Academic journal article Chicago Review

Stephen Rodefer's Position

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Stephen Rodefer's Position

Article excerpt

Stephen Rodefer's poetry is a digest of the New American poetry and its chosen precursors. Olson and Villon, Ginsberg and Catullus, O'Hara and Baudelaire--Rodefer approaches them as colleagues, with envy and admiration. He disorders their experiments and appropriates their voices to fashion poems that are at once critical and revelatory. He is among his tradition's most virtuoso writers and its most comic antagonists. "Language pointed/To its content," he writes in Four Lectures, "A crowd of people at the beach screaming "Tuna! tuna!"'

Considering Rodefer's biography, the scope of his writing is perhaps no surprise. He studied with Charles Olson and Basil Bunting in Buffalo in the 1960s, and replaced Robert Creeley at the University of New Mexico in 1967. In the 1970s and '80s he lived in the Bay Area and San Diego, where he worked with the Language poets and taught, among others, Jennifer Moxley and Ben Friedlander. In the 1990s, he moved to Cambridge, England, and into a community of poets including J.H. Prynne, Tom Raworth, Peter Riley, and John Wilkinson. During this time, he published over fifteen books of poetry, along with a handful of prose pieces, plays, and critical essays.

Rodefer's affiliations are as much a sign of his poetic identity as of his perpetual homelessness. Over his career he has self-consciously assumed the mantle of the romantic, roguish outsider--the nomadic interlocutor who descends on a scene, troubles it, and leaves (or is asked to leave). This sort of behavior undoubtedly explains some of his current neglect, despite the significance of his work. The predicament is no accident: in his poems and essays, Rodefer has theorized his conduct into an aesthetic program. In "Prologue to Language Doubling," reprinted in this feature, he calls for poets to cultivate "barbaric intuitions" as a means of "disregarding the approval of their admirers. …

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