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This article is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

The Scrying Game: Marjorie Perloff and the 'New Poetics' Nicolas Tredell

At the start of the twenty-first century, the cultural and political future lies all before us, a terra incognita that we can people with gods and demons, map with our shaping fantasies. To try to descry the true lineaments of that future is a dangerous if fascinating enterprise; seeking provisional compasses and charts, one may well look to the past. This is Marjorie Perloff's approach in her polemical manifesto for the future of poetry. The past to which she returns is that of early Modernism; Modernism at its most avant-garde in the attention it gives to the materiality of language and visual image; the Modernism represented by the work, some of it 'verbi-voco-visual', of early Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp and Velimir Khlebnikov. The fate of this 'first stage modernism', Perloff proposes, was 'one of deferral' - though this term is not used in the Derridean sense of the interminable postponement of a goal that can never be attained. The deferral of the avant-garde project of early modernism was enforced by history, not metaphysics; its 'radical and utopian aspirations' were 'cut off by the catastrophe, first of the Great War, and then of the series of crises produced by the two great totalitarianisms that dominated the first half of the century and culminated in World War II and the subsequent Cold War' (p. 3). The early modernist project was revived, in muted form, by some of the poets who featured in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry (1960): O'Hara, ...


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