Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Timing of Lightning 

I've been thinking about Ron Silliman's blog post last Friday regarding John Taggart. I happen to agree with him that Taggart's Pastorelles may be his greatest book yet. I did take exception with Ron’s statement that was sandwiched in a very positive review of Taggart's latest publication: "And as John's work moved away from the Objectivist-inflected poetics of his earliest books toward a mode of ecstatic verbal performance dominated by reiteration as a device, I found it harder & harder to convince myself that I ought actually to read his work."

I took this a little bit personal, and not without some confusion. Taggart's LOOP was maybe the most important book of the nineties for me. And Ron had to convince himself to get through it? That book, Taggart's most successful use of the ecstatic reiterative, was/is something akin to magic, a sense of Sufism in its repeated utterances. Reading "Marvin Gaye Suite" aloud gave me one of the purest joys poetry has ever given me. So what gives?

Well, I’ve just reinforced Silliman's read on Taggart in the nineties. The repetitive "looping" of language used for effect, performative, & a drift toward the spiritual- Ron's take on JT's direction couldn't be more accurate. It's his statement's conclusion that I couldn't resolve. "I found it harder & harder to convince myself that I ought actually to read his work."

While this is something I haven't quite resolved, it has given me the opportunity to consider timing- in writing & in reading. When I discovered LOOP in the early-mid nineties, I was a young buck stuck in a generational jam. Experimentally inclined poets my age were defining themselves in two camps- LANGUAGE & anti-LANG. All the Politics that accompanied this perceived dualism (yes Politics with a capital P) seemed claustrophobic & limiting. I was never much of a NY Schooly kind of guy, but I didn’t want to write like Charles Bernstein either- since Charles Bernstein is still being Charles Bernstein better than I could ever hope to. The work I was drawn to were certainly roots or branches of the Language School tree, but where could I go experimentally that wouldn’t be technical parroting & soul-less device do-overs?

That’s were Taggart's LOOP came in. With such a shift from his earlier influences, his work encouraged me to abandon the perimeters that kept me worried about everything but the writing. After LOOP I wasn't writing with "sides" in mind, I was writing for myself. I was heartened by JT's turn away from his established position to chase down a new vision- sometimes great and (as in some of the post-LOOP collections) sometimes not as successful.

How do I convince Ron that the works in question ought to be read? I don't. JT departed from the place where Silliman most closely identified with him at some point- the work he was most fond of. I came to Taggart's work a good twenty years later, discovering a different JT music, only coming to fully appreciate the earlier work later. So Ron's got his Taggart, & I've got mine. I still find myself coasting into ruts of what I "ought to be reading" over & over. But at an important time in my writing life John Taggart took me out of the ruts & off the road. It was a matter of timing.

Of course, I can think of a number of experimental writers that have made similar departures in the very same decade, but LOOP's the one that knocked me off my horse. So many poets have done the same for younger writers at crucial points of their development- I’d love to hear about them. This is not intended as even a partial literary history of the nineties, but a personal reading history.

Frank Sherlock

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