Thursday, December 7, 2006


“Fatuma Hussein…described the shock that she felt on arriving in America. Having escaped the horrors of the civil war [in Somalia] and spent years in a refugee camp in Kenya, she was suburban Atlanta, where she was sent to an all-white high school. ‘And I tell you,’ she said, ‘American high school is the cruelest place I’ve been.’” —from “New in Town” by William Finnegan in The New Yorker Dec. 11, 2006.

* A lot of adult environments have been compared to high school, like Hollywood, academia, the publishing biz, the art scene, “corporate America”, etc.

And the poetry world, where different cliques rule at different times or on different turfs, ala my previous “language poetry” comments

My last word (hopefully) on that is number one: I’m one of the only people (or poets for that matter) I know who has actually read from cover to cover every book written by almost every one of the first generation of “language” poets.

Others admit they can only dip into these tomes for a few pages before all the nonlinear juxtapositions that evoke too many possibilities causes brain fatigue. I’m sure some read these books all the way through as I do, but I would suspect it’s very few who really do, and they take a long time to do it.

With me, it’s a compulsion. Any print matter I pick up, once I read the first page (and I really mean the first page with print on it) I have to read every following page until the last, including the endpapers and dust jacket, etc.

Only lately have I been able to NOT read everything on every page in newspapers and magazines. For instance The New Yorker. I still read everything but the ads, but skipping the ads was a big breakthrough.

So, when I raise the question of the actual popularity of “language” poetry versus the perceived popularity and the attention it gets—in the academy, from critics, and those who run reading venues and poetry publications (for awhile there a few years ago even the prose in The Saint Marks Poetry Project Newsletter was so “language”-y I couldn’t figure out what anyone was trying to say), etc.—I’m speaking as one of the most comprehensive readers of the stuff, because I appreciate the breakthroughs in poetic technique and strategy “language poetry” has generated.

And number two: It’s all “language” poetry.

As a young man playing jazz, many jazz musicians I knew dismissed that term. They either said: “It’s all music,” or “it’s all jazz,” meaning, in the latter case, that it’s all improvised before it’s written down. Well, in poetry, it’s all “language.”

PS Best movie about high school in recent years: Tina Fey’s Mean Girls.

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