Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"College" - a brief autobiography

I just wanted to add - it seems I've been very critical of Perloff recently - but I do think she played an important, positive role for me at one point.

Warning: Autobiography.

When I was in college I was in two creative writing classes. In my sophmore year I was in a poetry class taught be a very unusual MFA student (who since quit writing because the teachers and other students at the U of Minnesota constantly ripped on her work), who introduced me to O'Hara, Celan, Simic/Popa, Apollinaire (I still remember her handout of the poem in which A smokes cigarettes from the zone - she'd attached a picture of Peter "Bauhaus" Murphy smoking a cigarette - she was kind of goth - played Sister of Mercy in class...) and others that I hadn't yet encountered. And I wrote constantly during this semester (sophmore year) - like I wouldn't write again until I wrote Dear Ra in the fall of 2000.

The stuff I wrote during that semester got me into the graduate workshop my next year. In that class everybody policed my writing - everything was excessive and wrong. I felt really undermined and uncreative. But it was during this time I was reading a lot of Perloff's books, and that made me understand the dynamics of the workshop in a wider context.

And I made friends with this guy Brian Horihan, a Burroughs fan (my entry to writing was largely through my mom's Beat books and Dylan records from the 1960s, back in 8th grade, so I was onboard)who was Maria Damon's prize-winning pupil. So I got a lot of ideas from him. We went to a Hannah Hoch exhibit at the Walker, if I remember correctly. Also maybe a Jess exhibit. In his apartment he just had a couch, an old snake named Max and a shelf of Burroughs and Ballard and Lovecraft. (Both Maria and I have been trying to track Brian down but it seems he's become an experimental filmmaker in France...).

At the same time I was taking all these graduate seminars in the Scandinavian Dept, including a class on Swedish Modernism by visiting prof Ljung and Finland-Swedish Modernism taught by viisting prof Ziliacus (with whom I am still in contact). And that's when I first read Sodergran, Bjorling, Parland and others. It's also where I first came in contact with Aase's work (Ljung gave me a copy of a journal he edited, which featured I think Aase's first published poems - all later included in "With Deer" - and a cool collage portrait by Rut Hillarp). And these things also allowed me to see the negative workshop environment in a larger context.

I took a lot of English lit classes. A lot of them were with Peter Firchow, a conservative but brilliant Auden scholar (If you like The Orators - a book I love love love - you have to read his incredible essay tracking down all the weird sources). From him I learned to become a very good "close-reader." But the experiences I mentioned above allowed me to contextualize that practice somewhat (which is why I criticized Altieri's insistence on close-reading in my post about the conference in Belgium back in May).

My other favorite prof was Andrew Elfenbein, a genius, openly gay (which intimidated/weirded me out at first - a valuable learning experience), 26-year-old who had just graduated from Yale - in his classes on say Shakespeare and Renaissance poetry we would do all kinds of interesting Foucault stuff with sexual fantasies about Elizabeth etc that also helped broaded my views. Though he was also a very strong close-reader.

OK. Hope you found this somewhat useful in understand my position on the avant-garde, Perloff etc. I don't want to be so negative about her work, which actually meant a lot to me at this time.


Blogger BLAKE BUTLER said...

interesting post, I love reading the formation of writers, this is nice

10:02 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Does Marjorie Perloff write about specific creative writing workshops anywhere? I had the sense there was this generalized anathema to which she attributed all manner of anti-intellectual beliefs and behaviors (often correctly).

12:31 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Those first CW instructors are crucial, aren't they? :)

12:48 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

Jordan, interestingly enough, while Perloff has been critical of creative writing programs in the way you suggest, in recent years she's taken a different approach: she argues that students flock into creative writing programs because they want to study literature and can no longer do that in English departments which are increasingly theory and criticism based. So while she obviously doesn't entirely like the way literature gets taught in creative writing programs, she uses the popularity of those programs as a sign that people are still hungry for literature and will go where they can to get it. It's all a big generalization, but fascinatingly not the generalization one might have expected.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Todd Colby said...

So much of that sounded familiar. Very similar to my experiences at the University of Iowa. Uncanny actually.

3:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home