Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999
Subject: class and poetry

I have been reading the discussion of class with interest, but some
puzzlement. Once definitions were put aside, responses to the question
of class have, as a rule, been a series of autobiographical testimonies as
to one's own particular background. That's fine (although perhaps
paradoxical, in that it's substituting a concern over the individual,
whereas class would seem to call for an awareness of group).
Unless this discussion is an instance of what LISTSERV welcomes as
"messages relating to politics and political news or activism", what I'm
missing from this lively symposium is how it relates or could relate back
to poetics.

Without getting technical or pedantic, the consensus seems to be that
class has something to do with money, something to do with culture,
and something to do with work (working class). Out of these three, to
single out one, work may be the most pivotal, the common
denominator. What I ask myself, in regards to poetry, is: how can
post-modern writing acknowledge and portray these class determinants
without (and I emphasize) a return to representationalism? (I take it as
a given that we're united in moving away from mimesis.)

Just as the discussion here has again confirmed that class in America
maintains its domination by a sort of obliviousness where people cannot
even conceive of themselves along clear class lines, the object that is
the fulcrum of that crucial benightedness is, yes, The Commodity, a
commodity foremost engineered to conceal the labor that went into its
. Insofar as the poem has yielded to commodification, I guess it
would in theory best point back to the constraints of class by
emphasizing its place in a food chain of labor. - But how to do that?

Some examples come to mind. I've seen poems by Ange Mlinko where I
was impressed by the incorporation of rarely seen "lower class" material
into the text as vocabulary. Bruce Andrews' I Don't Have Any Paper
also made itself open, almost wantonly open to taboo subordinate class
slang [yay, Bruce!].

Such examples, though, were incorporating class markers by way of
content (vocabulary). How has a real -- or how could a hypothetical
poetry demonstrate the same compass points of class by way of

Again, only one or two examples come to mind. The poems of Jackson
are often appended with notes that describe their construction.
That seems like one path. There's a sculpture called "Box That Contains
The Sound of Its Own Making" by - the name slips my tongue - where a
wooden cube emits a continuous tape of banging and scraping noises
that were recorded during its being assembled. The MacLow alternative
seems somewhat like that. And, there's a way in which prose
commentary is generally exempted from the rigors concerning
referentiality. -- Also, poems of Joan Retallack, especially in Errata a
series of poems entirely made up of quotes appropriated from various
philosophers, coded line by line as, say, (D1), (D2), (D3), for (D1)
Deleuze, (D2) Derrida, (D3) Descartes. I was very much taken by those
poems, perhaps because they sometimes seamlessly follow a thread of
thought through that patchwork. Their labor-intensiveness, too, is

Authors, along with other free-lancers, live-in domestics, and
"housewives," are exceptional in the realm of production, in that we're
allowed to work out of our homes (or summer homes). Unlike the rest of
the workforce, we are not corralled into offices or factories (except for
day jobs) as the place where we manufacture the product of the poem.
This may have something to do with why collaboration often strikes me
as foregrounding the worker aspect.

I should say, too, that Language Poetry's over-all mission of accentuating
the materiality of language may not be identical to the problem of
revealing the presence of the worker. By analogy, a piece of furniture
designed to make prominent its woodgrain (its materiality) reveals that as
"naturalness," but does not necessarily display the hands-on strain of
the carpenter. Perhaps I'm in error. Ironically, in some ways
traditional forms with rhyme and meter may better have betrayed the
shadow of the worker: the mere sight of twice ten rhymes for a rondeau
exasperates with its laboriousness. Although Language Poetry
does indeed make me constantly conscious of the language, it is often
by way of its strangeness, akin to some polymorphous autonomy, and I
only afterwards in reading interviews or such get any inkling into how
that artwork was actually crafted. (To read that Susan Howe wrote in
4x5 sketchpads
surprises me with workerliness and materiality in a
new way that the stanzas' general brevity still left mysterious.)

At any rate, these are some preliminary surmises which others might like
to join in on, in re-directing some slack of the (waning) class discussion
to a potential praxis, class and poetry. Thanks.