The impacts of Pound's tradition on contemporary poetics; the relevance
of avant-gardism versus classical definitions of literary genres;
the question of labels and stabilized identities; the philosophical
dilemma of meaning and linguistic referntiality; the existence of
the non-narrative; and the social function of grammar have all come
to be viewed in a particularly controversial light in relation to,
and by inference of, the poetic and theoretical enterprise known,
with a great deal of resistance from its participant poets, under
variations of the term "Language poetry." This interview
covers some of the individual views, concerning these issues among
others, of one of its founding members, and beyond that, of a key
experimental poet and theoretician in contemporary American poetics.
Bob Perelman (b. 1947) has published over eleven books of poetry from
his first Braille (1975) to his The Future of Memory
(1998) and, his latest, Ten to One: Selected Poems (1999).
In addition to two books of theory: The Trouble with Genius
(1994) and The Marginalization of Poetry (1996), Perelman has
introduced a new theoretical format which he terms 'Talk Series' and
effectively samples in his remarkable book Writing / Talks
"No, I don't think it is achievable," he answered, when
I asked if the aim of purging the non-narrative can be seen as realistic.
"Narrative writing" he continued "hasn't been completely
charted" and, in such a dialectical manner, he suggested, its
"gestural" non-linear "powers" remain relevant
to contemporary poetic experimentalism. It is important to think of
the Language poets in differential (continuous and discontinuous)
terms, rather than in the clear-cut anti- or pro-rhetoric. Even the
non-narrative anti-confessionalist stance they once seemed to have
unconditionally upheld, is itself, as Perelman indicates, full of
differential surprises. Explorative rather than particularly ideological,
their work, in extremely distinctive ways, defines ubiquities rather
than exclusions. Yet, without the confining and simultaneously liberating
effects of language, they also seem to argue that "nothing,"
let alone "everything," will "go." In consciousness,
as well as in the happening of the world, language, in its largest
possible description, defines the game in which, for better or worse,
they seem above all else, interested.
This interview was conducted during Perelman's stay in London on June
4th, 1998, with my late friend and mentor Professor Nicholas Zurbrugg.
Since 1990 Perelman has been an Assistant Professor of English at
the University of Pennsylvania.