One of the foundational scenes of Language poetry was the San Francisco Bay area in the 1970s and early 1980s, specifically the urban concentration of activist poets who—in the face of regressive national politics—curated reading and lecture series, launched independent presses, and theorized a new way forward for the avant-garde. This scene has been the subject of anthologies, academic studies, and now memoirs that present the history of Language poetry largely on its own terms. Kaplan's essay argues, however, that central positions associated with Language poetry first took shape locally in conversations with New Narrative, a group of “fellow travelers” composed of Bay Area writers who combined queer practices and politics with the high stakes of formally innovative writing. Drawing on local small press publications and the transcripts of the Left/Write Conference (1981), this essay finds that Language poetry assimilated lessons from New Narrative that informed—and in some cases determined—its engagement with such issues as narrative structure, cultural politics, and sexual identity. More than an internecine quarrel among competing avant-gardes, these conversations ultimately demonstrate the need to situate such groups within the history of the American left, moving from the breakdown of grassroots coalitions of the sixties right through debates on the hierarchies of power in cultural life—in particular the critique of Marxian-derived models by gay and lesbian activists.
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Kaplan Page Harris; New Narrative and the Making of Language Poetry. American Literature 1 December 2009; 81 (4): 805–832. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-047
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