Dorothea Lasky’s POETRY IS NOT A PROJECT or Cutting More Lines in the Cosmic Divide

Dorothea Lasky’s POETRY IS NOT A PROJECT or Cutting More Lines in the Cosmic Divide

by Ben Fama on April 13, 2010

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in Art

Dorothea Lasky’s POETRY IS NOT A PROJECT made huge waves when debuted at this years AWP. The newest book on UDP‘s Dossier imprint, Lasky lays out, in 19 quick pages, a theory of poetry that reaches back through High Romanticism into a more hermetic time. Illustrated beautiful throughout by Sarah Glidden, Lasky’s theory pushes against the limits set out by conceptual writing, striding toward a more cosmic and otherwordly approach to artistic creation. There’s a lineage of deep thought coming from poets back from Blake to Spicer’s ideas of poetic dictaction and Barbara Guest’s short collection of writing on art, Forces of Imagination. I was graced with the wondrous task of editing this book, and I present to you a soundbytey narrated version of the greater text, so you can get a flavor of what’s happening here.

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“I once heard a scholar use the term “project” as he introduced another poet at a reading. He went on and on: “Her project echoes Dickinson’s project [blah blah blah].” The comparison seemed fine, but I wasn’t really sure the poet in question really had a “project” per se. Nowadays, poetry critics and scholars often refer to an entire body of work by one poet as a “project,” but I don’t think poems work that way. I think poems come from the earth and work through the mind from the ground up. I think poems are living things that grow from the earth into the brain”

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“One day, many years ago, I was walking along the street, minding my own business, thinking of my future, and all that. As I turned the corner, I ran into an acquaintance of mine. He happened to be a poet. This acquaintance asked me what I was doing and I think I said “nothing much.” I asked him the same and he told me that he was working on a project where his goal was to go to the local art museum every day for a month and write a poem about a different piece of art each day. I told him I thought that was nice, because I thought it was. I like when people write poems about art. I like the idea of poetry being alive in museums. Months after our meeting, I went to see my acquaintance give a poetry reading. He was reading from his museum project and I was interested in hearing his poems, especially because I knew the museum he had written them in and liked a lot of the art there. Before he started his reading, he read an essay he wrote about his project. His logic was interesting. Then he read his poems. I did not like them. After the reading, people talked to him about his project and in general, most people liked the idea behind it, as did I. No one talked to him about his poems. His poems were not important to his project. His project was important to his project. Everything that mattered was in the idea.”

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“being able to talk about the process of your work as a poet can sometimes breed its mediocrity”

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“I am indebted to and in love with Bernadette Mayer’s writing experiments, with the experiments and exercises of the Language writers and the French Surrealists, and with beautiful forms of Flarf…but the poems were the most important parts of the whole thing. If a project does not get to a real poem, then it is not that important to your work because it generates nothing.”

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“In a great poem, there is no certain beginning, middle, or end to the real human drama which incited it, propels it, and will finish it. What differentiates a great poet from a not-great one is the capacity to exist in that uncertain space, where the grand external world (which means anything and everything) folds into the intense internal world of the individual. In this moment, the issues of the self become one with the universal. In a poem, the poet makes beautiful this great love affair between the self and the universal. And like all kinds of love, linear intention (a plan) has nothing to do with it.”


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“When people talk about poetry as a project, they suggest that the road through a poem is a single line. When really the road through a poem is a series of lines, like a constellation, all interconnected. Poems take place in the realm of chance, where the self and the universal combine, where life exist. I can’t suggest to you that going through a line that is more like a constellation than a road is easy—or that the blurring of the self and the universal doesn’t shred a poet a little bit in the process. The terrain of a poem is unmapped (including the shapes of the trees along the constellation-road). A great poet knows never to expect sun or rain or cold or wind in the process of creating a poem. In a great poem all can come to the fore at once. It would be worse yet, if none are there at all.”

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“Poetry is not the project of a poet—it is the very life of the poet.”


To see more about UDP, or to order the book, click here

  • http://universityofwynwood.org P. Scott

    I spent ten minutes standing at the Wave Books table reading their display copy, unable to put it down, then somehow forget to get my own at Table X.

  • Dara Wier

    this is a good good thing, Dottie is saying many things so good to hear there……DW

  • http://www.christopher-phelps.com Christopher Phelps

    Ben,

    Thanks for this. Your excerpts (literally) sold me. Just ordered my copy.

    Christopher

  • http://jasoncrane.org Jason Crane | jasoncrane.org

    Uh, everything Christopher Phelps said above. Order placed.

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  • erik davis

    One may really like the idea that poetry is not a project. That poetry is the very life of a poet. But that ignore a fundamental thing that even Blake (who made “systems” or projects all the time) knew very well: one’s life is a project, or if you prefer a “project.” If you don’t believe that is true, you must also then deny that the earth is a project. We construct things are human beings and to pretend otherwise is too many warm-fuzzies for me. ED

  • erik davis

    p.s. I am sorry for the boo-boo typos in my posting; I was just slightly excited by Lasky’s tenets and of a similar mind about “chance” playing such a large part in writing poems. But still, don’t agree with this notion that somehow “life” and “poetry” are seamless. They are very much seamy. ED

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