with Mary Ann Caws
by Mark Spitzer || Author's Links
Manifesto: A Century of Isms
Ed. Mary Ann Caws
University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln
reaction to Mary Ann Caws' big huge brick of a book was of befuddled frustration.
After spending months and months reading the impressively organized anthology
(which covers some of the major works of Symbolism, Primitivism, Cubism,
Nowism, Presentism, Simultaneism, Futurism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Dada,
Vorticism, Imagism, Bauhaus, Plasticism, Surrealism, the Oulipo and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E
poets, etc), I felt some disgruntlism because many of the works I thought
were important were not included.
SPITZER: I know you address this in your introductory essay, but for our readers who have not yet seen your manifesto anthology, could you summarize what the criteria were for the pieces you picked to be included in this book?
MARY ANN CAWS: First, there was the decision NOT to use political manifestos, just aesthetic--whatever that means. Then, the positive decisions: their style, and the way they are readable now. Next, my personal fascination with each of them. Then, their importance for ongoing poetic thought. Finally, their relation to each other.
SPITZER: Were there any pieces you wanted to use but could not use, and if so, could you tell us why? Were there any works you felt were important, or that you had an affection for, but had to leave out because they might have been out of context?
MARY ANN CAWS: No, except that limits of space meant the exclusion of things like the "Cannibal Manifesto," which a friend and I translated from the Portuguese... I used everything I most wanted to, including some really long things.
SPITZER: Although the book is subtitled "A Century of Isms," and is concerned mainly with the twentieth century, the works in it range from 1834 to 1995. I suppose that the reason for including some of the nineteenth-century works was because they were ahead of their time and they affected or were relevant to many of the writers you chose from the twentieth century. Is this a correct assessment? And if so, could you cite some specific names and works as examples?
MARY ANN CAWS: Yes. The Whistler, the Wilde, and the Mallarmé remain of ultimate importance. AND I am very fond of each of them.
SPITZER: Can you describe the balance between Modernism and Postmodernism in the works selected for this book?
MARY ANN CAWS: About half and half, I expect, although there was no conscious decision to do that.
SPITZER: Any particular reason why Rimbaud wasn't included in the book? Seems to me that poems such as "Voyelles" and prose works such as the "lettres du voyant" were revolutionary works that majorly affected many of the writers in the anthology (i.e., Tzara, Breton, no doubt O'Hara, etc).
MARY ANN CAWS: First of all, I thought that Rimbaud was too well known, and then, I wanted very much not to use things so clearly NOT part of a collective movement. Nor, of course, was Whistler's "Ten O Clock," but it was the initial reason for wanting to do this book. Not just because of the connection to Mallarmé, but because of its very outlandishness. Its style. Its ultimate oddity. Its brilliance. But I will try not to go on about my individual enthusiasms. However--I could.
SPITZER: So, I guess that would also explain why Breton's manifestos on surrealism were not used. Just wondering, though, did you consider Kerouac's "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" or any of his essays on jazz and poetics, or Ginsberg's "Howl," or were these works too disconnected from the European manifestos that seem to dominate the anthology? In other words, what about the Beats?
MARY ANN CAWS: I did not use such important manifestos as the "Surrealist Manifesto" (the first) because 1) I didn't want to use extracts, and 2) it has some incredibly BORING moments. I wanted no boring here. Ah yes, not the Beats because of no room. Were I able to do an expanded version, I would LOVE to add more, including the "Cannibal Manifesto" I expatiated about... some day maybe. A volume like: AND MORE MANIFESTOS. Maybe I will bring it up someday--maybe not.
SPITZER: If you did another manifesto anthology, what else would you like to include?
MARY ANN CAWS: I'd put in the surrealist manifestos, two of them, another or two other Dada manifestos, the "Cannibal Manifesto" of Andrade in Brazil, some of the Beat ones, the red stocking one, all the ones I mentioned in the preface, and so on. About 100 extra pages.
SPITZER: Just out of curiosity, do you think any of the following names might find a home in this hypothetical anthology: Michael McClure, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Kenneth Rexroth, Henry Miller, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Virginia Woolf, Amiri Baraka, the Una Bomber?
MARY ANN CAWS: Absolutely, yes, well, some day.
SPITZER: So what are you working on now?
MARY ANN CAWS: How nice you asked: people always love what they are working on "now," I expect. I have just turned in the texts for The Yale Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, hoping there are too many, having excitedly commissioned rather a lot, and chosen still more. Then, I am finishing up a book for Reaktion Press in the UK and some press here, to be determined, on Robert Motherwell with Pen and Brush. I am at the copyediting stage of Vita Sackville-West: Selected Writings (Palgrave, 2002) and preparing to edit Maria Jolas' memoirs, in which a few publishers have expressed interest. And have signed a contract for Surrealism in Phaidon's Themes and Movements series.
SPITZER: One last thing, in your 1970 book The Poetry of Dada and Surrealism, you wrote that Eluard "continues to be the most read and most loved of all French poets since Apollinaire." Do you think this has changed?
MARY ANN CAWS: Oh, of course it isn't Eluard now, it seems, gloriously, to be René Char among the classics (at least that is what transpired to be true when I participated in Wordfest's First International Poetry Festival in Washington last month), and Yves Bonnefoy and Jacques Roubaud among the living poets.
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