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Poetry & Historical Information :: Procedure & Source Text

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Poetry & Historical Information :: Procedure & Source Text

Poetry & Historical Information :: Procedure & Source Text

Kristen Prevallet’s “Investigating the Procedure: Poetry and the Source” in Telling it slant : avant-garde poetics of the 1990s. Mark Wallace and Steven Marks, eds. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

I’ve read from Telling it slant before, but returned to it for Kristen Prevallet’s essay which deals with the interaction between source texts, procedures and poetry. In particular because the article examines these interactions through texts which are interested in documenting and history. (An issue I’m dealing with in my current project)

Prevallet’s references include:

  • Brennan, Sherry. Taken. Washington, D.C.: Primitive Publications, 1997.
  • Darragh, Tina. adv. fans—the 1968 series. Buffalo: Leave Books, 1995.
  • Fitterman, Rob, ed. Object 9-Inventory (1999).
  • Gilbert, Alan. Eve of Jubilee. Sections of this manuscript were published in apex of the M 4 (winter 1996) and in First Intensity 10 (winter 1998).
  • Jarnot, Lisa. Some Other Kind of Mission. Providence: Burning Deck, 1997.
  • McCaffery, Steve, ed. “Steve McCaffery, Ron Silliman & Charles Bernstein, Correspondence May 1976-December 1977.” Line (1985): 59-89.
  • Osman, Jena. “Can you tell me how to reduce ‘long’ simultaneously with ‘fine’?: The Procedural Poetry of Tina Darragh and Joan Retallack.” Paper presented at the Twentieth Century Literature Conference, University of Louisville, February 1996.
  • Sanders, Ed. “Creativity and the Fully Developed Bard.” In Disembodied Poetics, Annals of the Jack Kerouac School, ed. Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.
  • – – – . Investigative Poetry. San Francisco: City Lights, 1976.
  • – – – . 1968: A History in Verse. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1997.
  • Spahr, Juliana. Response. Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1996.
  • “TV Quiz for Video Freaks Only.” Mother Jones, February/March 1976, 49.
  • “What Are the Farmworkers Voting For?” Mother Jones, February/March 1976, 5.
  • “The Women Are Talking about Anger.” Mother Jones, February/March 1976, 67.

The readings of the above texts are contingent upon one another, so I’ll just bring in the beginning of the essay:

In 1976 a series of events-in-poetry occurred that catalyzed an ideological spill still felt in thought and in action twenty years later by practitioners of antiofficial verse. These events directed poetry away from a quest for transparent meaning and toward the revelation of source texts, procedures, and language experiments within the body of the poem itself. Poets refer to these events using a variety of terms, all of which can be contextualized within specific literary moments occurring before and after 1976. Because these terms were used to specify a particular movement in poetry—projective verse, Language poetry, investigative poetics, open-field poetics—they have been defined as oppositional and not at all reflective of one another. It will take the creation of an entirely new event-in-poetry to reinvestigate this and to the various terms into a useful poetic practice based not on opposition but mutual re-formulation.

1976: First Instance

In 1976 City Lights published Edward Sanders’s book Investigative Poetry, which had been presented as a lecture at the Visiting Spontaneous Poetics Academy of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in the summer of 1975. Just before the table of contents, Sanders inscribes the unique purpose of investigative poetry: “that poetry should again assume responsibility for the description of history.” Sanders designs new forms for poetic presentation based on Charles Olson’s manifesto of projective verse. Sanders calls forms “High Energy Verse Grids” or “Data Clusters” (IP 8). Through grids or clusters the poet can be a historical scholar, embarking on a voyage through the world, with the facts, theories, statistics, and raw information transformed through the “bard’s” singular voice into a “description historical reality” (IP 7). The poet is a researcher, investigator, interpreter, singer, and prophet who engages in an active relationship with the political, social, and cultural forces around him or her. The poet is a manifesto-creating, opinionated, ranting, perpetual surveyor and tireless investigator of history. The poet is busy creating verse grids out of whatever materials are present before him or her at the time; the poet is an appropriator of sources, a thief of facts, a collage-creating scoundrel in a hyper state of awareness and inspiration. Flowcharts, newspaper articles, photographs, etymology, and ethnography become the raw materials for the poet’s unique assemblage.

As with all great manifestos, Sanders’s poetical goals are lofty and ambitious, outrageous and impossible:

Investigative poetry is freed from capitalism, churchism, and other totalitarianisms; free from racisms, free from allegiance to napalm-dropping military police states—a poetry adequate to discharge from its verse-grids the undefiled high energy purely-distilled verse-frags, using every bardic skill and meter and method of the last 5 or 6 generations, in order to describe every aspect (no more secret governments!) of the historical present, while aiding the future, even placing bard-babble once again into a role as shaper of the future. (JP 11)

Although times and poets have changed, the impulse for poets to create an intellectual life for themselves that resists totalitarianisms has not. Sanders’s theory, which in “Creativity and the Fully Developed Bard” he called “the multi-decade research project” (238), outlines a strategy for staying intellectually afloat for those who have chosen poetry as a means of living a life of the mind. The procedure is cumulative: pick a project that will take the next sixty years to research. Immediately begin by creating files for the project. As you read through the sources, begin taking notes in verse to be cut up and arranged as “fact strips” (244) on the page. Move them around until the fact strips become a sequence, a shape, a “data cluster” (244). Through this arrangement of data clusters you will slowly develop your own unique system for organizing information. As Sanders writes:

The look & feel
& the way you array
your information systems
in your Creativity Zone
has meaning
for your work. (248)

Once you get into the zone, you are able to create sequences of data and poetry anytime, anywhere, whether inspired or not, sick or healthy, stuck or in transit. The creative zone is not just a notebook filled with data clusters—it is an intellectual pursuit, a way of approaching life and being perpetually in tune with the world mix.

Sanders continues:

IT SHOULD BE THERE IN YOUR LIFE
so that
     in your best
        creative moments
you can spiffle
        through it
           for materials
        useful to your writing. (“Creativity” 256)

 

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