poem index

A Brief Guide to Language Poetry

Year

2004

The Language school of poetry started in the 1970s as a response to traditional American poetry and forms. Coming on the heels of such movements as the Black Mountain and New York Schools, language poetry’s purpose was to place complete emphasis on the language of the poem and to create a new way for the reader to interact with the work. Language poetry is also associated with leftist politics and was also affiliated with several literary magazines published in the 70s, including This and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.

Key aspects of language poetry include the idea that language dictates meaning rather than the other way around. Language poetry also seeks to involve the reader in the text, placing importance on reader participation in the construction of meaning. By breaking up poetic language, the poet is requiring the reader to find a new way to approach the text.

Language poetry is also intertwined with prose writing; several of the language poets have written essays about their poetics, one of the best-known being Ron Silliman's essay "The New Sentence." Language poet Lyn Hejinian's book of essays, The Language of Inquiry, collects her essays written over the last twenty-five years. In her introduction, she discusses the place of language in writing:

Language is nothing but meanings, and meanings are nothing but a flow of contexts. Such contexts rarely coalesce into images, rarely come to terms. They are transitions, transmutations, the endless radiating of denotation into relation.

Along with Silliman and Hejinian, other important poets involved with this movement include Charles Bernstein, Barrett Watten and Bob Perelman. For more information on language poetry, visit the Electronic Poetry Center and Ubuweb.