Barrett Watten Biography
(1948– ), This, Poetics Journal, Total Syntax, 1–10, Progress, Conduit, Under Erasure, Representations
American poet, born in Berkeley, educated at M.I.T., Iowa Writers' Workshop, and at Berkeley. He became editor of This press, which produced a magazine and books that helped shape the development of Language Poetry in the 1970s and early 1980s, and of Poetics Journal with Lyn Hejinian, a key opportunity for theoretical and critical writing on the aesthetics and politics of the new poetry. His collection of essays Total Syntax (1985) helped trace the sources of Language Poetry in earlier avant-gardes, including Surrealism, Russian formalism, and the artists of the 1960s, particularly Robert Smithson and the Art-Language group. This book and his other essays and interviews present some of the most original thinking about self-expression, form, and the relations between public and private spheres in contemporary poetics. Like other West Coast Language Poets his poetic texts employ disjunct sentences and clauses as units whose complex relations form the structure of the work. A philosophical and political meditation on language emerges in witty epigrams, images, and structures in such books as 1–10 (1980), Progress (1985), Conduit (1988), and Under Erasure (1991). After working as a managing editor for Representations for some years he then became a professor of English at Wayne State University, Detroit.