Reacting to who and why and what.

Those concerns, for the most part, grow out of the rejection of the dominant model for poetic production and reception today-the so-called voice poem. According to many Language poets, the voice poem depends on a model of communication that needs to be challenged: the notion that the poet (a self-present subject) transmits a particular message ("experience," "emotion") to a reader (another self-present subject) through a language which is neutral, transparent, "natural."
-Hartley, 1989

What's in a name.

The term language-centered was first used in print, in the history of the Language School, in a headnote to "The Dwelling Place: 9 Poets," Ron Silliman's 1973 selection of recent work published in the ethnopoetic journal Alcheringa (1975): "9 poets out of the present, average age 28 . . . called variously `language centered,' `minimal,' `non-referential formalism,' `diminished referentiality,' `structuralist.' Not a group but a tendency in the work of many."6 In the context of Alcheringa, "language-centered" connoted a culturally holistic notion of "total poetics," in editor Jerome Rothenberg's (1975: 131) terms, as much as a linguistic turn to structuralist theory.
Barrett Watten: Theory Death and the term "Language Poetry"

Whose Language.

Who are the Language poets? The answer to that question depends on how one defines the label. One could begin, for instance, by listing those poets (most born between 1940 and 1950) who for fifteen years or so have appeared in the following Language anthologies: Toothpick, Lisbon & the Orcas Islands (1973); Alcheringa (1975); Open Letter (1977); Hills (1980); Ironwood (1982); Paris Review (1982); The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (1984); Change (1985); Writing/Talks (1985); boundary 2 (1986); In the American Tree (1986); and "Language" Poetries (1987). While the periphery of the group remains rather amorphous-Silliman lists almost eighty poets who might have accompanied the forty who are represented in In the American Tree--many names frequently recur in anthologies, critical essays, and poetry magazines such as This, Tottel's, Roof Hills, Miam, Qu, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, The Difficulties, A Hundred Posters, and more recently (though not as the predominant group) Sulfur, Temblor, Sink, and Tramen.

Those frequent names are Bruce Andrews, Rae Armantrout, Steve Benson, Charles Bernstein, David Bromige, Clark Coolidge, Alan Davies, Ray DiPalma, Robert Grenier, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe, Steve McCaffery, Michael Palmer, Bob Perelman, Kit Robinson, Peter Seaton, James Sherry, Ron Silliman, Diane Ward, Barrett Watten, and Hannah Weiner.
-George Hartley

  • Robert Grenier
  • b?. Co-Founder of This ('71-74).
  • Bruce Andrews
  • b?. Co-founder of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E ('78-81). Asst. Prof. Poly Sci, Fordham University.
  • Charles Bernstein
  • b4/4/1950. Co-founder of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E ('78-81). David Gray Prof. at State U of NY, Buffalo.
  • Ron Silliman
  • b?. Everywhere. Somebody has too much free time on their hands.
  • Steve McCaffery
  • b?.
  • Ray DiPalma
  • b1943. Teaching in NYC, at the School of Visual Arts.
  • Susan Howe
  • b?. Prof. of English at State U of NY, Buffalo. Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, 2000.
  • Clark Coolidge
  • b?.
  • Bob Perelman
  • b?. Ph.D. from Berkley. Currently Asst. Prof. U of Penn.
  • Lyn Hejinian
  • b?. CA. Lives and writes in Berkely.
  • Rae Armantrout
  • b?. Teaches at the University of California at San Diego.
  • David Bromige
  • b?. Teaches in CA, U of San Francisco.
  • Diane Ward
  • b?.
  • Hannah Weiner
  • b1928-1997.
  • Michael Palmer.
  • b1943 NYC, lives in SF. Not Ivory tower my fat white ass.
  • Barrett Watten
  • b?. AB, Biochem, U of CA, Berkeley, 1969; MFA, English, U Iowa, 1972; U of CA, Berk., 1995. Asst. Prof. at Wayne State U, MI.
  • Rod Smith
  • b?.

    Which leaves us the question?

    There are no Language poets to be found in the over 5,000 pages comprised by the following anthologies: New American Poets of the 80s, edited by Jack Myers and Roger Weingarten (1984); Singular Voices, edited by Stephen Berg (1985); The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, edited by Dave Smith and David Bottoms (1985); The Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Helen Vendler (1985); The Direction of Poetry,, edited by Robert Richman (1988); The Longman, Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Stuart Friebert and David Young (1983; second edition, 1989); Contemporary American Poetry, edited by A. Poulin, Jr. (fourth edition, 1985; fifth edition, 1991); The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by J.D. McClatchy; and New American Poets of the 90s, edited by Jack Myers and Roger Weingarten (1991). Needless to add, they are not to be found in any of the omnibus textbook anthologies of American literature (where their contemporaries and ethnically appropriate juniors are favored). Yet this group of outre poets has been repeatedly and favorably singled out in prestigious scholarly journals (including Critical Inquiry, New Literary History, and South Atlantic Quarterly, American Literary History, and even The Southern Review), and they are routinely discussed in monographs on contemporary poetry.Marjorie Perloff and Jerome McGann, two of the most eminent scholars of poetry, are vigorous supporters of Language po- etry. So what is going on?
    -Jed Rasula

    The lasting contribution of language poetics, I would posit, is that at a moment when workshop poetry all across the U.S. was wedded to a kind of neo-confessionalist, neo-realist poetic discourse, a discourse committed to drawing pretentious metaphors about failed relationships from hollandaise recipes, language theory reminded us that poetry is a making [poien], a construction using language, rhythm, sound, and visual image, that the subject, far from being simply the poet speaking in his or her natural "voice," was itself a complex construction, and that--most important--there was actually something at stake in producing a body of poems, and that poetic discourse belonged to the same universe as philosophical and political discourse.
    -Marjorie Perloff