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Monday, July 20, 2009

'Renga is the prototype of the New Sentence!' Kent Johnson

'Samizdat' poetry mag is no more, but the Samizdat Blog is alive and vibrant, run by poet Robert Archambeau at Recently there was a posting about Poetry/Not Poetry which elicited a response from the witty and the prolific Kent Johnson. In part, Kent said a very interesting and pertinent (to my poetic) thing. I quote:

"The other thing I was thinking you could qualify/clarify is that you are speaking about the *Western tradition*. It's very interesting that Chinese poets in the late Tang, for instance, or Japanese renga poets for centuries--and long before the Romantics--were practicing a very elliptical, even "postmodern," "discontinuous language" kind of poetry (Renga is the prototype of the New Sentence!). Of course, some of this classical work has helped make our own modern and "post" period in English-language poetics what it is, starting with Pound, and so on, so it's not like it's new. But in other ways, we're just beginning to appreciate how ahead of "us" (by something like 1000 years!) the Chinese, for example, were."

The Renga's similarity with the 'New Sentence' and the disjunctive/conjunctive style in some contemporary poetic styles has been of interest to me for sometime. However, in my experience, it is difficult to teach the various schemes and rules of linking in renga without smothering the creativity of the writer. The further you look into the Japanese forms, the more rules and set traditions you seem to discover! Renga and Renku are from another culture and another time, virtually, but to approximate the general feeling of the creation and completion of a 36 link kasen renga is a great satisfaction and a great education to Western writers.

When I first read LangPo, I was not impressed. It seemed like scribbled notes in a first draft toward a poem, unedited and confused. But I am not adverse to wading into new work to see how it is writ, so - with the help of Ron Silliman's blog at - I read more and looked back at the history and philosophy of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E School. The wit and style of Charles Bernstein helped me enormously as it opened a door into one area of the work. Ron Silliman's discourse in various places, on the web and in books, on The New Sentence, opened my eyes to the linking character of the style. Lyn Heijinian's My Life was a grand example of a sustained work which stayed together and grew into a synergistic whole through Language poetics. It didn't take me long, either, to realise the connection to Gertrude Stein's theories and writing practice, in Tender Buttons for one.

But here I have been open-minded rambling without examples or references. I will expand on these thoughts and write a more expansive essay for days to come.

1 comment:

Michael Theune said...

Interesting post--thanks for it!

If you're interested: the place to look for how the renga and the New Sentence might fruitfully be combined is Doubled Flowering, by Araki Yasusada.