As the twentieth century drew to a close, experimentalism in American poetry was most commonly identified with Language writing. At the same time, however, a number of poets, many of them women, were developing their own alternative forms of experimentalism, creating “uncommon languages” often indebted to Language writing but distinct from it.
With impressive intellectual engagement and nuanced presentation, Thinking Poetry provides a meticulous and provocative analysis of the ways in which Alice Fulton, Myung Mi Kim, Joan Retallack, Cole Swensen, Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Wheeler, and C. D. Wright explored varied compositional strategies and created their own innovative works. In doing so, Lynn Keller resourcefully models a range of reading strategies that will assist others in analyzing the complex epistemology and craft of recent “exploratory” writing.
The seven women whose work is discussed here demonstrate widely differing ways of using poetry to, as Swensen puts it, “stretch the boundaries of the sayable.” Thinking Poetry examines approaches to women’s poetic exploration ranging from radically open, thoroughly disjunctive writing to feminist experimentation within relatively conventional free verse forms; from texts testing the resources of visual elements and page space to those in which multilingualism or digital technology provide arenas for innovation; from revitalized forms of ekphrasis to fresh approaches to pop culture.
Keller illuminates as well a transitional era in U.S. poetry that presaged current developments that are often seen as combining the poetics of personal lyric and Language writing. Thinking Poetry challenges reductive notions of such a synthesis as it makes clear that the groundwork for current poetic trends was laid by poets who, in a far more polarized climate, pursued their own, often distinctly feminist, visions of necessary innovation.
“For all their awards and publications, until now the poetry of Rosmarie Waldrop, Joan Retallack, C. D. Wright, Alice Fulton, Susan Wheeler, Cole Swensen, and Myung Mi Kim has not received always commensurate scholarly attention. Thinking Poetry gathers together for the first time Lynn Keller’s groundbreaking work on these poets and will be a superlative resource for students of innovative contemporary poetry by American women writers. The volume will also be of significant interest to anyone examining women writers who are, as Keller notes, ‘indebted to Language poetry but not necessarily tied to it.’ Each chapter provides meticulous, provocative analyses of the poets’ challenging formal strategies, themes, and source texts. This is an outstanding volume.”—Susan Vanderborg, University of South Carolina
Acknowledgments and Permissions ix
1. thinking poetry: An Introduction 1
2. ink of eyes and veins and phonemes: C.D. Wright’s
Eclectic Poetics 21
3. the then some inbetween: Alice Fulton’s Feminist
4. fields of pattern-bounded unpredictability:
Palimtexts by Rosmarie Waldrop and Joan Retallack 70
5. poems living with paintings: Cole Swensen’s
Ekphrastic Try 97
6. resisting the cultural steamroller: Susan Wheeler’s
Source Codes 124
7. the thing seen together with the whole space:
Myung Mi Kim’s Visual Poetics of the Aggregate 153
8. coda: Thinking On 180
Works Cited 211