Dick, Bruce, and Amritjit Singh, eds. Conversations with Ish-mael Reed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995. Mackey, Nathaniel. "Ishmael Reed and the Black Aesthetic." C.L.A. Journal 21.3 (March 1978): 355-366.
RETALLACK, JOAN (1941- ) Joan Retal-
lack's work is most clearly associated with that of John cage in its use of chance-operation and audience-centered techniques and with the language school of poets in its concern with the materiality of texts—the forms of letters and words on the page. In much of her work, the reader must pay attention to details of typography and seemingly accidental textual inclusions, such as apparent typographical errors.
Retallack was born in New York City. She received an M.A. in philosophy from Georgetown University in 1976, by which time her performance works were appearing at the Corcoran Gallery, the New Playwrights Theater, and other gallery spaces throughout the Washington, D.C., area. Circumstantial Evidence, Retallack's first full-length collection, appeared in 1985. It was followed in 1993 by Errata Suite, which was selected for the 1994 Columbia Book Award by Robert creeley. Retallack's other awards include two Gertrude stein Awards for innovative North American poetry (1993 and 1997) and a grant from the Lannan Foundation (1998-99). Retallack has taught at Bard College.
Retallack has also published numerous critical essays and interviews. MUSICAGE is a book-length interview/conversation with Cage. Many of Retallack's criti cal writings involve what she has termed "poethics," an idea key to understanding Retallack's work. Central to poethics is the concept of the poethical "swerve," which comes about as one relinquishes control of the language. This "swerve" allows the poet to attend to the multiplicity of patterns (typographical and material as well as syntactical and associational) that constitute language and our relationship to it. The interplay between the poet and the language is made available to the reader in what Retallack has termed a "geometry of attention." The poet is no longer dictating terms nor allowing previously constructed terms to dictate meaning. The attentive reader, then, creates her or his own meaning in a complex relationship with the text.
An example of the importance of the reader's role in a Retallack poem can be seen in Errata Suite. On page
59, there is a blank space in the text (literally, "-").
Page 60 is a nearly exact repeat of the same text. If the page is held up to a light, the word time from page 60 shows through exactly where the "——" is on page 59. Furthermore, the word time backwards ("emit," but with a backwards e) looks like "omit" (the reversed e looks like an o). One cannot know if this is intentional, and it does not matter—the word is there, and it is real. The reader makes of it what she or he will.
Retallack's "poethical wager" is a bet with the future: the possibility that one's work will be influential in ways that one cannot foresee. Retallack's work invites such uncertainty, recognizing it as the opportunity it is.
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