“The Politics of the Line in Postmodern Language Poetry.” Poem Unlimited: New Perspectives on Poetry and Genre. International Conference, University of Augsburg. October 1-3, 2015

Cover_of_L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E_magazine_(February_1978)In the  Magazine, Bruce Andrews tries to define one of the most basic features of poetry, the line. He evokes – and dismisses – concepts of the grid, embodied breath, or linearity as such. The conclusion he arrives at is as surprising as it is illuminating for postmodernist conceptions of poetry: It is the “freer play” between inside and outside, politics and meaning, spatiality and language that, according to Andrews, defines the line in poetry. The dynamic structure of the line becomes one prism for the postmodern poets’ critique of institutionalization and sensitivity to normatively established meaning. It also makes them a fascinating, if unlikely, starting point for re-defining genre. When postmodern poets (e.g. Ron Silliman) approach literature not as a static canon, but as a process, poetry becomes a space that interconnects politics with aesthetic innovation.

This paper focuses on the poetic line as a structural feature, because it materializes the transgression and constitution of meaning which are at play in postmodern language poetry. Ron Silliman’s and Lyn Hejinian’s poetry and poetics explore possibilities of expression in language, but beyond institutionalized meaning and aesthetics. Their use of the line is a case in point because it takes language beyond the hierarchical rules of syntax. Not a dividing boundary, but a possibility for differentiation and perceptual rhythm, the line is liminal in more ways than one. It epitomizes the relation of poetry to painting, spatiality and the human body, and undoes any association of the line with strict linearity or certainty. Poetry thus becomes a space in which a literary politics meets aesthetic innovation.