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Language Poetry

"Language poetry?" you might ask. "As opposed to what?"

The answer is that language poetry emerged in the 1970s as a reaction against other schools of (especially American) poetry that emphasized a kind of prophetic, individual sincerity as the touchstone of poetic composition. For example, think of the extent to which Beat poetry emphasizes the voices and personal experiences of its writers. For much more on this subject, see Marjorie Perloff's article " Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject: Ron Silliman's Albany, Susan Howe's Buffalo."

Rather than poetic voices, language poetry directs us to pay attention to the materials of language itself: the structures of sentences, the bits of expressive language we encounter in a day, the way our lives encounter multitudes of linguistic fragments that prompt unpredictable associations with other fragments. Language poetry thus involves a combination of using unusually familiar language for poetry such as bits of commercial writing one might encounter in contemporary life and making such language unfamiliar by taking away the connected, personal narratives that we often find even in contemporary poetry.

As a result, surprisingly, language poetry can be unusually alienating for readers or listeners who want literature to provide those personal narratives, but it can also be an unusually inviting kind of writing, as it asks readers or listeners to participate in the process of making unconventional associations with fragments of language.

For examples of language poetry, see these pages devoted to Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and Bob Perelman from the authors page at the Electronic Poetry Center.

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