Syncopations hovers midway between being a planned book and a collection of occasional essays. Charles Bernstein had suggested several times over the years that I gather my writings on contemporary poetry into a book. My reluctance to do so resulted in this hybrid. Syncopations attempts a conceptual chronicle of the promise of American poetry from 1975 to the present, a promise identified in the subtitle, “the stress of innovation.” As it stands, concept exceeded chronicle. While numerous publications contributed to the final result, most of them became thoroughly transformed in the process. “The Catastrophe of Charm” and “Literacy Effects” remained intact in order to serve an indexical role to The American Poetry Wax Museum (they were originally written before I thought of writing such a book, and they turned out to bear some premonitions of it years in advance). Apart from bringing the first one up to date, the concluding sequence of homages (to Clayton Eshleman, Ronald Johnson, Robin Blaser, and Nathaniel Mackey) are also much as previously published. Otherwise, the bulk of Syncopations has either not appeared in print before, or has been drastically recomposed.
Decades of challenging correspondence and debate with Don Byrd have played a decisive role at every stage in the writings that make up this book. I am also indebted to Bruce Andrews, who patiently read through a large and ungainly preview of Syncopations; his incisive suggestions made the present text legible to me. An anonymous reader for the University of Alabama Press also provided challenging and invaluable