Bernstein’s “apoetics,” on the other hand, looks for what cannot be formalized, taught, handed down as tradition. Hence the emphasis on reading rather than writing, since the teaching of writing cannot be divorced from traditions of it. One quickly encounters a canon in Buffalo, however: Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, and contemporary Language poets among others. Susan Howe has taught a seminar on Emily Dickinson, and Bernstein teaches a myriad of poets in classes on performance and, most recently on “resisting translation.” One of the paradoxes of the program is that, although writing is not taught, a lot of writing gets done, writing that falls well within the tradition obliquely enforced by Howe and by Bernstein (and by Creeley, when he teaches Olson or Zukofsky).
The writing disseminated by “official verse culture” organs emphasizes authentic feeling (whatever that might be) over historical fact or intellectual groundwork. Poetics instead emphasizes the importance of intellect in poetry and the necessity of scholarly, as opposed to or in addition to, emotional work. Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson (1985), while emotionally charged, creates a lineage for a poet like herself, namely one who uses conversion and captivity narratives and editorial procedures, rather than loss and romantic love, as her tropes. The Poetics Program also emphasizes ethnopoetics, through the tutelage of Dennis Tedlock, a prominent anthropologist and performance theorist, and matters of translation, through the participation of Raymond Federman from the department of French. In all these activities a blurring of the genres occurs: poetry is critical and criticism, like that of Susan Howe, is creative.
Some of the most significant work in the poetics program is done by graduate students, many of whom publish journals (such as Chain, edited by Jena Osman and Juliana Spahr, a recent graduate of the program) and chapbook series (such as the old Leave Books series and the newer Meow Press and Tailspin series). The Poetics Program also runs the Electronic Poetry Center, headed up by Loss Pequeño Glazier, a recent Ph.D. graduate. The EPC contains author pages, electronic versions of poetry journals, syllabi from the Poetics Program, and many links to other poetry sites on the World Wide Web. (This site can be found at http://wings.buffalo.edu/epc/). Charles Bernstein also hosts a radio show, Line Break, on which he interviews poets and has them read from their work. The Wednesdays at 4 series brings poets to Buffalo to give readings. This past Fall readers included Deanna Ferguson (from Vancouver), John Kinsella (from Australia), and a variety of writers from the United States. An email discussion list, “owned” by Charles Bernstein, supplements the Poetics Program, enlarging its scope far beyond the geographical Buffalo area. Contributors to this list include poets from Australia and the United Kingdom.