Ethnopoetics and the Performativity of Place: Jerome Rothenberg and 'That Dada Strain'
Wrighton, John, Spatial Practices
Fifty years since Grove Press first published The New American Poetry, celebrations in New York City for Jerome Rothenberg's eightieth birthday, centenary conferences in UK and USA marking the birth of Charles Olson, this chapter begins with a reconsideration of the place of poetry at a juncture of critical reflection in contemporary poetry studies. The chapter then theorizes the notion of place in poetry through a close reading of Jerome Rothenberg's dada poetics and by critically performing an ethnopoetic juxtaposition of his work in relation to avant-garde practice from Miguelito's Navajo sandpainting to Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's portrait of the American photographer, Berenice Abbott. An ethics of place emerges, it is argued, in what is called a "performative dialogics": resistance to the (solipsistic) fixing of subject positions or any settled place for the poem, in favour of a location and shape that is discovered in the processual and expansive, a welcoming of the other towards the "exteriority of being".
Key names and concepts: Emmanuel Levinas, Charles Olson, George Quasha, Jerome Rothenberg, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven; dada, ethics, ethnopoetics, performance, performative dialogics.
If Charles Olson spoke of a "new localism " that would feed our historic & poetic senses, it seems to me now that it is increasingly possible - & necessary - to speak of a new globalism [...] to consider the decade of the postwar & the burgeoning cold war - as the time also of a global awakening, & to view (or re-view) the New American Poetry as part of a greater, still more electrifying symposium of the whole.
Jerome Rothenberg, 1996
The year 2010 marked a half century since Grove Press first published The New American Poetry 1945-1960 edited by Donald Allen in 1960. Placing poets from the East and West coasts of America so that they faced each other page to page - now famous names including Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, and Gary Snyder; with 'Statements on Poetics' including Olson's 'Projective Verse' and LeRoi Jones's 'How You Sound??' - Allen's anthology has been formative in the direction and reception of experimental "modern" or "post-war" American poetry. The tradition it established has continued throughout the century with Eliot Weinberger's American Poetry since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders (1993), Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry (1994), and Douglas Messerli's From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990 (1994). Indeed, more than any other anthology of the past fifty years, Allen's selection and organization of his poets has become an authoritative textbook effectively reshaping the curricula of Englishlanguage poetry studies.
Correspondingly, the later part of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of the study of modern American poetry as a distinct and well organized activity in literature programmes across universities on both sides of the Atlantic. Within this subject area the principal point of investigation has been towards a kind of ideological mapping or topography of personalities, affiliations, and poetics. However, it is my contention that whilst the naming and grouping of "schools" and "movements" serves as a useful teaching tool it often obscures both individual poetic careers and the broader concerns across this irregular constellation of poetic experimentation.1
Whilst Allen's anthology has undoubtedly served to shape the future reception of post-war poetry there have been other important collections and critical interventions. More recent anthologies have catalogued other experimental voices by language, form, and nation - see, for instance, Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar's Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (2008), Jeff Hilson's Reality Street Book of Sonnets (2008) and Keith Tuma's Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (2001) - and the internet has enabled diverse influences to cross-fertilize - UBU Web's visual and concrete poetry exhibits, Howl's innovative women's writing, and Jacket's fortieth issue (and a new format in 201 1) with ongoing reviews and interviews. …