Thursday, April 13, 2006


k: hello ashraf,

no movies tonight, ryan wants to hold off until tomorrow, as he’s just started to feel better, he doesn’t want to risk it right away.

so what i really ought to be doing is working on my personal statement since i just realized what the date is and that i’m going to Amherst in a few weeks and haven’t give my prof’s anything to go by for my recommendations. instead, i am going to start my poetics rampage on isms.

this isn’t going to cover all the isms, and i’m not going to look anything up!!! well, i am going to reference a few bits, but more just for examples of poetry. this is going to be as much from memory as possible, so it’s going to be wrought with errors, i’m sure. you can always look this stuff up on your own time anyway, what you really want is to view these isms in katy-vision (imagine 3-d but with glasses tinted green and pink instead of blue and red).

so where to begin… how about the biggest ism of them all?


it coincides with the american industrial revolution, Marxism, and feminism. within these (there’s a hierarchy developing) there are such factions of thought and interest as economics, medicine, politics, racism, equal rights, social classification (as it begins to blur), exploration of uncharted wilderness (heart of darkness), psychology is still an infant (Freud has only just published in the late 1890’s), evolution!, and with the second world war, existentialism is the most popular religion.

i suppose i should try to come up with some dates… 1890 to, say, 1960 (that, then, includes the new york school, though they are arguable post-modern).

some poets that, for me, embody the motion towards modernism (the pioneers, if you will) are miss Emily Dickenson, Walk Whitman (i was shocked to find out he was gay, even though now i realize how obvious it is in his poetry!), defiantly Thomas Hardy, and Gertrude Stein. I guess we can include Wallace Stevens too, though i’m not sure if he was writing before 1890 or not.

Modernism or Modernity is mostly (in philosophical terms) a reaction to technology (isn’t it all?) of the time; emerging technology. i.e. plastic, denim, cars, trains, elevators, evolution (this isn’t a technology as much as a discovery, but i’m including it, as it caused quiet the shake-up), advanced medical techniques and practice, a reform in prisons (from torture chambers to psych wards), woman with big mouths (i mean, opinions and the courage to voice their thoughts), and wasn’t it in the late 1890’s or the early 1900’s that the double helix was discovered? (i read the book but i can’t remember what the dates were for the life of me, anyway, stuff like that was huge.)

as far as the poetry… what have we got going on? we’ve stepped out of metric feet, strict rhyme schemes and traditional punctuation (Emily’s famous for her dashes) addressed issues like homosexuality (whitman and stein), an indiscrete sense of morbidity and mortality, and have begun to explore the boundaries of poetry. we have begun, as poets, to define ourselves in poetics and by our limitlessness, our revolt against form. modernism is, to me, the age of experimentation. yet, curiously, form remains, throughout, a sort of obsession (we can’t break away from it).

there are hundreds of isms within modernism. the two i know most about are


so confusingly similar, yet so different, only, i’m not sure which one came first… i think imagism did.

imagism is a movement with rules defined by (cringe) ezra pound and a pal named flint (don’t remember his first name).

the rules for imagism (yeah, they had rules) are as follows (and these i did look up in one of my texts):

1: direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective.
2: to use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.
3: as regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

the epitome of imagism is pound’s poem “In a Station of the Metro” which goes like this…
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
that’s it. two lines. it started as some 20 or 30 lines, and pound took everything out. the basic idea behind imagism is “bracketing out the I”

the poem works like this:

[ezra pound sees] the apparition of these faces in the crowd;
[they remind him of] petals on a wet, black bough.

somehow, this poem, is everything you’ll ever have to wonder about what it’s like to be at a subway station in France. go figure.

my poem called ‘swallow song’ is as close as i’ll ever come to this form, this idea. William Carlos Williams was a bit of an imagist. though i’d class him more in the field of objectivists in consideration of most of his poetry, most which excludes his most famous Red Wheel Barrow. The Red Wheel Barrow is quintessentially imagist:
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
(you should memorize this one, it’s a gem).

there’s no i. there’s no me or you or… there’s no one. everything is the wheel barrow and there happen to be a few chickens in the picture.

what i like that these poems do for the reader is create a crystal clear image (that’s the point, isn’t it) without the burden of a story, characters, time, narrators. it is, literally, timeless. however, it becomes so impersonal, and they are so short (how could they not be) that the whole movement really has no motion in it at all.

now for Objectivism, the brain child of one, most magnificent, Louis Zukofsky.

the objectivists are L. Zukofsky, WCW, George Oppen and a few other German/Jewish men i haven’t read anything of. Carl R. and Charles R. (no relation, i just can’t remember their last names).

so much of the energy of the objectivists is drawn from Marxism and the repression of the Jewish race. Zukofsky and Pound argued furiously through letters. pound being the ever-charming anti-Semite that he was, and Zukofsky being the empathetic and sorrowfully misunderstood Jew that he was, obviously did not get along. Zukofsky stood up to defend women against pound, as well as the Jewish race/religion (he was a Russian Jew i believe).

so, objectivism is, basically, a way of looking at a poem as a concrete object (have you read any of karl marx’s essays or economic theories? it’s stupidly complex and i struggle through it, but i have read a bit). here it is in pieces: this is a word, it has been manufactured throughout history, it has been wrapped and shipped and displayed and sold and now lives inside this pocket in this man’s coat. this is the objectivist angle. this is epistemology understood on a functional level. (i am soooo into objectivism, i’m sorry if i lose you along the way, i’ve read An Objective by L. Zukofsky and based the better half of my poemtree intro on his ideas. i apologize if this comes out all… scholarly and confusing, i get excited.)

let me relate this to lenses and prisms for you… Zukofsky used the analogy of an optical lens (which is where my idea for light and poetry came from, directly). “An Objective: (Optics)—The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. That which is aimed at.” (i cheated just then, and looked up his exact words.) what i understand this to mean is that the poem is the lens. everything that you the reader understand and associate with “the object” and everything that i the poet understand and associate with “the object”, converge in the poem. when we both put our histories in through the poem the result is a fixed beam. we have now added to one another’s collections of understandings and ideas surrounding “the object”. does that make sense?

i have an idea of what a white chicken looks like, what it eats, where it belongs in the world. you have an idea of all these things too, though they might be very different. now that we have both read the poem by WCW called “the red wheel barrow” we have a new image to associate with “white chickens”. now, after looking through the lens that wcw created we can come to the same conclusion about white chickens.

objectivism, in part, is a way of linking people’s ideas and thus creating a web of understanding. this is the way language develops. one inside-joke after another. for example, on our level. when i say “salamander” i’m sure we both think of something rather unique and different to the rest of the world.

one time on the bus home from school, our freshman year, Danielle and i used to play the word association game, among others. Danielle starts, she says “apple” and i say, without a moments hesitation “cow”. this stopped Danielle in her tracks. “cow?” what does a cow have to do with an apple?

4 years later lauren and i are visiting Danielle at school. i’m on one bed, Danielle across the room on the other and lauren is leaning up against danielle’s bed. she leans over and whispers something to lauren. they both look up at me and daneille says “apple” and i instantly say “cow”. lauren was amazed. Danielle had told her “i can make katy say cow, want to see?” it’s a fun trick. every now and again daneille will send me a text message: “apple” and i’ll reply with, you guessed it “cow”.

for me, that’s part of objectivism, part of epistemology. for me objectivism goes far beyond poetry. all of it though, is to do with words. part of it all, too, which i mentioned at the beginning of my objectivism spiel is the idea that the poem itself is an object. this is the part of objectivism that i struggle with only because for me, the poem is relative to glass—i know it’s there but i can see right through it. maybe i’ll ponder this more, but for now i’ll end objectivism here and let you ask questions.

and onto…


there isn’t much i have to say about this topic because everyone already understands the ideas and reasoning’s behind feminism. you mentioned that maya was/is in some ways a feminist or at lest a feminist-thinker, right?

there are a few details though, which i can ravish upon you. one is that my beloved Mina Loy wrote the Feminist Manifesto. her take on feminism is one i find particularly appealing. she says, basically (if i remember right) that it is time for women to stop making themselves out to be victims of men and to realize what power and strength women have. she doesn’t compare men and women, instead she separates them. she also focuses on the woman’s ability to change… from daughter to blossoming virgin to mistress to partner to mother to comforter to inspiration. the part that i remember best and the part i like the most is how she defines the revolution. women need to revolt within themselves, to denounce the way they see themselves and to take the steps necessary to become confident and independent of their male counterparts.

unfortunately, i don’t remember the date she wrote this. anyway, i know she took her own advise, the little minx. in every one of her biography blurbs i’ve read in anthologies it says something about all the poets and painters she had affairs with during her hay day.

there is another kind of feminism brewing throughout modernism though. it is along the same vain, i suppose, but it’s more focused on poetry. that is, experimentation.

men experimented, sure. but there’s one woman who i hail as the pioneer of experimental poetry and that is Gertrude Stein. she was really the first to address the importance of process in writing poetry; whereas the emphasis had always been on product. i’ll be honest here, i care more about the product than the process, but i find the process of writing exhilarating and intriguing—after all i do my fair share of experimenting with poetry.

also, i admire Stein’s bold approach to poetry. she is steadfast in her ways and she does not yield for anyone, especially the reader. reading her essay on composition as explanation was more difficult than reading marx’s essays!! but i gained so much from my struggles to understand her and interpret her. it is possibly one of the most rewarding essays if you can dissect it and understand it well enough. i’m sure stein’s responsible for a few of my gray hairs.

it’s difficult for me to explain the link between feminism and experimentation, but just think of it as a breaking off of the main stream of poetry (which was primarily composed by and of men). also, stein has a gentle touch. a grandmother’s touch. if you ever get a chance, read some of tender buttons and be sure you read it out loud. my favorite piece in that collection is called “a red hat” which i think embodies the whole of her efforts (but explaining to you what her efforts in tender buttons was, is an entirely separate email).

there are other isms, but these are the three (imagism, objectivism and feminism) within modernism that interest and influence me the most.

i hope i haven’t bored you to death by all of this!! i hope that you enjoyed it in fact and that you learned something, anything.

a: This e-mail has been sitting flagged in my "Follow-up" folder the until work week now; it's about time I attempt to tackle it, especially that there is still quite a bit to follow up on. It is the end of the day, the end of the week. The office grows quiet here, and I haven't written in ages. So, I'll just jump right into it, sideways if I must.

I am glad you took the time to write this in your own terms, and from memory. That is what I was hoping for. See, it wasn't just laziness on my part, but I did want to see these terms from your perspective, as it is essential to be on the same grounds. For example, I am not sure we understand the same thing by "epistemology". My understanding of the term is based on my philosophy courses meaning "the study of knowledge", or how we come to know the things we know--the senses, the mind, empirical data vs. belief, etc. And I had the feeling that you intend a different nuance of it. That being said, however, I think I won't go as much into my understanding of the same terms (which, if anything, would be more architecturally biased) but rather my reaction to them (as indulgent as it may be; but what are blog if not ultimate self-indulgence?).

I really liked your understanding of modernism; as I believe I already mentioned to you, it reminds me of one of my favorite professors understanding of it: distant enough to be encompassing, and yet down-to-earth enough to be relevant. As you can imagine, Modernism in architecture has different, though interestingly different nuances. I would say industrialization affected architecture more directly than art, literature and poetry: it changed the means of production and construction, it changed the actual building materials, necessitating the "invention" of a whole new architectural language. The rest of the arts I believe were affected more by the social, cultural, economic and perhaps, yes, epistemological effects of industrialization. The interesting thing, though, is that I think in both form was a primary obsession. In architecture, for more obvious reasons, old forms were called into question because of the new construction methods & materials. In poetry, I think it was more of the cultural aspect of modernization, and by that I mean the questioning of old beliefs & values. Another uncanny parallel is the reductionism that was the perhaps the trademark of modern architecture and I see the essence of imagism: the shedding of the "unnecessary", the questioning of established notions to the degree that their reconstruction from scratch, more lean and minimal, is sometimes required. And I think in both cases it was necessary to hit the irreducible for us to realize the necessity of the superficial in our existence.

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