6 jul. 2004

Web Del Sol, New Poetry and Fiction on the WWW

Houlihan is at it again, starting with an ignorant introduction that conflates semiotics with deconstruction. What is difficult to understand is why someone would be bothered by the existence of a poetic movement that is far from dominant in numbers or media exposure. There are plenty of poems out there that appeal to the reader in a simplistic way: there is no danger of being overwhelmed by more experimental work. Why should the reader grieve because some poetry does not appeal to her?

Just the other day I heard a woman reading a poem on NPR that contained lines like "My arms like wings." And the author of this claptrap taught English at the University level! "Using the apostate tyrant as his tool" at least is better than that.

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Here's a garbled paragraph from the opening of the essay:

Some poems, however, seem to discourage reading intentionally. For example, the ?concrete poems? of the 70s were designed primarily for visual impact, not readability, and such poems continue to be made, some in a turn-the-page-sideways and try-to-read-the-tiny-type format, some as ?shape? poems, some as thoughtfully-arranged-white-space poems. Later, Vispo (companion to Langpo), Oulipo, digital, cut-up or hypertext poetry and something called Fluxus joined those poems that include nearly readable text.

As a historical narrative, this seems confused to say the very least. Visual poetry in its modern incarnation dates back to Apollinaire's Calligrammes, a beautifully reader-friendly text. I read it an enjoyed it in high school French class. Cut-up is a dadaist technique that re-appears in Burroughs (does the word "or" here imply that this is the same as hypertext?). Vispo is an abbreviation of Visual Poetry, thus not all that different from the "concrete poetry." Oulipo and Fluxus do not emerge after the 1970s, but before (in the 1960s to be exact). ("Something called Fluxus" implies that she isn't quite sure what Fluxus is!) Has she read Oulipo novels like Calvino's "If on a Winter Night a Traveler" or Perec's "Life: A User's Manual"? Harry Mathew's "Cigarettes"? These are very readable novels. Why I've read them about five times each myself.

The phrase "poems that include nearly readable text" has me baffled. Does she mean "nearly unreadable"? That's the only way I can parse it. I also have a problem with the phrase "discourage reading intentionally." I think she means "intentionally discourage reading," rather than "discourage intentionality in reading." But of course we shouldn't expect lucid prose from this champion of "the reader."

The point about concrete poetry is rather weak: the reader processes the visual poem in a different way (more visually perhaps!), but that does not imply any lack of respect or concern for the reception of the work. It seems, then, that Houlihan is using "readability" in two distinct senses.

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