Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
This article is part of a special issue of Comparative Literature Studies on “Poetry Games” edited by Jonathan Eburne and Andrew Epstein. It considers the central role of the alphabetic sequence in the conceptual writing movement, which has emerged as the dominant avant-garde in poetry in the past decade. By looking at alphabetic conceptual works through a formal lens, it argues that conceptual writing has more in common with its textual forebears than its practitioners would often like to admit. Instead of seeking precursors to conceptual writing in conceptual visual art, it considers conceptual written works alongside other alphabetic texts, such as abecedarian poetry and reference texts, to provide a new context for approaching conceptual writing formally. By focusing in particular on Kenneth Goldsmith’s No. 111 2.7.93–10.20.96, the article argues that close reading conceptual work is not just possible, but essential, and that studying form allows us not just to see conceptual procedure in action, but also the ways in which rules-based texts formally exceed their constraints and thus destabilize their conceptual frameworks. The article ultimately suggests that the alphabetic structure is the epitomic form of a movement that would like to deny form’s centrality to its goals, and that alphabetization—a seemingly rote and rigid procedure—unexpectedly reveals the formal possibilities of conceptual writing.
In “Give: A Sequence Reimagining Daphne & Apollo,” contemporary American poet Alice Fulton reconfigures Ovid’s myth into a 40-page sequence of poems that posits Daphne, Apollo, and their supporting cast as players in the mid-twentieth-century American music industry. This essay looks at “Give” through the prism of Adrienne Rich’s “re-vision,” reading the poem alongside Ovid’s myth and its critical history to argue that Fulton is particularly invested in creating a female aesthetic experience of figuring loss that provides an alternative to the male experience that seeks to overcome loss through substitution of a love object with the aesthetic. It analyzes Fulton’s harnessing (in both her form and content) of the aesthetic category of the grotesque to figure Daphne’s loss of her bodily self and to explore the problems of gendered-female (self-) representation.
In the years before her death in 1946, Gertrude Stein wrote four texts for children. Only one of these, The World is Round, made it into print during her lifetime. This article considers another of her children’s books, To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays (which was first published in The Yale Edition of the Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein in 1957), across several literary genres, and suggests that the scholarly ignorance of Stein’s work for children up to this point is systemic. The fact that these works straddle two genres—avant-garde literature and children’s literature—has led not to a proliferation of work on them by both brands of critics, as we might imagine, but instead to a dearth of criticism. This essay, seeking to redress this neglect, traces the publication history of To Do, outlines its elaborate structure, and places it in the context of Stein’s other works and of recent criticism on the genre. It argues that To Do’s problems are not only due to its difficult categorization but also to its formal inconsistencies; the book, though structured by the alphabet, deviates from the long history of the abecedarian form and seems to have very little interest in teaching the alphabet at all. To Do is didactic, but Stein’s quiet investment in the text is in teaching (and justifying) a particular brand of Steinian writing, not in aiding the acquisition of language or letters. The structure of the alphabet becomes, for Stein, a means to her (un-elaborated) end.