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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Lawrence LaRiviere White

Lawrence LaRiviere White is a poet and an adjunct composition instructor at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, WA.

Email Address: llwhite@u.washington.edu
Website: http://lucifersvalet.wordpress.com


Posts by Lawrence LaRiviere White

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Pisan Cantos: Sieburth’s Introduction

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 12/03/09 at 01:32 PM

(x-posted to Lucifer’s Valet)

Michael Morse & I are reading the Sieburth edition of the Pisan Cantos. I’m going to try to put down some of my thoughts, and maybe some of the dialogue with Michael. Try to be quick about it. Make the reader feel good, like a young blog should.

Sieburth tells the story, Pound’s years in Italy, the radio broadcasts, the arrest, the prison, the writing, the exit to the US, with a coda for incarceration in St. Elizabeth’s & publication & the Bollingen Prize, smartly: he’s got good details & some verve. It’s a nice contrast to the version that’s in my head, Hugh Kenner’s hagiographic Pound Era. Mostly Sieburth allows Pound to be responsible for some of his trouble. By toning down the tragic, Sieburth opens up the possibility for the comic. & as much as I admire Pound, there’s plenty of comic potential in his life story.

Continue reading "Pisan Cantos: Sieburth’s Introduction"

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Against Theory

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 10/05/08 at 11:24 PM

Hey, did you catch how the title of my previous post was a joke on Steven Knapp & Walter Benn Michaels’s Against Theory? Not much of a joke, but it had a point, in that Kugel’s claim, that a text can have a meaning other than the author’s intention, would seem to go against Knapp and Michael’s. But it also reminded me that I’ve meant to post a question at the Valve for some time now.

What do you folks think about Against Theory? Is it the last word on authorial intention? The first? (that is, the first place anyone wishing to study authorial intention should start?) A necessary word in any discussion? What do we think about this book, more than twenty years down the road?

I read it at the time, and I read all the responses in Critical Inquiry. I didn’t like AT. As a devotee of modernist impersonalism, I was hostile to its conclusion, but I also disliked it for good reasons. Or rather, I didn’t like the way it argued. As in, it certainly considered itself the last word on the subject, which struck me as a ridiculous way to approach something that was obviously complicated. Since when is any word in philosophy (& I always took AT to be claiming philosophical seriousness) the last word? Of course this approach could be rhetorical or even theatrical. I’ve since read enough of Michaels to have a sense that claiming irrefutable positions is his métier. I think if I were smarter or less impressionable I could read through such bluster (not that I don’t recognize that Michaels is much smarter than I am), but it just raises my blood pressure.

UPDATE: Post edited to get the author’s names right. D’oh!

Friday, September 26, 2008

For Interpretation

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 09/26/08 at 09:10 PM

I finished James L. Kugel’s How to Read the Bible! And I’d like to spoil it for you. Alert! Kugel carefully and rather effectively, I think, holds off on his conclusion till near the end, only making his first pass at it at the ¾’s mark, in his discussion of the Song of Songs, and holding off on a complete presentation to the last chapter. What a fitting place for a conclusion! Nonetheless, he managed to keep me in suspense, and I imagine this technique worked well in the lecture version, making for a dramatic last session.

The dramatic tension of the book is announced in its subtitle, A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. Of course the tension of the story is, which is correct, then or now? And in setting up this tension at the beginning of the book, Kugel is careful to identify himself as an Orthodox Jew, creating a sense in the reader that despite his prodigious career in modern Bible scholarship, the book will come out in favor of the ancient interpreters. Which it unsurprisingly does, but in a way that raises some surprising ideas.

Continue reading "For Interpretation"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reginald Shepherd 1963-2008

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 09/16/08 at 10:58 PM

Last week, after a long and painful illness, the poet Reginald Shepherd died.

He was the author of five volumes of poetry—Some are Drowning; Angel, Interrupted; Wrong; Otherhood; and Fata Morgana—and a volume of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry. He edited two anthologies, The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetries. There are additional volumes of poems and essays forthcoming. He also kept a weblog the last couple of years, which can be found here, and also did some posting at the Harriet blog.

He was one of the best poets of his generation, and one of the smartest of this era. The course of his life—born and raised in Bronx projects, exiled to Macon, Georgia, then rising up to Bennington and Brown and beyond—was the stuff of an Oprah-list memoir. The motor of that progression, his adamantine integrity that would not swerve nor stoop, was heroic in the old-fashioned sense: it brought him to glories and it brought him to calamities. But he was no cliché. His friends, and those students and readers who were drawn to him, knew he was a rare spirit. As one friend puts it, “what I love about Reginald is how cantankerous, bellicose, generous and celebratory he is all at once, which is to say how gobsmackingly alive, and making more out of that than the rest of us lazy SOB’s.”

Continue reading "Reginald Shepherd 1963-2008"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What I Don’t Know About Comics

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 07/08/08 at 12:07 AM

I came to Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics for help clearing a confusion. This confusion arose from my experience here at The Valve, namely, many of the folks here, our glorious former editor foremost, seemed gaga for comics, yet I wasn’t. Heck, I don’t even own a copy of Maus. If these peers, people I respect, find them important, what am I missing?  Am I stuck as the guy in the New Yorker cartoon (cited in the first paragraph of RC): “Now I have to pretend to like graphic novels too?” It’s not as if I’ve got a high art prejudice. Despite being the only Adorno fanboy here at this site, I’m totally gone on pop culture. Pop music (going back about 100 years or so) is my most cherished art form.

But more confusing than that, I thought I was into comics. I read the comics page of the local free weekly every chance I get, and I own volumes of Zippy the Pinhead, Matt Groening’s Life is Hell, as well as Tony Millionaire’s Maakies and Michael Kupperman’s Snake ‘n Bacon Cartoon Cabaret (though with the latter I much preferred to the original strip to the revised book form).

So I looked to Wolk to explain to me the difference between what I was interested in and what I wasn’t interested in, in other words, for an explanation of the genre differences within comics. I have always liked comic strips, the kind of things found in newspapers (of the daily or weekly variety), but I’ve never been taken by what is often called “comic books,” the stuff sold back in the day on those rotating displays at the 7-11.

What did the book show me? As far as understanding the things I don’t like, I still don’t understand, but if you will bear with me, I will share my ignorance with you, gentle reader, in the hopes that I can receive further enlightenment in the comments. But Reading Comics did some much better than what I was hoping for. It has shown me that there were things that I might like very much, new possibilities of delight. And now I don’t have to pretend. I may still not understand the graphic novel (as the following comments will undoubtedly reveal), but my interest has been sparked.

Continue reading "What I Don’t Know About Comics"

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 05/15/08 at 10:26 PM

Allow me to riff off an old post over at Peli Grietzer’s Second Balcony. In it, Peli bemoans his inadequacy when it comes to appreciating acting. For an example, he considers Hugh Laurie, who is able to do “embarassing”:

as well as “cool”:

and decides that the yawning size of the gap indicates genius. But he also recognizes that such a perception is not exactly fine-tuned. I don’t think Peli should be too hard on himself. The Academy voters don’t seem to have that much more sophisticated an understanding. Take a male with gross developmental disablities (Rain Main) or a female who’s willing to make herself look ugly (Monster), turn it up to 11, and that’s Acting!

But I too wish I knew more about acting. One of the many things I have failed to do in my life is attend much theater. Somehow I think it would help me better understand the inherent theatricality of all poetry. But if I may add another example of the kind of obvious Acting! that impresses me, I’d like to say a couple of things about Geoffrey Rush’s performance in The Life and Death of Peter Sellars.

Continue reading "Acting!"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tudor Booty Call

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 05/11/08 at 10:48 PM

First off, let me apologize for the title. Not that I could come up with anything better, but it’s not only lame, but lame in an academic way. That is, it’s an attempt at jazzing things up, but it’s hopelessly outdated. As is the term “jazzing things up.” My first experience with such lameness was in Robert Pinsky’s workshop, back in the mid-80’s. We were discussing the difference between poetry and song lyrics, Professor Pinsky’s example was Bob Dylan. And we all did (to ourselves) a Jon Stewart avant la lettre “Waaah?” He might as well have mentioned Rudy Vallee. (Nowadays I have a much higher opinion of both Dylan and Vallee. And I know I’m in no position to call anyone else lame.)

Anyway, over at {LIME TREE} K. Silem Mohammad has a 100 Best-Loved Poems list going. I love lists! And the most recent poem is Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee From Me,” only K. Silem is calling it something else, and he’s juxtaposing it with some hippety hop, Mike Jones “Back Then” (actual working YouTube here), which he says is the “inverse” of the Wyatt, which reminds me of how my friend Jennifer Clarvoe has written some of what she calls “inverse poems,” mirror images, as it were, of canonical poems. Only she doesn’t have any of them online, nor does she have a clip on YouTube.

But reading the Wyatt again sparked one thought.

Continue reading "Tudor Booty Call"

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Talking Pathetic Fallacy Blues

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 05/06/08 at 10:38 PM

Something that takes up again the theme of popular music, and something posted earlier: Paul Rodriguez, commenting on Rohan’s post about lit crit on or about the spherical public, made a distinction that caught my attention, between “criticism of style” and “criticism of content.” Now I might have misunderstood what was meant, but it brought me back to my travails in grad school, in particular suffering through some courses I thought were overly inflected toward cultural studies. The problem, I thought, was that we were reading books solely for the interestingness of their content and not for the interestingness of their style, for what they were talking about, not for how they said it. For example, if one took how Iola Leroy was written and made it about some Philadelphia lawyer’s family of the same period, the book would be utterly unreadable.

This kind of feeling helped me feel sorrier for myself, which is very important for some graduate students. But some time later, I got to thinking more, and things got more complicated. The specific object that complicated things was John LeCarré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. After completing my fourth reading of the book, this time with the express intent of evaluating whether or not it was a good book, that is, one that couldn’t be pigeon-holed as genre fiction, and finding that it was really that good, it suddenly occurred to me that my judgment was compromised because I really liked the content of the book. I liked a whole lot what the book was talking about, spies skulking about Europe, cerebral emotionally disaffected males, etc. etc. So who was I to talk down someone else’s reading for content? & I could list off other examples, such as Raymond Chandler & the Los Angeles of the 30’s he conjures. Heck, even Ulysses interests me for its content, the sense it gives of exposing hundreds of hidden details in the life of the city.

So it would seem difficult to extricate style and content. A more recent case exposes the problem yet again, Nick Tosche’s Where the Dead Voices Gather.

Continue reading "Talking Pathetic Fallacy Blues"

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Let’s You and Him Fight

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 04/30/08 at 12:23 PM

David Crystal is a gem! (Google says I’m the first one to make that terribly obvious joke online. I win the internets!) I’ve just finished David Crystal’s The Fight for English, my first go at one of his books. Mention at Language Log had gotten me started, but when I told a friend about it, he was surprised I hadn’t read any before. Now I’m surprised too. Crystal is entertaining and informative, taking a dry subject and making it into a juicy story.

But this newness for me goes beyond Crystal. Only in the last few years have I been reading what linguists have to say about grammar, mostly on the internet, with Language Log being a central source. In real life I am an adjunct composition teacher, one with a higher than average emphasis on sentence quality. To riff on Gertrude Stein, writing is about sentences and paragraphs. But I’ve had to train myself in the details, to improve my own understanding, since I had no real training in this stuff, other than what I learned in French and German classes, and to improve my explanations to the students. Just what am I asking them to do?

The linguistic perspective on these questions has thrown me a bit. I had the world neatly divided into dries and wets, fusty prescriptivists like Safire and Kirkpatrick, and loosey goosey descriptivists, liberation theologists of grammar. And I suspected I was a bit on the fusty side. Linguistics blew this binary up. Linguistics is dry. Perhaps not politically dry, but it’s rigorous, even tediously so. Nothing I’ve read could be called hippy thought. Yet it’s thoroughly descriptivist, or at least it seems, in its online manifestations, to take supreme delight in skewering prescriptivism.

Of course the situation is still more complicated than this. If it’s a fight, I’m going to have to take more beatings before I start to wise up.

Continue reading "Let’s You and Him Fight"

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bible as Literature (Not)

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 04/20/08 at 09:47 PM

I am reading James L. Kugel’s How to Read the Bible. Kugel’s Bible course at Harvard was famously popular, and this book seems, in the nearly 700 pages it takes to get to the endnotes, a record of pretty much every point he could have ever made in the twenty years he taught the course. Similar to Herbert Dreyfus’s Heidegger book, How to Read the Bible feels like making up for a lost opportunity, for those of us who could not attend the course (Dreyfus’s class, I admit, was not megapopular, but it had its fans). While it covers a big number of details, the tone is bright & conversational. One can see how Kugel was a popular lecturer.

Beyond the quite accessible main text, Kugel presents, in the nearly 90 pages of endnotes, something like a bibliography, with commentary, of the history of Bible studies, offering points of departure for further & deeper readings, that is, something for the more scholarly inclined. & in one of these notes he slams (slams, I tell you!) a revered figure in much of literary scholarship, Erich Auerbach & his renowned Mimesis. Well, he doesn’t slam the whole book. He says everything after the first chapter is “quite wonderful.” But that first chapter, “Odysseus’s Scar,” which also happens to be the most famous part of the book, not so much:

this chapter stumbles on precisely the point we have been making. Abraham and the other figures in the tale are not, as Auerbach claims, “fraught with background”; there is no background! There is only the schematic foreground, in which Abraham’s only “trait” is his willingness to kill his son, and in which Isaac barely exists as a human being at all; he is a mere prop. Indeed, Auerbach’s essay is a fine example of what happens when someone trained as a literary critic tries to read a text that is fundamentally not literature.

D’oh! But it’s such a fun chapter! Next he’s going to tell me donuts aren’t good for me. So what should we be believing instead, Professor Kugel?

Continue reading "Bible as Literature (Not)"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Translation Wars. Once More Into the Breach Edition.

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 04/16/08 at 11:48 AM

Here’s the promised follow up. To start, a confession.  Master & Margarita is one of my favorite novels. Or should I say, the Mirra Ginsburg translation of it is. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s romantic, it’s historic. & it’s about religion, about politics, and of course it’s about show business. As everyone knows, the best musicals are about making a musical.

Imagine then my disenchantment when one day I’m visiting a friend & he has a copy of the new Penguin Master & Margarita & he tells me, “This is the famous new translation. All other translations of the book were lame.” Here this book had been so close to my heart, & it turns out I never knew it at all. Worse than that, I read some of the Pevear & Volokhonsky, and I didn’t like it. It felt clunky. It didn’t have the snap of Ginsburg’s prose. But if the P/V is the real thing, that meant that the Bulgakov was clunky, & what I had loved was just some put-up job.

Then I read Bill’s post, or rather John Emerson’s comment, or rather John E.’s links to Language Hat, & it seemed maybe it my original enchantment was okay. & I also learned something about translation, or rather I found a nice expression that matched an unexpressed thought I’d had.

Continue reading "Translation Wars. Once More Into the Breach Edition."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Translation Wars. Go!

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 03/20/08 at 11:33 AM

Translation is impossible, of course. & that’s the good news. Someone will always be unhappy. Talk about job security. Well, if you can figure out how to get paid for it.

Anyway, I found, via Silliman, an Eliot Weinberger review iof a new translation of the Psalms. & tWeinberger doesn’t like it. But it reminded me of something I’ve thought about Ezra Pound & translation. Pound of course is, in the the translation wars, the Napoleon of the activist camp. But there’s something about his strategy that is not fully appreciated, as far as I can tell. Pound’s principle of translation might be summed up thus: if the poem is a good, or even great, poem in its original language, then a proper translation of it must be a good, or even great, poem in the target language.

I think this is a principle often neglected. As you’re looking through a journal, & you come across some translated poem, ask yourself, if this wasn’t a translation, but an original poem in English, would it be any good? Most times, no. The poem isn’t propelled by its language. Instead, it’s the idea of the poem that makes it interesting, w/the usual exoticism often present. Always present is the other poem, the original, which can serve as an excuse for any infelicities in what you have before you.

But my judgment could well be impaired. I started doing poetry workshops in the Bay Area in the early 80’s, & Charles Simic & Mark Strand’s Another Republic had, dare I say, biblical domination over the local poet’s imaginations. & from there to Berkeley, where Milosz was virtually Pope, w/Cardinals Hass & Pinsky at his right & left hand (in that order, BTW).

So what? you ask. Well, people like to blame the excesses, or rather the shortcomings, of academic free verse of the 70’s & beyond, the kind of stuff that’s filled year after year of APR, on those seminaries of poetic orthodoxy, the MFA programs, & the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in particular. You know the poem, the slack-versed celebration of the poet’s self-regard. Whatever sins MFA programs may have committed, the popularity of translation also had something to do w/it. Too often American poets were not taking the original as the model, but the translation. & the translations were not good models, because they were not good poems on their own.

Not that that was the only problem. American poets were also mimicking the existential dramas of the original, which came off as mawkish given the translation of the drama from the concrete dangers of Lodz or San Salvador to the more abstract dangers of Borinda, California. But this was to be expected. There had to be some drama outside the poem, in the life of the poet, because there was so little drama in the words of the poem. Say what you want about LangPo (an American poetry phenomenon exactly contemporary w/this so-called Iowa stuff), but at least there was something going on on the page, even if it seemed a trainwreck.

Was that bellicose enough for you? In the next installment, I’d like to make an (of course) belated response to Bill’s post on Pevear and Volokhonsky. & I don’t like them either.

P.S. Weinberger talks some about modern poets and the psalms, but does not mention Celan. Felstiner makes a persuasive case for the persistent, if indirect, presence of the psalms in Celan’s work.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The PostModernist Crisis of Invention

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 01/24/08 at 11:26 PM

This post will start poorly and end (I hope) better. The better part is a further comment on Reznikoff. The stupid beginning was inspired (not the stupidity, but the topic) by a recent post over at pseudopodium, combined with something I mentioned in and keep remembering from my post on the John Dolan book.

A part of Ray’s post and some of the links touch on the blurring between postmodernist pastiche & plagiarism.  The touching pushed my thoughts onto a tangent, into the kind of philosophizing best done in dorm rooms or bars, that is, the playing with truisms: to wit, our age is a lesser age, cannibalizing the works of the previous, creative ages. I kind of feel that way sometimes, though I suspect that has more to do with the lesser-ness of my own imagination. But it is something of a commonplace today, and common in history, so I don’t seem to be the only person to have or have had this problem. Something Dolan says shows a different way of looking at the issue, a way to redescribe it. & redescription, as the Cat-in-the-Hat might have said if he went to graduate school, is fun.

Continue reading "The PostModernist Crisis of Invention"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hear Me Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 01/15/08 at 01:38 AM

Sometimes you have an idea, some critical judgment, that feels like a discovery, something that was hidden has been revealed. & you look around for evidence to support your idea, & you find out you weren’t the first person to come up w/the idea. Of course this is deflating, but at the same time a little exciting, perhaps even uncanny. It’s as if maybe this aesthetics thing weren’t totally subjective, as if there was something true about some of things we talk about.

What am I talking about? Rocky and Bullwinkle, of course. Because I have at least one parenting technique similar to Pa Holbo’s, namely, the indoctrination of young children in important pop culture. On our end, this involves more DVDs, not so many comic books. The kids don’t get to watch their own Saturday morning cartoons: they have to watch daddy’s. I’m sure it won’t produce any long term effects.

So one afternoon we’re watching, & it struck me. I already knew that the cartooning was crude. But it was more than just crude. It was for the most part unnecessary. That is, it conveyed no information not already presented in the soundtrack, more specifically, not already presented by the speech of a character or the narrator. This superfluity of the images seemed to apply 100% to the Rocky & Bullwinkle storylines, with the others—Aesop’s Fables, Fractured Fairytales, Dudley DooRite, etc.—having an occasional visual gag.

This was an insight surely worth blogging. But every post must have links, so I had to do some research. Where to go to first other than Wikipedia, but only to find a rude awakening, & in the very first paragraph of the entry: “the strengths of the series helped it overcome the fact that it had choppy, limited animation; in fact, some critics described the series as a well-written radio program with pictures.” As one might say, “D’oh!” If I have nothing to top Wikipedia, I’m an even lamer blogger than I thought. That may be true, but I’ll go ahead, as I can make a couple of tie-ins to previous posts, including a further consideration, this time literal, about voice.

Continue reading "Hear Me Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat"

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Great World Small

Posted by Lawrence LaRiviere White on 01/04/08 at 02:52 PM

More of Poetry 35:7, this time Charles Reznikoff, who might be considered the Objectivist par excellence. At least Zukofsky seems to have considered him so, considering that the founding document of Objectivism, the essay “Sincerity and Objectification: With Special Reference to the Work of Charles Reznikoff,” included in the appendix of the special Poetry issue & from which Zukofsky coined the term “Objectivism” when called upon by the editor Harriet Monroe to come up w/a label for the movement, takes Reznikoff as the exemplar.

As with many of the Objectivists, Reznikoff had an interesting life—not interesting as in you could make a movie out of it, but interesting as a writer’s life, more specifically, as an example of someone who maintained the life of a writer despite deriving no income from it and having no audience. As with most of the Objectivists, an audience finally showed up at the very end of his life and seems to be steadily increasing since his death.

The work itself is a supreme example of Modernist concision, but without any of the referential obscurantism of Zukofsky. Which is not to say that it isn’t baffling: though all of the references may be clear, the poems eschew narrative frames that would explain the importance of the presented scenes, and there is to a degree perhaps unmatched by an other practitioner of vers libre a fearless refusal to distinguish itself from prose by any means other than the unjustified right margin. Reznikoff is not the greatest poet of all time, but represents an idiom developed to its highest level, which is a great accomplishment. And given the importance of his themes—history, religion, life in the city—, he is a poet certainly deserving of a wider audience.

Continue reading "The Great World Small"
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