it.

I don’t see what it gains JK to invoke the category of “intellect” at all, at this late point in the essay. As already noted, the connection between meta-texuality and a return to or renewal of the lyric has been suggested only by the fact that he’s mentioned both issues in the same paragraph, but perhaps the thought is that contemporary poets driven (for whatever theoretical, historical, or political reasons) to a “post-lyric” mode are necessarily reflective about preceding complications of lyric categories (without rejecting them out of hand.) This could be seen as contrasting with the anti-intellectualism implicit in JK’s earlier formulation of (M?)odernism as proceeding from perception (remember “seeing”?) rather than cognition, but since I think that conception of what modernist poets were up to is largely an unintended consequence of his words, I’d be very surprised if this were the distinction JK means to draw.


notes on lyric 7

This anthology is an example of how diverse not only conceptualizations of the lyric are, but how malleable its co-ordinates have become.

Stock anthologist’s claim of diversity, inclusiveness, which isn’t to say it’s false.

Each poet here is conscious of the implications of a text that might imprint itself on memory, the effects of the mnemonic, and the lyric’s power of subliminal expression.

Musicality isn’t explicitly mentioned here, but I presume that it (or patterned-ness more generally) the property that makes texts at least potentially “memorable” in that way. It’s not just the ideas/content but the words in which they’re expressed that can be recalled, and this is one of the things that makes lyric poetry an “effective…vehicle” for content, including oppositional content. This is a further specification of the argument for an instrumental account of the value of lyric technique.

[Worth registering briefly that, given this argument, it’s odd that the anthology (organized alphabetically) begins with John Ashbery, a poet who does not often pursue a “mnemonic” kind of musicality. The poems included were recent and uncollected as of the book’s 2004 publication; I think most ended up in Where Shall I Wander?. “Interesting People of Newfoundland” is a particularly prosey, even chatty poem in the “apparently linear” mode that Ashbery experiments with one or twice per book, though it contains a brief, rather ironized “lyrical” passage 2/3 in: “…It is in the place/in the world in complete beauty, as non can gainsay/I declare, and strong frontiers to collide with.”]

Musicality also lends lyric a “subliminal power of expression.” It’s not the “music” (prosody and so on) that is subliminal -- it’s a perceptible property of the text – but its contribution to making “expression” more focused, vivid, memorable. As I suggested several days ago, the contributions of prosody and pattern to expression are non-semantic and not wholly conventionalized; hence, one might go on to argue, more difficult to articulate (paraphrase, translate) into other terms. This is not quite the same thing as being “subliminal,” but I think that’s what’s behind the use of that term.

Rather than see aggressive intentionality, one might equally see a responsibility and concern about the effect the lyric has once it leaves the space of composition.

Confidence or assurance (figured as aggression) that the poet knows what he or she means to be doing, and how to do it, is the negative term here. Implicitly, what is to be preferred is a degree of doubt about how one’s poem will perceived, received, or understood. I don’t think, however, that a poet who takes the “assured” (and perhaps naïve) stance that he or she has a good deal of control over the effect the poem has on its audience is necessarily abdicating “responsibility” or “concern” for that effect. The charitable reading is that JK doesn’t mean to deny that, but to claim that such concern and responsibility are possible without (naïve?) confidence or “aggression.”

That words “change”, that meaning alters according to context, are variable factors that ironically liberate rather than the poem.

That realization sounds pretty straightforwardly “liberating” to me – I don’t see the irony. I take it that the particular change in context adumbrated is that from “the space of composition” to that of being read by an audience. So the alteration of meaning here is ascribed to the instability (radical or not) of the communicative channel. I can see how a poet who take this view on board would be prone to lose a certain kind of (naïve) “confidence), but I have to admit that I find the sudden, casual, asked-and-answered quality of JK’s appeal to this idea unearned (or, at least, of limited use in clarifying his overall argument).

Overall, I think that JK doesn’t do enough to distinguish claims about the (in)adequacy of language to (a) self-expression and (b) communication. I’m not saying the two issues aren’t linked, but the blurring leads to “crisis of language” boilerplate.

In the 1980s it was not unusual within European-language poetry communities to talk of the death of the lyric – especially within linguistically innovative circles of English-language poets.

The circumlocution is meant to indicate that these questions were not raised solely by Language poets.

Maybe what was observed, or intended, was a rejection of the exclusiveness of the self, that the poem could exist in a bubble, “ignorant” of political responsibility.

If this was what was intended (JK’s not sure), this would be an error, if JK is also correct that the lyric evolved as (or into) an especially effective vehicle for oppositional content (which, conventional understanding of the political aside, can hardly be voiced convincingly from the point of view of atomistic individualism.)

The characterization of the rejected view blurs the “isolated” character of the (Cartesian, as one says) self as conventionally posited and that of the poem, but that doesn’t bother me here, as the rejected view (if anyone ever held it) is in fact pretty confused: My poem is autonomous because I am autonomous.

Of course, poetry was never so easy, whatever form it took, but the need to express these concerns – and to test these concerns within the structure of the poem itself – was strongly felt.

JK wants to insist, roughly, that the rejected view of the last sentence is a bit of a strawman, and that a good deal of pre-“death of lyric” (and probably, pre-Modernist) poetry was, at least implicitly, more nuanced in its theoretical underpinning. At some point, a need arose to treat these concerns more explicitly, and self-consciously. This might have happened for theoretical, political, or literary-historical reasons, or for some combination of the three. How these kinds of causal factors were related (mutually supportive?) “in the 1980s” isn’t something JK offers a position on.


notes on lyric 6

Be it the Dadaists after the First World War, or the play-ploys of Gertrude Stein, or the post-Vietnam War and Watergate eruption of Language poetry, or the smouldering rejectionism of the “Cambridge School,” or the guerilla de-hybridizations of Murri poet Lionel Fogarty. There is iconoclastic intent in each expression, and language is the weapon.

[The first sentence is (unintentionally, I think) a fragment, but it doesn’t interfere with the sense. The second restates a the one I ended with yesterday (“This paradox informs the desire…”)]

Of the poetries on this list, two are textbook cases of “historian’s modernism”: on the standard critical line, Dada and langpo are responses to specific moments of disillusion about the representational adequacy of language. (I waved my hand at just these moments in the same terms somewhere above.) In both of these cases, official public language (the lies of politicians, war reports, compromised news organizations) and traditionally literary language are both objects of critique. I’m not certain that the fact the language can be and very often is used falsely or deceptively (ideology) is proof that language is “in its nature” deceptive or ideological, but it’s surely the case that noticing and being exercised by these abuses in a given context motivates that broader theoretical claim.

Fogarty, a contemporary aboriginal poet writing in a porous English (and included in the anthology at hand) is also of this stripe, if the “crisis event” is the displacement and dispossession of his people by white Australians. As his biographical note states, “[H]e objects to having his language (Murri) drawn into English, so draws English into his own aboriginal time-space continuum.” This kind of work attacks dominant representations from a somewhat different angle, and aligns itself with a specific marginal community the way most of the other examples do not, but JK’s not at all wrong to suggest that the language is weaponized: one of the pieces included, “Memo to Us,” is basically a fantasia on the retaking of Australia by aboriginals, narrativized almost transparently but with enough syntactic and lexical distortion to register difference strongly.

It’s interesting that one doesn’t usually think of Prynne and his (loosely speaking) followers, or Stein, as arriving at their practice in direct response to a particular historical or political crisis – I’m sure they can be read this way, but it’s not the first thing we say, as with Dada and langpo. JK doesn’t require or assume that we do, it’s just worth noting that this list isn’t homogenous. (The centrality of sexuality to Stein’s writing, and way of writing, also give both politics and iconoclasm a different valence; Prynne’s interest in the “long view,” especially where economics is concerned, has implications for his own time and may have even started from contemporary considerations [I really don’t know], but makes a historically “nailed down” reading dangerously reductive. The “rejectionism” is in part the refusal to concede anything to accessibility.]

[Stein is oddly placed with respect to another of JK’s concerned. I have a hard time thinking of her as much affected by a “crisis of the self.” Is there another experimental writer so confident of the adequacy of her idiolect to her (expressive?) aims?]

By the way: in this paragraph, JK never did get back to the point about complicity and “different intentionalities.”

It could be argued, however, that the lyric has always been the vehicle for such expression, and the “form” itself – in its paradoxical combination of the universal and the centring [sic] of self – evolved as the most effective linguistic-musical vehicle for such expression of opposition.

New paragraph. This is supposed to be a challenge, one that JK doesn’t want to dismiss summarily, to something previously claimed (not necessarily JK’s own view, but something claimed for the sake of argument). What claim? I actually thought he was already assimilating the various modernisms just mentioned to “lyric” in some way, and that the recourse to the category of “expression” marked this. But now it seems as though he takes himself as having presented some the anti- or non-lyrical claims of modernism, which are now going to be re-examined.

I’m not sure I understand one of the poles of the latest so-called paradox. “Centring,” of course, means being written from a unified subject position, but “the universal”? Does this have to do with the presumption of communicability?

The material outside of the dashes wouldn’t be tendentious if JK had left it at “most effective linguistic vehicle” rather than linguistic-musical. Why does musicality (whether in a particular register, or just the unavoidable prosodic qualities of language, somehow foregrounded) make this a more effective vehicle. (More effective than…?) “Effective” is about a certain kind of instrumentality: perhaps musicality just makes the poem more rhetorically vivid. (Or more pleasurable to attend to, though I’ve noted above that pleasure is not on JK’s radar in this piece.) Ok, but few poets of any stripe would be sanguine about such a overt instrumentalism. Another hypothesis is that musicality is what constructs not the subject as such (this can be done in prose), but the effect of the subject singing, which is in turn an indicator that a certain kind of self-expression is occurring. This is just a hypothesis – JK hasn’t said anything that determinate on the subject. But it may be a useful formulation: it also suggests why there would be something problematic about continuing to use musical techniques in any traditional way for poets who find selfhood and self-expression problematic (and wish to have their poetry convey this).


notes on lyric 5

Context does matter. Someone writing a poem in a luxury apartment in a great city at the center of a military empire does create a different intentionality from the singer composing with community members, expressing the group’s marginality, loss, and defiance.

New paragraph. The emphatic “does”es suggest that JK thinks someone would deny all this, though he doesn’t say who or why. What does context matter for? Seemingly, for an evaluation of the ethics of the poetic act. The puzzling hypostasis of “intentionality” recurs. One could gloss this flatfootedly as “Someone writing….has different intentions,” but this suggests a stronger view of the autonomous or “inner” character of intentions than I think JK wants to convey. He has in mind, perhaps, a view (related to Anscombe’s and Wittgenstein’s) on which intentions, like “meanings” (Burge and esp. Putnam) “ain’t in the head” are partly constituted by the social and linguistic background against which they occur.

So there are two possible readings: (1) The intentions with which a poem is written are important (for whatever project), and the social position from which the poem is written is a guide to these intentions. This is a kind of “common-sense” picture. It does make one want to ask whether context is an infallible guide to intention. (2) The intentions with which a poem is written are important, and the social position from which the poem is written is partly or wholly constitutive of that intention. I think JK wants something more like this. Note that the harder one leans toward the “wholly,” the more the fallibility issue will fall away.

The two cases given occupy extremes; they do not exhaust the field. We are told the expressive intention of the “marginal singer” but not that of the imperial apartment dweller (read: New Yorker), but the implication is that the latter, by contrast, expresses privilege and complicity rather than loss and resistance; also, one would think, obliviousness and guilt or shame, as they case may be. (Reading (2) aside, this can’t be the whole story: what if the apartment dweller is a temporarily fortunate housesitter, on a student visa from a poorer country?) This contrast is rhetorically strengthened by the fact that the marginal figure gets to be a “singer,” while the other is merely writing a poem. Curiously, the wording “the singer composing with community members” (compare “the song collectively composed by community members”) suggests that JK can’t get away so easily from a view on which poetic meaning is tied to the text’s production (or stewardship?) by an individual.

Even though these sentences can be picked at, the stance if not the exact account is clear enough – looking ahead, though, it doesn’t seem that JK does much to tie this stance to what’s said in the rest of the paragraph (which jumps around a lot).

The expression “avant-garde” is military in origin, be it from Napoleon’s shock troops or dredged out of Mallory.

Usually “Malory.” Apparently (I had to look this up and don’t have a quote), Morte d’Arthur used the French term in its customary English sense in the late 1400s. Other than that, this is a commonplace. Progression from previous sentence not immediately obvious. Let’s go on.

The modernist avant-garde, and the avant-gardes that have emerged out of modernities, have worked to challenge a status quo, or assert their differences in perception.

Modernism challenges the status quo (literary, social); beyond its specific techniques, it does this (if we can tie in the previous sentence) in part by occupying an “advanced” position. This much is, again, commonplace. (One could muse further on the relationship between an avant-garde and the “regular” troops – an occupying force? – for which it clears the ground.) “Avant-gardes that have emerged out of modernities” is reasonably precise, and consistent with previous discussion; JK is, again, not unduly troubled by a distinction between modernism and post-modernism. There’s no good reason, though, for the capital to have fallen off the first “modernism,” which is supposed to refer to the historically specific, “heroic” avant-garde.

One can state the means by which this challenge is made in terms of “differences in perception”; however, if JK thinks that one of the things that brings about modernism is the “pressure” placed on “the certainty of observation” why would differences in perception be of special interest as something to insist on. I’m exaggerating the position, but if perception were merely subjective, one could draw few if any further implications from such differences.

A more just way of expressing, or expression comes into play.

“Way…of expression?” Very odd. Perhaps: “…way of expressing, or mode of expression…” I prefer “expression” in this formulation: “expressing” wants an object. Expressing one’s perceptions, presumably? The modernist/avant-garde mode of expression is not just distinct from that of the status quo, but more just! The choice of word links representational accuracy (again, what can this amount to for JK?) with ethical probity. If this claim were made on behalf of the marginal/community singer, it would have a straightforward political content. The same claim on behalf of modernist avant-gardes is not unusual, but does make one hope for some detail about what makes its mode of expression (its way of representing experience in language) more just than some other.

It’s to do with “seeing”, and conveying the politics of that seeing.

(I sort of like the donnish offhandedness of “It’s do to with”) “Seeing,” as elsewehere, is just a metonym for perceiving. One would think that what would be most salient about (M)odernist lyric would be how what is observed is represented in language, but for JK, a difference in perception itself is prior, and seemingly primary. Note that it isn’t that the modernist thinks differently about what is perceived; JK would like the difference to be less intellectual, more fundamental. That said, there are certainly issues here about the extent to which perception, as opposed to mere sensation, is underwritten by learned or innate cognitive processes [Kant; Dretske on “simple seeing”; Gregory’s Eye and Brain; my associations date me]. JK doesn’t expand on these, and I’m not well-equipped to tease them out.

The idea of different “politics of…seeing” is a fascinating, even seductive one. But: how does it come about that modernists not only write and think but “see” so differently? If this is just a compressed way of describing that one might make different (more or less “just”) ethical judgments about what one sees, it becomes rather less interesting.

The relationship between the poet and the tools of expression, and the tensions between experience and expression, are highlighted.

The suggestion here is simply that the difference lies in the modernist’s greater self-consciousness about the various relata and relationships in the I/world/word nexus. Fine: one can argue that this kind of caution or problematization is more conducive to making “just” judgments distinct from those associated with the “status quo” than a view which takes these relationships as transparent or otherwise untroubled. Great, except that sounds more intellectual than perceptual. Perhaps this modernist eventually internalizes a new, less stable conception of those relationships, such that the appropriate kinds of perceptual/cognitive/linguistic acts become “second nature.” (I don’t mean to make fun of this idea; it’s the flip side of the contention that the “status quo” mode is also only apparently “natural” in a strict sense. I think that some claim like this is almost certainly what a poet like Leslie Scalapino would have made about her own writing. I once heard her say: “I want it to be oppositional all the way down.”)

Language is of the user, but the user is also a product of language.

I’m perfectly happy with the notion that the relation between language-user and the production of meaning is dynamic. The second clause is a casual allusion to a Heideggerian strain, though the thought is also present in various forms of externalist and causal semantics. (Polemical note: the idea that linguistic meaning is not produced autonomously by language-users is a point of consensus between continental and contemporary analytic philosophy, though few on either side recognize the points of contact – beyond invocations of late Wittgenstein.) It’s not obvious, though, why this point is made at this particular point in the paragraph: I take it that it’s an example of something that is to be “kept in mind” (and eventually internalized) by the modernist.

This paradox informs the desire to make of poetry a weapon to challenge a “false” or “deceptive” status quo.

I think of what JK calls a paradox as a dynamic; it’s only an insoluble problem if one insists one a certain kind of origin story for linguistic meaning (i.e. Adamic, individualist)

“False” and “deceptive” are the worst scare quotes yet. At least, they confuse me about JK’s actual position. Does he think that alternative representations are more just, or more “just”? Perhaps he’s meaning to distance himself from these modernist commonplaces more than I’ve been able to recognize.

On the face of it, I would think that “the paradox” – and more generally, the view of the relations among self/world/word as opaque or troubled – would be just as likely to lead to doubt or despair as to the capacity for the language to represent alternative judgments as to produce the “desire” JK describes. Now, I think the historical record shows that it does produce this desire, sometimes but not always accompanied by an undercurrent of doubt about the expressive adequacy (not to mention instrumental efficacy) of both modernist and “transparent” poetic techniques – but it’s still puzzling why this should be the case.

Finally: A good deal of Modernist and modernist poetry (written out of the concerns, difficulties, and explicit and implicit politics JK has in mind) been written in luxury apartments, or at least infrastructurally functional ones, by first-world standards. JK’s first two sentences, especially on the strong (anti-individualist) reading of “intentionality” would lead us to doubt that this work can do much to avoid complicity with the context in which it is generated. Something else for the well-to-do imperial modernist to “keep in mind.”


day of rest

1) This long interview with Bernadette Mayer by Adam Fitzgerald is one of the best I've ever read, with anybody.

AF: So the correlation between suffering and art, that’s a myth?

BM: [Laugh] I laugh at those ideas. It seems trivial to make that comparison. It trivializes both the art and the suffering. I mean, really, you have to suffer to make art? Give me a break.

2) I'm quite taken with this poem (among others) from Ron Padgett's newish How Long:

I'll Get Back to You

What was I thinking about
a few minutes ago when
another through
swept me away?
Can't I have (pepper)
several thoughts at the same time
(carnival midway) or go back and forth
between (hyphen) them?
I guess so!
But since people (ooga) don't
like that kind of thinking (factory)
we don't do it (doghouse) much.
I never wanted to live (tree)
in a doghouse.
Now to get back (folking
map) to that earlier thought.
(President is guarding it.)
(No sense in asking him for it.)
It had something to do
with numbers (flying up
all over the place) and how
(smoke) sequence has properties
that (gleaming faucets) induce
certain thoughts and feelings,
such as reassurance.
I guess that's a good argument
for linearity. Don't you prefer
linearity in the long run
(Low clouds over the winter field.)


[We left off at “Modernism maps this frustration of self-expression.”]

The ownership of certainty of observation – that what the poet sees and conveys to those other than him or herself is a constant – has been placed under pressure and found wanting.

The fallibility of perception has been too long recognized to be a plausible source of the modernist crisis. (Cf. the undergraduate mistake of reading Mediation 1 as though the Argument from Illusion succeeded in grounding methodological skepticism. And the more sophisticated one, arguably an inheritance of the Cartesian tradition, of taking certainty or infallibility to be necessary for knowledge. [Austin.]) I’m not inclined to saddle pre-modernist poets with the wholly uncritical conception of the self/word/world relation JK sometimes, but to the extent that some such view has been held, it surely survived the realization that, e.g., the surface curve even though it “looks flat” locally.

Is the primacy of place on the modality of vision significant, or casual? Also, I don’t understand what “The ownership of” adds to “the certainty of observation,” unless it’s a (probably unneeded emphasis on the subjective character of the experience out of which one builds (with cognitive help, on most accounts) one’s picture of the world.

Social and cultural upheaval on an unprecedented scale, the destruction of natural “resources” (the world itself is a large part of the problem), and death by mechanization have lead to obvious shifts in notions of what constitutes the “I,” or rather, what the “I” can validly express outside its own constructed empiricisms.

Now JK invokes, broadly, the kind of “historian’s Modernism” I thought absent from his earlier, “philosophical” formulations. So either I’m a very bad reader or there was something misleading about the “all along” tone of the previous paragraph. It would be too much to complain that JK doesn’t rehearse at length how the events and processes (let’s just call them “social processes”) named produce these shifts, but still: go in fear of the “obvious.” There is some sleight of hand at work in “notions of what constitutes the “I”,’; it’s surely correct that reflection on these social processes has led to new notions (theories, accounts) of self-consitution, but this leaves whether selves and their constitution themselves have changed entirely open.

I don’t want to go too far around the following road, but: What’s a fairly clear case in which social upheaval might lead someone to question whether his/her “I” was quite what he/she thought? A “displaced person” – a political refugee or exile in the most usual sense, or an immigrant motivated to follow the global flow of capital for the sake of individual economic opportunity – might have the requisite experiences. If, that is, this subject once believed that his or her native “place” (geographical and societal) and language (membership in a linguistic community) were essential attributes of his or identity. All this and more may be destabilized, quite radically. But to the extent that the exile integrates novel experience (even if painfully, with a sense of loss and injustice), wouldn’t this lead one away from the view that one’s sense of having a unified self was dependent on connection to the originating social context and toward the view that one’s remaining “who one is” depends on being a locus of experience and memory, so long as they can be “unified” (again, not necessarily happily) along Kantian lines. (Which the subject doesn’t have to conceive of in those terms.) If not, why not? In a phrase: Is a displaced person still a person?

[Does this have anything to do with why successful American immigrants, such as my grandfathers (especially on my father’s side), become “rugged individualists.”]

[I realize doing all of this as a metaphysical thought experiment borders on the offensive, especially in abstraction from accounts of such experiences. I’d be very happy to find an opposing account, on which disjoint experience leads to a sense of disassociation and fragmentation, is spelled out in some detail.]

[Strange, trival analogy: Lately, I’ve been feeling unhappy that technological and economic changes have made it more difficult for me to be one of the things I am or have been – an inveterate browser for used books and records, especially in small shops where “anything” might turn up. {“Record Store Day” is a rockist rear-guard action.} Does the loss of this “way of life” make me someone else, or just someone experiencing melancholy?]

If anything, it’s even less evident how environmental depredation leads to a crisis in the conception of “self.” The train of thought, perhaps, is this: An view of the person as an autonomous individual tends to lead one toward an “I-It” (Buber) relationship with nature, on which the latter is something to be used/used up (Heidegger) by me. Reflecting on the sum effects of relating to the nature in this way might lead us to reconsider whether the underlying conception of the self is any longer a practicable one to have. (But if this is for the sake of human survival, it’s still an instrumental relation: “sustainability” is ultimately for our (and “my”) sake.)

Whether “the mechanization of death” refers primarily to the technologization of war or the slow death of industrial work, I’ll leave it be.

To return: notions of what constistitutes the “I,” or rather, what the “I” can validly express outside its own constructed empiricisms.

Why this “rather”? The two formulations do seem quite different, so why even include the one that has to be taken back? What the self is (and how it comes to be) and what it can “validly” do are related but distinct questions; running them together clouds everything. I have to admit that my brain runs aground on “constructed empiricisms” (as on JK’s idiolectical use of “intentionalities”); there’s a very slight whisper of some kind of phenomenalist view of how experience is made to cohere. The thought, maybe, is that, given the “pressure” that has been placed on “certainty of observation” (according to the previous sentence), the subject (poet) can no longer be assured that, in reporting on experience, one is saying or communicating anything but one’s self-enclosed subjectivity. But isn’t it true that, in many of its guises, lyric subjectivity has never claimed to do anything more than that? "Self-expression" is not frustrated here, but something else.

It’s hard for me not to read JK’s account of the crisis as being brought about by selves seeming more, not less, self-constituted and autonomous, which is not, I think, what he takes himself to be saying, inasmuch as he’s attempting to describe Modernism.

This is, of course, a “culturo-centric” observation.

Of course; obviously. (I’m being snarky; I’ve used “of course” twice myself in these posts, though “obviously” not at all.) I guess this means that the Modernist crisis is not universal; it may not effect those in social contexts that have not been affected by the relevant upheavals. Tempting to read a mild romanticizing of the primitive into this; I’m not sure where one actually find these social contexts at present.


notes on lyric 3

Typically, a poem gives the reader or listener something to take away from the text – an emotional gravitas, whimsical joy, intellectual connection or awakening.

Is this typical of all poems, or only of those that are lyrical in one or both respects so far discussed (musical, subjective)? Most of the other readerly effects that I can think of offhand probably do fall under one of the categories given: persuading the reader to share rage or dissatisfaction (or shame or complicity) would come under “emotional gravitas,” imparting information, under “intellectual connection.” “Whimsical joy” strikes me as a moderately patronizing way to letting pleasure into the equation. We can be almost certain that the notion that poems should have a “takeaway” or “upshot,” or that this should be why poems are valued, will soon come in for some hard knocks.

These expectations have been challenged and undermined overtly through the stages of Modernism, but such challenges are the proto-typical concern of the poet regardless of age or context: that is, the relationship between the originating words or strings, and their intended audience.

First reference to “Modernism” in this text. (The subtitle of the book is “New Modernist Poems”; the preface’s emphasis on the category of “the lyric” is not announced there.) The capitalization is a choice. One immediately reads it as associating the overt challenge alluded to with a specific historical moment or formation, but “stages of” takes this back a bit, suggesting that some (not necessarily) later developments and “post-“s are further moments within M/modernism.

[In the context of an anthology like this one, this by-now familiar question – “Is post-modernism just more modernism?” – becomes, roughly, “Is language poetry modernist poetry?” To their credit, I don’t think the editors’ answers can be read straight off the table of contents. The only canonical language writers in the book are Susan Howe (always an odd fit) and Lyn Hejinian (represented by the relatively discursive “The Beginner,” 2003), whose presence points up obvious omissions; on the other hand, it would difficult to read selections by (at a glance) Tony Lopez, Drew Milne, and Marjorie Lopez competently without taking into account their reliance on lang-po devices and procedures.]

Back to the sentence. The upshot is: Modernism explicitly questioned some assumptions about the communicative potential(s) of poetry, but all poetry, Modernist or not, has had to deal with these questions in some way. I don’t find this contentious, though I’d add (and I’d bet that JK would agree) that a good deal of poetry just assumes an answer and goes about its business. I’d paraphrase the last bit as: “the relationship between the words constituting the poem and their effect on an intended audience.”

“Strings” is a bit annoying – if it’s short for “strings of words,” we don’t need it; otherwise, the informational-theoretical connotations are unmotivated. I don’t know that we gain anything, given the kinds of work JK is discussing, in conceiving of the words constituting poems as uninterpreted character strings. There are better ways to invoke “the materiality of language,” if that’s what’s being bruited.

The ceremonial chant, the private utterance scribbled on a prison wall, the paternalisms of a society’s laureate; it’s a question of where the packages of word, or words, disseminate, take on lives of their own though the context of each individual or group encounter with the moment of utterance.

Very dense, and the false precision (“word, or words”) and comma splices don’t make it easier. I take it this is meant to support the previous assertion that the “challenges” foregrounded by Modernism have been there along, but how, exactly? The “question” seems to be primarily one for audiences or interpreters, not producers, since the chanter, etc. need not frame it self-consciously in order to perform his or her linguistic act. I agree, though, that an audience, especially one different from the immediately intended one (if any – note the prisoner case), has to negotiate this gap in some way – precisely because what they encounter is not “the moment of utterance.” “Lives of their own” is a dead metaphor meaning that the effect on these unintended audience may not correspond to the author’s intentions; this is also true, and a commonplace.

The choice of examples is puzzling, given the previous emphasis on lyric. The laureate’s poem is as likely epic or honorific as lyric; the chant has an entirely distinct set of instrumental purposes (some related to the deity it assumes as primary audience, others for other participants in the ceremony); the prison scribble has, by hypothesis, no intended audience beyond its producer. (The case of a “practically” private utterance in a presumably public language has nothing much to do w/ Wittgensteinian private-language issues; not that JK suggests it does, but the confusion is common enough to forestall.) Poems might also be written that purport to be ritual utterances or prison writings – but this has more to do with a motivating theatrical or dramatic conceit that the operations of lyric as such. I suppose we can just say that the poet who intentionally produces a lyric poem faces the questions of audience and re-interpretation as much as any other language-user – though note also that a poet who writes “for posterity” or even for a contemporaneous audience of unknown dimensions faces the relevant “challenge” or “question” in a distinctive way.

“Packages” – glancing relationship to “strings,” in pushing the “materialist” line, now with an extra connotation of commercial exchange. I’m not always sure how useful these kinds of suggestions are when they’re not central or consistently followed up on. Why? Because the descriptive ontology that governs our practices regarding poems (not to mention words) isn’t the same as the one we apply to material objects. (Nominalists like Goodman want to reduce one to the other, but recognize that our ordinary practice of treating poems and other multiple artworks as abstract need to be explained or explained away. Won’t expand on this here.)

In a sense, the lyric is lost in the moment of realization: it is that engagement with “self” and articulation, the many possible engagements of the lyrical “I” with signifier and signified.

This is a new paragraph. I assume the air of paradox in the part before the colon is intentional. “Lost” seems multiply ambiguous. My guess is that he’s saying something about the relationship between the two “faces” of lyric: The musical, asemantic qualities of lyric utterances are “lost” (submerged, effaced) in the act of communicative engagement. Just a guess.

The rest starts looking like a definition: “the lyric…is that engagement with…” “That” engagement – which engagement? One feels as though one has missed an antecedent; the reference to a whole other set of additional “engagements” (which, no doubt, are also in play) complicates things further. Now, though, it sounds more like the lyric finds itself in these necessary engagements.

Why is “self” scare-quoted here when it wasn’t in the opening paragraph (“a declaration between self and text.”)? A contemporary tic. We haven’t been offered any view of self or subject so far that would require that the term itself be treated provisionally. That said, I know perfectly well what JK means by “the lyrical ‘I’,” and wouldn’t object to something everyone has figured out by now: a poem can have a “subject” in a more or less traditional sense whether or not the word “I” appears. (So much for strings.)

Can’t say I’ve had much luck getting to the bottom of this sentence.

Modernism in poetry maps this frustration of self-expression.

Another difficult antecedent. But, actually, this helps a bit: the situation described in the previous sentence (esp. around “lost”) is a the site of a tension or frustration. The lyric subject attempts to use the language to represent experience for some communicative purpose (perhaps in an uncritical way), but is frustrated in the attempt by the complexity and contingency of the relevant relations. (And perhaps also by false ideas about the relata, especially the self.) Pre- or non-Modernist poetry shrugs this off (so it is claimed); Modernist poetry worries it, faces it, makes these concerns part of its project. I still think his description of the troubled character of the relations has not, so far, been perspicacious, but I get the stance.

Note that reference to the “musical” face of lyric has fallen out of all this; at least, it doesn’t seem germane to the position JK is developing. I was probably wrong to attempt to horn it back in while glossing the previous sentence. (But I’ll leave it, as this isn’t attempt to be right, but to read.) We’ll see how and when it comes back.

Finally, to repeat a bit, there’s an implicit “always already” hovering in front of much of this, from the copula in "The that engagement" onward. The “self” was never unproblematic; the relations have never been as transparent as they’ve seemed. Modernism noticed this. Contrast this with another kind of view, on which specific historical, economic, and/or cultural changes induce changes in the very nature of the subject, and/or of language, which require poetry to change as well in order to remain authentic, serious, or legitimate. (I.e., language was transparent and could be used for communication once, now it’s been damaged and its relation to the world has been sundered, whether one traces the shift [fall] decisive for one's poetics to WWI [Dada] or Vietnam [Andrews, Watten] or the 1973 oil crisis [Clover via Harvey] or the rise of dessicated Internet language [flarf] – many variants are possible.) As so far formulation, JK’s is a philosopher’s Modernism, not a historian’s or a historical materialist’s. (Which stance is taken is something I always ask myself about philosophical accounts of the fragmentation or fictiveness of self/subject/person – I don’t always find a clear answer.)


notes on lyric 2

But the lyric is more than that. It’s a political registration as well, a declaration of relationship between self and text, self and the empirical “outside.”

Futile to attempt to unpack this fully before we’ve heard more, but this is where things get interesting. Now we’re talking about the second strand in current appeals to the “lyric.” Lyric poetry is that which is to be understood as issuing from a speaking (singing?) subject, especially, on this formulation, in response to experience. To say “subjective experience” here would be to emphasize something rather than add anything – though it perhaps suggests that a poem consisting mostly of information might be harder to assimilate to the lyric. Despite the sentence structure, I don’t think JK means us to take “text” and “empirical ‘outside’” to be different terms for the same thing (he’s not Derrida); what he’s really proposing is a three-term relation among work, text, and (let’s say) world.

The lyric “declares” this – states that a certain relation among these items holds? Perhaps, but not necessarily explicitly – in poems of some kinds, the picture on which I use language to express my response to the world is simply a grounding assumption.

Two uncashed checks here: (1) Why is “outside” scare-quoted? Simply b/c it’s a quick, vague formulation, or because there’s something troubled about distinguishing subject and object? (Self as “inside”: a metaphor fundamental to modern philosophy.) (2) What is it to describe the three-term relationship induced here as “political”? [I think this is exactly the kind of claim that contemporary poetics is too inclined to nod “of course!” at.] One could mean that communicating one’s subjective response to the world through the public medium of language implies a relation to others (actual or potential communicants), and that any thing that brings one into a relation with others has a political element. Fine, if broad, but is that to say that other (poetic) uses of that same medium are any less political, or only that they “register” the political differently? Or one could mean that a particular politics is implicit in writing that conforms to the relationship described. [Probably it will turn out that part of the freight of “political” is that the lyric relation constructs an individualist subject – but this is reading in.] If this is the claim, I’ll admit that it seems a little dubious, as I don’t think it can be denied that lyric poems have been written in the service of vastly divergent politics. But, in response to this, a certain modernist or vanguardist claim might be that all such expressions are of a piece, and that certain political possibilities cannot be made manifest in poetry from within the lyric relation, or an uncritical version of same.

Two aspects of the lyric are now on the table. The musical, and the subjective, with the latter also tied in some way to the political. We have not yet seen any comment on the relationship between these aspects. Why should a given manifestation of a certain presumed relationship among self/word/world also foreground the prosodic/phonetic aspects of language? This is an intriguing question in part because “the musical” aspect of language is orthogonal to “the semantic” – the aspect that does the [potentially political] work of communication through engaging a systematized set of conventions. (This is not to say that other features of language do not signify, just that they do not do so through that system of conventions.) There is a tension here.

It declares an intentionality in appearance, in its desire for continuation.

Beyond registering the interesting thought that a song or a singer might “desire” to go on, that a voice once engaged might tend to perpetuate itself, this is opaque, and its connection to what’s gone before is not obvious. “Declares an intentionality” is just pretentious.


notes on lyric (1 of ?)

(Commentary on John Kinsella's "Preface" to Vanishing Points: New Modernist Poems ed. Kinsella and Rod Mengham [Salt, 2004].)

It could be argued that the lyric in poetry is a fait accompli, that it is generic across languages and cultures.

A hypothetical claim. By “generic,” JK means something like “universal.” Not, explicitly, “natural” or “essential” though the cross-culture reference suggests that. At a minimum, the claim is that poetry is generically marked by a relationship to the lyric (as yet, a completely undefined term). Is poetry a genre?

If musicality and the register of song inform the line of poetry, or are worked against, then the lyric becomes a truism.

This is presented less hypothetically – JK seems to hold that this is correct. (The whole if/then statement, that is, not necessarily the antecedent.) “The lyric becomes a truism” is poorly phrased, a bit of a category error. A truism, by definition, has propositional content. What is meant is something like “The assertion that poetry is always lyric is a truism.” or “The assertion that all poetry has lyric elements is a truism.” Anyway, given the rest of the sentence, “tautology” might be better than “truism.” This is obvious, but the sloppiness bothers me.

The logic of the sentence suggests some of the intended freight of “lyric”: that which displays “musicality” [cf. Guest’s poem of that name] and/or is written in “the register of song.” What, in turn, is the content of these phrases? Which properties of a text do we point to when we discuss its musicality? Prosodic and phonetic features/relations/patterns, one assumes; the properties that can be sounded. But any text has a prosody and (if spoken) a phonetics (so the “truism” is even emptier than it appears). Are particular kinds of prosody or sound patterning inherently “musical,” or is music [like beauty] where you find it? The “register of song.” meant to evoke Zukofsky’s “upper limit,” implies the former.

But what, again, is that “register”? It’s most obvious that we’re “in” it when the poem (strongly or subtly) resembles previous song or (to be recursive) earlier lyric poetry. Interesting to think of “song” as a historical or conventional category – and this isn’t to say that it would be an unchanging one, or that it wouldn’t operate differently in different poetic cultures. But this historicized conception is probably not what unexamined appeals to musicality and lyricism wish to foreground.

[Can other qualities of a poem also make it “musical”? Relations between ideas/represented content? Pound’s “dance of the intellect” – why not also its music?]

Finally, the “or are worked against” is the most interesting move here. Are we to say that poetry that is too (a) fragmentary to allow a consistent music to develop (some Bruce Andrews, perhaps, though long exposure certainly makes one recognize his rhythms) or (b) aggressively prosaic while still claiming “generically” to be poetry (Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies, because Lin is very concerned with what kind of work something is, and because I just heard him read from it) is also “lyric” to the extent that it positions itself against (a conventional conception of) “the register of song.” (How is this positioning achieved? Within the text, or through contextualization?) If so, the truism/tautology becomes emptier yet. Perhaps the only “poetries” that would not count as lyric would be (a) “purely” visual or plastic poetries (cf. Jessica Smith), esp. those that are so graphic (even non-linguistic) that they can’t be sounded or (b) other attempts to do an end run around the phonetic/prosodic elements of language. All texts, as already noted, have these; but one can claim more or less explicity that those elements are not to be attended to – that they are not relevant to the work.

The analogy I have in mind here: One claim some early conceptual artists made for their work was that, even though the presentation of the work inevitably took a material form, even if the “object” was nothing but words typed on a page, any aesthetic properties of what could actually be seen in the gallery (or wherever) were – by declaration – beside the artistic point. (Surely this is at work in Kosuth, Barry, etc. etc. – it’s also a strong element in work with photographic elements that attempts not to be art photography.) Of course, this has hardly prevented critics from treating these elements as legitimate parts of the work, or from recognizing that conceptual art had a “house style” (preferred formats and typefaces; a “clean,” undecorative look). Whether all that is a critical error depends on one’s views about artistic intention. Does the artist get to control what is and is not active in the work? If not, what does? (And of course, Felix Gonzales-Torres and similarly sophisticated post-conceptualists re-aestheticize many elements of their formal models.)

This is a digression (one that could be much longer), but the point is: Given that writing (almost?) can’t help but be “musical” in the very broadest sense, are conceptual poets who distance themselves from lyric values, and the critics who accept their claims, involved in a similar set of problems? (I haven’t read enough of Perloff’s new book to know if she handles this, or how.) None of which is a major concern of JK’s text, but “…or are worked against” raises this set of issues.

Who will be (or is) the F G-T of conceptual poetry? Or did Bernadette Mayer, among others, beat everyone there decades ago?

But the lyric is more than that.

To be continued.