Now I’m talking about epic
as Voice. and as
example I have disobeyed his chart, or is it
charter—Your, Yours, Yours.
Your idea of how I’m supposed to write.
Alice Notley, Disobedience
Syncopations is a partial chronicle of my attentions to contemporary American poetry during the past twenty-five years, designed to resonate in the space between The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940–1990 (1996) and This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry (2002). There is a thematic thread running through the book—a thread, not a thesis—on the topic of innovation, a term I prefer to the more common application of “experimental” to any work that doesn’t appear strictly conformist. Innovation is not altogether volitional; innovation in poetry can be circumstantial. But in an American context suffused with a hunger for Old World monuments, appreciating and even recognizing innovation has been difficult. So while the chapters in Syncopations were written between 1986 and 2001, they hearken back to an auspicious year, 1975, when the fruits of innovation were at a peak, yet went unacknowledged. The bounty of 1975, it seems, required a quarter century to meet with comparable abundance. The present profusion is evident in a short list of singular books published in 2001: The Veil and The Pretext by Rae Armantrout; Lip Service by Bruce Andrews; The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans and Louise in Love by Mary Jo Bang; With Strings by Charles Bernstein; Eunoia by Christian Bök; The Mood Embosser by Louis Cabri; Radio,