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Showing posts from April, 2007

MA Contemporary Literature and Culture

I am in charge of an MA in Contemporary Literature and Culture at Brunel University, West London. This MA is an English Studies MA focusing on contemporary, English-language cultures and their literatures. Brunel University is a London-based campus with excellent modern facilities ideal for international and home students alike. (Picture Shows acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith with Brunel faculty members Celia Brayfield and Fay Weldon. Smith, winner of the Orange Prize for fiction, was speaking at Brunel in December 2006.) The MA programme is part of a suite of ten MAs in the School of Arts. The school specialises in the interchange between critical analysis, creative work and technology, and you will be joining a vibrant community of academics and students all working at the cutting edge of contemporary creativity and culture. The school is also home to an array of writers, musicians, and performers of international reputation. Each year we recruit significant numbers of international st

John Ashbery, Daffy Duck in Hollywood and Postmodern Poetry

Today I posted the last parts of both my analysis of Daffy Duck in Hollywood and my chapter on postmodern poetry. These were part of a submission package for a book-length study of postmodern poetry for students but for various reasons the publisher and I could not see eye to eye, I think they felt me too daffy and I not even daffy enough, events occurred and I decided that although we need a proper introduction to postmodern poetry I was not the person to write it. I am now working on a different project on postmodern poetry as exemplary of what I call the poetics of incommensurability. Am left with this material which I think is good but perhaps not publishable in a journal so for now it finds a home here.

John Ashbery, Daffy Duck in Hollywood (10) Last Part

Note: this was to be the second chapter of a book on postmodern poetry of which the sections "Postmodern Poetry" formed the introduction. Immanent Moments of Numinous Duck Geist Cohen’s description of the ambiguity of Ashbery’s critique and simultaneous consumption of mass cultural products is not only the most accurate analysis of this poem, it is a profound insight into the relationship of postmodern poetry to postmodern culture. Yet, for every moment of ‘low’ cultural revelation, the poem has at least equivalent numbers of ‘high’ art insights, and I don’t mean references to opera or plays by Maeterlinck. The poem, as much as it is about culture, is also about being. The very act of stating that Daffy is in Hollywood suggests he also has a life elsewhere, which is both impossible and true at the same time. Daffy reproduced on screen, as he must be due to the material demands of celluloid film, is not limited to Hollywood. [i] Daffy has a private life in that he lives i

Postmodern Poetry (6) Last Part

Note: this was originally the opening chapter of a book for students on postmodern poetry, the sections below were the last two parts of this intro. referring to what would have followed if I had written the book. Note that my work on Daffy Duck in Hollywood was to be the first chapter of the book. Note sure if any of the below is of use but you never know. ----- So Sue Me or Mistakes I know I am Making What I will attempt in the following chapters is, I hope, a challenging and theoretically informed introductory overview of postmodern poetry written in English over the past fifty years. Historicist and cultural materialist views of literature as a product of material conditions, while an influence on this study and some of the poets in question, will only be touched upon. I will not progress chronologically, in terms of nationality or groups, but will try to look at central characteristics of postmodern poetry as a whole. While I will deal with the central theorists of pos

Kenneth Koch, When the Sun Tries to Go On

Kenneth Koch: When the Sun Tries to go On (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969) Close Readings and annotations the collection September 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) As far as I am aware I am the only critic who has done any significant work on this remarkable poem, if you know otherwise.... General · essentially the whole poem is an exercise in attempting to render the totality of existence or at least of existence of an American in Europe and American in the fifties. The ideology of inclusiveness, of doing reality rather than summarising it is essentially the essence of the avant-garde position but is also riven with aporias because it lack the duality that one gets say in Schuyler and Ashbery, that while is apt in a post-war culture to cease trying to summarise and instead to merely taxonomise or even to compete, one cannot forget that the actuality of the event of the poem is always re-m

Kenneth Koch, Thank You annotated

Kenneth Koch: Thank You and Other Poems (New York: Grove Press, 1962) Close Readings and annotations of poema in the collection September 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) Kenneth Koch “On the Great Atlantic Rainway,” “Summery Weather,” “The Brassiere Factory,” & “The Bricks,” 9-12 · these opening four works all use the trop of machinery or construction in a self-conscious explanation I guess of their own composition which is strangely related to LANGUAGE poetry in that the language here is seen and used pretty much as a machine or pre-established pattern, into which the signs are poured if you like or churned out. This seems to be his thesis in the collection as a whole which lacks the subjective agency of his later work. · “On the Great...” here the machine seems to be that of aphorism which of course comes mainly from LautrĂ©amont, and is one that he uses generally. Aphorism or epigrammat

Kenneth Koch, The Pleasures of Peace annotated

Kenneth Koch: The Pleasures of Peace and Other Poems (New York: Grove Press, 1969) Close Readings and annotations of poems September 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) Kenneth Koch “Sleeping with Women,” 11-17 · these poems really need to be seen up against the restricted stanzaic forms that Ashbery is using at the time like the sestina and the canzone for in a sense they are the base level of the duality of the avant-garde poetic process that is they are seemingly random and without form with Koch really throwing into his lines anything that occurs to him at this time which is presumably spent in Italy on the Fullbright, but at each stage the possibility of total freedom is restricted by the obsessive repetition of the refrain “sleeping with women.” This refrain does not work like rhyme as I feel one of the key aspects of rhyme is to final phonetic similarities in diverse signs so as to set up new

Kenneth Koch, The Art of Love Annotations

Kenneth Koch: The Art of Love (New York: Random House, 1975) Close Readings and annotations of poems in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) Kenneth Koch “The Art of Poetry,” 23-45 · these poems, these art of poems, are then an aspect of the thetic realm of language and thus I need to go back into the end of the Kristeva to look again at what she is trying to say about LautrĂ©amont’s “Poems,” in respect to how this undermines the thetic aspect of poetry. Further what needs to be said then is that to a degree this collection is not a collection of poems at all but really a statement on aesthetics. Thus “The Circus,” is really an investigation of poetry’s relation to itself and yet also the world and “A Few General Instructions,” whilst a kind of manual for living, relates directly to poetry because of the close proximity of his poetry to his living. · possibly this work has a lot in common with his teach

Three more from "thirsty poems"

can you guess what it is yet? yes, it is better to hide your gift of love when first you come up to, approach, the vast body beauty is all that, and more, which you can’t encompass ...on the intrados the etchings, the aqueduct goes on its arch proliferating but neat, but on the intrados the marks, they refute all laws of construction they dispute structure claiming sovereignty for the irreducible— all we ask is that you for us grant a body... I am the sort of person who apologises to children this in and of itself must commend me to the behemoth can you guess what it is yet; slow developing like the colour of wings if you happen to be lucky with the sun, with eyes ...the arc of the intrados can not span the rift, the shrouded rift that gnaws on the ham let, the bucolic alcoholic hamlet, the extradosesque bully is also of no use— something this big can never be loved can never be lovely such a body such extra vagance whilst we muddle on with our many-breach, leaking... luvva, you built

Postmodern Poetry (5)

Singing and Dancing Our Way Through the Critics of Postmodern Poetry Postmodernism has resulted in a radical questioning of western meta-narratological assumptions, revealing at the same time a tendency towards oppositional structures of categorical thinking which establish dubious hierarchies and close down variety and difference. And yet critics of postmodernism in all its forms still indulge in just such modes of oppositional and hierarchical thinking. Brian McHale, for example, in his classic study of postmodern fiction presents a clear differentiation between modernist prose, which he calls epistemological, and postmodern, which he decides is ontological. Modernist writers struggle with how to interpret the world around them, the postmoderns revel in the creation of new worlds. This neat, dialectical approach has been attempted in relation to postmodern literature and theory by other critics, most famously Ihab Hassan, and you can see this modernist and humanist tendency t

John Ashbery, Daffy Duck in Hollywood (9)

Subjectivity and Hollywood Ashbery’s highly developed rhetorical strategies are designed less to prove his craftsmanship than to confront the naturalised rhetorical mediation of all forms of experience. This is Perloff’s point, that postmodern prosody is a type of avant-garde insurrection in the halls of the poetic institution. The other side of the critical fence in relation to postmodern poetry concentrates less on its materiality and more on its interventions on subjectivity and everyday discursive practices. A lot of work has been done in consideration of Ashbery’s take on the postmodern problem of subjective uncertainty, both because his poetry often openly addresses this issue and because his poetry causes us to question his and our own subjectivity. John Koethe grapples with this idea in relation to the presence of the poet’s voice in the poem, so recognisable and yet so hard to pin down: But even though Ashbery’s work embodies the presence of a particular psychological e

Postmodern Poetry (4)

The Terrible Twos, Marjorie Perloff and Charles Altieri and the Dangers of Dialectical Thinking One of the central critics of postmodern poetry, Marjorie Perloff, treats postmodernism in her various books as an exploitation of the formal potentialities of avant-garde experimentation, collage, automatism, non-referentiality and the like, in a way that much poetic modernism was unable or unwilling to do. This type of poetics she calls “radical artifice,” (borrowing a phrase from Lanham), or a foregrounding of the made nature of the poem at the expense of myths of organicism and naturalism. As she emphasises, the postmodern poem turns against the “natural look” of the modernist poem with its ideas of a thing in nature dealt with directly using an ordinary syntax and placed in a free-verse form that was somehow seen as less artificial. Instead, it is clearly an artificial construct: “Artifice, in this sense, is less a matter of ingenuity or manner, or of elaboration and elegant subter

John Ashbery, Daffy Duck in Hollywood (8)

Words Words Words I have already provided a detailed analysis of the disruptive strategies of referentiality and allusion used in the poem, but words are also utilised here in more positive ways. Postmodern poetry does not just question the materiality of the signifier, it also innovates that materiality in semi-utopian gestures of how signification might operate away from the hegemony of communication, exchange and transparency typical of contemporary rhetorical stances. Ashbery loves words. Let’s go back to the last quotation and note the number of strange words and phrases he uses here, words that you may never have encountered before, at least not in a poem, at least not all together: Anaheim, riot act, Etna-size, firecracker, jock-itch sand-trap, asparagus, algolagnic, nuits blanches, cozening, micturition, Tamigi, Skeezix. Why was it that you never met these words in close proximity like this before? Well, the more cynical might suggest because they make no sense placed to