On 28 February the Contemporary American and British Poetics conference
was held at the Connaught Hall. There were four speakers: Gavin Selerie,
Allen Fisher, Bob Perelman and Alice Notley. They had been asked to
outline their personal poetics in the contemporary context and to read a
selection of their poetry. One of the good things about this day was that
it was possible, with only four speakers, for each to give a detailed
introduction to their poetics, as well as a satisfying selection of their
Gavin Selerie began with the context of W.S. Graham as a precursor to
some of the more innovative contemporary British poets, and the importance
of the 'language apparatus'. He also spoke about the importance of the
longer poem or project amongst those poets he included in his personal map,
which led into a discussion of and reading from his own poem 'Roxy'.
Allen Fisher also focused on the longer project, and his procedures for
engaging in it. Poetics, as he said, encompass every field of knowledge,
and his own are very wide ranging. At the same time, this is not a
programmatic research project, but a procedure which aims to defeat all
expectations, including his own. He gave examples of the means by which
this is achieved in his poems, and their complex transformations.
Bob Perelman, while acknowledging his allegiance to innovative poetics,
is increasingly impatient with certain narratives of innovation. He wants
poetry that has 'social location', but does not merely provide a
reification of the individual's social position. The poems that he read
were very much of this world, in all its social dislocation. They ranged
from the Mozart social factory in 'Vienna: a correspondence', to the
x-files factory version of a poet's 'confession'.
Alice Notley was the most resistant to narratives of innovation which
require unthinking obedience. She defended the poet's use of 'voice' and
the first person pronoun, the stripped down disobedient self. She
congratulated Perelman on his voice in 'confession' (and who else could
have written this?). She also got Allen Fisher to confess to writing lyric
poetry. Her latest book is called Disobedience, and her reading from it
was a sustained and intense performance.
In the final discussion, chaired by Clive Bush, some of the more
restrictive orthodoxies of language poetry were further questioned.
However, the complexity and fracture of innovative poetry was also
defended within a complex, fractured social structure.
I hope the proceedings of the conference will be published, but in the
mean email time,