Hoagland, Space, and Time

A fad or fashion has at least two qualities: it is limited in time, and it does not have a substantial ground. In his essay, "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment," Hoagland does not make an argument that disjunctive writing is a fad; he assumes it and then writes about its contrast with his preferred modes.

There is one place he suggests a precedent for two poems in James Tate and John Ashbery (514). Notice that the "precedents" are limited to living poets. Other places in the essay he mentions Eliot (515), surrealism (515), language poetry (518), "avant-gardes of the past" (515), and Paul Hoover's preface to the Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (519). In each case, the citations are isolated from each other or, perversely, bent to serve Hoagland's argument (quotation from Hoover, 519). Nowhere is there any recognition that these citations point to a history of practice, a history of practice that, in its extent, cannot be called a fad.

With only slight perversity, one could argue that disjunctive writing, and the fad of dismissing it as a fad, begins with Samuel Johnson's (d. 1784) dismissal of John Donne's (d. 1631) writing as that in which "the most disparate ideas are by violence yoked together."

With less perversity, there is a strong, wide grounding for disjunctive writing in Modernism: Joyce (Finnegan's Wake), William Carlos Williams (Kora in Hell, the full version of Spring and All), Pound, Eliot, and Gertrude Stein. These are not minor writers and they are not minor precedents. More recent writers would include Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, and so on.

In recent anthologies, one can trace these precedents down to the most recent practitioners, anthologies like Rothenberg's Revolution of the Word and Poems for the Millenium, Silliman's In the American Tree, Messerli's From the Other Side of the Century, Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry, Primary Trouble from Talisman, and so on.

Critical work also outlines this stream, sometimes in exhaustive detail: Perloff (Radical Artifice, Poetics of Indeterminacy), Altieri (Enlarging the Temple, Self and Sensibility), Molesworth (The Fierce Embrace), and so on.

As several of the anthologies and work above demonstrate, disjunctive writing is also international. One can cite Surrealism, Dada, Futurism, Zaum, Oulipo, Fluxus, and other groupings I'm not recalling at the moment.

All of this, I would argue, demonstrates that disjunctive writing, though its current configuration may have faddish elements, cannot, by any reasonable and informed person, be called a fad. Those who cluster around the campfire of the personal lyric waiting for daylight to drive away the disjunctive poem better have plenty of wood. If the last 90 years of writing are any indication, they're going to have a very long night.


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