If Language

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23/09/2012 by funnomad



If Language quotes a paragraph-length section of Steve McCaffery’s essay “Language Writing” and presents 56 perfect anagrams of the paragraph, all with 525 letters and 56 letter “i”s, that respond directly and indirectly to McCaffery’s ideas. The book was a shortlisted finalist for the Fitzpatrick O’Dinn Award, and was reprinted in 2008.



“A wonderful discovery” – Sina Queyras, Lemonhound

“If language can be nihilistic in its wit, if language can be simplistic in its fun – then this book truly uncovers all the ‘abracadabras’ hidden deep a million ages ago within even the most unmagical of all grammatical limitations… Even the most philistine critics admit that this feat appears impossible – still its delights persist.” – Christian Bök

“Wow!” Kenneth Goldsmith

“The pieces are surprisingly expressive, considering the extreme artificiality imposed by the constraint. The balance between strict procedurality and inventive freedom this extended anagrammatic format affords is exciting. The poems hover on the edge of convincing signification, but lapse interestingly into arbitrary pseudo-sense and tonal oddness at every turn. The degree to which they do produce a semblance of motivated content marks a shifting liminal perimeter-line between focused communication and glossolalia.” K. Silem Mohammad

“If Language is not only a unique way of telling but a unique way of listening, as delicate as it is obsessive. Betts disassembles each word gently, with a sensitive and tender ear, listening to the sound of a single paragraph, to the space in it that is both occupied and unoccupied, for omissions and possibilities… While authorship and voice, even meaning and form itself, are uncertain in If Language, these 56 discrete but intimately connected children are entirely original, and entirely essential.” – JC Bellringer

“What sort of writer has the patience to pull off this kind of project? Well, the same writer who writes 56 such poems, all anagrams, each demonstrating a bewildering range of tones and architectonics. As collections go, If Language is at once inspired and humbling.” – Morgan Lucas Schuldt

“at play with meaning and arrangement, his iambic fusion is precise” Wanda O’Connor, Ottawa XPress

“Gregory Betts has thrown down the gauntlet with his recently published first volume of poetry, a complex web of language writing (or post-language writing; he calls the form of the anagram itself “post-McCafferyist” in one poem), which succeeds in puzzling its readers and makes them look into the formal schemes that organize the work. In so doing, it pushes readers to consider the arbitrary formality of writing in general, and to contest their own daily practices.” Kit Dobson, Echolocation


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