“Splice of Life”: Rosmarie Waldrop Renews Collage
by Brian Reed
In Leaving Lines of Gender (2000), Ann Vickery announces an ambitious project, a cartography of women’s experimental poetry that attends first and foremost to its “practice,” that is, the specific modes, means, and occasions of its production. For Vickery, elucidating poetic practice does not imply a retreat into an ahistorical formalism. On the contrary, it “involves reframing many aspects of . . . poetic practice in order to link text with context”:
Aspects that must be addressed include the multiple text (its written or performed versions), the text-in-process (drafting, editing, and reprinting), the relationship between readers and the text, the use of particular poetic forms, the structure of small-press culture and its marketplace, and the social politics of poetry (as manifested in how poetic communities relate to one another and the individuals). These may be further contextualized in larger social and cultural structures, including the media and pedagogic institutions. (15)
Exploring “the shifting ‘mess’ that encapsulates actual poetic practice” serves a dual function. On the one hand, it “maps out interweaving, multiple lines of affiliation” in all their complexity, thereby forestalling falsely reductive or atomistic treatment of experimental writing by women. On the other hand, it charts “the debates arising out of difference, whether these be regional, aesthetic, cultural, or ideological.” Highlighting “difference” in this manner exposes the partiality or strategic blindspots in totalizing accounts of contemporary innovative verse (13).
Inspired by Vickery’s turn to “practice” as a means of clarifying recent literary history, this essay extends her cartographic enterprise into new territory. It closely examines the writerly practice of Rosmarie Waldrop, who has not only enjoyed three decades’ prominence as an American experimental poet but who has also actively promoted avant-garde literature as a publisher (Burning Deck Press), as a teacher (Brown University), and as a translator (of Elke Erb, Helmut Heissenbütttel, Edmond Jabès, and many other post-World War II Continental writers).  Moreover, a German immigrant to the United States, Waldrop has proved throughout her career to be exceptionally sensitive to the displacements, imbalances, and transpositions instigated by movement between nations, cultures, and languages. Her poetry is resolutely hybrid — “between,” as she would say — as well as thoroughly secular and skeptical, preferring wit to ecstasy, insight to murkiness, and precision to evocative vagueness. An inquiry into Waldrop’s compositional practice exposes the degree to which American innovative writing remains implicated in the trans-Atlantic crossings, collisions, and dispossessions that mark and mar so much of the country’s past. Waldrop seeks through her writing a means of dwelling creatively, sustainingly in this chaotic, contested terrain.
This essay follows Vickery in its preference for thick description of the specifics of poetic practice — in this case, of “text-in-process,” “the relationship between readers and the text,” and “the use of particular poetic forms” as well as the “larger social and cultural structures” which constitute their horizon. Collage, one of Waldrop’s favorite writerly devices, is well known for its ability to destabilize textual boundaries, unsettle authorship, transgress generic distinctions, and otherwise dramatize writing’s refusal to buttress any system of knowledge univocally and unequivocally; by exploring how, when, and why Waldrop adopted a collage-based aesthetic, one begins to perceive the “affiliations” and “differences” that demarcate the consequent purpose, value, and function of the technique in her verse. Moreover, as Vickery predicts, this close scrutiny of poetic practice exposes both “unpredictable relationships” and “hidden or elided” distinctions within the field of present-day experimental writing. Although a complete picture of how Waldrop’s use of collage situates her in relation to her contemporaries — and how this network of relations has in turn manifested itself in what Vickery calls the “social politics of poetry” — will have to await further study and elaboration, this essay makes it possible to discern key pieces of that future account (15). Unlike, say, Susan Howe, whose use of collage signals her qualified participation in the Pound-Olson tradition, Waldrop looks to alternative, Middle European sources to give her the confidence to move through and beyond the ideogrammic method of The Cantos. She employs collage less for its ability to introduce the raw stuff of history into a poem than as a means of encouraging her readers to compare, contrast, and otherwise interrogate the strategies and assumptions at play in different discourses. Collage enables her to transform “betweenness” from marginality to a mode of intervention and critique.
In 2001, Northwestern University Press reissued Rosmarie Waldrop’s experimental fictions The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter and A Form / of Taking / It All. In an introduction titled “Between, Always,” Waldrop reports that these two novels represent more than an interlude in a writing career devoted primarily to poetry. In fact, she explains, they played indispensable roles in the development of her principle art form. The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter marks the end to a phase in her career as a poet, insofar as it enabled her to escape from a compositional rut. More specifically, it provided her with a capaciousness of form that made it possible for her to explore viable alternatives to fast-moving, short-line, syntactically ambiguous mode that had come to predominate in her verse in the later 70s and early 80s (viii).  In contrast, Waldrop attributes to A Form / of Taking / It All the status of a new beginning. In this mixed-genre piece she chose to make “Collage, juxtaposition . . . the heart of the book” to a degree unparalleled in her earlier work. Although she had “used collage before,” while writing A Form in the years 1983-1985 she hit upon an “art of separation and fusion, of displacement and connection” that has served as the “main procedure” of her subsequent poetry, down to the present day (xvi-xvii). 
Waldrop’s claim that the novel A Form / of Taking / It All records an artistic turning point is rather surprising. A jagged, four-part, prose-and-verse retelling of an impossible, “mystical marriage” between Amy Lowell and Alexander von Humboldt, A Form / of Taking / It All is an exceptional, even peculiar work within Waldrop’s oeuvre that has received scant attention from reviewers, critics, and other poets.  Its melodramatic treatment of Lowell’s and von Humboldt’s “more or less suppressed homosexuality” yokes together sections written in such disparate styles as stream of consciousness, commonplace book, metafictional commentary, and free verse (xv). This rather unnerving formal heterogeneity is matched by the incongruity of the book’s contents. The concluding bibliography of sources lists textbooks on astronomy, chemistry, and ballet; biographies of Beethoven and Napoleon; American avant-garde poetry; Austrian avant-garde novels; histories of the Spanish conquest of Mexico; the WPA Guide to Washington, D.C.; and a technical manual for undertakers (A Form 248). Reading A Form / of Taking / It All at the time of its completion, one would have been hard pressed to guess that Waldrop would soon turn to writing the elegant, witty, erudite prose poetry that characterizes Reproduction of Profiles (1987), Shorter American Memory (1988), Lawn of the Excluded Middle (1993), and Reluctant Gravities (1999).
As Kornelia Freitag has pointed out, however, by the time that she wrote “Unpredicted Particles,” the fourth part of A Form / of Taking / It All, Waldrop was already engaged in the practice of selectively (mis)quoting Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings that would become a hallmark of these later writings.  The first page of “Unpredicted Particles” includes the lines
“the grammar of the word ‘knows’
which, as Freitag informs us, derive from Philosophical Investigations # 150: “The grammar of the word ‘knows’ is evidently closely related to that of ‘can,’ ‘is able to’. But also closely related to that of ‘understands’. (‘Mastery’ of a technique)” (“Rosmarie Waldrop’s Language Games” 257). Omitting the softening “evidently” and all but one word after “closely related to,” Waldrop transforms Wittgenstein’s original, rather abstract statement into a Foucault-like observation concerning the imbrication of knowledge and power. The next few lines — “the difference / in a window / in Genoa” — rapid-fire connects the Wittgenstein misquotation to several of the key themes in A Form / of Taking / It All: representation (“in a window”), otherness (“difference”), and the confrontation between European colonizers and New World colonized (“Genoa,” an oblique reference to Columbus, who will emerge as the protagonist of “Unpredicted Particles”) (237). In short, Waldrop offers us a staccato reprise of the basics of postcolonial theory, as articulated by Fritz Fanon, Gayatri Spivak, and an array of other thinkers. While not as subtle or sophisticated as the responses to Wittgenstein that would soon appear in Waldrop’s Reproduction of Profiles, we can nonetheless observe here in germ the same general methods of composition and commentary.
A Form / of Taking / It All thus deserves scrutiny as a transitional work, prefiguring the philosophical and formal preoccupations that mark Waldrop’s writings of the last fifteen years. Moreover, it is uniquely appropriate to examine the process of “transition” in Waldrop’s writing — especially when that examination necessitates closer scrutiny of an aberrantly mixed-genre work. As she reminds us in “Between, Always,” she “feel[s] a strong affinity for this word, ‘between’” (which in fact served as the “title of one of [her] first poems in English” )(vii).  This sense of occupying an indefinite, intermediary zone became particularly acute in the aftermath of writing The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter, which was initially received as “too ornate, too metaphorical,” in short, too poetic to qualify as a straight-ahead novel.
In other words, A Form / of Taking / It All — the novel she alludes to at the end of this passage — might be through-and-through a jumbled, contradictory text. Even its title perplexes, as Waldrop notes. Its combination of italics and virgules mixes codes by suggesting, on the one hand, that “A Form of Taking It All” is the name of a work of literature and, on the other hand, that the phrase is a quotation from a lineated poem.  The book’s resolute refusal to resolve, its straining at cross-currents, in short, its in-betweenness, is the very stuff of Waldrop’s poetics.
In “Between, Always” Waldrop reveals that the proximate inspiration for her turn to collage in A Form / of Taking / It All was an innovative Austrian prose piece, Konrad Bayer’s Der Kopf des Vitus Bering (1965) (xv-xvi). This choice seems to have been dictated by her desire to find a mode of writing that would permit a healthier balance between critical distance and passionate personal investment than she was able to achieve while writing The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter. In that earlier case, too, she had looked to Central European precedents: Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Johannes Bobrowski’s Levin's Mill: 34 Sentences About My Grandfather. But her topic — “the Nazi Germany into which I was born” — proved to be a “subject so overwhelming, a knot of connections so complex” that these models turned out to be wholly inadequate (ix). She resorted to an improvisational, gap-filled manner of narration that required her to “put [her] trust in language” and concentrate on the “rhythm” of delivery instead of the shape of the work as a whole (xii). While she is satisfied with the results, it nonetheless took her eight frustrating years to bring the novel to completion (ix).
Konrad Bayer’s Der Kopf des Vitus Bering seems to have offered a tempting, alternative mode of writing: the deployment of collage to create an absorbing narrative without having to agonize over how to put into words one’s deepest thoughts and emotions. The work’s thirty-odd pages recount the adventures of its eponymous hero, the eighteenth-century explorer responsible for charting the waters off Kamchatka and Alaska. Organized into short sections with italicized, headline-like titles, the story consists almost entirely of passages excerpted from other texts, chiefly memoirs, histories, and imaginative literature. (An appendix conscientiously lists every source.) Many of the passages that have been stitched together are digressive, whimsical, or recalcitrantly unrelated to what comes before or after. As Bayer explains in a preface, his goal in assembling Der Kopf was not to produce a faithful reconstruction of actual events and personages. Indeed, Bering the historical figure interests him far less than the opportunities Bering affords for launching into other, juicy subjects: he is “only a location . . . from which to establish relations, like a fisherman casting a net in hopes of catching something” (168). 
The resulting crazy quilt is openly indebted to pre-World War II European avant-garde practice. Bayer prominently cites the Surrealist André Breton as an authority in his preface, and the texture of its disjointed construction distinctly recalls cadavre exquis (168). Indeed, if one takes Waldrop at her word and reads Bayer in an attempt to understand why it prompted a change in her fundamental method of composition, one can begin to suspect whether this particular collage text ultimately differs enough from its antecedents for its form alone to explain its potent appeal. Other, earlier texts could also have served Waldrop as synecdoches for the ongoing Dada and Surrealist tradition of juxtaposing found materials — for instance, Max Ernst’s La femme 100 têtes and Une semaine de bonté. Well known for her expertise regarding avant-garde French and German literature, she presumably had an array of comparable examples from which to choose.
Der Kopf, I believe, helped catalyze an artistic breakthrough because of its compelling fusion of content — repeated voyages of discovery into the unknown — and form — a serial juxtaposition of prose by different writers. Bayer’s narrative, like Waldrop’s earlier The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter, is a variant on the old tradition of the quest narrative, and again like The Hanky, the itinerary that the work traces requires that it enter unexplored country. There is one crucial difference, however. Bayer’s text does not mire itself in compulsive authorial self-reflexivity. Agency is distributed among a cohort of writers. Any truths to be found, fostered, or created are a joint, even a communal responsibility.
Decentering “authorship” in this manner is not, of course, the same thing as excluding the personal altogether. Waldrop knew that collage by itself could not prevent autobiographical content from finding its way into A Form / of Taking / It All. The novel’s prospective theme — the “enormous migration from Europe to America, wave after wave of explorers, conquerors, immigrants” — was too intimately related to her own experience of moving from Germany to the United States, a “change of world” that “surfaces again and again” in her writing (“Between” xv). In addition, she had already learned that, although collage involves recycling others’ words and hence nominally absolves the writer of “authoring” them, self-expression nonetheless stubbornly reinserts itself in the very acts of selecting and arranging one’s found materials:
For Waldrop, then, Der Kopf des Vitus Bering would not have held out the promise of a straightforward, ecstatic release from either subjectivity or the burden of the past. She would not have been drawn to it because it advertised impossible escapes into the unconscious, surreality, or other, higher, egoless states of consciousness. Rather, she seems to have chosen Bayer’s narrative because it implicitly extols the power of heteroglossia to reframe an author’s contributions as only one aspect of an ongoing, collaborative, intertextual excursion. A casting of the net, a forging of a network of relations.  This paradigm for understanding writing as fundamentally intersubjective, processual, and investigative is evident in her comments regarding the indispensability of collage in her writing since A Form / of Taking / It All:
In short, Der Kopf des Vitus Bering provided Waldrop with a set of premises regarding language, craft, and literature that permitted her to sublime both the “betweenness” of her dual nationality and the troublesome generic hybridity of her first novel into a potent, persuasive compositional methodology: “An art of separation and fusion, of displacement and connection. For without our connecting them into a picture the dots are not even visible. An art of betweens” (xvii).
Although in the finished text it appears as the second section of A Form / of Taking / It All, “A Form of Memory” was in fact the first part to be written, and in it the influence of Konrad Bayer’s Der Kopf des Vitus Bering is at its height (xv-xvi). Most obviously, “A Form of Memory” echoes Der Kopf in its layout, short blocks of prose grouped under such fanciful rubrics as “A Physical Description of Sexual Intercourse,” “Illustration,” “Eyewitness Report,” and “Elegy.” Again as in Der Kopf, its passages all read as if they have been excerpted from disparate other texts. A list of sources that appears at the book’s back confirms this impression, and, like Bayer’s appendix, it seems to be both reliable and comprehensive. Bayer’s precedent permits Waldrop to make drastic alterations in the affect and the style of her prose. In contrast to The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter — recounted by a mischievously biased narrator in a nominally epistolary format — “A Form of Memory” aspires to a thorough-going impersonality in its manner of construction and presentation. Nowhere in “A Form of Memory” does Waldrop speak propria persona. Assembly-line fashion, we are delivered what can initially appear to be no more than raw boluses of fact, definition, and observation.
Whereas Bayer mitigated the abruptness of this plunge into unadorned collage by providing a preface to explain his methodology and intent, Waldrop opts for another, albeit comparably pedagogical, means of easing a reader into the welter. The opening section of “A Form of Memory, titled “Physical Description of Motion,” self-consciously and gradually establishes the pattern for the remainder of the chapter. Its first four prose blocks serve as a concise introduction to the sorts of materials its readers will be encountering as well as suggesting the kinds of reading skills that they will require in response. Additionally, Waldrop evokes, only then to repudiate, a possible American precedent for her embarkation on a career as a collagiste:
The first paragraph’s catalog foreshadows the radically paratactic construction of “A Form of Memory” as a whole. It also alerts readers that are responsible for inferring what connections if any exist among its oddly juxtaposed passages of text. The last item in this catalog, the “botanist,” is a calculated non sequitur, insofar as he is a living being and everything else in the catalog is a non-animate scientific instrument. Waldrop hints broadly that von Humboldt looks upon his traveling companion as just another tool, to be employed dispassionately in the process of scientific inquiry. But she does only hint at it. A reader must take that leap him- or herself.
Odd, paratactic juxtapositions that invite inferential interpretation: at this point, an experienced reader of twentieth-century American literature might reasonably conclude that Waldrop has tacitly declared her allegiance to the tradition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, which are built throughout on precisely this basis. The next paragraph, the one beginning “Before him,” appears to confirm this intuition. It unexpectedly switches location and dramatis personae, though it retains the same general subject, a maritime journey to the New World. Hugh Kenner, writing about the Cantos, has called this kind of associative leap a “subject rhyme,” that is, a juxtaposition of disparate historical personages that is also an assertion of family resemblance.  We are almost certainly supposed to read von Humboldt as a latter-day avatar of Columbus — just as in the Cantos we are to read Eleanor of Aquitaine as a medieval beauty who parallels Helen of Troy, or Mussolini as a munificent patron akin to the Renaissance condottiere Sigismundo Malatesta.
The third and fourth paragraphs of “A Form of Memory” accelerate the vertiginous transitions to new scenes and topics. First, we are given an italicized passage about a cheerful-yet-threatening “mistress” with a “switch,” presumably a teacher of some kind. Then we are supplied with what sounds like a quotation from a textbook on prosodics distinguishing the technical meanings of “stress” and “accent.” These abrupt changes in discursive register again recall Pound’s Cantos, more specifically its ideogrammic method, in which fragmentary verse and found texts are strung together to create cumulative statements about an implied subject matter. The four paragraphs here serve as a Poundian ideogram for “discipline”: scientists, like teachers, arrange and order the world and language, a process that overtly or covertly involves force. Waldrop is reiterating a theme that we have already seen, namely that the European encounter with the New World, even in its outwardly benign guise of the search to discover new knowledge, involves the impulse to “discipline” its unruly otherness.
So far there is little to distinguish Waldrop’s Bayer-derived compositional method from the paratactic mode of Pound and his progeny. “A Form of Memory” initially seems to position itself as yet another masterful example of post-World War II, post-Cantos prose in the tradition of Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael and Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson. Waldrop’s first measurable swerve from the Poundian variant of collage occurs in paragraph nine of “Physical Description of Motion”:
While remaining within the thematic orbit of the opening paragraphs, this passage does not display the same internal integrity. Yes, “southwest” can be scanned as indicated, but it is extremely difficult to imagine a source text that would interject this piece of information in the midst of reporting von Humboldt’s ruminations on his predecessor. Waldrop has intrusively treated one kind of text — presumably the biography of von Humboldt by Douglas Botting that appears in the “List of Sources” at the book’s back (248) — as an occasion to illustrate the definitions of “stress” and “accent” earlier introduced. While the Cantos do selectively edit, (mis)translate, reconfigure, and otherwise alter their source texts, the deadpan wit here is foreign to the tone of Pound’s epic, which aggressively pursues the directio voluntatis, the thrust of his will, through eons of historical and archaeological evidence.  Nor does Waldrop’s impersonal intervention dovetail well with the prophetic posturing common in the prose collages of such Poundian heirs as Olson and Howe. Her cheery digressiveness serves not to overawe a reader with superior, transcendental insight into the timeless order of things but instead to distance him or her, however briefly, from the “discipline” ideogram and to provoke her or him to attend to the limits and assumptions that inform any given act of writing.
By eschewing the authority of the archivist, Waldrop aligns herself with Bayer, who dismisses any claim that “A mosaic of facts” can “be treated as irrefutable knowledge [gewissheiten].” One must adopt a skeptical attitude, he explains, toward “so-called historical fact [tatsachen]” in the name of “what cannot be proved [überprüfen],” namely, “the sum of possibilities.” He selected Vitus Bering’s story, recorded in scattered and biased records, for his departure point not because he wishes to resurrect a wronged, neglected hero (such as Pound’s Malatesta or Howe’s Anne Hutchinson) but “because [Vitus’s story] leaves things sufficiently open, because it is unclear, because it is contradictory, because one can falsify (or correct) it without losing the historical backdrop” (Der Kopf 168). Falsifying, correcting, contradicting, prizing open, obfuscating — these are boldly interventionist activities, hardly evincing the documentary fidelity to the historical record that is the (ostensible) guiding principle of such Poundian, collage-based works as Olson’s Maximus Poems, Howe’s Birth-mark, William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, and Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony. Waldrop, like Bayer, makes the discourses of history subject to open, crass, and ludic manipulation so as to free her readers from their aura of immediate, privileged access to historical truth.
Waldrop, in fact, goes a step further than Bayer in this regard. His rhetoric remains transcendentalist in one crucial respect. While evincing scorn for an archival art, his critical attitude toward “so-called historical fact” nonetheless coexists with longing for mystical revelation, an entrance into a temporality in which “past and future . . . are bound into a single point” (168). As far back as 1971, in her study Against Language?, Waldrop had registered her distaste for all traces of vatic self-presentation in mid-twentieth-century European avant-garde art — a category to which Bayer unmistakably belongs. In Against Language?, she had argued that the solution is for a writer to redirect a reader’s attention from airy flights of speculation to the nuts and bolts of language’s functioning (122-23). We find this same tactic at work more than a decade later. Waldrop comments that “I flatter myself that [in “A Form of Memory”] I pushed the juxtaposition of heterogeneous materials farther than [Bayer] had, even into the sentence” (“Between” xvi). That last qualification — “even into the sentence” — is no mere throwaway line. Bayer exposes the contingency of the discursive production of history, but he also leaves open the possibility of banishing history altogether as false artifice in order to inhabit a messianic Now. Waldrop, by pushing her inquiry into history further, by operating at the sentence level and below, focuses more narrowly on the language of history. She begins to speculate less about what transcends the historical record than about the rules of selection (semantics) and combination (syntax) by which that record is assembled.
The third grouping in “A Form of Memory,” titled “Physical Description of Motion, Continued,” contains an early, illustrative instance of the splicing internal to a sentence that would soon come to distinguish her variant of collage. First, there appears a statement that reads as if were lifted from an introductory medical textbook: “The action of a muscle is to contract, or to shorten in length, and thus the two structures to which it is attached are brought closer together.” Four prose blocks later occurs a drastically reworked version of the statement: “Metaphor implies a relationship between two terms which are thus brought together in the muscle” (186). Waldrop has hybridized the diction of two disciplines, literary criticism and gross anatomy. She implies that they are comparable, perhaps equally invasive forms of knowledge. Obviously, this connection again relates to the overarching theme “to know = to master.” It also likely accounts for the recurrent interest in ballet in A Form / of Taking / It All, since dance, as an emphatically embodied art, serves as an analogue for fiction writing, both of them for Waldrop aesthetic modalities of disciplining flesh (of bodies, of language) that stand as alternatives to the more instrumentalized languages of the academy (medicine, poetics).
First producing a Pound-like collage-quotation, and then soon afterwards misquoting it, Waldrop provides readers with an object lesson in how collage will operate in her works. She informs them that they will encounter skewed, ill-sutured, and whimsical reinscriptions of other writings. A statement such as “A vast twilight zone, nearly 1500 miles wide, was slipping around the earth as the latter turned on its axis” — which first appears in a section titled “Eyewitness Report” in “A Form of Memory” — is liable to reappear without notice in another permutation, whether it be simply paraphrased (“The vast twilight zone slips around the earth as the latter turns on its axis” ) or radically reworked in a spliced sentence (“A later meaning of elegy was a poem in whatever meter in which a twilight zone slips around the globe” ). These later near-repetitions, in turn, destabilize our confidence in the original statement. Can we trust that Waldrop has indeed lifted it intact from a source in the bibliography, such as von Humboldt’s Kosmos or David Todd’s Professor Todd’s New Astronomy? The Poundian promise of direct treatment of the thing gives way to a discomfiting, Derrida-like display that all citation is always already potentially miscitation.
One need not, though, jump to Derrida or poststructuralism more generally to help us understand Waldrop’s take on collage. Such a rhetorical move would falsely suggest that there is something uniquely “postmodern” about it. Instead, we can return to the technique’s ur-scene, the avant guerre years when Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso first elevated papier collé from a kitschy popular art into a cutting-edge avant-garde strategy for Making It New.
Poundian collage is akin to the newsprint that Picasso frequently pasted to his canvases during Cubism’s founding “analytic” phase. Both Pound’s and Picasso’s incorporations of borrowed text purport to offer a direct, indexical relationship between the artwork and the social world from which these materials have been drawn. The finished poem partakes in the ephemeral and the social with un-literary bluntness. Any attempts to praise it as a hermetic or autonomous text founder on its unlovely incorporation of mundane, often journalistic writing. As Peter Bürger would put it, such collage furthers the avant-garde project of breaking down the baleful distinction between art and “life praxis” that prevails in late capitalism. 
Waldrop’s version of collage — linked, via Bayer, with a non-Poundian, Continental descent line — also recalls Cubist collage, albeit in a very different manner. It aspires to emulate the whole of a Cubist painting. In the years 1912-13, Picasso typically included not only found materials (chair caning, wallpaper, etc.) but also painted patches, stenciled letters, trompe l’oeil wood grain, and other traces of the artist’s hand. In works such as Violon et partition, Tête d'homme au chapeau, and Bouteille et verre sur un guéridon, Picasso seeks not simply to undermine aesthetic autonomy but to issue a radical challenge to a complacent viewer’s presumptions about how painting signifies. He quite literally deconstructs his art, employing shading that does not indicate depth, lines that do not suggest edges, superimposition that does not convey protension, and so forth, as Rosalind Krauss has richly detailed.  The mixture of found objects, faux found objects (wood grain), and free painterly expression functions within this more general semiotic project of reeducating the eye to perceive the conventionality of illusionism, that is, the “painting = window” metaphor fundamental to the art since the Renaissance. Similarly, in “A Form of Memory” Waldrop suggests that her borrowings have nothing naïve about them. She promises to manipulate, violate, cross-cut, and otherwise render their unspoken assumptions overt. Pound’s collage is evidentiary. Waldrop’s is forensic.
After completing “A Form of Memory,” Waldrop proceeded to write the three other sections that make up the remainder of A Form / of Taking / It All. Throughout, she chose to employ as a structural scaffolding a technique internal to “A Form of Memory”: the appearance of quotations that recur in partially or drastically revised forms. She made two changes, however. First, the prose passages in “A Form of Memory” serve as her primary source for this game of repetition and variation. Second, by positioning “A Form of Memory” as Part II, she insures that a reader first encounters these source texts in Part I (“A Form of Vertigo”) in their occulted, spliced forms. As a consequence, Part I is full of unpredictable, fanciful moments that at first refuse easy assimilation into plausible explanatory frames, causal chains, or dramatic scenarios. Much of the narrative’s appeal lies in this uneven, surreal surface. For example, in “Vertigo,” in the midst of a stream-of-consciousness passage, one encounters,
The thoughts about Henry, marriage, turning forty, and making choices (“fork in the road”) fit the immediate context. Amy Lowell is vacationing in Mexico and musing about the course that her life has taken. The stingrays, prostitutes and syphilis though — these are vivid, intrusive subjects that are less easy to square with the setting and point of view. Is Lowell reaching for a suitable metaphor for the imagined “disaster” wedding? Does she feel prostituted? Diseased? These grotesque metaphors — if they are indeed are metaphors — leave a reader guessing at possible constructions that would accommodate their jolting interruption of the story’s course.
Forty pages later, “A Form of Memory” provides a short passage offering a possible yet oddly tardy answer to the conundrum:
Here we are presented with the bemused, condescending tone of a travel writer presenting, and debunking, a folk remedy for the audience back home.  Perhaps, in the earlier stream of consciousness passage, we witness Lowell’s fleeting, condensed memory of what she had read in this same travel book. Her thoughts about Mexico, as she lies in bed with the shades down, arbitrarily commingle “original” thoughts with words and images that have been lifted from her reading. One is not free of other authors’ voices even in the privacy of one’s skull. 
A Form / of Taking / It All gradually takes on the air of a fun house, in which passages recur unexpectedly in new, often distorted guises. Sometimes the changes of context and content provide ambiguously supplementary information, as it does with the stingray cure. Other times the repetition-with-variation estranges the material more drastically. The two narrative sections — Part I, recounted from Lowell’s perspective, and Part III, written first-person from a novelist's viewpoint as she struggles to round off the tale of von Humboldt and Lowell — are pocked with these odd moments. Ada, Lowell’s love interest, is forever being described in stilted, inappropriate terms that “A Form of Memory” makes one suspect have been purloined from Aggrippina Vaganova’s Basic Principles of Ballet. John, Ada’s son, spouts awkward statements about Beethoven and Montezuma that reappear verbatim in Part II. Astronomical and poetological passages from Part II reoccur in the novelist’s stories about Washington, DC. In each of these cases, verisimilitude suffers badly. Would any real person ever spontaneously repeat the bland, fact-choked language of a textbook with such uncanny fidelity?
Even the most vivid, seeming-profound moments of Waldrop’s story are susceptible to demystification. At the end of Part I, Lowell has a dreamlike vision of herself struggling, physically acrobatically contorting, to escape the burdens and embarrassments of childhood:
A couple of these details will recur prominently in Part II — the parrots (185) and the thundering (193) — but the bare essentials will reappear in a single narrative outtake, again likely derived from Vaganova’s Basic Principles of Ballet:
The first iteration of this incident conveys the intense shame involved in the process of publicly disciplining a vulnerable body. One sympathizes acutely, viscerally with Lowell’s discomfort in her own skin. When, however, one comes across another version of the same story twenty pages later, the anecdote ceases to be Lowell’s unique “property.” Now an extract from a textbook, it loses what had been a florid, revelatory particularity. Also, the scene with Lowell had established a set of expectations — about her psychology, biography, place in society — that are thrown into doubt when the same words (“Two older girls,” “hair . . . down to the floor,” “legs high in the air”) pop up again to describe a different-yet-similar action, another girl walking on her hands. We are forced to go back and attend to the specific words and turns of phrase that had given rise to our first, powerful impressions; we thus look anew at the earlier passage with an eye less to its content than to the details of its composition. Recurrence in A Form / of Taking / It All undermines a reader’s faith that fictions, window-like, grants us transparent access to other worlds. We discover repeatedly that a given “window” is in fact a carefully constructed tableaux of words susceptible to artful rearrangement and re-presentation. Collage decisively enters Waldrop’s oeuvre in a work dedicated to rigorously exposing the troubling power relations that inform every act of communication, even (or especially) the act of creating literature.
After A Form / of Taking / It All, Waldrop made rapid advances in use of collage. In her hands, the technique has become increasingly supple and expressive, especially as she has gained more confidence in manipulating her found material. At her best, Waldrop is able to keep a reader deliciously off balance, unsure what is original, what borrowed. Incongruity alone is no guarantee that one has encountered a seam between discourses. Indeed, one of her goals in a book such as Reproduction of Profiles is to expose the gaps and slippages within the language of her source texts (in that case, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations). Although she has had frequent recourse to the metaphor of the palimpsest to describe this vertigo-inducing writerly surface (e.g. “Between” (xvii) and “Form and Discontent” (61)), a better analogy might be a word processor file that consists of cuts, pastes, deletions, and rearrangements of text originating elsewhere. Unlike a palimpsest, such a file would contain no optical indication of depth that would enable an easy sorting out of past and present, original and copy.
A sample of Waldrop’s more recent use of collage can usefully conclude this article by demonstrating the continuities (and discontinuities) in her practice as she moved from writing novels back to her principle vocation, writing verse. I have chosen “Shorter American Memory of Salem,” a piece brief enough to examine in its entirety that also evinces important thematic connections to A Form / of Taking / It All, namely the ugly, murderous power politics involved in the European colonization of North America.
Shorter American Memory (1988), in which “Shorter American Memory of Salem” appears, is a collection of twenty two pieces that, as Waldrop explains on the obverse of the title page, “are derived from sources collected in Henry Beston’s American Memory (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937).” Beston’s American Memory turns out to be an anthology of diary entries, letters, court transcripts, official pronouncements, and other historical documents intended to offer a reader “a mirror of the stirring and picturesque past of Americans and the American Nation,” as the title page puts it. In the book’s preface, Beston states the none-too-covert nationalist thesis informing the anthology’s implicit narrative:
In other words, American Memory celebrates “native-born” Americans who are neither Native Americans nor Europeans. It retells their exciting “adventure” in “vigorous prose” so that we, their patriotic descendents, can relish their “memory.” Intent on establishing (white) American identity as the product of racial and national conflict, American Memory devotes the bulk of its attention to subjects such as the colonization of the Eastern seaboard, war with Indian tribes, war with Britain, and the development of a self-sufficient indigenous culture and economy.
In short, the “memory” enshrined in Beston is archival but also highly selective, adjusting the historical record to serve as a record of the trials, tribulations, and victories of a Chosen People. It is also a resolutely middlebrow version of a Poundian “poem including history,” an epic whose protagonists are multiple and whose significant episodes are related by means of juxtaposed extracts from original documents. Beston serves Waldrop as an occasion to renew the historiographical critique so vigorously asserted in A Form / of Taking / It All. Her abridgement and radical revision of American Memory uses collage to expose the violence — wreaked on people and history — when nationalist-prophets dictate how documents and facts are ordered within an official, shared narrative. When a plurality of memories become one American Memory. 
“Shorter American Memory of Salem” corresponds to chapter four of American Memory, titled “Geneva and New England,” which offers a selection of documents illustrative of Puritan religiosity. She boils its fourteen pages down to a scant seventeen lines that serve as a quiet but moving meditation on women’s place in colonial American society:
Waldrop here concentrates her attention on the first four documents in “Geneva and New England,” all of which have been taken either from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana or from Salem’s surviving seventeenth-century court and civic records. She borrows most heavily from a paragraph by Mather (I have put the relevant phrases in bold and indicated where in the poem they occur):
Like A Form / of Taking / It All, “Shorter American Memory of Salem” freely alters the order and character of the phrases lifted from its source texts. Waldrop changes “caused a swelling and a soreness” to “caused soreness and swelling”; she omits a run of ten words to produce “she was scratched”; and she decides to associate “the teeth” and “her breast,” despite the fact that, as we see in the original, “she was bitten” not on her breast but “on both arms.” Furthermore, in “Shorter American Memory of Salem” she changes the sequence in which the phrases appear. She may preserve a trace of that ordering — observable in the run , , , , , ,  in which only two elements,  and , are out of place — but the first phrase chosen from this paragraph ends up in the next-to-last line of the poem. Again we see that Waldrop’s form of collage is unapologetically interventionist and revisionist.
The most dramatic alteration occurs at the level of historical referent. There is no legible trace of Mary, Antonio Hortado, or Cotton Mather in Waldrop’s poem — none of the impedimenta of citation, marginal annotation, and bibliographic description that litter Pound’s Cantos and buttress Beston’s authority. She treats all her sources for this lyric just as cavalierly. Despite the fact that they span several decades and describe many events, including the discovery of sunken Spanish treasure, she distills from them a continuous commentary on a single historical episode, the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. She insures that the poem will be read in that light by offering us no other proper name than “Salem” itself, a town indelibly associated in American popular culture with the likes of the dastardly Justice Hathorne, the unjustly accused John Proctor, the slave fortune teller Tituba, and the “afflicted” teenagers Mary Warren and Abigail Williams. In her oblique retelling, however, Waldrop offers not Arthur Miller-style realism but an impressionistic, vaguely Gothic (“mysterious,” “apparitions”) catalog of observations. She culls from Beston phrases that evoke, even invoke, a specter that his inclusion of “The Penitence of the Jurors of Salem” cannot lay fully to rest: the American proclivity to use civic and religious zeal as pretexts for killing innocent men and women.
The poem’s opening lines introduce the paradoxical imbrication of absence and presence that dominate the piece. The “great stone” in the first line suggests the heavy stones famously used to crush to death Giles Corey, an accused witch who refused to enter a plea. The “great stone” also hints at the weightiness, the imponderability, of the witch trials for subsequent generations of Americans. The poem’s second line — “where unaccountably gone” — suddenly reverses the first line’s assertion of presence, a fact emphasized by the slant rhyme “stone” / “gone.” Has the stone vanished before it could be “counted,” that is, weighed and measured? Or does Waldrop call our attention to “Salem” as a location which combines or juxtaposes the all-too-present (the stone) and the irrevocably lost (that which is “gone”)? The remainder of the poem restates but does not resolve this tension. Suggestions of absence or erasure (“no damage,” “no body,” “no cattle”) jostle with vivid statements about all-too-present, injured female flesh (“a blow to her eye,” “she was scratched,” “teeth on her breast”).
One could read this dynamic as an oblique commentary on the events surrounding the witch trials: the young girls who based their accusations of witchcraft on mysterious blows from ghostly assailants, the blameless women and men executed for nonexistent injuries to others, the witches’ familiars presumed but never seen, etc. One could also read into the poem a subterranean narrative of domestic abuse. A woman is repeatedly harmed without that harm ever being publicly acknowledged or the perpetrator called to account. She knows her pain intimately (“knowing her own”) but “pious considerations” — whether hers, her abuser’s, or the community’s — prevent that pain from ever becoming fully real, in the sense that it would then become a problem demanding response or recognition from others. In “Shorter American Memory of Salem,” by selectively excerpting, rearranging, and revising the language used by seventeenth century Puritans to talk about their world and their experiences, Waldrop dramatizes the vulnerability, the violence, and the fear that run just beneath its surface. Moreover, she intimates that the “pious considerations” that they espouse not merely oppress but damage women crushed beneath their “great stone.” The anaphora here (“where . . . where . . . where”) distantly but appropriately echoes the use of another interrogative, “who,” as the backbone for the first part of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (“I have seen the best minds of my generation . . . who . . . who . . . who”). Like Ginsberg, Waldrop laments the wastefulness of history, bringing suffering and loss to the very people a just or civilized society would liberate and celebrate.
This message is not new. We saw Waldrop making much the same point in A Form / of Taking / It All. But in the few years between that work and Shorter American Memory Waldrop has learned to employ collage with much greater craft. She has ceased to rely upon repetition and variation as a principle of construction. The phrases that appear in “Shorter American Memory of Salem” appear nowhere else in Shorter American Memory. The abrupt jolts and transitions in A Form that lend it the feel of Surrealist cadavre exquis have been replaced by a surface that is simultaneously smoother and more disorienting, insofar as one cannot guess where Waldrop’s contributions end and the found texts in their rawness begin. “Shorter American Memory of Salem” also absorbs, abridges and revises Beston’s anthology with an assurance that permits a greater latitude of tone than A Form. Finally, Shorter American Memory eschews any traces of Poundian parataxis. In place of that giddy form of artifice — dependent on sharp edges and bold transitions, hence a technique well-suited to delivering punchlines and epiphanies — she embraces collage within hypotaxis (“where . . . where . . . where”), an art of relationality that explores nuances of subordination and insubordination, both grammatical and political.
In 1912 Picasso bequeathed to the avant-garde a mode of collage designed to defeat illusionism in painting. At the turn of the twenty-first century Waldrop provides us with a version capable of exposing a different illusionism, the false authority arrogated when prophets have recourse to “history” to justify their visionary dreams. Again, not a new message. It is one we have heard often in the last hundred years. But the last hundred years have also taught that some messages bear repeating. Waldrop has crafted a form adequate to this content.
Bayer, Konrad. Sämtliche Werke. Ed. Gerhard Rühm. Stuttgart, Germany: Klett-Cotta, 1985.
Beston, Henry. American Memory: Being a Mirror of the Stirring and Picturesque Past of Americans and the American Nation. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1937.
Bürger, Peter. The Theory of the Avant-Garde. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.
Creeley, Robert. Collected Poems. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.
Freitag, Kornelia. "Decomposing American History.” Construction and Contestation of American Cultures and Identities in the Early National Period. Ed. Udo J. Hebel. Heidelberg, Germany: Carl Winter Universitatsverlag, 1999: 443-59.
_____, “Rosmarie Waldrop’s Language Games,” Cultural Criticism in Contemporary Women’s Experimental Writing in the U.S.A. Unpublished Dissertation. University of Potsdam (Germany), 2000. 151-269.
Keller, Lynn. “‘Fields of Pattern-Bounded Unpredictability’: Recent Palimptexts by Rosmarie Waldrop and Joan Retallack.” Contemporary Literature 42.2 (Summer 2001): 376-411.
Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. Berkeley: U of California P, 1971.
Krauss, Rosalind. The Picasso Papers. New York: Farrar, 1998.
Perloff, Marjorie. The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.
_____. Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.
Pound, Ezra. Cantos. New York: New Directions, 1975.
Retallack, Joan. “A Conversation with Rosmarie Waldrop.” Contemporary Literature 40.3 (1999): 329-77.
Vickery, Ann. Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 2000.
Waldrop, Rosmarie. Against Language? ‘Dissatisfaction with Language’ as Theme and Impulse Towards Experiments in Twentieth Century Poetry. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.
_____. “Between, Always.” Introduction to The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter & A Form / of Taking / It All. vii-xviii.
_____. “Form and Discontent.” Diacritics 26.3-4 (1996): 54-62.
_____. A Form / of Taking / It All. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill P, 1990. Rpt. in The Hanky of Pippin's Daughter & A Form / of Taking / It All. 153-248.
_____. The Hanky of Pippin's Daughter & A Form / of Taking / It All. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2001.
_____. Shorter American Memory. Providence, RI: Paradigm Press, 1988.
 Vickery freely and frequently acknowledges Waldrop’s stature and accomplishments — see e.g. 9, 17, 42-43, 50, 64, 73, and 108-9 — but, constrained by length limitations, in a single booklength study she simply cannot provide extended treatment to every worthy, eligible woman writer. In the end, she is able to devote only two pages to discussing one of Waldrop’s works in detail, the prose poem Differences in Four Hand (240-41).
 See Freitag, “Rosmarie Waldrop's Language Games” 176-88. See also Retallack 339-40.
 For Waldrop’s earlier foray into collage — the collection When They Have Senses (1980) — see Freitag, “Rosmarie Waldrop’s Language Games” 188-96.
 The chief exception is Retallack’s “A Conversation with Rosmarie Waldrop.” Retallack states that she conducted the interview because she wished to bring greater exposure to Waldrop’s novels (329-30), and, although the bulk of the interview focuses on The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter, its last six pages do concentrate almost exclusively on A Form / of Taking / It All (372-78). The topics treated include the relationship between Waldrop, her fictionalized alter ego in the book, and the character Amy Lowell (371-72); the novel’s thematics of exploration, conquest, and sexual dominion (372-73); and the anomalous, versified fourth section of the book, especially the parallels asserted between Columbus and Heisenburg (373-75). For another perspective on A Form, see Freitag, “Rosmarie Waldrop's Language Games” 256-58.
 For accounts of Waldrop’s engagement with Wittgenstein, see Perloff, Wittgenstein’s Ladder 205-11; Kornelia Freitag, “Rosmarie Waldrop’s Language Games” 151-269, especially 196-26, in which she treats Reproduction of Profiles; and Keller 380-97, especially 387-91, in which she investigates Waldrop’s borrowings from Wittgenstein in Lawn of the Excluded Middle.
 The lyric “Between” appeared in the volume The Aggressive Ways of the Casual Stranger (1972) and was reprinted in Another Language: Selected Poems (1997). For an acute reading of “Between,” see Freitag, “Rosmarie Waldrop’s Language Games” 157-60.
 For the source of the title, see Creeley, Collected Poems 589 (“Mind’s a form / of taking / it all,” which appears, slightly revised, as an epigraph to Waldrop’s novel, “mind is a form / of taking / it all” ). Waldrop has indicated that for her the title refers specifically to the disjunctive juxtapositions in the novel’s second section, “an enactment of ‘taking it all’” (Retallack 375).
 Translation mine. The original sentence reads, “trotzdem ist die wahl der figur vitus bering nur als standort zu werten, von dem aus beziehungen hergestellt werden, wie der fischer ein netz wirft, in der hoffnung, etwas zu fangen” (168).
 Compare her earlier version of this argument in Retallack 347.
 Compare what she tells Joan Retallack: “There is an immensity of data around us, and to choose the ones that are relevant and to connect them is my sense of life” (370).
 Compare Waldrop’s argument that “No text has a single author” in the course of elucidating her theory of the “palimpsest” in “Form and Discontent,” 61.
 See Kenner 360-81 for Pound’s evolution from “vortex” to “subject rhyme” as the Cantos got underway. See especially 365 and 376 for practical instances of the structuring device.
 See Perloff, Poetics 180-89 for an analysis of Pound’s habitual “linguistic deformation” of his source materials in the Cantos. The idea of the “directio voluntatis” comes to the fore in the later Cantos, from the Pisan Cantos onwards. For explicit invocations, see Pound 467 and 576.
 See Bürger 22-23 for a concise statement of his thesis that the “aim” of the avant-garde is to “reintegrate art into the praxis of life.”
 See “The Circulation of the Sign,” the first chapter of Krauss’s The Picasso Papers. Her primary purpose is to explain how the incorporation of newspaper into Cubist collages extends this visual gaming by fostering a “polyphonic space” in which signs cross and crisscross transgressively (85).
 A friend who lives in Key West reports that urine will indeed cure the sting of a stingray — though Calamine lotion is preferable.
 Waldrop recalls that her initial intent in placing “A Form of Memory” second was to set it up as “a fever vision” that Amy Lowell endures while “sick in Mexico.” In other words, Waldrop sought to “normalize” the collage welter of Part II by framing it with Part I’s “interior monologue” (Retallack 375). The particular echo-effect that I detail here may be a trace of this plan. In the book’s final published form, though, the lack, of any transition between Parts I and II, as well as drastic shift in style between them, render it highly unlikely that a reader will consistently read “A Form of Memory” as akin to a medieval dream vision. As I now proceed to explain, the interplay between the first two sections is less stable, more variable, in short, designedly disorienting.
 For a fuller account of Shorter American Memory and its historiographical significance, see Freitag, “Decomposing American History.”
Bio: Brian Reed is an assistant professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle. His most recent publications include “Hart Crane’s Victrola” and “The Baseness of Robert Grenier’s Visual Poetics.”