“Language writing attempts to give language itself the space to speak, to allow the unrecognized or repressed elements of language to surface. Such experimentation takes ‘language’ as the subject of a poetic practice whose concern is with the linguistic operations that determine our sense of reality” (Sigi Curnow, “Language Poetry and the Academy,” Meanjin, Vol 50, 1, 1991: 171).
While theories such as structuralism, poststructuralism and Marxism are recognised as impulses contributing to the emergence of Language poetry, we should also recognize other influences such as jazz, experimental music and conceptual art practices.
This topic looks at the possibilities of using language on the page to generate a text, as opposed to any notion of ‘expression’ or ‘inspiration’. Here we are dealing with words as signs, rather than as ‘concepts’. Be prepared to develop a text by ‘playing’ with word combinations and phrase structures.
Smith, Hazel. “Playing with language, running with referents” in The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing, Smith, Hazel , 2005 , 3-18
Cummings, Edward E. “Buffalo Bill” in Selected Poems, 1923-1958, Cummings, Edward E., 1960, 4
Kumagai, Yuriya Julia. “In parallel” in Her Space-Time Continuum , Kumagai, Yuriya Julia, 1995, 20
Mansell, Chris. “Drawing the landscape” in Redshift/Blueshift , Mansell, Chris , 1988 , 24
Herbert, George. “Easter wings” in The Metaphysical Poets , Gardner, Helen L. , 1961 , 121
Do all of these exercises to experience different language-based writing stimuli. Try to relax and have fun with these; they may take you a little out of your comfort zone. These approaches are quite experimental and allow you to experience writing in new ways.
If you’re workshopping on this topic, you get to choose which result you’d like to develop for the workshop.
1. Use a word pool to create one or more short texts, using one or more of the following possibilities:
Combine two words at random and allow them to “bounce” off each other, creating words and phrases on the page through connotation and association. You can add words like “of”, “the” or “is” eg “tiger of dark”, “mellow is the orient”.
Combine several words into a phrase or short sentence which you “play” with by varying and developing permutations of the phrase, eg sound permutations “Tashkent is yellow”), reversing structures and meanings in the phrase, expansion (adding more words), and further association.
The word pool can be created from the free writing exercise in Week 1, or you can find words that appeal to you in the dictionary, or elsewhere.
Or you may also use other exercises that use a word or phrase and association and connotation.
2. Do Exercise 1 a, b, c, in the Hazel Smith reading – pp 3-18. Make sure you have done the reading first!
3. Concrete poetry: For this topic you can also write a concrete poem. Concrete poetry uses the word as image on the page to construct meaning. It extends the idea of language poetry, and blurs the boundaries between visual art and text. Remember that the form of the poem, its shape, is part of the way in which it constructs meaning on the page.
I’m really enjoying this unit. The creativity tips and tricks are wonderful. I love the concept of a visual poem… it’s one of my next things to try. I didn’t manage to get time to do individual exercises but I am hoping to make up for that soon. (I did create a word pool and did exercise 1c as my assignment, so does that count?) Also, I think Hazel Smith’s book will be a worthwhile purchase! I really enjoy her writing style and the exercises she gives you make a lot of sense!