Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Susan Barbour

Dear Editor,

I was happy to see your inclusion of Christian Bök’s poem “The Great Order of the Universe,” which has spurred interesting debates about the value of Conceptual Writing. In the past month I have heard many wager for or against the odds that such poetry will be anthologized, but I think the conversation misses the mark. Must we turn to editorial brands to corroborate what art makes us think and feel?

At the heart of Bök’s poem is a lesson that we can all appreciate, regardless of our aesthetic allegiances. It offers a glimpse of the growing awareness of the limitations and possibilities of communication in an age when discourses are juxtaposed or ambiguous—often in fortuitous ways (think, for example, of all the instances when you Googled a word or phrase only to find the alternate suggestions from seemingly unrelated discourses were in fact tangentially or metaphorically enlightening).

To those who have argued that Conceptual Writing marks the end of meaning, I urge you to reconsider. The poem, after all, is calling for a greater consciousness of what words purport to do and the contexts in which they do it. Who can claim not to have been struck at one time or another by the wording or rhythms of inconspicuous literature—in brochures, medical documents, bills? Aren’t all of these things conveying messages that speak to and about our shared human experiences? Experiences we are always hungering to understand and view from outside the proverbial box?

oxford, uk

Originally Published: October 1, 2009

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This prose originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2009

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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