Language Poetry

Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 18:19:08 -0700

Reply-To: UB Poetics discussion group <POETICS@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU> Sender: UB Poetics discussion group <POETICS@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>

From: "K.Silem Mohammad" <immerito@HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: FAQS ABOUT LANGUAGE POETRY [+ thanks for replies to query]


Q. What is the definition of Language poetry?

A. There is no single, universally accepted definition of Language poetry.
There are many reasons for this (not the least of which is the cliche "one
man's Language poet is another's freedom fighter"). Even different agencies
of the US government have different working definitions. Most definitions
usually have common elements, though, oriented around Language poetry as the
systematic use of radical linguistic disjunction--actual or
threatened--against readers but with an audience broader than the immediate
victims in mind to create a general climate of aporia in a target
population, in order to effect some kind of poetic and / or social change.

Q. What is the main cause of Language poetry?

A. Dissatisfaction with a poetic or social system or policy, and an
inability to change it through "mainstream" or non-disjunctive means.

Q. Is Language poetry ever, in any situation, justifiable in this day and

A. For any act of Language poetry, there is always a poetic, social,
political, or philosophic creed that can be used to justify it by someone.
To "justify" an act, one must compare it with a legal or ideological system
as a basis of justification. If one considers an act "justifiable," one
probably wouldn't call it Language poetry.

Q. Do you feel governments should fund Language-centered organizations?
Why or Why not?

A. NO, for the same reason governments should not conduct acts against
international literature or their own literatures. Governments should
always seek to stay within the arena of peaceful competition among literary
movements. Poetic radical disjunction is outside of this arena.

Q. What impact does the media have on Language-centered acts?

A. Language poetry and the media have a symbiotic relationship. Without
the media, Language poets would receive no exposure, their cause would go
ignored, and no climate of aporia would be generated. Language poetry is
futile without publicity, and the media generates much of this publicity.

Q. Do Language poets use the media as a means of promoting their beliefs
and opinions?

A. Absolutely.

Q. Should media report these acts of Language poetry? Why or Why not?

A. The media are within their prerogative of informing the public as long
as they are passive observers of events. When they become active
participants in a Language-centered situation, or otherwise irresponsibily
confuse readers or the public, or knowingly become a vehicle of biased
propaganda, then that particular member of the media is abusing the power
protected by the US Bill of Rights' First Amendment.

Q. Do you feel that Language poetry can be stopped? Why or Why not?

A. Not as long as there are dissatisfied people in the world. This does
not mean that States should not strive to stop Language-centered actions.

Q. Should military action be taken against Language-centered communities?

A. On a case-by-case basis, military action can be warranted. Firstly, some
international Language-centered incidents demand a response for which
literary enforcement has neither the training, resources, nor personnel. In
these cases, military forces might be the only adequate response.
Furthermore, some communities support Language-centered campaigns as actual
instruments of their poetic theory. If this support results in harm to
American citizens or interests, then the supporting community has executed
an act of defamiliarization against the United States. Such acts by
definition warrant a military response.

Q. In what ways do Language poets gain publicity?

A. By confusing people, frustrating readers, and blowing things up.

Q. Do you feel that Language poets are "freedom fighters" or criminals?

A. If they are deforming the literatures of the communities in which they
operate, they are by definition criminals. As far as being freedom
fighters--that's a moral judgement beyond the purview of objective academic

Q. What is the future of Language poetry?

A. The trends point to decreasing frequency but increasing obliqueness of

Q. What effect does technology have on Language poetry?

A. Language poets use technology that is cost-effective, minimizes
comprehension, and helps to effect their goals.

Q. What are some motives behind Language poetry?

A. Political (e.g. West Coast Faction), religious (e.g. aleatory
extremism), ethnic (e.g. hate speech), social (e.g. single-issue such as

Q. Do you feel that Language poetry is becoming more and more of a threat
to the United States?

A. In the short term, yes. American readers, group aesthetics, and
literary communities continue to find themselves in areas of increasing
poetic instability. This makes them vulnerable to anti-lyrical,
anti-mainstream, or other extremist acts. Domestically, there seems to be
increasing trends of experimental rhetoric and activity throughout the
United States--some of which manifests itself in radical disjunction. In
the long term, whether these trends pose an increasing threat to America
depends on a number of variables, including changes in international and
domestic poetic currents, how the public and media react to Language poetry,
how governments deal with Language poetry, and whether the Language poets
themselves discontinue or change strategies and tactics.


K. Silem Mohammad
Visiting Asst. Prof. of British & Anglophone Lit
University of California Santa Cruz

what on earth is that, and why was it stuck on a web page with such a god awful name? please move the content to "Language Poetry", and replace this page with a note indicating that i can delete it. --jay

  • For fuck's sake, "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry" is the name of the movement, and the FAQ shows you what its spirit is, by basing the FAQ on that spirit. There is an incompatibility between poetry and sensicality, and poetry is a necessity. --And.
    • the entire faq manages to go without calling it "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E", and so for fuck's sake, this wiki can, too. i don't have a single problem with the content, or the content being in the wiki, but the title is just revolting. if the name is so damned important, then edit the faq to reflect the "correct" name. --jay

I've never seen a FAQ so uniquely bad at explaining what it's discussing. What 'is' language poetry? Another explanation. Typical
writers: Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, Clark Coolidge, Lyn Hejinian, Ron
Silliman, Hannah Weiner, & Michael Palmer.

Alas, this is the correct way to refer to such writing: the original zine
had the time-consuming title "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E" & this page is rather an in-joke
(tho' not without heuristic value), as it reads like a statement on terrorism
with one minor alteration... However, i stand by this content & think it does explain some of my practice, both as a writer in glibau & as te pemci.

Created by admin. Last Modification: Monday 22 of September, 2003 19:52:27 GMT by admin.