Tuesday, April 29, 2003

What a gorgeous poem, Catherine. Will you send me some of your recent work? I don't feel like I was ever sufficiently appreciative of it when I was living in the Bay Area. I want to make amends.

And thank you Kasey for your extremely lucid response to my response to Davidson and Mullen. (Apologies about the link: I tried to link to Kasey's archive but it doesn't seem to be working.) You've provided me with some helpful tools to approaching Davidson and Language poetry generally—I like Spahr's idea about a constantly shifting dialectic between system and detail. Your further interrogation of the meaning of logopoeia, and logopoetic play, is also very useful (and I had no idea Muriel Rukeyser was so interesting! Truth be told, I barely know who she is). I also agree that there is something Kandy Korn-like about Mullen—though you know, I like candy corn and I hate lima beans. Always have. If we're going to speak in terms of literal taste, mine have evolved not so much toward preferring bitter flavors over sweet flavors (though it's true I now prefer beer to cola, and you can only eat so much candy corn) than toward preferring strong flavors over weak flavors (I now eat all kinds of things that I thought were inedible when I was a kid: blue cheese, jalapeno peppers, etc.). I still require some melopoeia, at least in my own poetry, to inform and create engagement with the logopoeia; and as my comments about Altieri should have indicated, I'm not ready to jettison mimesis. I get a good deal more pleasure out of Watten's Bad History than I do Culture, at least so far, because Watten's text references and represents a world that I can understand—in other words, it brings its historico-textual context to the reader, its mediation of history through historical documents. Perhaps this is logopoeia as means to an end and not an end in itself—and saying that I realize there might be some value in pure logopoeia. But is that what Culture is? If so, I almost feel that the scraps of biographical context in Gary's afterword have done the reader a disservice, paradoxically forcing anyone not previously familiar with Davidson's personal context to read the book through the narrow lens of autobiography.

I'm working every day on acquiring a higher tolerance for abstraction: my entire graduate education has been oriented toward that goal, because I really started from zero after an undergraduate education in which I'd managed to avoid studying any philosophy or literary theory, much less Language poetry. I do wonder though if the pleasures of logopoeia aren't the pleasures of asceticism, of self-denial, of an almost masochistic suppression of one's desire or expectation of some kind of melo- and phonopoeia from poetry. A little self-denial is an extremely useful and necessary thing, but a sustained experience of it, which is what Davidson's text offers, makes me grab for the life ring of Mullen's richly melopoetic text. Even if it's really just a Life Saver doomed to dissolve in my mouth because I can't resist tonguing the hole in the middle. It might be true what Cage says about doing something boring long enough, which strikes me as a corollary to Blake's proverb, "If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise." But the writer at least knows why he or she is persisting in doing that boring thing. How does one create, where does one find, readers whose negative capability is muscular enough to enable them to wait for the system (better: the systematic) to emerge? I'm serious here: how does one become a genuinely appreciative reader of Language poetry?

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