A. Carla Harryman begins with a rather obligatory-sounding litany of military opposition before vaguely positing that all that’s got “something to do” with love and “discordant sentences”:
The theme of love in poetry recollects all the above in my mind and has something to do with my then investigation of discordant sentences that if at all romantic (were they?) stayed on the playful and jarring side of romance.
Next, she stages a Pierre Menard moment with a stanza of Robert Creeley’s “The Door” (“I will go to the garden. / I will be a romantic. / I will sell / myself in hell, / in heaven I will also be.”) in order to address the impossible gender relations and assumptions (“consider the masculine subjectivity of the poem as a fixture installed within my own mentality”) that inhere in the romantic tradition. Next, she relates a story of first meeting Creeley (1980) at a party, and how he “cornered me, more than once . . . and repeated the same question over and over again in an aggressive fashion. ‘Where are you from?’” Harryman, rather bizarrely it seems, explains away Creeley’s boorishness by suggesting that she’d violated the (male, in the tradition) authority of the poet, “he who makes”:
I came up with a theory, which given Creeley’s proclivity toward mean streaks in those years is to be taken with a grain of salt. It is this: upon introduction, I naturally identified with him as a person who makes. This was the violation that elicited the aggressivity of the question . . .
In spite of the minimal recognition that Creeley could be, well, an asshole, Harryman then proceeds to use the scene as basis for why the Language poets might’ve encounter’d opposition and antagonism in some quarters:
Doesn’t this have something to do with our critique of ‘the self?’ Of the authority and authorship of ‘the poet?’ Isn’t this why some of us experienced a great deal of antagonism and public attacks? That through ‘language writing’ the male authority of the poem was actively questioned?
B. At this point a drunken Palestinian poet joined us with his timid girl friend. We didn’t know he was Palestinian at the moment. He pulled a sheaf of type-written papers out of his knapsack and read a “destroy all the Zionists” (with heavy accent) poem. “A little too angry,” said Ginsberg. “Where are you from?” “Palestine.” “Ah.” Corso to Palestinian: “Fuck you man!” Palestinian: “Who are you?” “I’m a poet-man like Ginsey here, better.” Ginsberg stood up and massaged Gregory’s shoulders, Max started crying, finally Lisa spoke, “Let’s go home.”
C. When I showed him a poem of mine called Atopia, Creeley asked two questions: what does “atopia” mean? and what does placelessness have to do with your life? The word “atopia” is derived from two greek words: ‘topos”, meaning “place,” and “a,” meaning “lacking” or “without.” Thus my translation of atopia as “placelessness.” I have since found out that the greek term “atopos” in common usage actually meant (and still means) “out of place or unnatural.” In other words, “weird.”As to its relevance to my life, well, suffice to say I find the question “Where are you from?” vexing, to say the least.
D. Yes, but I’d like to think about it in terms of hyphenation. In my chapbook Cropper, which I gave you last year, for example, there’s that sense of wanting to just skip the hyphenation, remove the doubleness. One notion of the hyphen, of the hybrid too, to some extent, has so much to do with contemporary politics, with ideas of collective or singular migration, or migrancy, willed or unwilled — when you move to another country, the sense that you have to change your language, change your being. It remains a very powerful trope for me, particularly as it relates to my sexuality, since this is what kind of propelled me into English. But I’ve often thought about it as a process of invention. A conscious language acquisition process is obviously very different from the languages learnt as one grows up. I know that as a young gay woman I was being defined, often negatively, by others, and this means that processing language with pleasure for me became very connected to a necessary physical act of verbal distancing from home languages, and eventually physical migration. Responses to my sexuality were the main reasons why I moved both myself and my language’s work into English.