I’ve been struck for some time how much formal departure disturbs readers. That’s not surprising, I guess, since it always generates uncertainties, but I don’t think the resistance—it varies in its outer fringes from panic to contempt—can be altogether excused. You find it everywhere: complaints about “mannered” phrasing, fretting about “unfashionable” (or “fashionable”) lining, querulous comments about “mere” technique or “flat” writing. Above all bad writing is “artificial”—this as a charge against art! What else can it be? The comments are hardly confined to novices. It’s been my experience that the fiercest resistance to any straying from left margins or lines based on simple units comes from people who should know better: editors, reviewers, and even—so help me—poets.*
Still, Cooley’s powerfully moving and stunningly evocative long poem renders memory mutable and the future a possibility looking for a reason to be recalled through the prism of the past-imperfect (since, for Cooley, time exists only when it paradoxically ceases to do so, a fact that speaks as much to his layered linguistic experiments as his effortless achievements as one of the truly profound “language poets” this country proudly calls her own).
Update from comment: A sample PDF file of the anthology By Word of Mouth: the Poetry of Dennis Cooley, selected and introduced by Nicole Markotic, is available via this link.
*Is there anyone who can provide me a copy of the essay?