July 13, 2011

THE FOLIO GROUP (Washington, D.C.)

A Folio reading, from left to write: Michael Lally, unknown,
Terence Winch, Doug Lang, and Lynne Dreyer

Joan Retalleck, Lynne Dreyer, and Tina Darragh

THE FOLIO GROUP (Washington, D.C.)

A group of innovative poets in Washington, D.C., the Maryland suburbs, and Baltimore who met weekly in the mid 1970s at the Folio bookstore on P Street near Dupont Circle to read and discuss their poetry and new poetics. The bookstore, managed by Doug Lang, also supported regular poetry readings, including early readings by John Ashbery, Tony Towle, Bill Zavatsky, Charles Bernstein, Barbara Guest and others.

Although the "group," was never formally named, nor did it propose one poetic or aesthetic viewpoint, it began with close ties to the New York School, and over the years of its existence gradually came to embrace other poetics as its attendees grew in their own writing.

Among regular attendees were District of Columbia residents Doug Lang, Diane Ward, Terence Winch, Bernard Welt, Connie McKenna, Donald Britton, Julie Brown, Phyllis Rosenzweig (three of whom shared a house near the Folio), Maryland and Virginia suburbans Lynne Dreyer, Tina Darragh, Peter Inman, Joan Retallack and Douglas Messerli, and several poets who traveled each week from Baltimore, Kirby Malone, Anselm Hollo, Marshall Reese, and Chris Mason among them. Others moved in and out of the group, such as Michael Lally who had previously worked with some of the Folio readers in his own Mass Transit readings and publications.
In 1977 the group produced their own journal, Dog City (for a copy of that issue, click here: http://www.dcpoetry.com/pubs_archive/282).

That same year, James Sherry's ROOF gathered several of these Washington, D.C.-area poets into a forum edited by Bruce Andrews. Andrews' short introduction today seems rather arch and not a little patronizing, but it was important for the poets included, and ultimately helped situate several of these poets in a kind of third leg of triangulation of "Language" poets (New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.).

Among the poets included in that issue were Tina Darragh, Lynne Dreyer, Peter Inman, Doug Lang, Kirby Malone, Douglas Messerli, Marshall Reese, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Diane Ward, Bernard Welt, and Terence Winch. Work by Anselm Hollo appeared in the same issue.
Andrews' introduction reads:

Of the Empire—Washington, D.C., and its outliers (as far as Baltimore). Here eleven are. Drawn together by a modes pointing to what is already there in the D.C. area: a local body of new writing, extended outward in the past by print and by moving; the language looms, is present. Not separate little atoms popping way up, but a community. People developing not just as individual workers, but where there's also a latticework of sharing, collaboration, a workshop, affection. A model.

Mass Transit, Community Book Shop, Dry Imager, Dog City, Folio Books, O Press, Washington Review of the Arts, EEL, POD, Sun & Moon, E, Some of Us Press, Là-bas, Jawbone, Titanic: clues and cues, years of activity, spectrums of style, excavations into the person, the place, the text.

A close sense of the personal shows up, as a common field, but it's a more receptive and even an environmental regard—where you see the world from the side (peripheral vision): the self is there too. Generous. Not constructed or confiscated by will; not the old possessive individualism. More vulnerable, more voluptuous, more ambiguous; self is located amidst a humanized place. "What goes on underneath." "Only faster, she might have added."

Underneath a thick (humid? tightly knit?) atmosphere. "You must feel air move"—"slight alterings of flow"—"Filling up time." A feeling of place in the way writing is written, not by its appropriating statements. "References may be received on request. Spaces interruptions." Not pictures but visits, from sounds and what is subtlety from asides.

Also, increasingly, there's a move toward the text. Worth our attention. Composing the page. And a willingness to make it an issue and not just a casual taken-for-granted occasion. An overall sense of structuring that goes beyond "verse" and right into the inside of writing itself—"and in this way word follows word."

Various group publications and other activities followed. Eventually, personal relationships and a terrible car accident, including deaths, which occurred on one the Baltimore members' trips, and, ultimately, the closing of the bookstore, ended the "group," but friendships between several of the attendees remained, some of which continue today.

—Douglas Messerli

For a lecture on Washington, D.C. poetry in the 1970s by Doug Lang, please click below:

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