We've had a surfeit of poems about teachers instructing students in the use of language, and it has become a tiresome game. Lesley Wheeler offers up the premise in her poem Oral Culture , the plot line so to speak, brandishes a few instructional vocabulary words , and then pronounces them, emphasises them for texture, sound, the way the resound in enunciated sequence. The aim, it seems, is to present these words as aesthetic things, in themselves, full of echos and thunderings that come off as both subtle and dramatic music , but which, despite their dictionary definitions, distance us from the grain of the image being accounted for. We are in an age old quandary--the further we parse words and the meanings they take on as individual terms link with other terms , we become less settled , less centered.
Wheeler's teacher recalls her own recollections of childhood, her memory comes alive with aromas and tactile reminders--but something is lost. The teacher deconstructs her own memories by nothing that the pleasant items that emerge from the stream of associations were not ageless examples of perfection.
The became flat, they went stale, the blessed things of growing up broke, splintered and eroded; this would be a neat turn around if we were reading this thirty five years ago and the context were a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem posing a less digestible version of the problem that texts, whatever their intended argumentative aims, contain their own counter argument. Poets Ron Silliman, Carla Harryman , Michael Palmer and a number of others foregrounded language as subject matter and problematized the notion of the lingua franca bringing a static totality to The State of Things. The State of Things, if they remain things that matter to an alert mind negoiating the daily happenstance, are not static, but fluid. The LANGUAGE Poets' various projects of exposing how the hard and slippier implications of codified rhetoric --overlapping lexicons that reduce the percieved self into an indentity that serves entrenched power-- leaves us with a body of work that makes us aware of that phrases we borrow to evoke our inner life are more like fashion items than tools of honest introspection. It's a daunting fact, and there remains a difficult beauty in this school's expressed discontent with the mortified traditions that came before it. In 2010, the method has become a conceit that becomes used for an over utilized irony--the words we use to inscribe the world with a precise definition to meaning and purpose only exacerbates the situation. Which leaves Wheeler no other option other than to go on parsing lexicons and experience until something like a profound boredom overcomes her.