May 28, 2010
During the spring semester of my first year in grad school at Columbia University, some ten years ago, I, for reasons I cannot explain, signed up for a course called Poetry and Technology. For a couple hours each week, I and fourteen or fifteen others sat in a windowless room at the bottom of the engineering building (as if the university administrators had been uncertain where to put us—Humanities? Science? Call it engineering, but stick them in the basement) and discussed, um, poetry? and technology? Yeah, something like that. I remember long talks about theories of Futurism. I remember a class visit from Bruce Andrews, one of the prime movers behind the incomprehensible literary movement called Language Poetry. And I remember the huge sense of relief that washed over me when I looked across the room during the second or third session and saw a woman with long, dark, curly hair who looked, well, like me, and who rolled her eyes at the same nonsense I did. That woman turned out to be Joanna Smith Rakoff, and she and I turned out to have more in common than just hair and a healthy dose of skepticism over literary theory.