Well, the "A" Team has done it's work: I mean the reading group I participated in this summer that read "A," by Louis Zukofsky. (Some of us more than others, but hey, you do what you can.)
It's interesting to me that poets who claim Zukofsky as an influence typically point to his methods, rather than to his works. That is, they will cite homophonic or homolinguistic translations, or word-count lines, or the use of found material; but I have yet to hear anyone say "'A' is a fucking great book, dude" - let alone "a fucking great poem."
That may be the influence of the hoary chestnut of "process over product" in pomo pomes. And the book is certainly a treasure-house of possibility for anyone open to innovative poetics. But the question it raises for me is: Do we need this much of it?
It took me a while to figure out that the books by Language poets were so long because, if you resist closure, you can't stop writing. And with them, as with their predecessor Zukofsky, much of that length has to do with arbitrary/aleatory constraints.
But the length also raises the same question as conceptual poetry: do you have to read it (all)? I mean, the Oulipo people did an experiment, then moved on. LZ does, too - from one "movement" to another. It reads more like a miscellany, more than a poem. But do each of the individual movements need to be as long as they are? This is the point I wonder about. I often found myself saying, "OK, OK - I get it. Enough already." Is 80 Flowers more influential than "A" or ALL? If so, the length thing might be part of it.
During the group, I found myself in the odd position of defending Zukofsky's poetics - odd, b/c I don't write in a particularly Zukofskian manner (well, usually). But then, his influence is so pervasive as to make me wonder: who doesn't? (at least to one degree or another - the methods and forms he championed are par for the course nowadays)
- rough music: materiality of language - amazing sense of sonic and thematic recurrence and simultaneity.
- pioneering use of constraints. incl. word-count lines
- leftist docupo - but registering "history" w/o sacrificing attention to phonemes (which is what history is composed of, after all)
- willingness to leave disparate, incongruous, or contradictory elements in the poem (i.e., the "miscellany" thing) - you get a sense of a writer who is changing and not disowning any of his past selves - and the inclusion of multiple genres in the same "poem."
- mixing of the personal (even confessional) and historical.
- "raw" material or "found" material (i.e., use of stuff he didn't author - or use of Celia's setting of his poems composed largely of stuff he didn't author)
- willingness to incorporate his daily reading, events, ideas, overheard conversation - life.
- fearlessness (and later disdain for Po Biz)
- Jewishness. If you don't like it, fuck you. Also, the emphasis on letters, numerology, etc. And wow what amazing variations on a cultural theme.
- Length - a little full of himself, perhaps? Dare I say it?
- The cloying - even suffocating - sense of the nuclear family (too close to home?)
- Macho epic ambition. It's as though any male poet of a certain age has to write a Long Poem. And my poem is longer than your poem, etc.: the obligatory covering of all of human (and natural) history. Pre-Poundianism.
- post-McCarthy quietism (Spinoza enlisted to the cause) - but who am I to judge
- the fugue - this metaphor for the poem (b/c that's what it is) eventually became so attenuated as to seem a distraction. What's wrong with cacophony as a musical principle?
- "A"-24. I love the idea and the ambition of it, but it doesn't work for me (by the same token) - I don't hear the fugal consonances between the words. Too many voices to be able to perceive (nervous system-wise).
But then I'm a notorious Philistine.
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