Surrealism in America

by on Jul.01, 2011

Mark Tursi, poet and publisher of Apostrophe Books (which is next publishing Gina Abelkop’s wonderful book, Darling Beastlettes), asked me to post the following provocation here:

In light of recent discussions on this blog regarding Surrealism and literary influences, I thought this might be an opportune time to ask a favor of all Montevidayo readers . . .
I’ve been working on generating a list of contemporary American Surrealist poets. I’m interested in writers whose work exhibits a significant debt to Surrealism and whose poetry is dominated by the “surrealist impulse.” The influence can be from French and European Surrealism, Latin American Surrealism, Negritude/Caribbean Surrealism, or elsewhere. I realize this opens up a bit of a can of worms, as the legacy of Surrealism and the influence of Surrealism is significant. But I’d rather keep it somewhat open-ended so that the work itself defines the parameters rather than my particular definition. . . I also tend to agree with Johannes in his most recent post about “counterfeit lineages” and many poets/scholars (e.g. Silliman) who exert a kind of “obsessive lineage-making.” This is not my intention. I elaborate on some of my discomfort with literary influence in a comment to Joyelle’s post from June 24th: Influence = Deformation Zone (A Telex from Solaris).
So, I’ll work by exemplification to shape the definition and hone the list when necessary. I’m using this for a number of things:

1. a scholarly work on Neo-Surrealism
2. a possible reading series at MoMA where I currently teach
3. And an anthology of Neo-Surrealism that I am putting together with Michael Leong. We have both done quite a bit of work in this area separately, but are just now beginning the collaborative process. We both thought that casting a wide net and seeing what surfaces is one way to avoid an obsessive Surrealist orthodoxy.

Some of the obvious suspects include Russell Edson, James Tate, Charles Simic, Will Alexander, George Kalamaras, John Yau, Bernadette Mayer, John Olson, as well as NY School poets like Asbhery and Beats like Ginsberg. I even include Language Poets via the lens of Surrealism, which is what I wrote my dissertation on several years ago (e.g. Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman). So, some of the choices will be controversial, which is, of course, great. And, that’s part of the point. I wonder if it is possible to suggest lineages and influence while subverting the notion of lineage and influence at the same time? So, both Michael and I want to cast a wide net and see what comes to the surface. . . .

I’m especially interested in younger writers and more recent manifestations of the Surreal; e.g. I would include Johannes and Lara Glenum in this list. I would also include Matthew Roher and Jeffery McDaniel, as well as Dean Young. Anyway, I think you all get the idea. At the moment we’re looking for Americans only (at least for now). This of course means more challenges: does this exclude Andrei Codrescu and Tomaž Šalamun (important Neo-Surrealists) who have been living in America for years…But for now, a list of writers…. Feel free to add your own name. And thanks.

44 comments for this entry:
  1. Josef Horáček

    Surrealism aside, how could you possibly exclude Codrescu from the community of American writers?

  2. Adam

    Any chance of pinning down a definition-like sentence or two about Surrealism? It strikes me as such a nebulous term, especially without recourse to influence as lines. Dean Young, for instance, to me, seems to always keep one foot in reality. Just flipping through Elegy on Toy Piano here, almost every image seems grounded in factual reality, and if anything is surreal it’s the chaotic chopped-up chex mix he tosses them into. I think I totally see how Language poets could be called surreal, but if you wouldn’t mind throwing a few words out about that it seems real interesting.

    Okay, here’s some. Claire Hero’s more recent stuff, . Ben Mirov (would you consider that first poem surreal? I’m not sure if I would. here’s more ). Michael Earl Craig (at least that first one, w/ the line: To those people who are always talking about “surrealism” / can I suggest opening your fucking eyes?). These two poems in LPZ26 by Autumn Giles I came across the other day. They’re surreal in the way that Edson’s prose poems (the few that I’ve read so far) are surreal, positing a strange or nearly-real-but-slightly-discomforting conceit on top of normal reality: . Then in that same issue, there’s this Leslie Patron character who has some cool-strange little poems that may be surreal. They’re primarily made up of really surreal descriptions, fragmentary-like, but then they seem to add up in the brain after reading into more reality-based pictures, like the surreality of her description points to the reality of the events behind them (at least that first one)

  3. Bill Knott

    obviously my book “Surrealist Verse: a selection”

    which can be downloaded free from

    is not good enough to be on his list above . . .

    that’s the capitalist esthetic: value is based on price—

    my book of surrealist verse costs nothing,

    ergo it’s worth nothing—

    ipso facto all my books are worthless, since they can all be downloaded free—

  4. Bill Knott

    my surrealist verse is too “soft” for Tursi

  5. Bill Knott

    Most of us living in the USA don’t have access to large libraries, ‘research’ university libraries, many college/universary libraries don’t even allow the public through their door, most public libraries’ budgets afford only a few poetry books,

    which means that if I for example wanted to read the poets Tursi lists,

    I would have to buy their books since I don’t live close to a large library—

    Tursi only mentions cash-poets in his list—

    he doesn’t include any free-poets like me—

    Access to every poet he mentions is limited to those fortunate few who live near large libraries,

    or to those who have the money to buy their books.

    USAPO is like all other commodities: bought and sold.

  6. Bill Knott

    how well I remember those meetings when the Master would interrupt our roundtable cadavre exquis by barking his favorite quote from Lautremont:

    “Poetry must be made by all!”

    one might add: Poetry must be read by all.

    but the Tursi anthology will i assume be read only by those with access to large libraries and or those who
    can afford to pay the cash to buy it—

    it will be a capitalist enterprise, i assume?

    or in the spirit of [insert name] will he give his anthology

    free—as a free pdf download— ?

  7. Clayton Eshleman

    Major omissions from this list: Phillip Lamantia, Andrew Joron, Robert Kelly, Jerome Rothenberg, myself (via Neruda’s Residence on Earth), Diane Wakoski, Rochelle Owens, Jayne Cortez. Surrealism is immensely pervasive in 20th century American poetry, and one could make a case that Howl could not have been written without a Surrealist background. Corso?

  8. Johannes

    I don’t think Mark meant this as an official list, but rather a provocation to hear what others were thinking about Surrealism in America. I would guess all these names, epseciall Lamantia, would figure into any official list of American surrealism.


  9. Mark Tursi

    As Johannes correctly notes, I have not put forward a list yet. I’ve simply asked the intelligent and engaged readers of this blog to put forward names of poets who they would classify as Surrealist. So, I’m baffled by Bill and Clayton’s comments. In fact, Bill, your work would certainly be included in the anthology and likely in the scholarly work. So, I’m not sure what you’re on about here. Furthermore, I would never use the classification “soft surrealist,” which I believe is Ron Silliman’s phrase in describing Tate, Edson, Simic, etc.

    In response to Clayton, once again, I have made no omissions yet, as I have not produced a list. I would agree that all the poets you put forward could easily be classified as neo surrealists and will likely appear in the anthology – no surprises here. Philip Lamantia is obviously a key figure, as are many others you mention. In fact, Andrew Joron might be working with Michael Leong and me as we compile this anthology (I’m not sure at this point), but I do know that he and Michael have discussed it informally.

    In response to Josef…first, thanks for these poets, who indeed are new to me. And, a partial response to your question regarding Language Poetry and Surrealism…

    The surrealists and Language poets both challenge the relationship between signifier—signified, and subvert the subject—object dichotomy, albeit in different ways. They both create a common fragmentation and destabalization between polarities of self & other and conscious & unconscious. Surrealist and Language poets subvert or question the idea that the poem is about things in reality and events out there, and instead, they force the reader to acknowledge that poems are populated by images, words and language. I don’t mean to suggest that either group of poets reject reality, as quotidian images are essential to each – it’s how these images are used in the work; i.e. a kind of surrealist disruption that causes a strange dissonance – sometimes cognitive, sometimes visceral, sometimes emotional. Via parataxis, strange imagistic juxtapositions, both frustrate meaning – and perhaps all epistemological assumptions. There are certainly some significant differences, especially via surrealism’s interest in Freud and the unconscious (and a super-reality), but that’s also partly my point . . . . i.e. what is the legacy of Surrealism and how is its impact is felt in more contemporaneous aesthetic movements. This is where Dean Young might fit in. Clearly influenced by Surrealism, but, yes, I agree, a foot in reality (or both feet perhaps with a bit of a dreamlike tug ….but I’ll have to get back to you on that point.

    So, I’d still like to avoid producing a definition at this point as that immediately creates limitations and might exclude writers from the list too early. I hope that more people send along more suggestions. Thanks.

  10. Michael Leong

    To answer Adam’s question above about “pinning down a definition-like sentence or two about Surrealism” — a good place to start would be Andrew Joron’s chapbook Neo-Surrealism; Or, the Sun at Night (Black Square Editions). It begins, “Surrealism is the practice of conjuring Otherness, of realizing the infinite negativity of desire in order to address, and to redress, the poverty of the positive fact.” I like the way he uses the term “Neo-surrealism” because it nicely accounts for the open-endedness of the surrealist project: “‘Neo-surrealism” is a term that refuses termination–one that awaits the emergence of the novum within surrealism itself.” This obviously makes “pinning down” or “defining” surrealism tricky–and perhaps it is better to speak of surrealisms with an emphasis on their various international trajectories–but any effort to equate Surrealism with a particular school (like orthodox French surrealism) or a particular style is bound to fail and be unhelpful. George Bataille, quite early on, grasped this difficulty in a 1948 essay called “Surrealism”: “Surrealism is mutism: if it spoke it would cease to be what it wanted to be, but if it failed to speak it could only lend itself to misunderstanding…”

  11. MD Dunn

    Although he is Canadian (does North American count?), Gary Barwin is just about as fine a poet of the surreal as we have going these days.

  12. Noah Eli Gordon

    About five years ago, Andrew Joron & I were kicking around the idea of an anthology like this. Just dug up an old email and found this little list:


    Lee Ballentine
    Adam Cornford
    Nanos Valaoritis


    Garrett Caples
    Jeff Clark
    John Yau


    Noah Eli Gordon
    Eric Baus


    Ivan Argüelles
    Will Alexander
    John Olson
    Jayne Cortez


    Patrick Pritchett
    Peter O’Leary
    Joseph Donahue
    Philip Lamantia


    Sotere Torregian
    George Kalamaras

  13. Ian Keenan

    On opposite poles are the purist interpretation of Surrealism, exemplified by the Second Surrealist Manifesto and in the US by the writings of Franklin Rosemont, and, at the other extreme, the approach that uses techniques of Surrealism in opposition to Surrealist ideals, found in many TV commercials and advertising posters. While the Surrealists were alive there was a clear understanding that the former what what was meaningful, save for the problems with the list-making and exclusions such as the contention that Max Ernst wasn’t a Surrealist. As time goes on, the laws of opportunism and legality take over, and anything that isn’t nailed down gets exploited to the fullest. Ted Berrigan said he read everything he could find that pertained to Surrealism but didn’t call himself a Surrealist, Ashbery offered that he was a “cafeteria Surrealist,” taking only what he wanted: these qualifications indicated a more responsible era. An anthology that in its preliminary state of listmaking states an exclusive US focus, mentioning the names of poets who have no interest in Surrealism and then not mentioning Eshelman, Ted Joans, or Rosemont is naturally going to be appealing to people closer to the pole of the borrowed techniques. Andrew Joron, mentioned by Clayton Eshelman, with a thorough understanding of Surrealism and respect for its ideals has himself written a scholarly work called “Neo-Surrealism,” so when someone says they’re doing “a scholarly work on Neo-Surrealism” and doesn’t mention Joron it throws up red flags. Another red flag is that the statement that only Americans will be considered, “at least for now.” Does “now” mean the time when the anthology will be edited? The Surrealists never used a nationalistic criteria for editing anthologies or magazines. The doctrinaire list-making presented somewhat of a problem in the 20’s, but a list in opposition to the doctrine invites the worst of both worlds.

  14. Ian Keenan

    I hadn’t read Michael Leong’s comment citing Joron when I had written the above.. that speaks to one of my stated concerns. The “definition” of Surrealism is, without question or confusion, in the two manifestos.

  15. Johannes

    I liked jorons bookwhen i read it a few years ago though hes obviously someone much more comfortable and insightful talking about bay area peers than when he moves outside the us borders. Also i think mark has a less strictly true inheritance view of influence – see joyelles and danielles posts on influence- than the idea that theres a true list, two poles etc. But your points are certainly valid.


  16. Michael Leong

    Ian: the issue of actual investment in a surrealist project is an important one and one that I have been thinking about a lot. For example, the fact that the filmmaker Jan Švankmajer identifies as “a militant surrealist” means something. But to create the extreme poles of a purist surrealism and a kind of opportunist, Madison Avenue surrealism, in my opinion, does very little to appreciate the specific contours of contemporary American poetry. Also, delimiting the scope of an anthology doesn’t seem to warrant the term “irresponsible” (in opposition to your invocation of “a more responsible era”). And who are the poets that Mark mentioned that “have no interest in Surrealism”?

    Noah: Andrew mentioned to me that you guys had kicked the idea around…those are some really great rubrics. Just curious: where would you put Andrew? Among the ALCHEMISTS?

  17. Mark Tursi

    Thanks for the list Noah. Interesting categories and selections.

    In response to Ian . . . I’m not sure how such an open-ended announcement could be deemed ‘irresponsible.’ The U.S. focus is one way to begin such a large project that is somewhat unwieldy. I’ve merely asked people to contribute some names of potential surrealists. That you see some kind of insidious compulsion to choose one paradigm over another seems rather ludicrous to me. Red flags because I don’t mention a few names? Really? I approach this blog because I know there are intelligent readers and writers who could add some important figures for our consideration, rather than nitpicking at the process. We are trying to create an expansive and comprehensive list. Of course, Philip Lamantia will be included, and yes to Andrew Joron, Bob Kaufman, Ted Joans, Jayne Cortez, Eshleman, Kelly, Knott . . . My initial announcement was not a list whatsoever – just a few names of poets to “get the ball rolling.” Wouldn’t it be more fruitful to follow Noah Eli Gordon’s lead and add some names of poets rather than attacking a list that doesn’t even exist yet?

    Interestingly, there is an editor at the University of Texas that has shown the most interest in the project. UT Press, as you might know, ran Rosemont’s Surrealist series when he was alive. We certainly are not excluding those you would call “purists,” nor are we playing favorites from one particular lineage or another. If you read my request closely, I am interested in the legacy and impact of surrealism on varying 20th and 21st century aesthetic movements, as Johannes notes, and not just one particular lineage that runs from Breton forward.

  18. Nathan Hoks

    Mark, I think the project’s one that’s long overdue & a great idea. But I agree with Eshleman that surrealism is so pervasive in certain strands of American poetry that it will really be quite a beast of a project (yay for crazy animals). I was one of Dean Young’s students & we talked a few times about doing such an anthology but I was too unambitious and lazy, and Dean’s not really the editing type. For what it’s worth, here’s a pretty spontaneous list. I’m sure many of these poets wouldn’t want to be called “neo” anything (neon dayglow maybe?) but I nonetheless see their work having an undeniable debt to surrealist tendencies and tics:

    Johannes Goransson
    Peter Richards
    Zach Schombaugh
    Rauan Klassnik
    Brad Liening
    Eric Baus
    Joseph Bienvenu
    Russel Edson
    Heather Christle
    Joshua Marie Wilkinson
    Tanya Larkin
    Jessica Savitz
    Mary Ruefle
    James Shea
    Chris Hund
    Keith Waldrop
    Andrew Joron
    Alice Notley
    Lisa Jarnot
    Christian Hawkey
    Lauren Shapiro
    James Grinwis
    James Shea
    William Waltz
    Steve Healey
    Nathan Hoks


    p.s. I tried to eliminate repeats from the list (Ashbery, Eshleman, etc)

  19. Ian Keenan

    Mark and Michael:

    I await an answer as to whether there will be an international focus to the anthology or whether it will be comprised solely of US poets. The question “he is Canadian (does North American count?)” would never be asked of the Surrealists, but it has been asked of you while you use the term to make your own list.

    Instead I’m asked: “Wouldn’t it be more fruitful to follow Noah Eli Gordon’s lead and add some names of poets rather than attacking a list that doesn’t even exist yet? Interestingly, there is an editor at the University of Texas that has shown the most interest in the project. UT Press, as you might know, ran Rosemont’s Surrealist series when he was alive. We certainly are not excluding those you would call “purists,” nor are we playing favorites from one particular lineage or another.” But… I did mention names, including Rosemont, and you… didn’t name Rosemont amongst your inclusions (“yes”es), so that would appear to be, in direct contrast to your representation, a purist you are initially (and probably) excluding, a lineage favored, out of the names given to you. This sort of argumentative sleight of hand, found in all your responses, Mark, is indicative of a lawyer representing a corporate takeover, in concert with Johannes’ earlier statement that “We merely reject replacing one regime (of Surrealism) with another. We want to recognize the minor, which never takes power, which never sets up a new regime.” If corporate raiders could themselves come up with ideas that are marketable they wouldn’t have to raid an existing “brand,” but it is the integrity of the brand and its enthusiastic followers that they are interested in grabbing, usually casting out the founder, indicated by Mark: “not just one particular lineage that runs from Breton forward.” Breton was very clear that the lineage of Surrealism didn’t start with him, but that fact, often repeated by him, is only there for people who actually read about Surrealism.

    That you are “baffled,” Mark, by Clayton Eshelman’s concerns is telling. Eshelman played a crucial role of rehabilitating the American reputations of Artaud and Vallejo after they had been utilized by some in manipulative fashion: Vallejo by Bly who attacked the Surrealists as having “no heart.” Silliman then wrote of “the surrealism of Robert Bly & James Wright” as “a conscious rebellion against the Boston Brahmin scene around Lowell, the soft surrealists – who emerged after Tate’s sublime first volume, The Lost Pilot – represented a kind of rapprochement.”

    Surrealism did more than any artistic movement in literary history to protect the integrity of its name, and left a voluminous record of what it stood for that left nothing to chance. The suggestion by both of you that I am remiss to bring up that legacy would appear to speak volumes about your intentions. It is obvious that the US focus relates to wanting to be the person to select which professorial peers get to be included, since noting the merit of foreign writers may create that slippery slope of their wresting a US job from the paws of your coterie. My concern is not about that but about literary history and how academia affects historical reflection, and your attempt to suppress the care taken by Surrealism’s practitioners to preserve their legacy, to castigate anyone who notes it, is indicative of both the will and the ignorance of willful ignorance, a combination of repressed memory and what is ignored from the beginning. Silliman asked “what is it about surrealism that permits [some] to uproot it from its avant-garde heritage?”

  20. Johannes

    Yes, Ian, I wonder what you’re so worked up about this project.

    A few points:
    Joyelle and I chose “soft surrealism” not to ride on the coattails of a Surrealism but pick up a very ridiculed poetry (the term itself is an insult after all), and the reason we did this – well you can read the manifesto. It was a critique against the conservative thinking of people like Silliman. (It was also incidentally in part to draw attention to the American-centric reading habits of a lot of supposedly experimental poets).
    Not to mention that it takes its title from an essay written by Aase Berg and Mathias Forshage, and published in Stora Saltet, the magazine of the Stockholm Surrealists (and a group with which the Rosemont were/are very familiar, in fact Penelope “blurbed” by first book of translation of Aase Berg’s poetry).
    You mention Eshleman’s important work: But Vallejo was never a surrealist “proper” and Artaud was thrown out by Breton. Was than an act to protect Surrealism’s “integrity”? (And while I love Clayton’s poetry and translations, and though he’s obviously influenced by such “surrealists” as Artaud he himself has never been associated with any Surrealist group).
    So what I’m getting to here is that a lot of your arguments don’t really hold up. It’s way too reductive to divide poetry into fake and real Surrealism. Breton himself began influenced not just by Dada but by film and advertisement. Although Breton tried to maintain control of the group, it was the most mobile, mutative movement of the 20th century – and also the most pervasive.
    Sure the international thing matters, and it’s obviously something I’ve spend a lot of time arguing in favor of, and I am actually a foreigner. But as Michael says, it would include some practical problems. Not the least since Surrealism’s influence on European poetry is much stronger than on American poetry.
    Like Matt, I am very interested why Surrealism always elicits such a need to police, what is it about Surrealism that makes people act so defensive, protective?


  21. Johannes

    Well, Ian, that was maybe too reductive a response on my part. I can certainly see someone putting together an international anthology of strictly Surrealist groups that are part of that network – like what Penelope Rosemont did in her women surrealists anthology – and it would be a very interesting anthology. But this isn’t it. It takes a different scope. So you would have the Stockholm Surrealists, the Prague Surrealists, the Rosemonts etc. It would of course likely exclude a lot of people whose inclusion you’ve wanted for this anthology (Eshleman, various Californians etc). It’s just that: This isn’t that anthology. This is a different project.


  22. Matt

    This thread has certainly demonstrated a continuity between the progenitors of surrealism in its early days and those who still hover around the vestigial impulse: “surrealism” after all these years is still a topic that summons combative, defensive, narcissistic responses from people who think they “own” the terrain.

    Aside from a few people toward the end of this thread, most here seem to have barely skimmed Mark’s post, if they read it at all, and seem motivated to make this a pissing contest about who supposedly knows more about the topic. The older poets posting sound the most defensive and self-centered, which isn’t too surprising.

  23. Matt

    Short version of the post above: “Hey you kids, get off my surrealist lawn!”

  24. Michael Leong

    Matt: That’s absolutely right…a lot of folks just started firing from the hip at the get go without giving the post a fair read. But I’m not sure if I would call the surrealist impulse “vestigial” — I think it’s mutated and transmogrified in a lot of interesting ways and that’s why I think a new anthology would be useful.

    Ian: You’re being ridiculous now with your ad hominem fallacies. 1) I’m not sure what evil and xenophobic “coterie” you’re talking about. Mark and I only recently started to correspond after realizing that we were pursuing similar projects. 2) I am not, by any means, against an international understanding of contemporary surrealism; in fact, it is crucial for painfully obvious reasons. Beginning with a U.S. context is tied to logistical, practical, and organizational issues. I translate a Chilean poet, but I can’t say that I’m an expert on surrealist legacies in the Southern Cone, let alone in all of Latin America. So do chime in, Ian, about contemporary practitioners of surrealism in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. I think that I can speak for Mark and say that we’d listen with great interest. Your concerns about surrealism and “historical reflection” is fine and all — but there are some very serious limitations to keeping one’s focus on a preserved legacy.

  25. Ian Keenan

    Michael, I’m glad you suddenly offer that “I am not, by any means, against an international understanding of contemporary surrealism; in fact, it is crucial for painfully obvious reasons” but I have not, again, received an answer as to whether your proposed anthology would include foreign authors. I suppose your statement “Beginning with a U.S. context is tied to logistical, practical, and organizational issues” is the closest you two will come to an answer, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and seems to be one of a series of deceptions and evasions you and Mark have presented in this thread.

    Johannes, I never said that Vallejo was a Surrealist, I was referring quite clearly to the history of how these writers are used differently in the US. Similarly, Silliman was referring to how Surrealism had been used by some over a period of 40 years, which may or may not be “in concert” as I said with your “picking up a ridiculed poetry” and appreciate your clarification of the matter. In regard to “policing,” I am responding to an attempt to control and filter the consumption of a product marked “Surrealism” that apparently excludes its most dedicated and knowledgeable practitioners in a manner consistent with what readers have endured for the last 40 years, and I my rationale for stating these concerns are those stated directly by the original Surrealists themselves, which we’re instructed again by Michael not to “focus” on.

  26. Ian Keenan

    Michael, Please explain the “logistical, practical, and organizational issue” that prevents the exclusion of a Canadian like, as suggested above, Gary Barwin. I assume there is none, but I want to give you a chance to explain a claim that appears incredulous.

  27. Ian Keenan

    prevents the “inclusion”, not exclusion..

  28. Johannes

    There are of course also Surrealist groups in the US -such as the Birmingham Surrealists (who wrote a collaborative chapbook with the Stockholm Surrealists in the early 90s, they have a copy at the Royal Library in Stockholm no less – and poets like Brandon Freels who’s been active in those circles. I definitely see the point in including them.


  29. Mark Tursi

    Thanks Nathan for this list. Lots of interesting poets here.

    And, in response to Ian’s question “whether there will be an international focus to the anthology”: I don’t know at this point. This isn’t some lawyer-style sleight of hand, as you accuse. As I’ve said from the beginning, this was an exploratory question regarding the impact of surrealism and neo-surrealism. There is no anthology yet. The query, again, if you read closely is to consider a list of poets whose work has been impacted by surrealism. A lot of American poets have certainly been influenced by surrealism and might be called neo surrealists. Simple as that. I do hope this will lead to an anthology, but as of right now, we are gathering poets and considering how the project might take shape. American poetry was the angle to begin the process. I think Michael’s explanation is clear and valid. As he notes, we have just begun collaborating, and I thought this query would provide additional poets to discuss and some fodder for methodology, etc. without being too overwhelming. I thought American poetry was a good place to start, as this is my area of expertise. I’m not being evasive here, and I don’t understand why you’re so angry or think I’m being foolhardy by simply generating a list of writers who other writers, critics, and readers would deem surrealist or neo surrealist. I certainly realize the political implications of creating anthologies, thus one reason we’re trying to cast this wide net. I really thought the request was as innocuous as can be. It seems a “no brainer” that someone like Philip Lamantia would be included, so was it essential for me to name him in the initial request? I really don’t think so. I am giving the audience some credit here….The people who read Montevidayo are intelligent and well-read. I make it clear that we’re interested in younger and emerging poets who might be unfamiliar to us.

    I think you’re being rather mean-spirited as in this comment: “That you are ‘baffled,’ Mark, by Clayton Eshelman’s concerns is telling.” I was baffled by Eshelman’s comments, not because I am the fool you seem to think I am, but because he was attacking me—once again—for a list or anthology that doesn’t even exist. I’m very familiar with Eshelman’s work (poetry and criticism) and translations and have published a chapbook of his in my online journal, Double Room ( Anyway, I’m tiring of this tit for tat. You’ve effectively hijacked an interesting discussion with insanity like this: “This sort of argumentative sleight of hand, found in all your responses, Mark, is indicative of a lawyer representing a corporate takeover.” Seriously? Give me a break. Please just leave off and let others contribute some ideas. You’ve probably scared off people genuinely interested in making a positive contribution by suggesting some poets we haven’t considered yet. I think it’s hilarious that you would suggest the Surrealists want nothing left to CHANCE! As if Breton’s manifesto is “the end all and be all of surrealism”! And, generate a list of my peers to publish? And, “wresting a US job from the paws of your coterie”? This is absurd. You’re making personal attacks that have absolutely no foundation.

    Finally, what I can tell you (and others interested) is that I do have some very ambitious ideas for the project. That is, I would love there to be several volumes of Surrealism and Neo Surrealism with a varying scope that is American as well as international. One of my favorite anthologies of surrealist work is the little known, Surrealism in Greece. I wrote a review here: I think the narrow scope of this anthology also works really well. So, maybe several volumes of different “slices of surrealism.” Again, I don’t know yet. I certainly am compelled by the idea of an inclusive approach with both breadth and depth. I don’t know if that’s practical and if anyone is willing to publish it (them). And, with these kinds of attacks, I’m not sure I have the fortitude to take on the project.

    I do think anthologies and anthologists should be taken to task and their projects challenged. But, there is no anthology yet. I think we’re being pretty open-minded here. We are acting in good faith. All anthologies are flawed, but as a professor and a poet, I have found them absolutely invaluable. My very first anthology of poetry was A. Poulin, Jr.’s Contemporary American Poetry when I was still in junior high school. It opened my eyes to the world of contemporary American poetry and poetry in general. I look at it now and see some glaring omissions and many flaws. Yet, it was powerful in its own way and did what a good anthology should do: send me off reading more of these poets’ work and discovering other poets who weren’t included.

    For now, all we want is to generate a list of American writers who have been significantly impacted by Surrealism.

  30. Ian Keenan

    Mark, You should have just said up front that you wanted all along to have “an inclusive approach” but I was preventing you somehow. It’s all my fault that there are “logistical, practical, and organizational issues” that prevent you from including Canadian authors. For the record, this means that even your pretense of wanting a controversy, stated above, was falsified, along with your claim of not playing favorites, your version of literary history, etc etc. I suppose a lot of cult leaders have difficulties when outsiders intrude, when the suggestion that you can eliminate all credible historians and declare yourself the true Surrealists, in contrast to the actual members of the original movement that have been erased from the mind of the recruits, gets called into question. But Mark, Rene Char took a knife to the leg when the protested the Bar Maldoror, so I’m not going to let your bullying and condescension affect me as it may affect your usual victims.

  31. Matt


    “But I’m not sure if I would call the surrealist impulse ‘vestigial'”

    The kind of weirdness I’m interested in existed before and after surrealism, and the specifics of surrealism, imho, seem rather played out in poetry, though not so much in film. This doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the book project though.

    My favorite American “surrealist” is the little known poet Alfred Starr Hamilton, to get back to Mark’s original question.

  32. Michael Leong

    I’ll have to check out Alfred Starr Hamilton, Matt — thanks for the tip. Poetry was at the heart of the surrealist enterprise and I do think the weirdness is continuing in recent poetry. I see your point, but film has also influenced poetry in interesting ways: I’m thinking of Charles Borkhuis’ book AFTERIMAGE (2006) and his surrealist, Lynchian use of genre. I’m interested in your notion of “before and after” –it makes me think of one of Joron’s more memorable passages in NEO-SURREALISM: “The history of neo-surrealism in American poetry is not a linear story whose future is determined by its past. It is a sleepwalker armed with reason. As such, it arrives both too late and too early: a solar apparition at midnight.”

    Mark: That Poulin anthology was actually my first anthology as well. It’s definitely quite dated now but, as with you, it expanded my sense of post-war poetry.

  33. Ian Keenan

    Joron’s erroneous view of the Surrealist time-image (cited by Michael here) arises from his compulsion to denounce the notion of the correspondences of time, implied by what he calls a “will-to-totality” in the first Surrealist manifesto’s “supreme point” quote, on the basis that it violates a Surrealist break from the divine (“how can you assassinate God if..”). In many places, including his main essay on Ernst, Breton expresses openness to the possibility of the divine. Nor is there a semantic equivalence between “God,” “absolutism,” “totality” and/or “correspondences.” Then he uses a linear time model to suggest that the “supreme point” is a “holdover” of theological culture, and then gives you these linear, cause-and-effect constructions of “determinations.” Assuming, of course, semantic contradictions can disprove correspondences. He then says, as a pronouncement, that the “change life” of Rimbaud and the “transform” of Marx applies to Surrealism itself, but that presupposes a leap of faith that the transforming agent would be aligned with some impulse within human progress’ theoretical essence as envisioned by Rimbaud and Marx, and that human progress as such an essence thus trumps Surrealist theory in determining Surrealist theory, if human progress does, indeed, exist, because it is invoked within Surrealist theory. An ill-fated attempt to interrogate sleep with reason.

    A more comprehensive and precise interpretation of Surrealism and the “current” world (in this linear model of time) can be found in Michel Lowy, and in the recently deceased Rosemont, while Joron (and a few scholars like Mary Ann Caws) have a much greater understanding of the stylistic qualities of Surrealist poetry than Rosemont had, as well as relating them well to other forms of poetry and such as, as Johannes says, the Bay scene. Tursi and Leong’s reluctance to put Franklin or Penelope Rosemont on their list after both have been mentioned, citing continually an early stage of completion as dodge from being pinned down, ‘seems to’ relate to their attempt to diminish the importance of Breton, a tendency Lowy and Rosemont couldn’t disagree with more, but of course we’re told by Tursi and Leong that they’re not “playing favorites.” Surrealists had sessions where they enforced total honesty with each other, and perhaps some, acting as “pure agents of progress” have found something they prefer to honesty.

  34. Ian Keenan

    .. in the first paragraph of the last post I should have said “Then [Joron] uses a linear time model” “[Joron] then says, as a pronouncement..” Since Breton is the subject of the previous sentence it is confusing.

  35. Ian Keenan

    ..also the “supreme point” quote is in the 2nd manifesto if you’re looking for it, 2nd paragraph from the Guiraud signature.

  36. J. Karl Bogartte

    If, for example one does not incorporate “sleep” into reality, even on an analogical level, one might be missing the point of existing superbly. Against prevailing phases of morality and conformism.

    Nevertheless, this would be an interesting project, considering the goal of exploring surrealism’s vast influence, and I think Noah’s list is a good way to start. As much as one could, as seen here, argue endlessly over who is a surrealist and who is not, and to what extent, it seems rather pointless within the context of the cited aims of this anthology. “Influenced by surrealism…” covers a great range, and however, “open-ended” or misunderstood (with regard to the clearly-stated aims of surrealism), it is obvious that many poets could not help but be influenced. Whether they are surrealists or not is the subject a completely different book.

    An anthology of “contemporary American surrealist poets” might be rather slim, since there just aren’t many of them. Poets influenced by surrealism, or surrealist aesthetics is rather pervasive, (however much it is down-played) and seems to be the gist of this anthology, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

  37. Uut Poetry » Uut Reads: July

    […] He’s putting together an anthology of Neo-surrealists and is working on a scholarly project. Montevidayo, once again proves a wonderful forum for contemporary poetry discussion, and I especially love the […]

  38. J. Karl Bogartte

    Any discussion of “surrealism” in america is always a grab bag of who thinks they’re surrealist, of who thinks certain others are, those who are surrealist and not interested in literature or aesthetics, those who are very keyed into some form of automatism, and those who write in some form of surrealist manner… Plus, those who always have something negative to say about it.

    Usually it’s the academics who don’t understand it enough to write convincingly and accurately, and almost always attempt to situate that movement within an orderly aesthetic history. Neo-surrealism is a misnomer and has been attempted some years ago… but, also, if you’ve read the works by the original founders, and Breton in particular (whatever his limitations) and understood at least the gist of what they were aiming for, you’d come to the conclusion that there really isn’t a need for a “neo-surrealism” or a ‘post-surrealism.’

    Surrealism is a way of thinking, not an aesthetic exercise.

    Having said that, there is definitely room for a history of american poets “influenced” by surrealism.

  39. rawbbie

    There’s a lot of dudes on people’s lists. A fuckton of dicks, if you will excuse my tongue. A lot of arguing over the definition of a term, by mostly dudes. Do female poets even give a shit about “surrealism”?

    Just kinda scanning over an old post… sorry.

  40. The Satisfaction of Incompleteness: A Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling « BIG OTHER

    […] ML:  I completely agree that strangeness is being eschewed in our current literary climate; for example, Stephen Burt tells us that the pendulum has swung away from the “elliptical” toward what he calls “the new thing,” toward an “insistence on reference.”  And the conceptual poets seem to be promoting a new literality; “The mundane is the new strange,” Kenneth Goldsmith might say.  I’m all for the strange/disconcerting/out-of-the-ordinary.  Because of that, one of my favorite phrases from your book is: “Note the confluence of evening and a thousand unopened black umbrellas.”  It reminds me so much of Lautréamont’s pre-surrealist meeting of an umbrella and sewing machine.  Thanks for the short list of female writers in the surrealist tradition: I’ll have to check those writers out.  Kim Gek Lin Short’s The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits has been in the huge stack of to-read books on my desk for quite some time.  (I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion too much but Mark Tursi and I have started to talk about collaborating on a surrealist project and he put out a call for such lists here.)  […]

  41. Jeff Royce

    Just found this thread (obviously a little late) and I was wondering if any of you had heard of Duane Locke. He started a little movement called Immanentism back in the late ’60s early ’70s when he was teaching at The University of Tampa. He is still writing today as are several of his students from around that time–Alan Britt, Steve Barfield, Silvia Schiebli, Paul Roth(editor of The Bitter Oleander). In case you are interested for your research, Locke’s papers are housed at the University of Florida. He is a fascinating poet…definitely worth a look.

  42. Johannes

    Thanks for the input. I’ve read some of his stuff. When I first started publishing in the 90s it was in The Bitter Oleander and some related journals./Johannes

  43. Gary Boswell

    I identify as a Surrealist poet. My work can be found in a book titled: The Oasis of Ladders ;ISBN 978-0-615-39366-7
    The Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon has copies which can be checked out.

  44. Alexander Romanovich

    I also identify as a surrealist poet. I previously published a volume of poetry titled Mythopoeia and have a second volume coming together. I don’t know if this effort is still active, but more than happy to contribute in any way.