Inn Your Ear! UB Professor Edits First Audio Anthology Inn Your Ear! UB Professor Edits First Audio Anthology of Language Poetry; Cd Features Readings By 13 Poets New Music Festival A Multicultural Air

Release Date: December 5, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N .Y. -- "Language poetry," the bedeviling school of contemporary poetry that has intrigued the literary world for two decades, has been wrestled onto a new CD titled "Live at the Ear."

Edited by Charles Bernstein, David Gray Chair in Poetry and the Humanities at the University at Buffalo, it is the first audio anthology of this important and increasingly influential school of poetry.

The 72-minute recording was produced by Richard Dillon and Elemenope Productions. It features 13 four- to six-minute tracts excerpted from readings presented by major language poets at Manhattan's historic Ear Inn between 1974 and 1993.

Because it is intended for use in the classroom, as well as by poetry aficionados, the CD is accompanied by a 32-page booklet complete with textual excerpts from each recorded selection (often highlighting the authors' unusual typographics, spelling and usage), photographs of each writer and a brief description by each that illuminates his or her personal aesthetic.

This back-up material is useful because language poetry is a cryptic and highly theoretical literary form grounded in philosophical discourse, and is best approached by the initiated. Among its notable features are a celebration of the visuality of words through the original use of space and typography, and the construction of works that, like abstract art, are usually devoid of conventional content and derive their "meaning" from both the creator and the receiver of the poem.

Among the poets featured on "Live at the Ear" is Bernstein, a noted literary critic and editor of "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E," the journal of language poetry. He joins Susan Howe, associate professor of English at UB, and author of groundbreaking work in the field of poetics.

Of the 13 poets included, 10 have taught at the University at Buffalo or performed here, frequently more than once, in connection with the UB Program in Poetics and the "Wednesdays at 4 Plus" literary series sponsored by the program.

Bernstein helped pioneer the UB Poetics Program, a unique one that reflects the tenets of language poetry by exploring not only the work itself, but the process by which it was created. He says that "Live at the Ear" is an excellent teaching tool for several reasons.

"First of all," he notes, "there are few, if any, commercial recordings by these poets. That means that for many audiences, this CD presents a unique opportunity to hear language poetry read aloud.

"The technical quality of the recording is superb," he said, "particularly considering that the original recordings were made in a nightclub during a live performance. So the listener has an opportunity to hear the work as it was meant by the writer to be heard."

Dillon points out that the original live recordings have been digitally remastered by Dick Charles, one of the most respected audio technicians in the business, to ensure high technical quality and the best possible sound.

"And of course," adds Bernstein, "CDs are easier to use in the classroom than audio tapes because specific tracts can be located much more easily."

Bernstein points out that there are few recordings of contemporary poetry available with the amount of textual and reference support material that accompanies this recording, and therefore virtually no recordings at all by the poets included here, despite their critical reputations and recognition in their field.

"Live at the Ear" features the following poets: Susan Howe, from "Speeches at the Barriers;" Ron Silliman, from "OZ;" Leslie Scalapino, from "bum series;" Ted Greenwald, from "You Bet;" Rosemarie Waldrop, from "Reproduction of Profiles;" Alan Davies, from "Shared Sentences;" Barrett Watten, from "Under Erasure," and Erica Hunt, from "cold war breaks."

Also included are Bruce Andrews, from "I Knew the Signs by Their Tents;" Hannah Weiner, from "Spoke;" Steve McCaffery, from "The Curve to its Answer;" Ann Lauterbach, from "Opening Day," and Charles Bernstein, from "Dark City."

Dillon says he expects to produce additional volumes that will incorporate poetry by the many other language poets who have changed the face of poetry in English. A review copy of the CD may be obtained from Patricia Donovan in the University at Buffalo News Bureau, 716-645-2626.

The critic Frederic Jameson argues that postmodernism represents a break with nineteenth-century romanticism and early twentieth-century modernism. In his words, postmodernism is characterized by "aesthetic populism," "the deconstruction of expression," "the waning of affect," "the end of the bourgeois ego," and the "imitation of dead styles" through the use of pastiche. In Jameson's opinion, postmodernism is the perfect expression of late capitalist culture as dominated by multinational corporations. If Jameson is correct, "deconstruction of expression" would be symptomatic of the loss of individuality in a consumer society. The reputed death of the author would reflect the decline of colonialism and central authority in general. As history finds its "end" in liberal democracy and consumerism, it loses its sense of struggle and discovery. This results in an affectless or "blank" style. Similarly, Jameson's "aesthetic populism" would reflect the triumph of mass communications over the written word.

...In general, postmodern poetry opposes the centrist values of unity, significance, linearity, expressiveness, and a heightened, even heroic, portrayal of the bourgeois self and its concerns. (It) employs a wide variety of oppositional strategies from the declaratory writings of the Beats to the more theoretical, but fiercely political work of the language poets.

A relatively marginal influences of the seventies, both language poetry and performance poetry have emerged in the last ten years as increasingly dominant modes of postmodern poetic expression.

· Language poets oppose the centrist values of unity, significance, linearity, expressiveness and the heightened, even heroic, portrayal of the bourgeois self and its concerns.

"The text formally involves the process of response/interpretation and in doing so makes the reader aware of him or herself as a producer as well as a consumer of meaning."

...Charles Bernstein, "Content's Dream: Essays 1975-1984"

· They see a poem as an intellectual and sonic construction rather than a necessary expression of the human soul.

· Within a poem, the poet tends to build up a mosaic structure by means of seemingly unrelated sentences and sentence fragments to produce a progression of non sequiturs that frustrates the reader's expectation for linear development as it opens a more complete world of reference.

· Lyricism is used, not as a means of expressing emotion, but in its original context as a musical use of words.

· Language poets write poems that engage the reader in an exploration of language itself. The poems are not "about" something, a paraphrasable narrative, symbolic nexus, or theme. Rather, their poetry is about the actuality of words.

· They treat words not as transparent vessels for containing and conveying a higher truth, but as the material of which it (i.e. truth) is shaped. In language poetry, as in McLuhan's' theory of television, the medium is the message.

· Words are used in much the same way an artist might view paint and stone -- as the plastic material of their own compositions in language. The words of artist Willem de Kooning might apply here. "Content," he said of his own work, "is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It's very tiny --- very tiny, content."

· Language poets disinvest language of metaphysics and return it to the physical realm of daily use. They shatter the assumption that poetry is necessary and deep, claiming that it is, instead, arbitrary and contingent.

· Language poets tend to reject poetry as an oral form. Their poetry is more "writerly" than "readerly" and they favor the prose poem as a vehicle for its formal freedom and exhaustiveness

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.