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After Language Poetry
From OEI 7-8 2001: AFTER LANGUAGE POETRY
I was 14 years old when Language Poetry was named as a movement. Many of its original practitioners are no longer practicing and several of those who still are have necessarily moved away from its original tenets; yet it is still curiously known as the last (even final) innovative American writing movement.
My own practice looks admiringly at Language Poetry but understands that as a movement, its work has been done. Language Poetry has fulfilled the trajectory of modernist writing and as such, has succeeding in pulverizing syntax and meaning into a handful of dust. At this point in time, to grind the sand any finer would be futile. Instead, for me, Language Poetry serves as a vast reserve of permissions. As a result of its broad and varied body of work, I can usually find some precedent stashed away when I come to a particularly difficult crossroad in my own work. Often, when I need to ask the question, "Can what I'm doing possibly be construed as poetry?", the answer is affirmed by some radical precedent in Language Poetry.
So much time has passed since the founding of Language Poetry that the role of the innovative writer has changed. We no longer just write; instead, language is often the bedrock of a hybrid practice. Looking at the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, we now see its limitations and omissions that today seem to critical to an innovative practice: sound poetry, visual and concrete poetry, fluxus, conceptual art, appropriative strategies, oulipian process-oriented writing, a focus on the more performative aspects of poetry, not to mention technological innovations which weren't available then. Ideologically, as well, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book today feels painfully dated.
In 1959, Brion Gysin proclaimed writing to be 50 years behind painting. Today, I think he remains correct. In a situation that's similar to Duchamp in the visual arts, after Language Poetry, anything goes; after Language Poetry there's nothing that cannot be called "writing" no matter how much it might not look like "writing." Now that we have the green light, our generation is busy imagining writing's possibilities for the next 50 years.