Lyle Daggett has a recent post at A Burning Patience with a tantalizing excerpt from an interview with Lorna Dee Cervantes. She discusses English departments, but what she says applies to cultural support institutions like the Pew Center or the Poetry Foundation as well. Of English departments, she says, “We are working in this legitimization factory.”
Think about that….
And how does legitimization come about? What are the forces that create and distributes legitimization from the “factory”? Lorna Dee puts it this way: “I’m saying look at the conditions of power. Look at the conditions and look at the relations.”
A good friend of this blog, Conrad DiDiodato, is working (as I understand it) on a study of the poet Frank Samperi, at least in part, in terms of “conditions and relations.” That is, in the context of the Objectivists and Projectivists and with whom Samperi had contact but who consistently overlooked him, even though he shared many of their approaches to words on the page. His most attentive supporter was perhaps Cid Corman, who (as Russell Devernoy notes here) “was instrumental in getting Mushinsha/Grossman to publish Samperi’s trilogy—The Prefiguration, Quadrifariam, and Lumen Gloriae—in beautiful editions in the early 1970s.” Corman was himself overlooked and even dismissed by the same gangs as they labored assiduously to establish their own legitimization factories.*
The problem with factories, of course, is that they thrive by producing a limited number of products with a limited range of functions. Variety exists primarily in packaging. (Is your iPod white, black, gray, blue, pink? Many choices of color. But few choices of functionality, few of capacity….) The reality is that poets and readers of poetry have turned over their power to the legitimization factories, and as a result we have fantastic variety of packaging with very little range of functionality at the heart of our poetry.
* Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews learned this lesson well. They created a magazine called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (scroll down for the index), the equal signs turning the common word into a logo. Their fellow traveler and now leading light, Ron Silliman, some years back rebranded Language Poetry as “Post-Avant”, with only modest success; most people have recognized the vacuous nature of the new term, while haplessly clinging to the old one. For some reason, the existing legitimization factories accept “postmodern” and even “post-postmodern” and bandy the terms about in sober symposia as they actually referred to something real. As Lorna Dee says in her excerpted interview, “Postmodernism is not even a thing! It is not a movement, it is not an artistic style, it is not anything.” At least Pepsi had the good sense not to rename its no-calorie cola “Post-Diet Pepsi,” opting instead for the memorable, if perhaps too honest, “Pepsi Zero.”