This fine collection of occasional essays is concerned with the way supposedly ordinary language becomes poetic. From The Poetics of Indeterminacy (1981) forward, Marjorie Perloff has confidently, helpfully mapped contemporary poetics during a period of almost constant change. (She herself is one of the few constant features on that landscape.) Wary, as always, of holistic paradigms for the literary history of poetry, in Poetry on & off the Page she describes not the replacement of hip canon for square canon, "political" for "formal" poetries. Rather she shows shifts within (usually coinciding with the growth of) aesthetic movements that range across interests, forms and social formulations. Although a number of the essays have less to say about poetry per se than about, for example, Johanna Drucker's bookworks, the video art of Bill Viola, the photographs of Eugene Atget, and Christian Boltanski's simulated documentaries, I cannot think of a better introduction to contemporary poetry and poetics. Such commendation tells much about the special mode of Perloff's writings as well as the dynamic, interactive condition of experimental poetry today.
Friday, September 21, 2007
For Lingua Franca's "Breakthrough Books" feature back in January of 2000, I wrote this paragraph on Marjorie Perloff's Poetry on & off the Page: Essays for Emergent Occasions (Northwestern University Press). What can one do in a paragraph? Not much. It's a bare summary, but I hope a suggestive one: