Poet, painter and art critic, Marjorie Welish’s aesthetic attentions have, for over twenty five years, harrowed the fixities of structure and author, history and filiation, producing an art both provisionally perilous and syntactically exact. Thankfully, her pursuit of a human grammar, whether in poetry or painting, is also decidedly witty. This interview was occasioned by my attendance at a lecture at the Naropa Summer Writing Program in June of 2001.
Welish is the author of numerous collections of poetry including The Annotated “Here” (Coffee House Press, 2000), Begetting Textile(Equipage, 2000), Else, In Substance (Paradigm Press, 1999) and Casting Sequence (University of Georgia, 1993), as well as a book of art criticism, Signifying Art: Essays on Art After 1960 (Cambridge University Press, 1999). A book on her writing and painting, Of the Diagram: The Work of Marjorie Welish, was published in 2003 (Slought Books). In 2004–2005, two books of poetry will be released, Vocalizing Differences (Paradigm Press) and Word Group (Coffee House Press).
MATTHEW COOPERMAN: Your lecture at Naropa was quite exhilarating. In particular, I found your critique of “transparent language” in rereading New York School poets very useful, particularly as it points to your own poetics. The careful allying of French structuralism and Russian formalism to the poetic activity of New York City in the seventies/eighties—its interest in proceduralism, and its conscious response either with or against Language Poetry—is revealing in its rendering of effects in Ashbery, Guest, Koch, etc. As a counter-reading to the perception of New York School poetry as emphasizing spontaneity and volubility, you set its poetics in a much more intentional debate with contemporary theory. Could you elaborate on this recasting of New York School poets, both for Ashbery and Co. and for second- and third-generation practitioners?
MARJORIE WELISH: Free verse and the prose poem may have emerged in revolt against the formality inhabiting French language but insofar as New York School poets write imitating the relaxed line that they have read they persuade us of their urbanity and their literariness. The declamatory headlong urgency adopted by Russian Futurist poetry for the sake of life lived in the present is also to be found transposed in New York School poetry with varying degrees of self-consciousness: think of O’Hara’s “Mayakovsky” and the lines “who am I? If he/will just come back once” that open the poem; and the lines “what does he think/of that? I mean, what do I?” that close the poem. They create not so much a return to O’Hara himself as a formalist scheme representing that shift in subjectivity.
Much more could be said to demonstrate the supple ranging over literary styles and devices that the New York School evidently enjoy. As you have noted, the point of my talk on the metapoetic lyric is that the American avidity for structuralist literary criticism and theory in the 1960s has contributed to a recent subsequent rehabilitation of the New York School poetics whose romantic affiliation had caused it to fall into disrepute (a fall occurring in the 1970s when the realist and/or objectivist Language poetics staked its claim). Whereas once the New York School was consigned to the domain of utterance, now it is possible to credit these same poets with discourse.
COOPERMAN: How has your own work followed this critique, say, from the period of the late seventies and Handwritten, to your more recent work, The Annotated “Here”?
WELISH: An interestingly formulated question! My work has advanced not at all by tracking New York School poetry but by crossing paths with it as sophisticated practice, as a set of options comprehended by manifold modernity. Growing up in New York educates one very fast to the complexity of cosmopolitanism. So, interestingly enough, my work was following the critique prior to engaging with the practice. It is also true that my tendency to gravitate toward critical issues, like the problem of revision or the issue of translation, persists even as my poetics shifts to a conspicuous privileging of formal operations and codes.
COOPERMAN: I’m struck by the pictorial intelligence of your work. The fact that you are a painter and art critic makes that perhaps inevitable. And of course there is the “ut pictura poesis” tradition to consider, but what is the relationship between poetry and painting in your creative life?
WELISH: They are languages. Poetry, painting, music, dance and architecture may have their own internal histories and yet the so-called intrinsic concerns may at once prompt creative solutions to intractable or routine thought and at the same time remain a signifying practice. By this means many writers pay abiding attention to developments in other arts and whether or not they compose and otherwise consider themselves active in the field, they benefit from “acquiring a second language.”
In the United States, we who are active in more than one field are still considered peculiar, even though cultural history is studded with poet-diplomats, poet-mathematicians and poet-doctors, not to mention poet-architects, poet-graphic designers, poet-musicians and performance poets for whom hybrid practices are commonplace. These days the centrality of genre no longer obtains, as the literary spectrum interpolates variants and other forms of expression. Hybridity, however, is not the only mode of engagement for those of us in multiple disciplines who persist in investigating poetics as a form of thought. Fortunately, the cultural traditions in Europe, Asia and Africa argue for the textual understanding of a discipline, and that example has had an effect here.
COOPERMAN: I suppose my question regards this notion of “benefit.” As signifying practices, poetry and painting obviously function differently. But their activity seems closer than, say, writing and doctoring such that a certain hybridity may result, if not in the artifact than in the approach. As you’ve noted, your poetry and poetics foregrounds “formal operations and codes.” From what I’ve seen of your painting that seems a similar motivation. Your creative work appears thus of a piece; poetry and painting relate in their intrinsic constructivist concerns, and perhaps, in their creative solutions. What impels your decision to paint one thing and write another? If poetry and painting are not so much conversational in your practice, then how are they—as extended projects—distinct?
WELISH: Yes, both my poetry and painting share a purposeful display and deliberate play, to think through the potentiality of codes and operations. For this reason the constructivist style in my painting is less concerned to argue the commensurability of painting’s physical materials and the actual world than it is to display and interrogate a structure of formal relations across a surface. Conceptual formalism is more conspicuously consistent in the painting, I suppose, even as literary theory has had a decisive influence in shaping the meaning of the open-work on difference-within-similarity. By post-structuralist means, certain differentiation is likened to forms of questioning—not mere variation—and this critical approach which is capable of analytic as well as speculative thought may also be the very instrumentality for arriving at significant differentiating conceptual frameworks. And presenting these! As with the painting, the poetry is dedicated to these processes of abstraction for conceptual ends. Like the painting, the poetry represents itself through language and the sign that is the poem, but is willfully experimental and is apt to entertain divergent cultural contents put through differing stylistic filters.
What informs the decision to paint or write is a question about what necessitates the choice. Less binding than the choice to eat or to sleep, the necessity may nonetheless still be in which instrumentality and medium will better realize the idea, and for some ideas or concerns, we can conceive of multiple expressions if not always multiple solutions. Put this way, the arts do not really compete but crisscross in certain respects and run parallel in other respects. Ask Leonardo.
COOPERMAN: Why I ask this question is that I think of your work precisely as an extended project, and if it continues, book to book, the concerns would seem possible, book to painting. It’s something, for instance, that I found extremely interesting looking at the Gerhard Richter retrospective this winter. He works in a variety of painterly modes, which on first glance might suggest a restless remaking of aesthetics. But he’s been exploring these “stations” over and over again from different historical periods in his career. The late monumental abstract paintings mirror the early realist deformations; his squeegying of surface is one kind of a response to focus. He conceptualizes representation by prior artistic production, within his own work, and, more importantly, in the history of art. Is this similar to your approach?
WELISH: Richter is an interesting case of the European mentality in art, which realizes that a 40,000 year-old dialogue antecedes anything an artist living today might presume to do. And that through trade and through conquest culture is intrinsically displaced, ramified, and rhetorically vexed. Moreover, it has continually encountered singular and radically differing mentalities “within” its putatively European identity: some cultures having a talent for revolutionary thought and institutional experiment, others having a gift for profound inscription of given cultural ideas. (By way of archival mentality, the Argentine-American Osvaldo Romberg exemplifies this will-to-encyclopedia but with a much more pronounced conceptual artistic philosophy than Richter).
Richter’s inherent belatedness relative to American and European modern art after World War II is a situation he recognized early on and tried to express and it is this belatedness that he inscribes through his signature style. Although his retrospective proves his early work to be far superior than his recent suave consolidation of manner, the “Atlas” is another matter entirely. These studies for works to be scaled up and finished contain his ideas at their best. It is said that the modernist attitude recognizes the archive, assimilates its principle ideas and dedicates itself to creatively antagonistic paradigms worthy of their predecessors. In America, an example of this set of values is Barnett Newman, who deliberately stopped painting until by writing position papers and by sketching he figured out what should be done after Cubism and Surrealism. But the postmodern Rauschenberg had certain modernist training early on to think against the grain. And Jasper Johns, a postmodern in his hybrid practice and in his archival mentality, nonetheless is like a modern as he moves from paradigm to paradigm, from conceptual framework to conceptual framework, which he studies intently. Johns is the crucial recent American figure in this will to deliberate conceptual representation planned in advance.
My own work affiliates with his in some respects but more obviously with Mel Bochner’s conceptual formalism.
COOPERMAN: Your response confirms a spatializing impulse I see in your poetry, your ability to use codes of representation and speech to evoke seemingly actual places or narratives, when all the while it is the place of language that is being “depicted.” As such, what does language “see?” Or more precisely, how does your poetry “see?”
WELISH: Do you mean “see” in a syncretic sense? Sometimes. Do you mean “see” in a formal or structural sense? Decidedly. Do you mean “see” in the sense of “apprehend or discern?” Each of these has given rise to distinct and compelling poetics.
COOPERMAN: The distinctions you raise, the simultaneity of “seeings,” are exactly what I find compelling in your work. For instance in “At Table” (The Annotated “Here”) where the history of “Still Life” painting appears as an Ur-text to be worried through the problem of subjectivity, and by the differing languages of poetry and painting: “the drift of place setting iterated as a landmark/ of the new school/ attaining to non-aligned subject-object relations.” Or “Chronic Dreams” (The Annotated “Here”): “a function of x/ foreshadows/ ‘of’ with ‘less’/ in an impaired crossing/ of arithmetic processes,/ while a number greater/than a portfolio of bathers/ destroyed// takes the product …” The mixing of codes and structures is startling; a variable of origin “foreshadows” a mathematical process, which is the product of an artistic cliché “destroyed,” all of it somehow seen or objectified by the distance of the quotative figure. It’s as if, to offer the title of your New and Selected, the “here,” which is a spatial condition, is being seen, being “annotated,” by the variety of semiotic choices any moment may imply. The differences in operation between languages are suddenly there, and their similarities. It all works at lightening speed, conflating math and artistic process, the passing of time and the “chronic” imagination. And it ends in an ironic narrative that parses the “greater than/less than, close and far” the whole poem circles: “he gave/the tablet a spatial location in haste.” It’s a way of making language processes pictorial.
WELISH: Experiencing the world through the codes of language interests me enormously, and it is indeed this mediated experience through writing, cultural coding and literariness which informs my poetics and governs most poems. My poems investigate and organize words and sentences as such, yet also the rhetoric posed through propositions in asserting, denying, and questioning in conventions we have learned to call discourse—that domain Hayden White locates between poetry and logic. White’s scheme differs from Foucault’s and defends itself from the “absurd”—White’s term for writing that delights in opacity and so makes itself unintelligible-Derrida who engages the divesting the objective statement of its so-called neutrality. But as you have noted, poetry I write brings attention to the speculative gamut.
Even so, your own interest in how the idea of seeing may be said to evolve in my work prompts the following. Heard sounds of automobile tires in a delay of recall suggested a transposition to iteration of similarities in language, and this structured statements in an early poem (“Among Them All”). Saying something again and again to install a motor rhythm was not so much a motivating factor; revising a notion again and again to create a domain of translation was decidedly the cause of repetition in this poem. It’s also true that visual occurrences as well as verbal ones have suggested poems; once commissioned to write an essay on pattern and decoration as women’s art, I wrote against and across that assumption, both in the commissioned piece of art criticism and in a poem (“Wild Sleeve”) which defamiliarizes patterning through a discursive style that substitutes verbal expression for visual depiction and through frames “Figure A” and “Figure B,” by which point pattern that was once culturally calligraphic is habit. By way of our initial acquaintance, Michael Palmer noted this poem in Conjunctions. I have never asked Palmer why he respected “Wild Sleeve,” but assume he recognized a shared analytical mind toward semiotic poetics; writing poems about writing itself, about language, its signs and its constitutive or grammatical rules, is a shared point of contact.
Although nature and so sight readily become cultural sign in my early poems, the tactics for composing the poems lay in operating embedded rhetoric and embedded devices. Spatio-temporal events now ever more frequently prompt a pronounced structural contents.
COOPERMAN: Is this a kind of post-mimetic commentary, a newly inscribed ekphrasis?
WELISH: No, because the visual spatiality is a pretext for a linguistic or critical or cultural lyric (see “Pages of Illustration”). The poems comprising the new chapbook Else, in Substance were all written from a structural rather than a spatial logic. Or, as I should say, from differing structural logics which manifest the composition. My teaching an immersion course in the poetry and poetics of Wallace Stevens occasioned “Thing Received Road,” a cluster of poems written in response to Steven’s having written “place” where he might have written “found.” To consider the idea and word from differing, more particularly visual, frames of reference was the question; from the physical to the semiotic and cultural (in which reference itself is the point) to the linguistic (for which listing phases and sentences simply is sufficient). The syllogistic beginning of Stevens’ poem “Connoisseur of Chaos” provides a brilliant opening gambit for displaying discourse foreign to the lyric, and at the same time appropriating the discourse for poetic practice. In what sense is the cosmology encapsulated “about” space? More pronounced is the shift from the semantic to syntactic work on behalf of language.
COOPERMAN: Analogously, in variously discussing Barbara Guest during your Naropa lecture you suggest too much attention is paid to her “sensibility” and not enough to her poetics. Not surprisingly, this privileges the more experimental recent work, say Rocks on a Platter, orQuill. Do you see her work as an active synthesis of the more painterly qualities of early New York School work with the semiotically-driven work of Language poetry?
WELISH: Barbara Guest’s recent poetry has shifted attention from the literariness that has always engaged the Russian device as much as the French musicality to an experimental language ever more daring. Although she would not want me to insist on this, from book to book she reconceives disjunctive, then conjunctive, poetics as though renovating symbolism through a pragmatics drawn from the domain of statements. So in her own way she has indeed subjected forms and formalism to semiotic consideration. The pragmatics of language one finds in Rosmarie Waldrop, Norma Cole, and very differently in Susan Howe, is Barbara Guest’s prerogative as well.
COOPERMAN: As a postmodern poetics this seems poised on reception. If the debate in New York school poetics has changed from the primacy of the senses or sensibility, say, in the sixties, to the primacy of signification more recently, what is the metapoetic object?
WELISH: I am not sure that the discussion of New York School poetics has changed the debate so much as that the supervening structuralist and post-structuralist literatures have diffused the dialectical model whereby romantic is the “opposite” of modern and modernity. So far as I know I am alone in pointing out that endorsements and testimonials from formerly antagonistic poets on behalf of the New York School have come about owing to a cultural sea change in literary theory that allows the possibility of interpreting the New York School through a framework of literariness.
My proposal to acknowledge the discursive, written strata of this poetry still considered somehow spontaneous speech was designed to prod the critical community to a long-overdue rereading of the literature in light of the innovative poetics of discourse. This rereading would imply considering matters other than imitating styles, at which New York School poets are so adept; and it would imply considering forms of expression other than the urbane collage of found sociolect taken from travelogues, corporate reports and film noir. The sense of the poem as text—a text of interpretive strata that embodies a semiotic of reception—may certainly be demonstrated here. So may the roving and diffuse subjectivity which occasionally comments on itself and the conventions of the lyric poem with which its urbanity is at odds. Reading this poetics as second-order discourse that does wreak havoc on the lyric and on the mode and genre altogether needs to be acknowledged as compatible with, say, experimental transtextuality for which literary critic Gerard Genette has written a credible taxonomy.
In the narrow sense metapoetic statements are those movements towards self-critical commentary on mode, genre, and other poetic conventions, within the poem itself. Pushkin’s Eugene Oneginaccomplishes not only a novel in verse and an erudite informality through which the poet’s authority to parody lyric conventions is made secure: Pushkin will intervene as author, writing, or instance, “I’m always glad to mark the difference between Onegin and myself,” or “once more I’ll have them quarrel” (drawing the reader’s attention to the literary mechanism itself), or stopping telling the tale of romance for a digression on French-affected words in the Russian society of the day that he has obligingly included. So, with Pushkin’s poem in mind, Lyn Hejinian’s Oxota enjoys the same liberties of literariness, quite deliberately splicing associative free-verse lines that describe or narrate with their literary equivalent or, on occasion, with lines of second-order commentary.
The substantive issue here is that in the 1960s poetics reflected an ever more ramified and yet increasingly theoretical literariness in the artifice we call a poem. The metapoetic markers are symptomatic of the semiotic registers being imported into the poetic message to redirect it to the receiver, the reader of the poem concerning norms and horizons of expectations.
COOPERMAN: What, then, is the role of the world in the formation of the metapoetic? I’m thinking of the world referred/deferred in your work, but also subject in the largest sense. Ron Silliman says it well: “The writer cannot organize her desires for writing without some vision of the world toward which one hopes to work” (“Of Theory, To Practice”). Or Rosmarie Waldrop: “To explore the nature of rain I opened the door because inside the workings of language clear vision is impossible. You think you see, but are only running your finger through pubic hair” (“Inserting the Mirror”). Even in its contingency, its literariness, language is an application to something seemingly true. Of course it depends if you’re interested in the rain. But how, in a theory-centered poetry, does the world objectify language?
WELISH: Well-defined poetics offer models for poetry and for created (im)possible worlds, some worlds philosophically possible even though inconceivable to middle management. An instance of this would be Jacques Roubaud’s deploying a technical sort of philosophy to engender and objectify the very inaccessibility of the dead to the living. Here language objectifies pluralities of worlds. Another poetics may objectify a world through the verbal construct analogous to spectacle that passes for social discourse, or may objectify the critical distance embodied in poetry that would shun spectacle.
COOPERMAN: You’ve mentioned formal operations as a method of composition. If procedures are a place to begin in recent work, how do they lead to a more programmatic inquiry? That is, resisting the arbitrariness inherent in proceduralism necessitates a more conscious manipulation of signs. Would you say this is a passing from structure to function?
WELISH: Although OULIPEAN engines have generated some of my poems, the mentality of the procedural approach as such allows a poetics that is generative of constructing arbitrariness. Algorithms of all sorts have informed my poems, as have rules, and as often as not I am apt to begin writing from a set of these constraints. However, I do often proceed with a conceptual envelope in mind within which much experimenting is apt to take place. In advance of writing “Gravity,” for instance, I had determined that through the continuity established in the word gray, a stylistic and cultural discontinuity from part to part would reveal a cultural contents by structuring scale. What I had not determined were the specifics of that similarity and difference—the very words.
Else, in Substance (Paradigm Press, 1999) and Begetting Textile (Equipage, 2000) are chapbooks published independently yet now also included in Word Group, the most recent full-length book of poems (forthcoming, Coffee House Press, Spring 2004), and both of these were written under self-imposed constraints that nonetheless invited experimentation. Although I’ve mentioned Else, in Substance, I have yet to speak of specific tactics: one poem internalizes a branching structure; another utilizes questions from known riddles that combine with those from a driving manual through a scheme determined in advance; yet another poem makes conspicuous use of passages alternating between repetition and difference—repetition of instructions (to propose a differentiating spectrum of identity within a single statement) and difference through imagistic mental events (to advance through associative leaps from statement to statement).
Begetting Textile came about in the course of teaching the workshop version of “The Lyric Lately,” and was prompted by my deciding to follow Mallarmé’s parenthetical “as if” to this extent: that poems I would then write were to feature an anthology of conjunctive “as if’s” and variants streaming along the left margin but open his parenthesis to alternative series along the right margin; within these fixed margins, the field would be freely improvised.
Recent work is informed through a literary problematic of some sort. Again, referring to sections in Word Group, some poems address the nature of public inscription by utilizing devices decidedly received and socially given. Indeed, the last section is entirely dedicated to poems that address a scholastic book’s apparatus—table of contents, preface, endnotes, index—a metapoetic project which expressly comments on protocols for writing and reading.
COOPERMAN: The lecture you delivered at the Barnard Women’s Poetry Conference in 1999, entitled “Where the Lyric Tradition Meets Language Poetry: Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry by Women,” opens with: “Let us take the lyric to be non-imitative, verbal music. Let us take the language of reference in decomposition. Let us examine the residuum.” The lecture focuses on Barbara Guest, but could you apply this revision of the lyric tradition—away from self-revelation and speech—to contemporary experimental women poets, American or otherwise? Besides Guest, whom do you admire?
WELISH: After delivering that paper at Barnard, I remember meeting Rob Kaufman with whom I shared further thoughts on my proposal that Guest’s is a critical poetry, and some months later Rob published an essay developing just that idea. To the difficulty that modern and postmodern poets share, add an exacting yet fearless experimental will that is, if anything, on the increase, and you will understand why her poetry is being discovered by poets who would otherwise not affiliate with Symbolist-derived poetics. Guest’s poetics are much more radical than many of her generation, not to mention than many of her younger contemporaries. But readers attend to certain signifiers of overt aggression and confuse that with a radical poetics, so her work—decidedly aestheticized in some respects—went misread for ages.
Experimental feminist poetics and theoretically significant experiments in poetry by women may not always generate the same lists of writers. Even so, two anthologies sampling experimental poetry by women are Out from Everywhere, edited by Maggie O’Sullivan, and Moving Borders, edited by Mary Margaret Sloan. With its “linguistically innovative poetry by women in North America and the UK, Out from Everywhere should be the more widely known here.
COOPERMAN: Would you call yourself a lyric poet in this special sense of “decomposing non-imitative verbal music?” How is the lyric tradition being remade by a privileging of the impersonal, the operational, the material, the written?
WELISH: That is the crucial question, isn’t it? There are several ways of framing the response. An answer that assumes a normative definition of the lyric poem will, itself, need to establish whether the European Romantic tradition sets the standard, even though it provides a misreading of that mode since classical times. But apart from legislating some starting point for the lyric poem, defining the approach through some model is at issue. The analytic model has since yielded to what some call the post-analytic approach in philosophy and spun out differing pragmatics applicable to poetry. Alternatively, if historical trajectories through use establish an answer, then another somewhat different response would result.
Writers as well as readers have adopted analytical attitudes. Analytically informed lyrics might well be said to parallel analytical philosophy as some modern artists and writers understand it: assume essences, then suppress one necessary and sufficient term in order to intensify the definition. So by analogy a lyric poetry could become even more of “itself” if, say, the first person were eliminated in favor of intensifying the musical expressivity (a poetic word salad would then qualify).
Pragmatic models favor contingencies over necessities. Histories of use come into play to skew the logic where they do not displace it. Wittgenstein has had a determining role in this post-analytic philosophy in which language is opportunistically grabbing what it wants from culture (and/or the other way around). In any event, a theory of contingencies informs a poetics. The poetry can stress material aspects of language—parts of sentences, parts of words—extracted from the conventional sentence, to be dragged across the page and arranged for sound or displayed for graphics. Elevated are textual strategies and tactics enlisted “to work” the writing for a social critique of conventions or for an interpretive meditation through language—this, not the same as the formal and systematic methods of the OULIPO at play.
Also at odds with the analytical model to which it is indebted are the rhetorical investigations given us now. Studying writing through philology has proved to Derrida that fusing linguistic dalliance and philosophical analysis is possible. At any rate, post-structuralism investigates the analytical assumptions with rhetorical tools that reveal expressive subjective contents, and this bent has given certain lyric poetry legitimation (as Lyotard would say).
Given this merging of literary theory with poetics, a lyric that interprets and translates or otherwise examines its own statements is not so imaginatively beyond reach. Whether the interpretive lyric gives sanction to inter-subjectivity (between persons) or reveals the cultural subjectivity of concepts once believed to be objective is discussed in postmodern literature.
So if you are asking how I identify myself, it is as someone who has from the start advanced the lyric as a critical instrumentality: either through the interpretive approach in translations-without-originals and in the series, or through the speculative rather than the sensuous mentality concerned to interrogate and circulate analytic signs. As I said recently to Carla Harryman, I am concerned to keep analytic, speculative, and pragmatic models in dialogue with one another.
COOPERMAN: The Annotated “Here” was a powerful gathering of selected work. There’s a substantial section of new poems, and, as you say, some of this new work is slated for publication in Word Group. But what’s next? In terms of poetry-and painting-what are you up to these days?
WELISH: An e-mail correspondence with Carla, for one thing! Since the publication of The Annotated “Here” a conference on my writing and art occurred at the University of Pennsylvania, initiated by Jean-Michael Rabaté, and organized by Aaron Levy for Slought Networks. As with the conference on the art of Osvaldo Romberg in 2001, a handsome publication of the proceedings has materialized, thanks to Slought Books and the many participants who made contributions in person or at a distance: Kenneth Baker, Norma Cole, Deborah Gans, Olivier Gourvil, Carla Harryman, Ronald Janssen, Matthew Jelacic, Aaron Levy, Joseph Masheck, Bob Perelman, Jean-Michael Rabaté, Osvaldo Romberg, Keith Tuma, Chris Tysh and Thomas Zummer. Of the Diagram: The Work of Marjorie Welish appeared in the December of 2003.
Writing poems that may be found in the chapbook Vocalizing Differences (Paradigm Press, 2004) and in Word Group (Coffee House, 2004), I continue to ask: with the lyric poem so identified with early modernity, what role may it play under changed theoretical paradigms? An ongoing concern yet also an ongoing pretext to put the lyric on notice, this issue is a useful irritant for writing by means of writing. Importing criticism into the lyric is the least of it: reconceiving the lyric as though it were a written not oral enterprise—a written enterprise with reading privileges!—allows for a very ambitious poetics. Meanwhile, I am entertaining ideas for an alternative poetics with its own pressing concerns.
I suppose I have a tendency to introduce an antithetical principle into a discipline. The paintings (often provoking this remark, “But these are too difficult for my clients”) have nonetheless thrived on their pursuit of conceptual formalism with an emphasis on structuralist and post-structuralist relations that demand to be read as much as seen and to keep querying difference-within-similarity from this conceptual vantage. So the abstractions are about matters other than pure visuality. Critical attention paid to the work and grants received—most recently from the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation—have been very encouraging. Anyway, before and since this news, I have been in my studio preparing another show.