Founded in 1991 by Robert Creeley, Susan Howe, Dennis Tedlock, Charles Bernstein, and Raymond Federman, the Poetics Program takes as its principle that its literary artists should teach not only the art of writing but also the theory of writing practice, in both undergraduate courses and graduate seminars. As the founding document states, the Poetics Program gives formal presence to “an extraordinary concentration of interest in poetics that makes UB unique among literature departments in North America,” and that “encompass[es] subjects well beyond contemporary English-language poetry—including ethnopoetics, the poetics of fiction and ‘prose,’ the poetics of translation, and more generally the poetics of various literatures of the Western traditions.” By recruiting writers with the ability to theorize their art, the Poetics Program distinguishes itself from MFA “creative writing” programs across the country. As part of the English Department, Poetics engages critics and scholars from Comparative Literature, Romance Languages, Art History, American Studies, Philosophy, Classics, and Media Studies. Its universe is an amalgam of practice, theory, and textual study, with influences from the literary avant garde, links to the graphic arts, openness to critical theory, connections to the linguistic flux and polyphony of modern diasporas, and a keen appreciation of the cybernetic worlds of hypertext and streaming video. It has a fundamental and close working relationship with the renowned Poetry Collection of the University library and with the vast web matrix of the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC).
Poetics at Buffalo is committed to all methods of analysis that open up poetry and other forms of writing for inspection. It regards “poetics” as the sum of the theoretical languages that define and inform the term poiesis as construction and making. It recognizes the literary text in all its aspects, from its material existence—right down to the ink and paper—to the labor that creates it, its personal significance to the poet, and its historical value to the culture that consumes it. It attends to its relation to the human body, to speech and physiology, to the poem as utterance and performance. It acknowledges historical forces and philosophical movements, poetry past along with poetry present. It is mindful of neuro-linguistics, of speech acts, of the poetics specific to other cultures – to ethnopoetics. Ethnopoetics entails attention to the ethnic specificity and regional locality of all poetic practices. Oral poetry is not something older than or prior to or simpler than the written text, but coexists and interacts with it. It considers both alphabetic and non-alphabetic writing codes of the historical past and imaginary codes of a potential present.
The implications of this multiple perspective are programmatic as well as theoretical. While the approach to “creative writing” at other universities often ignores the significance of critical reflection, sometimes pitting creativity against conceptual thinking, the Poetics Program insists that scholarship, historical research, and critical writing are at the core of graduate education. The many visitors who come to UB to read as part of the “Poetics Plus” program are integrated into the seminar work of graduate students. As a result, Poetics has become a major national and international center for the study of modernist and experimental poetry and attracts an outstanding range of students interested in both scholarship and creative activity. The Program recruits students from all over the U.S. and recruits international scholars as well. The UB Poetics Program is one of the world’s most prominent programs relating to the study of poiesis in its many aspects.