[Wgcp-whc] WG/CP--minutes for 9-28 and reminder: Rothenberg, this Fri

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Sun Oct 8 14:31:31 EDT 2006

October 8, 2006

Dear Fellow Poetics Seminarians,

On September 28, the Working Group in Contemporary Poetics convened for a
special session.  The occasion was a conversation with Nathaniel Mackey, whose
most recent book of poems and most recent book of poetics and criticism we had
read and discussed the week before.

Very quickly it became clear what the two central topics would be: musicality
and allusiveness.  The previous week we had discussed the role of allusion,
both in Mackey?s work as well as more generally. The group discussed the
Poundian/Eliotic model, which is didactic and authoritarian.  In this
model?broadly speaking?the onus falls on the reader to be aware of the
references and if he/she is not, that is a fault that needs to be addressed. 
Thus, in such a paradigm allusions can serve as an initiating process into a
specialized (and perhaps elite) interpretive community.

Mackey distanced himself from such thinking and saw the use of allusions in a
line coming from Williams, Olson, and Duncan.  In this the allusions register
in a way so as to create inflections within an already existing community by
bringing idiosyncratic articulations of divers, disparate materials (a
individual?s cultural constellation) as a means of expanding possibilities of
knowledge available to a larger conversation.  Mackey did say that he forestalls
too much conscious thought of trying to please or placate a reader. One
particularly interesting comment he made was a defense of making some
disclosures opaque.  While not an intended goal, he suggested that having
moments, references, and so forth that resist understanding or explanation
represent experience of self and other more authentically than if all claims,
references, and formal negotiations are transparent.   This
expressivist/mimetic dimension of his work is not otherwise readily evident. In
part, this question of disclosure does have a pedagogical element in that the
resistant allusions are an enticement for readers to follow up and discover the
source and site of citations.  Mackey acknowledged that the allusions he makes
to, for instance, African mythology, Spanish poetry, and Jazz all are the
measure of his investments in these things and that his inclusion of them in
his various serial poems (which often seem to flow into one masterwork, in the
modernist?and Whitmanian?tradition) is a way of bringing these kinds of
knowledge and their attendant values into conversation with one another and
with a readership that might not otherwise be exposed to them.  Thus, the
allusions increased not only forms of knowledge but express alternate value
systems as well. There is also for him the allusions often bespeak a faith in
the seriousness of the reader, trusting he/she will be willing to engage the
poem even when in moments when it invokes its right to a certain amount of

The discussion also moved to Mackey?s sense of musicality and visuality in his
poetics.  We talked at some length about the look of his poems on the page.  In
a recent post to his blog, Ron Silliman made the observation upon reading a
recent anthology of Bay area ?avant-garde? poets that most of the younger
writers were (again) justifying the left hand margin.  While in some traditions
this is not worth mentioning, in an avant-garde tradition that is noteworthy. 
Mackey, who often uses the page as a lager field, discussed how the practice of
spreading the lines in innovative ways across the page was important to him for
a few reasons.  One reason was that it is a kind of investment in the poetics
of the New American Poetry (an anthology of poems and poetics that included
Spicer, Olson, Duncan, Creeley, and many others and that served to galvanize a
new direction in American poetics).  Another reason was that the use of the
page allowed for his poems to have a visual element that is elided when the
work adheres to more traditional conventions.   Mackey suggested that a key
difference between his conception of the spatial placement of words and that of
Olson and others is that he doesn?t see this as a way of scoring a reading. 
For Mackey, the arrangement enacts the process of composition.  One might say
that this then also enacts conversation in its hesitancies, anxieties, and
explorations. This is not to suggest tentativeness but rather it is a means of
testing the language in the process of using it.  If the page is not a score,
then, it is a synthetic, synaesthetic reading of its own, visual sculpture. 
Thus, the actual reading aloud of the poem need not be strictly determined by
the spaces, caesuras, line breaks, margins, and so forth. Mackey pointed to his
essay ?Site specific/Sound Specific? for a longer meditation of the
aural/visual elements of his poems.  I would point out that there one will find
the insistence, ? The poem?s articulation is as various as its locations?
(Paracritical Hinge 231), which seems to be also a comment that speaks to
Mackey?s use of allusions as well.

Indeed, the conversation, a full two hours, was wide ranging but intensive and
this gives some sense of what was covered.  The group thanks Professor Mackey
for joining us for such a generative discussion.

As a reminder, Jerome Rothenberg is joining us this Friday, October 13 (in Rm
116 of the WHC at 3).  Rothenberg is incredibly prolific as a poet, translator,
and anthologist.  We will be focusing our discussion around his recent
collection of translations and notes on the process of translating, Writing
Through.  Professor Rothenberg is also one of the important figures in
ethnopoetics. We will discuss the ways that translation and ethnography informs
his work as a poet.  He will also be sharing with us the table of contents for
the 3 volume of the crucial (and ongoing) anthology Poems for the Millennium.

I recommend that people look at his epc author page:

Also see this page for a number of sound files of the author reading.
Some of this includes some of his chantwork and sound poetry, as well as an
interview by Charles Bernstein.

Also (and especially those who like their poems ludic) see some visual poetry

A useful interview with Nina Zivancevic is here:

Please feel free to invite anyone you feel would be interested in this event.

Richard Deming, Group Sub-sub-librarian

?The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other Friday
at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University to
discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry within international
alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of lyric poetry. All are welcome to

More information about the Wgcp-whc mailing list