Vol. 54 No. 2 1987 - page 299

Tom Clark
"To write poetry now, even on current events, means to
withdraw into the ivory tower. It's as though one were practicing the
art of filigree. There is something eccentric, cranky, obtuse about it.
Such poetry is like the castaway's note in the bottle."
Though it's been almost forty-five years since Bertolt Brecht
made that statement, it has never been more applicable than at pre–
sent; poets have never seemed more "eccentric, cranky, obtuse,"
their poems never fuller of the consummate irrelevance implied by
Brecht's phrase, "the art of filigree." In what is obviously an ex–
tremely fragmented time for society at large as well as for the special
interests of literature, the arts have entered a phase of extreme
"pluralization" - as Ron Silliman, editor of the new "language
poetry" anthology,
In The American Tree,1
calls it. All thoughts of
truth or beauty or
in writing are to be considered either
nostalgic or plain reactionary, or so Silliman implies. "Any debate
over who is, or is not a better writer," he decrees in his introduction,
"is, for the most part, a surrogate social struggle."
The guidebooks to this brave new world beyond the who's-a–
better-writer debate are starting to roll off not only the small
presses-among which the "language" movement has already im–
planted itself-but those of some of America's universities as well.
In recent years Southern Illinois University Press has issued some of
the principal documents of this movement, including Barrett Wat–
ten's volume of critical essays
(Total Syntax)
and Bob Perelman's col–
lection of those shadowboxing, self-qualifying "talks" which are this
group's dominant mode of production
Now, from
the University of Maine's National Poetry Foundation, comes this
six-hundred-odd-page blockbuster anthology, a volume that
registers the movement's literary performance to date.
The "language school," as this group is often called (in honor
of L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, a magazine Silliman terms "the first
American journal of poetics by and for poets "), has its stronghold in
1. In The American Tree,
edited by Ron Silliman. National Poetry Foundation ,
University of Maine at Orono, Maine.
179...,289,290,291,292,293,294,295,296,297,298 300,301,302,303,304,305,306,307,308,309,...350
Powered by FlippingBook