Where have all the language poets gone? Oh, there they are.

By Harriet Staff

Vladislav Davidzon reviews L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writer Michael Gottlieb’s Essay and Memoir for the Forward, and praises its novelistic tendencies. Davidzon points out that for a poet who spent his career taking language apart, Gottlieb has a surprisingly deft and accessible prose style. Which raises the question—why are most of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writers’ experiments in autobiography not, um, experimental? But whatever—the real urgent question is: how juicy is the gossip? Apparently not very juicy, oh well! But instead of drama, we get the mundane workings of tensions in coterie life:

As a historical narrative follows epic depictions of sweeping events with the social dynamics of the aftermath, so here Gottlieb has poet Hannah Weiner kicking him under the table at a bar when she disapproves of his date, Davies crashing his car into the Brooklyn Bridge, a blowout with Bernstein over his aristocratic refusal to lick envelopes, Ted Greenwald exacting downtown vengeance at an uptown reading, and the stridently, even luxuriously, Marxist Andrews hawking literary magazines as only a natural salesman could.

While one could wish for more saucy spillage, it also could be interesting to think about gossip in terms of the entirely trivial. These trivial happenings might give us a glimpse into the history of an artistic practice much more authentically than any tell-all. Instead of love and vengeance, the life of a poet is filled with mild annoyances and petty G=R=U=D=G=E=S.

Originally Published: February 17th, 2011