My own sense is that there has been neither a smooth transition from the
paradigm of "language poetry" nor has there been a "clean break" with it.
There are several younger writers who wish language poetry never happened,
some who believe that the tenets of language poetry are still the best thing
going, and some who are picking and choosing from among the ideas that
language poetry put forward and trying to reconcile these with more
traditional poetic values.
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There are several reasons for this. One is that, even when Language poetry
was most in the ascdendant, there were still strong strands in experimental
work that didn't owe anything to their theories or work. Some writers, like
Susan Howe, are considered "Language poets" even though her work shares
little with the work of the main figures, while other writers, such as
Eileen Myles and the ever-productive John Ashbery, were putting out strong
work that didn't owe anything to them.
Also, it never had the grip on the public imagination that, say, Beat Poetry
had, probably because it lacked any "lifestyle" element -- no costumes, no
drugs -- and because it had a fairly technical, and not humanistic, approach
to poetic value. It was a highly self-conscious movement which often put
forward a very methodical way of writing, and American poets by nature tend
to disavow this kind of self-consciousness since it conflicts with a sort of
romantic liberatarian attitude that believes the poet is a free thinker and
a "witness to events" who is also, as an act of rebellion perhaps, an
I'm being reductive here, of course, but this is an element that runs from
Whitman (who was, to a degree, in conflict with the methodical,
continentally-inflected writings of William Cullen Bryant) through the Beats
to Ann Waldman and the late A.R. Ammons. It's not a viewpoint to which I'm
Language poetry is also often seen as elitist because it never dealt
adequately with issues of race, gender, and sexuality, at least as a whole.
Since one of its early premises was the critique of "identity" and the self,
it never had the language for dealing with minority issues that attempted to
legitimize "identity" as a central subject of discourse. As a result, there
was a sense of haughtiness on the part of the Language poets who didn't want
to "stoop to that level," though recently there have been more attempts by
Language poets to incorporate these issues. Not suprisingly, most of the
Language poets -- certainly of the first generations -- are of European
descent (which is to say, "white").
So what that leaves is a poetic past that seems at once finished,
incomplete, still lingering, in its death throes, yet more relevant than
ever. Several mainstream writers have made their career marks by
incorporating Language methods in their work, for better or worse, and it's
sort of become hip again in some quarters.
As for me, I've spent a lot of time imitating the works of writers I admire
-- from Ezra Pound to Charles Bernstein -- and have always been interested
in trying everything possible to write a poem. There are a huge amount of
formal explorations that the Language poets have made, and I certainly
identify strongly with this impetus toward radical new methods. However,
I've also been interested in writers the Language poets never took under
their wings (usually non-Americans, like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Haroldo de
Campos, etc., or not "avant-garde" like Martin Johnston, an Australian), and
have tended to want to avoid the American-centric, Oedipal attitudes -- WE
are the next big generation -- that have marred some of their approach.
As I suggested above, I'm much more interested in the idea of the poet as
cultural agent and "witness", of a reinvestigation of some of those
"libertarian" poetics attitudes (and am avoiding the academy at all costs),
as well as a reconciliation of my own specificity as an Asian American
writer with the more theoretical, methodical, post-humanist aspects of the
I've moved very much into digital technology with my work. Most of my most
ambitious projects have been for the internet (they appear at www.ubu.com).
"The Dreamlife of Letters," for example, is a long Flash piece that owes a
big debt to Brazilian concrete (it's my love letter to that country), and my
new piece, "The Truth Interview," a collaboration with the poet Kim
Rosenfield, is not a poem at all but a collage of animated texts, an
interview/profile of Rosenfield, a sort of "web portal," and travesties of
common web phenomena such as the pop-up box advertisement and the subliminal
sexual ploys in web imagery.
I also deal with "avatars," having written a long sequence in the voice of
someone named "Roger Pellett." Though these are traditional "poems" --
words on a page -- I somehow attribute them to the anonymity that is natural
to web culture, and is an open field for play.
I think my work is a direct descendant of that of the Language poets, but
because of this attention to digital culture, I am more prone to see text as
"data" and even less as the autonomous art-works and sanctified language
that Language poets themselves once criticized, and yet for the most part
didn't overcome or replace with new attitudes. My closest peers in this
effort have been those centered around the ubu chat group -- Darren
Wershler-Henry, Kenneth Goldsmith, etc. -- but since I live in New York, I
am in constant contact with writers of many stripes, and hope to steal from
My hope is that my work will remain public, like the way graffitti is
public, and will never be marred by a critic's misguided attempt to place it
back into the box of continental Modernism.