Bibliography

Butterick, George F. Joel Oppenheimer: A Checklist of His Writings. Storrs: University of Connecticut Library, 1975. Gilmore, Lyman. Don't Touch the Poet: The Life and Times of Joel Oppenheimer. Jersey City, N.J.: Talisman House, 1998.

Thibodaux, David. Joel Oppenheimer: An Introduction.

Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1986.

Robert Bertholf

CAGE, JOHN (1912-1992) Although known primarily as a composer of avant-garde music, John Cage's writing has been significant in postwar American poetry, particularly among his colleagues, such as Jackson mac low and Joan retallack. Cage's use of chance-operations and other deterministic compositional procedures—that is, formal and lexical selection made by predetermined systems the author creates, instead of the whims and tastes of the author fitted to preexisting verse norms—extends from a unique set of influences, including the American transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, Japanese Buddhist philosopher D. T. Suzuki, and German composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Cage was born in Los Angeles, California. Leaving after two years study at Pomona College, he spent several years in Europe studying architecture and music and writing poetry and painting in his spare time. By 1933 Cage was in New York studying music composition, and by the following year he was back in Los Angeles studying with Schoenberg. By 1942 Cage had relocated to New York, where he would continue to live and work, often with renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham, until his death. Among Cage's many honors and awards was his position as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University (1988-89) and his induction into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1978) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1989).

Cage's first collection of writings, Silence (1961), gathers work from as early as 1937's "The Future of Music: Credo" and compositions as widely cited as "Lecture on Nothing" that state a similar theme: "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it." Cage's interest in nothing and silence stems from an early observation that human beings can never truly escape sound of some kind and that both poetry and music should make use of the entire range of perceptible material. A related conviction regarding the process of writing is, as he put it in a 1976 interview, that one is as often saying "nothing" as saying something. Cage believes in using the element of chance in composing poetry. For him, chance-operations is a matter of "changing the responsibility of the composer, in making choices to asking questions" (50). Cage's most notable method of asking questions consisted in "reading-through" existing texts to form poems he described as "mesostic," a word meaning "middle-of-the-line." This method involves selecting portions of texts based on keywords, whose letters run down the page, capitalized and vertically, as they appear in the source horizontally, but with this rule: that between any two letters of the keywords those same letters may not appear. The keyword of one such poem is "MARCEL." The poem is about the French artist and writer Marcel Duchamp. It begins with the first three letters of his first name and continues in this vein:

questions i Might hAve leaRned

These methods were equally inspired by Cage's practice of Buddhism, and later they incorporated a politically anarchist content drawing on the work of Thoreau. In 1978 Cage began to work as a printmaker while continuing his writing and musical composition. His interest in Japanese Zen Buddhism is reflected in works of this later period, such as Ryoanji (1983-85), which takes its name from a Japanese Zen garden, and a 1982 book of mesostic poetry Themes & Variations, which he called "a chance-determined renga-like mix," referring to the ancient Japanese verse form of half-tankas, the renga. In his later years, Cage became a proponent of the political ideas of architect and philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller and the art of macrobiotic eating. His influence survives particularly in the formal and political concerns of the LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

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