Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets were probably the most significant avant garde grouping in United States poetry in the last quarter of the 20th century. In developing a poetic, they took as their starting point the emphasis on method evident in the modernist tradition, particularly as represented by Gertrude Stein, the Objectivist poet Louis Zukofsky and John Cage.
Early history of Language poetry
The seed of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry was the launch of This magazine, edited by Robert Grenier and Barrett Watten in 1971. In an essay in the first issue, Grenier declared I HATE SPEECH. This statement, qualified by the essay in which it occurred, along with a questioning attitude to the referentiality of language evidenced even in the magazine's title, served as a rallying cry for a number of young U.S. poets who were increasingly dissatisfied with the poetry of the Black Mountain and Beat poets.
During the 1970s, a number of other magazines emerged who published poets under the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E banner, most notably L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine , edited by Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, which ran to 13 issues between 1978 and 1980. Both Andrews and Bernstein were considerable poets whose works are among the key texts of the movement. Other poets associated with the group included: Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perlman , Michael Palmer, Rae Armantrout, Carla Harryman, Clarke Coolidge , Hannah Weiner, Susan Howe, Tina Darragh and Fanny Howe.
This partial list accurately reflects the high proportion of female poets amongst the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E group, one of its salient characteristics.
As noted above, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets were concerned to question the attitudes to speech and the referentiality held by language of their predecessors of the Black Mountain school under the influence of William Carlos Williams and others. However, it is important to note that both This and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine published work by notable Black Mountain poets such as Robert Creeley and Larry Eigner . What concerned the younger poets was the assumed naturalness of both speech and referential language as a basis for poetry.
To help subvert this assumption, they turned to the poetry of Zukofsky as a model. Especially in his long work A, Zukofsky used procedural methods based on mathematical sequences and other logical organising devices to structure his poetry, and it was this practice that proved most useful to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E group. The application of process, especially at the level of the sentence, was to become the basic tenet of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E praxis. The influence of Gertrude Stein came from the fact that she was a writer who had frequently used language divorced from reference in her own writings. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets also drew on the philosophical works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially his idea of language as game.
Language poetry now
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E became the orthodoxy of innovative poetry in the U.S., a trend that was accentuated by the fact that a number of leading proponents took up academic posts in the Poetics, Creative Writing and English Literature departments in prominent universities. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E praxis also began to be influential in British poetry with the emergence of writers like Allen Fisher and Ken Edwards and magazines like the London-based Reality Studios. This success has resulted in a situation in which many poets and critics would now consider that L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E has lost its place as the avant garde and become something of an alternative establishment in United States poetry.
- Ron Silliman (ed.): In the American Tree (1986) - an anthology of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry that serves as a very useful primer.
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