Poetic texture is comprised of at least three valences: a. considerations of genre (the work as governed by the restrictions of a densely inscribed lyric, the languorous extrapolations of the meditative sequence, the desultory shifting of attachment in the series, or the comprehensiveness of epic); b. considerations of form (traditional or invented; serious or light; arbitrary constraint or motivated compulsion); and c. considerations of compositional method (the various strategies by which the poet deploys the materials of the poem).
describing problems of poetic texture and compositional method, I want to apply
the somatic metaphor introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari near the
end of A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia: “the
smooth and the striated.” One can
distinguish “smooth texts” from “striated texts” according to the
presence or absence of striation. One examines the body of the text to determine whether its
tissue is arranged in parallel sheets or transverse striations.
The text may be marked by the continuity or discontinuity of perception,
a mellifluous or harsh enunciation, and a laminar or disturbed surface.
One can evaluate the consistency or fragmentation of authorial voice, the
hypotactic or disjunctive qualities of syntax, regular or irregular rhythms, the
presence and variety of source materials, and the relative constraint by or
liberation from formal devices. “Smooth
texts” texts maintain a consistent voicing; practice either a normative or a
regularly-irregular syntax; refrain from difficult allusions; and suppress or
restrain formalism. “Striated
texts” display aspects of collage, broken syntax, polylogism, dense allusion,
and procedural forms that tend to ripple and contort the language of the poem.
fair amount of attention will be paid to questions of genre, poetic form, and
literary history in the accession of modernism by postmodernism.
The reading list for the seminar will thus be comprised of texts from
various poetics and genres in both the late modern and postmodern period. We’ll examine the structure of the epic in Ezra Pound’s The
Pisan Cantos (1948) and Ronald Johnson’s Ark (1996). The long
meditative poem will be represented by Gertrude Stein’s Stanzas
in Meditation (1932) and John Ashbery’s Flow
Chart (1991). We’ll pry apart
modern and postmodern proceduralism in such works as John Wheelwright’s Mirrors of Venus (1938), Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers (1978), and
Joan Retallack’s Afterrimages (1995).
The crafts of weaving and quilting, or texere, are found both in Marianne Moore’s lyrics and in Lyn
Hejinian’s My Life (1987).
Figures of the intensive or nomadic intellect may also bring us, time
permitting, to poetry and prose by Clark Coolidge, David Antin, Pierre Joris,
Ann Lauterbach, and Nathaniel Mackey.
Seminar participants who are registered intensively will be
required to make a twenty-minute oral presentation and produce
a twenty-page research paper.