Kimberly Lyons

The Itineraries
of Anticipation
(Women & the Poetry Project)

[This talk was written for "Where Lyric Tradition Meets Language Poetry: Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry by Women," a conference held at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York City, April 8 - April 10, 1999.]

At the outset I want to get to the most important point that could be made especially because it makes me feel too artificial to try and build up to some kind of argument with a ta da at the end and anyway what's to be written here is more a sequence of realizations and I want to interfere with the linearity of the academic style as imperfectly understood by myself. In a presentation on the interrelationship of an alternative space such as the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church and innovation in contemporary American women's writing, the gist of the thing is that such a location, a not so secret location on the Lower East Side, is so crucial to American arts and letters because of the reading space held as a reception for our innovations and experimentations.

An absolutely crucial point is that this is a literary center funded by — initially in the 60s by federal monies for disadvantaged youth and later NEA, NYSCA. You know, your tax dollars and cultural priorities at work. And when those monies fluctuate as the Republican & other conservative corporate forces tighten their strangling grip on our society, the web of relationships and center for production of texts, ideas and performances are endangered & dispersed. The Poetry Project, as an urban location, a community center not tied in to collegiate accomplishment, was a beacon for a young, lonely kid wandering around with poetry in my head and the sense of oddity and irregularity, even radicalism that language like that elicits in one's consciousness. And in these days when you have to work and are expected to work so many hours a day, a writer needs and appreciates the institutional factor. I have three hours a day (more or less) to live outside my job and after I put my son to bed so I don't have the time to found a reading series or go out and hunt down poets at the cafes or bars or whatever, and I can get to the Poetry Project in about 35 minutes and immediately hear poetry which alters one physiologically at least and plunge, if I get lucky, into some kind of discourse that's generative or stirs me up in some way, even if it produces anxiety, that's better than the deadening feel of watching TV and complaining about how shitty it all is. So that's the most important point: preserve, fund, value and create alternative literary spaces and innovative contemporary poetry, by women and others, will continue to flourish.

This is one of the great pleasures of our time: the abundance of writing, experimentation & performances of writing and writing of performances. Just to give you a sense of the bravado and diversity of the programming esthetic historically, here's the April & May line-up in 1972: Clark Coolidge, next week Patti Smith and Jim Carroll, next week John Cage, next week 24 hour reading of works by Gertrude Stein: 30 poets read (most likely this is the genesis of the annual Paula Cooper Gallery 24-hour reading of The Making of Americans). Okay, the next week: Jim Dine & Larry Fagin, then Ed Sanders, then Muriel Rukeyser, then Michael Brownstein & James Tate and for Memorial Day: Lorenzo Thomas. This was organized by poet Anne Waldman who is also in the midst of writing the poems which later are published in Fast Speaking Woman.

And as a further preamble, I also want to emphasize the importance of the reading series, publications and micro communities that have developed away from, outside of, previous to, alongside, oblivious of, or even in reaction against an institution like the Poetry Project. And I don't even think we should be comfortable designating anyone or any single poem as "of the Poetry Project." The shifting constellations & networks of poets moving through the Project circulate ideas, styles, and information from the outside, various outsides, so to speak. And many writers who might attend readings, value work they hear, critique work they hear or read in the publications such as The World might be very uncomfortable to think of themselves as members of any literary center, preferring to preserve their singular or unaffiliated stance or their allegiance with other loci of work. And that's important to respect. It's a delicate thing to speak with authority of how writers are related or associated to an institution. Even if at points in the last decades writers experienced a cultural and aesthetic need to collaborate in their identities and the perception of their poetry, in becoming a school. And then at other times vigorously fight against a perceived collective identity. At this point, it's probably understood by many of the writers that our spun off self perceptions as writers jostle amid the social contingencies that surround us and that we participate in. So I'm going to suggest my connections, in an experimental, exploratory fashion. And mostly, I'll quote from publications of the Poetry Project such as The World and The Poetry Project Newsletter.

Another category that is kind of weird to consider is writings of the woman type apart from the other members of the species set, the male sort. I don't feel qualified to discuss in any formal way gender poetics. The interrelationships of innovative writings of the various genders have been rich and complex in this century. And in reference to the Poetry Project, there has been a complicated social history of collaborative friendships between men and women as they published books & magazines, co-constructed plays, performances, etc., and wrote poems together. Women writers have had administrative roles of leadership at the Poetry Project, such as Anne Waldman, Maureen Owen, Jessica Hagedorn, Patricia Jones, Joanne Wasserman, Gillian McCain, Lee Ann Brown, Eleni Sikelianos, Lisa Jarnot, Tracie Morris and Marcella Durand. Lorna Smedman and Brenda Coultas as editors of the Newsletter. The enormously felt presences of Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Maureen Owen, Eileen Myles, and then later Elaine Equi, Cecilia Vicuña, Erica Hunt, Barbara Barg, Wanda Phipps as teachers as well as writers among us, have given direction to much of the writing coming out of the workshops. Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews and Nick Piombino famously took a writing workshop with Bernadette Mayer in the early 70s. Male dominance in the sense of bonding and jocularity, or being perceived by males as a sexual object, is one of the stultifying forces a writer might contend with as she asserts her writing in a community. Or "stupid stuff said by men" as it was expressed by poet Barbara Barg in conversation. So, I'm hoping the proceedings at this conference will perhaps concentrate our attention on the writings of women and background the distractions maybe? of the other genders. Let us see. I could devote just as many pages to the work of writers who are male and cite those poems as influential or spurs in my side, or maybe my favorite poems on earth. Maybe Chris Stroffolino and I could organize that conference. And the young guys coming up stun me with their terrific poems and energy for organizing. I see them supporting the work & experimentation of their female peers and that all seems good and fresh. I'll just throw out some names of writers to balance the proceedings and honor their presences and or projects: Mitch Highfill, Paul Beatty, Joel Lewis, Joe Elliot, Douglas Rothschild, Ed Friedman, Basil King, Gary Sullivan, David Cameron, David Abel, Jordan Davis, Sparrow, Jackson Mac Low, Kenneth Goldsmith, Clark Coolidge, Lewis Warsh, David Trinidad, Richard Hell, John Godfrey, Drew Gardner, Chris Stroffolino, Sam Truitt, Elio Schneeman, Anselm Berrigan, Bill Luoma, Edwin Torres, Laird Hunt, Michael DeCapite, Greg Masters, Simon Pettit, Brendan Lorber, Rob Fitterman, and Chris Funkhauser.

In reference to gender & writing, I'd like to quote from Anne Waldman, Alice Notley and Eileen Myles. Waldman writes in the introduction to her collection of poems Iovis: "I honor and dance on the corpse of the poetry gone before me & especially here in a debt & challenge of epic masters Williams, Pound, Zukofsky & Olson. But with the narrative of H.D.'s Helen in Egypt in mind, and her play with 'argument.' I want to don armor of words as they do and fight with liberated tongue & punctured heart. But unlike the men's, my history & myths are personal ones … In one doctor's description I've 'too many male hormones.' Let them sprout & spurt off the page." Alice Notley states in an interview in Talisman magazine: "I used to have this girl theory of poets, that all poets are essentially girls, and especially all the ones I related to, and that was what made all male poets different from other men. I think there's a corollary to it. I think that men who are poets have to be in touch with their girl selves in order to be good poets, and I'm beginning to think it's my responsibility as a woman poet to be in touch with my male aspects in order to work properly." Eileen Myles writes in a statement for a conference at the Poetry Project: "Last summer I was standing alone on a hill with my dog and a car as an amazing shower of meteorites flash flash had stained the sky orange. It was so sensational and I was utterly alone with my animal. I knew I was a man." She goes on to write: "The fact that our century's greatest poet is a lesbian is nothing to sneeze at. That her work can be seen as clicking with the rhythms of a female body, and she looked like a man, what a butch, is fine." And in her poem "dream life in a case of transvestitism" Brenda Coultas writes "I am a woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman. I am so much a woman I do not recognize myself. Yet I have never been more of a man." And in other poems in her books it even seems she might be writing in a space of language of being something cross-speciesed. So these were just a few things I came across that indicate a continuous concern with how writing, perhaps especially experimental writing, whatever that is, and I want to get at that next, has put in flux gendered identity. Writing surfaces our emphatic identifications — maybe even as a biochemical response — stimulates cognitions of various beings, part beings, states of being, human or otherwise. Barg spoke of having a goal to develop our species through writing.

I'd like to continue with a quote from an interview by Kathy Acker of David Antin in The World. Antin has stated: "I've been taught a totality of judgments" and Acker then fits a statement inside a follow-up question, like those wooden nesting cups, asking: "How can I attack this system, try to determine my living, really see? Through delight?" And then she goes on: "But I sometimes doubt because of certain experiences I've had." That's just a wonderful cluster of questions that really articulate a set of concerns about writing & life and reflect, perhaps, the anxieties of the innovative American woman writer, about how to mediate various pressures. Acker, preoccupied with finding, or more accurately validating the grounds for experimentation boils her concerns down, essentializes to the core almost as though not to take up too much room (after all, she's interviewing him). Acker was hanging out at St. Mark's in the early 70s. Amazingly, she states that she read in the Monday night open readings there! I'd like to propose at this juncture that among the women writers associated with the Poetry Project, primary genealogies of experimentalism, if you will — and you probably won't — matrilineal descents, then, evolved in the 70s.

The 70s for very specific cultural reasons saw a strong emergence of women poets who claimed that identity — perhaps as a first in American literary modernism, even in the process of inventing it. As the repressive gender politics of the 50s loosened, the women's liberation and other radical movements erupted throughout our society, and people turned their energies from activism against the war to other projects, but bringing so many lessons from that experience. Please forgive the long list that follows but let's just put these names out there in a receptive auditory space just to reflect on the diversity and existence of these writers who preceded us in their experimentations.

Some of the women writers who read at the Poetry Project in the 70s include (and this is in a vaguely chronological order): Rebecca Brown, Helen Adam, Kathy Acker, Alicia Ostriker, Barbara Guest, Alice Notley, Maureen Owen, Bernadette Mayer, Joanne Kyger, the artist Yvonne Jacquette, Sonia Sanchez, Rochelle Owens, Janine Pommy Vega, Jamie MacInnis, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Jennifer Bartlett, Jill Johnson, Susan Howe, Adrienne Rich, Kathleen Fraser, Patricia Jones, Joan LaBarbara, Charlotte Carter, Mary Ferrari, Rochelle Kraut, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneeman, Hannah Weiner, Maggie Dubris, the female singers of the anti-imperialist singers led by Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, Diane Wakoski (who first read there in the 60s and was a founding member), Darlene Pearlstein, Janet Hamil, Barbara Barg, Susie Timmons, Annabel Levitt, Fanny Howe, Alice Walker, Verta Mae Grosevenor, Eileen Myles, Barbara Einzig, Ann Lauterbach, Marilyn Hacker, Marjorie Welish, George Therese-Dickenson, Ann Rower, Lois Elaine Griffith, Elinor Nauen, Jane Delynn, Frances Waldman, Chris Kraus, Vicki Hudspith, Leslie Silko, Susan Noel, Jessica Hagedorn, Diane Torr, Star Black, Sandra Esteves. One of the last events of 1979 was a group reading for Emily Dickinson's birthday.

What can one do with such a grouping? Because there was no uniform aesthetic except in contrast to — and in direct expression against — mainstream poetries and you might quibble about that in relation to a few of the names here. Probably the differences among them would be more interesting to look at than the similarities. What's evident is the emergence of various streams of aesthetic energies and directions in the writing (and performances). And in an interesting way, those aesthetic currents coalesced, intensified and stratified in the 80s, and procreated and diversified in the 90s. And I just want to hold open the space here of that possibility, the unfinished, unresearched quality of my intuitions because it's all in the sense of this scene still fresh and ongoing.

You know how poets lament typologies and classifications in the first place. But just as soon as you strip away rigid and obsolete taxonomies: "the 2nd generation New York School"; "the Ear Inn poets"; "the first generation Language poets" — we get busy and amuse ourselves — I guess as some kind of party game — constructing ever more nuanced affinitive groupings: "the Ear Inn poets who come from Brown, that are female, that studied with Rosmarie Waldrop!"; "the kind of New York School poets who also write a kind of language poetry that read at Double Happiness and the Nuyorican Café"; "the 3rd generation Language poets that are male but whose poems are lyrical"; "the poets who used to slam at the Nurorican but are now into a more narrative thing." Okay, enough of the New York gossip, not so relevant to the out-of-towners, but I guess there's a wish to account for individual innovation — and I wish I could get in here that Robert Creeley way of saying particular — and the necessary, complex influences poems have on other poems, and poets on other poets, in that moving way Jennifer Moxley dedicated her first book, Imagination Verses: "To My Contemporaries." And how poet groupings, gangs, constellate around their affinities but nuances of difference in ideology make for friction and conversation, in the fullest sense.

The question of innovation and by extension experimentalism comes up. What's the criteria for experimental? I think those of you who are really assiduously studying this stuff could provide examples of poetics that differentiate experimental from the rest of poetry. I like this statement by Leslie Scalapino in an interview in Talisman: "I am trying to use the writing to be an examination of the mind in the process of whatever it's creating; and to have there be a distinction, or there not be a distinction, between that and actually being in present time: to have the writing be that." She goes on: "one's observation of mind is like an experiment to see what you're going to come up with. There's not going to be any objective observation of something. There is only going to be more mind stuff that you're coming up with whether it is emotion or it's something you're describing as analytical observation … You don't know where something's coming from. It appears to be coming from outside you or from inside yourself, but what you appear to be creating is actually occurring out there as if under your control. You want to disturb that control." Okay, that's a fascinating formal way of looking at experimentation "examination of the mind." I can totally get with what I think she's talking about with the notion of inside and outside, what are those surfaces or entities as concepts in writing. The disturbance by the mind of language generated by the mind. Juliana Spahr's description of Bernadette Mayer's long poem Studying Hunger, from a talk Spahr gave at the Poetry Project, could also describe the many experimental texts that followed Studying Hunger. "Studying Hunger is a mutant product, something that might be an autobiography, centered around the way that life and subjectivity change from moment to moment. It is written as a mix of autobiographical confession and language-centered aphorism … Its content moves through reminiscence and observation and nonsynchronically through the past and present. The text lacks conventional structures of continuity … even her most conventional and referential moments are details taken out of linear time."

But in view of the writing that emerges from woman writers around the Poetry Project, I want to point to how a sense of living a life experimentally, in which writing has a specialized focus in that life, not to idealize the bohemian, might make for innovative writing also. Poet Elinor Nauen said in private conversation: "I don't ever remember a party from 1977 through 1981 where there wasn't a typewriter set up in the room and people would stop dancing to write a few lines. Even going to bed was sometimes just a way of extending a conversation about poetry with someone, to keep talking in a way."

So, I propose that a current of experimentalism in the writing by women coming through the Poetry Project is a poetic that is constructed of the terms of quotidian daily life, so vivid and impinging in the landscape of the metropolitan fervor. As consciousness mediates between the perceived and the language text as it's spun out. An entity, yet ephemeral in origin. Johanna Drucker has noted this bifurcation as "writing, bright as bite marks in the bark, negotiates the space between the public and private, promoting an image of the personal as a ghost trace of the somatic." A few examples:

From Laurie Price's "Real Life":

Then there are my sites, taken with shifts and jump-cuts
to comment on these extraordinary events
and the itineraries of anticipation
Material reality, sometimes called real life
and its increasing dark appetite recycles here …

And from Rachel Blau DuPlessis ("Draft 21: Cardinals"):

Would you exchange
for this sodden, rusty territory, for
snow tinted with a pink melt chemical
and crusted soot?
For these warming sediments of unfinished business
which settle and then
float again?, colloidal, which slide
and toss, which seep and leak
saturated with debris?

Ange Mlinko depicts the scene this way (from "Valuable Loathing, Immortally Suspicious"):

     this is the SPF for a winter day with wind chill
     I get a great big cuff with a two-by-four of light
drawer full of different kinds of hairbrush
miracles depicted in place mats
     radiator a sci-fi centipede takes up the space
     another bookshelf could be
crazy-angled attic apartment, no décor torpitude, juiced up
in the bleachers of a solitude I employed
                          only to fire and find myself

Marcella Durand takes what is seen and makes a lyric urban archeology from "City of Ports":

… The
disturbance of linebreaks in an area of
sonic bounce and erosion of manmade phrases
(so the visions are see-through now on certain
shoulders of the highways.) The journey swings
wider as I turn the corner over a valley of
small settlements and a dusting of windmills.
Flex and pull your carcass up against the
overwhelming ween of gravitas. Lucidity &

Durand's abstract mapping shares something with the funny focus on details of Susie Timmons' work which has had so much impact on many of us during the 80s.

From "Fulcrum of Disaster":

I felt like a piece of lace made from ice
or I felt like three blue stars
streetlight in the yellow leaves of a ginkgo tree, I felt the cold
dark iron of the fence, I felt compressed, energized, sparkling.

Bernadette Mayer's "Hike #72: Without the Bibliography" exemplifies a strand of her writing that sounds almost 18th century in its daily, journalistic notation, then veers off into interiorized statements:

… find impetuous red berries on
both thorned and not thorned bushes
for recommended autumn table decorations
home by car walk to do homework
seal windows, work at tables on writing
and proofreading saleable books
then to buy a saleable pot
for the plant that fell down
at Sophia's birthday party
& a bag of apples for a dollar
& find an affordable restaurant
certainly not this one
where there's the football game & 17 dollar dinners
more work but

my fear prevents me
my course to the fear prevents me
my recourses to prevent fear prevent me …

Jessica Grim's use of the language of daily life is more disjunct, quick miniatures that are so sparse and unadorned that a feeling and resonant abstraction is realized through artful juxtaposition. As though she's offering only traces.

From "untitled":

hush the parade is going
over us
oooh the daze
mea culpa
nor was it as if you'd paid it any mind
the nurturing nod-altogether now
non reciprocity
conjoined brutal hem
winter in the car
let's listen to it softly
something permanent culture
is legendary

In this reader's mind anyhow this poem talks to Diane Ward's work.

From Part IV of Ward's "Our Occupants":

detachments, even less likely to be
footing without foundation
worldwide, bits and pieces
the symbol for grasp: augmentation
the corner as overlooked point-of-view
bits of plastic fishing line
the volume to be upon
I heard the name diane
without turning …

Other innovative poems read at the Poetry Project, especially in the 90s, play with syllables and the sounds of the materials of our work. Maybe these poems are the "lyric … narrative … elliptical … fragment … high … low … approaches, spheres and divergences" noted in the call for papers for this conference. The materiality of grammatical shape and position, the variants of words placed on the page and articulated in performance within a larger net of silence and sonic disturbance. The sense of Steinian repetition and sibilance delved into & dispersed on the page in tighter, scattered formations by her poetic great granddaughters Lee Ann Brown, Laynie Browne, Lisa Jarnot and Siane Ngai, who feel free to visit Gertrude and Alice and to go elsewhere and borrow and make things up too.

From "Oracular Vowels" by Lee Ann Brown:

A bird flew by with a vowel in its beak
It was A and A
says "O" and O says "Yes."
O taste and see what vowels have done to me.

A very important stream coming through the Poetry Project has been performance. Written text, poetic recitation, visual components, even specialized physical movement, co-mingled and arranged to make a performance that shares something of poetry, that permission was taken from the experimental works coming out of the Poetry Project to push into new forms. I'm thinking here of a lot of the work being read at the Poetry Project during the time in which Jessica Hagedorn, Patricia Jones and Eileen Myles were programming, but also later. Among others, Beatrice Roth, Carolee Schneeman, Cyn Zarco, Lenora Champaigne, Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, Emily XYZ, Nan Goldin, Yvonne Meir, Maggie Estep, Ethyl Eichelberger, Yoshiko Chuma, Robbie McCauley, Penny Arcade, Diane Torr, Diamanda Galas, Hattie Gossett, Cecilia Vicuña, the Shams, Vole and the Homoerotics, contributed multimedia performances that inform and extend an experimental poetic. And in the 90s and forward, Tracie Morris, among others, brought in the spoken word current with its energy and renewal of the fast talking language stream, perhaps in dialectic with the famous fragmentation, absence, and stillness of modernism. In an interview Morris stated: "I don't consider myself a hip hop scholar; but I would be remiss if I didn't say that it influenced the way I write. The options that it has explored in terms of rhyme scheme, simile, metaphor, the way that it's deconstructing popular culture …" Barbara Barg, author of "Fucking Bench," a really great poem of the early 80s, and a member of the girl band Homoerotics, spoke of how her work was written percussively, that Nina Simone, Irma Thomas and Tina Turner are as much influences as any one on her work. "I wrote it at a fast clip … the fast paced rhythm with which emotions wash over us and replace each other — especially after you've been up all night and you're trapped in a dilemma."

Today I sat on a fucking bench
All day I sat there I on a fucking bench.
There was there a big tree
across the sidewalk and in front of the fucking bench.
And lo the sun did shine on the fucking bench.
And when it didn't
I moved to another fucking bench.
It's difficult to express in words
how crucial a fucking bench even as I move
to another fucking bench with D
who was nice to me all day and smiled a lot
and hugged me a lot on the fucking bench.
I wore fucking black all day.
I hate wearing fucking black in the daytime goddamnit.
I wished I had fucking red so I could fucking relax.

The longer, discursive narrative writing has been a realm of experimentation by some women writers such as Josie Siew-Phaik Foo. An interesting continuity in these longer works is the theme of cultural displacement and I believe Prageeta Sharma will have more to say about this. Some examples.

From Wang Ping's masterful "What Are You Still Angry About?":

I guess I should feel lucky.
I wasn't aborted as a fetus
or thrown into a chamber pot as a baby.
I no longer need to break my toes to make lotus feet
or dislocate my livers and kidneys to slim my waist.
I should feel lucky
that I'm not packed at the bottom of a rusty ship,
thinking I'm going to a free country,
but only end up jumping in the ocean,
or crouching into a detention center in Mexico
waiting to be processed.
Lucky I don't have to worry about being deported in plastic handcuffs
with brown spray in my hair.
Lucky I'm not locked in some moldy basement in Bay Ridge

But I must be an ungrateful beast
because I always feel like screaming with my broken voice.

A very different use of long lines in Hejinian's "A Border Comedy" hits some of the same notes:

Since we are, as Walter Benjamin says, "poor in stories"
Events coming to us nowadays already "shot through with
Which "frees" (isolates) us from the experiences we receive
Reported as our own
But still, the incommensurate (which we've allowed) might give
     us our story

Which we won't fuck up
But think and leave continuous (as if)
One might believe the story is one we combine in innocence
But I know you've got a remarkably good memory
And so do I
In fact we never forget anything
Stored, restored, and shielded
We just look inside
You in mine
And I in strangeness

I like it that when the Poetry Project printed out a list of all the readings it made for a pile of almost 200 pages with single spaced lists of names from 1966 and that it was an ungainly, unmanageable, out of control enormity. And that inside the lists are the names of the poets and inside the poets are the poems and that they circulate, relate, exude powers, projectively instigate in such a way that it's unsummarizeable, uncapturable, unanalyzable. That the works cited here are just a gloss, a quick read that doesn't begin to convey the depth and width of the field. The abundance and complexity of poems by the practitioners following supersedes any general way of tracing similarities as I've done. The poets elude our critical pincers. What about the work of Susan Howe, Maureen Owen, Ann Lauterbach, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Barbara Guest, Elaine Equi, Maxine Chernoff, Marjorie Welish, Susan Cataldo, Martha King, Ange Mlinko, Heather Ramsdell, Wanda Phipps, Susan Noel, Maggie Dubris, Charlotte Carter, Eleni Sikelianos, Beth Anderson, Lynn Behrendt, Jennifer Moxley, Kristen Prevallet, Erica Hunt, Barbara Henning, Lisa Robertson, Julie Patton, Ann Tardos, Miriam Solan, Dodie Bellamy, Ann Rower, Harryette Mullen, Elizabeth Robinson, Gillian McCain Cookie Mueller, Amy Gerstler, Jill Rappaport, Sharon Mesmer, Donna Cartelli, Elinor Nauen, Jocelyn Liu, Ellen Carter, Donna Brooks, Merry Fortune, Connie Deanovich, Prageeta Sharma, Kim Rosenfeld, Laura Moriarty, Rae Armantrout, Melanie Nielsen, and Jena Osman, who've all read at the Poetry Project at the very least. I hope that you'll forgive all this breathless listing. The work of several of these poets will be discussed in the forthcoming panels, but just to put out the names into the naming inclusions of the conference arena in recognition that their work defies the complacency, lassitude and polished processedness of much American mainstream poetry.

From Carla Harryman's "A Few Comments on Utopia & Apocalypse":

What interests me then is a view toward an ambivalent utopia in which a writer can enter the writing without knowing "clearly what (she) is hoping for," within the terror that is part, a large part of the world one inhabits.

From Bernadette Mayer's Utopia:

I hope the future was fine and you enjoyed being in it with us, we tried to make you comfortable and clear. Not everything's been attended to yet thought, but when you know more, and I do, then tell me more about the naïve and serious and perfect and telltale and generous and satiric things, and we will have together an adjectival future which already lives in our kitchens and in the windows of our clear panes, if we have kitchens and if we have windows to see and cook from to mitigate our food by the visions of others whom we all love and with whom we will all easily eat in a big generous gratuitous free peace.

From Hattie Gossett's "What Is Sale?":

ruth: turn on the radio or something girl
lola: what you wanna hear?
denise: where's that new tape of edwinna lee tyler & her
(in a minute the car is filled with the sounds of african
     drumming & chanting)
ruth: listen to the divas. are they doing it or what?


Barg, Barbara, Obeying the Chemicals, Hard Press (NYC, 1984)
Coultas, Brenda, early films, Rodent Press (Boulder, CO, 1996)
Coultas, Brenda & Sikelianos, Eleni, eds., Poetry Project Newsletter #174 (NYC, 1999)
Foster, Ed, ed., Talisman #1 (Hoboken, NJ, 1988)
Friedman, Ed, et al., eds., The World #52, Poetry Project (NYC, 1996)
Friedman, Ed, et al., eds., The World #53, Poetry Project (NYC, 1998)
Hell, Richard, ed., Cuz #2, Poetry Project (NYC, 1988)
Highfill, Mitch, ed., Poetry Project Newsletter #158 (NYC, 1995)
Highfill, Mitch, ed., Poetry Project Newsletter #159 (NYC, 1995)
Mlinko, Ange, Matinées, Zoland Books (Cambridge, 1999)
Myles, Eileen, School of Fish, Black Sparrow (Santa Rosa, CA, 1997)
Price, Laurie, Under the Sign of the House, Detour Press (Brooklyn, 1998)
Schwartz, Leonard, Joseph Donohue and Edward Foster, eds., Primary Trouble:
        An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry
, Talisman House (Jersey City, NJ, 1996)
Waldman, Anne, Out of This World: An Anthology of the St. Mark's Poetry Project
(Crown, New York City, NY, 1991)
Warsh, Lewis, et al., eds., The World #46, Poetry Project (NYC, 1993)
Warsh, Lewis, et al., eds., The World #49, Poetry Project (NYC, 1994)
Warsh, Lewis, et al., eds., The World #50, Poetry Project (NYC, 1995)


This paper was written quickly. To preserve the accuracy of what was said on that occasion, I've left it pretty much alone, although the lists have been amplified slightly and a few other emendations made. Please look for the work of these writers also, all of whom read at the Poetry Project in 1998 or 1999, if not before: Dale Orlaendersmith, Karen Volkman, Katy Lederer, Beth Anderson, Meena Alexander, Rachel Levitsky, Joan Retallack, Tina Darragh, Fiona Templeton, Judith Goldman, Marcella Harb, Bonny Finberg, Sarah Schulman, Liz Castagna, Wendy Kramer, Rochelle Kraut, Lynn Tillman, Joanne Wasserman, Martine Bellen, Hettie Jones, Sharon Strange, Ann Rower, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Cole Swensen, Claudia Rankine, Dawn Michelle Baud, Camille Roy, Diane Williams, Hoa Nguyen and Jocelyn Saidenberg. For information as to where their work might be found, please follow this site's links, or inquire at

Thank you to Mitch Highfill, Joel Lewis, Barbara Barg, Elinor Nauen, Marcella Durand and Gary Sullivan for your time and comments.

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