A Conversation with Marjorie Perloff



Ray's first first and foremost and then last I want to say again in front of friends and members of our community a thank you to Marjorie Perla for making the trip in being with us for a number of days this has been a huge treat so Marjorie Perla thank you so much I wanted to start by just celebrating the fact that in nineteen at the Northeast MLA in 1985 can you imagine the Northeast MLA which was probably in Boston that year in 1985 you gave the keynote address yes you did well I don't think was the keynote address I don't even know you did you did you did I have evidence of it actually evidence of that is in poetic license on the first of these esas which is a pretty famous and maybe even infamous sa cannon to the right of us can endure the left of us and right and left means sort of what you think it does but also what you don't think it does and anyway at the end of this talk which became an essay published somewhere else and then became collected in this book the end of this talk which is really a chastising of a bunch of high-toned theory obsessed people who were writing who are putting together a collection of essays about the lyric and you noted a few things such as that they don't really know anything about actual lyric poems they hardly referred to American lyric poetry tradition and so forth and that their remaining at a fairly high level and you like to read poems and talk about pumps and at the end of this thing almost from nowhere you have a page long idea about how the emergent you didn't say the word internet but how the emergent use of what we now call digital media would shape the future might shape the future of the lyric and it's we talked about this a little bit yesterday and i'm not sure what question there isn't here but I just wanted to celebrate the fact that in nineteen it was probably written in 84 and delivered in early 85 or late late 84 and you're talking about how we live in a technological world you talk about the disruption of linguistic and syntactical order that we find in Linda Jinian or Charles Bernstein who's here with us today that the discourse of technology is going to finally catch up with some of these I is this is in the early 80s and that new technological language is going to be involved videotape playback I love that phrase the telephone answering machine and the computer especially in its capacity comma via modem comma to address other computer terminals and so I mean we can laugh at this because but there you were at at the seminole a talking about how this emerging technology most of us were just learning you know the earliest email so I don't know what the question is other than you know congratulations on your prescience because this this has become a very important thing to you and so do you have any comments on being so prescient and I was there at this I was there at this meeting and well you remember the essay I guess I remember this you know it's really awful when you go back and look at things that you wrote 20 years ago 30 years ago first of all people are always calling you on it right well you said you know right when you've said it 30 years ago Y&Y andum essay about the lyric it that way at that time if I remember the situation the person that influenced me so much in those years was John Cage so does you know I just loved cages working what I loved silence those were like my Bible in some ways and what one thing I liked about them is the cage without being at all some kind of techno file and science fictiony person or of today it would be video games felt that the technologies here we have to live with it we have to learn to live with it and I had been to his house quite a bit downtown the old Altman building where he had a whole room there was a computer room as a matter of fact in caterham he had a room that was a greenhouse that he watered the plants every day it was a huge room where you would think you were in the country somewhere and then the other room was a kind of technology room and so was the idea of using technology in nature and that nature needn't be the enemy and you know this was the period where most critics stills true academics hate technology even as they use it all the time but it's horrible it's all a sign of Lake monopoly capitalism you know and want to get away from it and so forth and I always you know that's the cannon to the left of us can you can't get away from it it's here and cage told a wonderful story about with somebody buying a house in Ireland in the middle of nowhere and thinking ah they've finally gotten away from technology and then the planes are always flying overhead so there's no way you can't get away and on the contrary therefore you might as well try to learn how to use it without it taking over your life I'm not so sure I totally still feel that way because I also think that the internet has it's been a mixed blessing mmm my favorite moment in the book other than that is not comes on page 50 at the beginning of the Brazilian concrete poetry chapter where you quote Kenny Goldsmith giddy about having gone to a panel on concrete poetry and saying basically wow it took the inner it took our internet consciousness to get to the point where concrete poetry seems now to have a read there's an audience going to be receptive to it because of that though in the 50s when it first started having we didn't so how great it is it and then you go on to say yes and concrete poetry has been has had a hard time finding its place in the Academy because and you say the word department because departments an English department of comp lit Department would think of it as a visual studies thing and the visual studies guys would want to make it into a design thing and so this leads me to ask you really ask you to comment on any of that the way you open that chapter but to ask you particularly about this whole problem of the academic compartmentalization that really makes it difficult for this kind of work to find its way into the Academy I don't think it's only the academic compartmentalization in the case of concrete poetry I think it's a national thing in many ways in the United States and in England especially in England where they still think conquered poetry is just a game right sort of a game silly although they've had their own great people like Ian Hamilton Finley every Morgan they have some of the great visual poets but in general there is still the angle mood and that has hit it's certainly true in America it isn't not so much an academic thing as it would be true in the New York Review of Books it would be true in the New York or be true in those things that concrete prota isn't considered anything it's just fun and games and you're playing around and we all do that we all do these little games but that's not Audrey so and there are a lot of you know reasons behind that that the whole Anglo tradition is so strongly geared toward a certain kind of meaning and a certain kind of a poem aching a certain kind of statement or expressing a certain kind of feeling that but it still true today it's a little ironic that the Academy would be particularly resistant because of departmental arrangements even that there should be a sister not that sir able to the art department I just want to make that very clear it's not that they talk about concrete poetry in the art department I remember at UC Santa Barbara Harry Reese has has a sort of in Creative Studies which is a separate school at Santa Barbara has a bookmaking group you know and book group and that kind of thing and there they talk about concrete poetry that's but that's considered a sort of you know deck less a minor groove look work you know there's this sort of thing it's not taken very seriously so I you know and I have the quote in my book by Elizabeth Bishop where she was at Brazil and makes fun of concrete poetry and oh those people I'll gusto de Campos all of them and you know they don't know quite what they're doing letter written by Bishop to roll and 60 so well educated and so that is an interesting thing and there I do feel I was I was pressured in some ways because today when we do see things on screen most like how can you ignore the look of a poem it doesn't have to be a concrete poem but any poem the look on the page or on the screen just the sheer look is going to be central to the work why wouldn't it be that's just how you see it and perceive it and there's so many things you can do with the look rather than have just a straight column which we think of who used to think of me as a poem so that that shift really came much earlier it came with pound for instance and what are the best things I remember reading on that is Hugh Kenner's the mechanic muse which is about how the typewriter changed poetry and you can you can see well Yates I've done a lot of work on Yates and I love Yates but Yates of course road long and then the poem would be typed up and there's a huge difference between people who write longhand was to write longhand and people who wrote for the time like Williams because when you write for the typewriter like Williams but pound was one of the first oh you're going to set a word over here or in italics or it's going to be an ideogram or it's going to be something to see that you don't really hear that way

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