December 3, 2015

Rosemarie Waldrop: Shall We Escape Analogy

Rosemarie Waldrop is a German-American citizen, a teacher, translator, and experimental poet. She and her husband Keith Waldrop created a press (Burning Deck). They published a magazine, chapbooks and created the Once Festival for experimental composers.  She has contributed greatly to the conversation about poetry in the U.S.  Considering poetry, silence, and witness,  I've gathered some excerpts from an extraordinary interview of Rosemarie Waldrop by Matthew Cooperman (read the entire interview at

Waldrop once wrote:
When eye and mind are interrupted in their travel, a vertical dimension opens out from the horizontal lines. Suddenly we’re reading an orchestral score as it were. No longer one single voice.
This short excerpt provides deep insight into her own art.  Waldrop's poems seem to evolve from her own life experience. She enjoys intertextuality [characteristic of the work of Poet Jabes, who she translated], explorations of pattern or sounds, and fluid forms:

I vividly recall my first bus ride on arriving in this country, from New York to Michigan. The feeling of SPACE, of relatively wild space, of woods going on and on was overwhelming to me.... You might say it’s a natural site for a poetics of metonymy, of horizontal expansion. 
...the discrepancies between my two languages need not be an obstacle, but could, on the contrary, become a generative force. 
I don’t usually start with “content,” but with something formal, a pattern, a sequence of sounds, a particular phrase, a rhythm. The “content” will come in obliquely. As Gertrude Stein says, “nobody knows what contemporariness is. In other words, they don’t know where they are going, but they are on their way.” 
[About intertextuality]: I would not actually call what I do “citational.” In a citation, as I would define it, you want to bring the author and his/her authority into your text along with the citation. Whereas I mostly collage unidentified fragments and use them for texture the way Picasso or Schwitters tore a piece of newspaper and glued it in, the way Rauschenberg will work in a piece of a reproduction of a painting. 
Just think how the infinite potential of language exceeds our grasp, no matter how thoroughly we analyze systems of grammar and vocabulary or how extensive our study of instances of embodiment, or parole. But most of all, even though we clearly created it, language defines us, creates us. Just as the God we created creates us. Here I mean that the being that can conceive of God is different from a being that has no such transcendent ideas.  
I suppose I talked about artistic form as not rigid, as preserving an element of fluidity, which makes a dialogue with the reader/viewer possible. “Non-teleological thinking” is an excellent term. I prefer calling it “form and discontent.”

Against Analogy

Finding her own voice, Waldrop articulates her reasons for her own poetic design methods.  As a child, she witnessed catastrophic changes.  As a young adult immigrant, she experienced profound changes in language and landscape.
[Influences]: Coming out of the cellar after my home town was bombed in 1943 and seeing rubble where a street had been was the first drastic change of my world. But: “A second followed in 1945, a not exactly Nietzschean revaluation of all values. ‘Our leader’ turned into ‘the criminal,’ ‘the enemy’ into ‘Amis’ [abbreviation of ‘Amerikaner’], ‘surrender’ into ‘liberation.’ This went deeper. And took years to understand.”  
When I worked on my thesis, Against Language?, in the sixties, I noticed a move away from metaphor (and “expressiveness”) toward the horizontal dimension of contiguity, composition, syntax in contemporary poets like Charles Olson and the German Helmut Heissenbüttel, with Gertrude Stein as probably the earliest example.  
 This was the beginning of a reaction, not only against Imagism and Pound (or against Surrealism and Expressionism in Europe), but against the credo of “organic form” with its reliance on metaphor to express “inner” states, the credo that had defined poetry ever since the Romantics.
 I began to experiment in this direction by avoiding literal metaphors in my poems, but in an intuitive way, whereas Anne-Marie Albiach and Claude Royet- Journoud had a fully conscious, explicit program. A manifesto: “shall we escape analogy”—without question mark.  
That the war experience of our childhood played some role in this is just a hunch. It is easier to see such a role in our emphasis on fragmentation, interruption, disjunctiveness, blank space. But I might say that in war you experience such crushing force from the outside that it is hard to see the world in terms of analogy to inner states—or divine design.


The interviewer Matthew Cooperman pursued questions about silence pertinent to poetry of witness and the inability of language to reach all meaning. Here are her responses: 
Silence and elision figure in many poets’ work. Almost by definition: every line of verse at its end turns toward silence, toward the white of the page, toward what is not. (It is one of the challenges of the prose poem to preserve this silence once there is no white space at the end of a line because there is no line. It has to be displaced into syntactical/ grammatical “turns.” Or semantic shifts. Recently I have created silence inside the sentence by using periods rhythmically where they don’t belong grammatically). 
 One could also say that white space, while it interrupts the text nevertheless is the larger continuity, and that the poem rests on this continuity, on this silence that is present in the white of the page. 
I suppose I talked about artistic form as not rigid, as preserving an element of fluidity, which makes a dialogue with the reader/viewer possible. “Non-teleological thinking” is an excellent term. I prefer calling it “form and discontent.”


Just as Waldrop does not identify herself as a German writer, preferring to identify as one among many immigrants who have come to the shores of the United States, she is reluctant to call her work, poetry of witness.  

we must be aware of—and responsive to—the horrors as well as the beauties. We must not sequester ourselves.  
I have difficulties with what’s called “poetry of witness.” The main one is that most often there is no room for questioning. The lines are drawn from the start, both intellectually and emotionally. 
And it’s a vast war, not only against a large part of the population of Iraq, but against the Bill of Rights, international law, the earth, non- Christians, the poor, and, if the Social Security “Reform” should be adopted, against the old. Poetry, like philosophy, leaves everything as it is. But in spite of this, when your government consistently lies through its teeth, it just may be very important to pay attention to words in the way poetry does. 

For biographical information, visit

Poetry sample:

Essay about Waldrop:

No comments:

Post a Comment