UbuWeb | UbuWeb Papers

After Language Poetry: Introduction
Jesper Olsson, co-Editor


The 'After Language' issue of the Swedish poetry magazine OEI (# 7- 8 2001) contains translations of poetry by 16 contemporary poets from the US and Canada as well as an inquiry on the conditions of innovative poetry today and essays by Juliette Valéry, Sianne Ngai, and others. The issue is to be seen as part of a larger project, that was initiated in 1999, in which introductory work and translations of new writing have been driving forces in an attempt to widen the scope of poetry in a Swedish context -- a context very much dominated by different lyrical modes.

One the one hand, our intention is to present models of writing that have been disregarded, if even known, in Sweden: visual poetry, conceptual poetry, different varieties of collage, sampling, and translation -- in general, a poetry that explores all the levels of linguistic exchange and that challenges the reproduction of the already known. On the other we want to invite poets in Sweden to partake in this translative work, to make translation more an integral part of the poetic practice, and to play down the conceptions of this as a job done by others, i.e. ’the translators’.

This far our introduction has been gravitating toward innovative poetics in France and North America (the field is definitely to be widened), and an important role in this process has been given to writers in one way or the other connected to the 'language writing' that took shape in the US in the 1970s. Key texts from this period, as well as critical essays and later writings by poets and critics such as Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff, Rosmarie Waldrop, have been translated and commented upon.

This is then the immediate background to our inquiry on how poets today in the US and Canada conceive of innovative poetry, if one considers the impact of ’language writing’ during the last decades. What effects the inquiry will have in migrating back to its anglophone context is of course impossible for us to say. But the main impetus to make the issue of OEI was to present the diverse, demanding, and playful poetic activity that actually takes place 'post language' -- and maybe these translations will disfigure some of the prevalent ideas of poetry in Sweden. At least one can say, to paraphrase Emmanuel Hocquard: This could never have been written by a Swedish poet. But also: This could never have been written by an American poet, or a Canadian one.

Back to OEI 7-8: After Language Poetry | UbuWeb