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"The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


According to poet and critic Stephen Burt, a new way of writing poetry is upon us. Just in case you were wondering what the old way was, here is how Burt describes it:

For much of the past decade, the most imitated new American poets were slippery, digressive, polyvocalic, creators of overlapping, colorful fragments. Their poems were avowedly personal, although they never retold the poets’ life stories (they did not tell stories at all); the poets used, or at least mentioned, difficult ideas, especially from continental philosophy, although they never laid out philosophical arguments (they did not lay out arguments at all). Nor did they describe concrete objects at length. Full of illogic, of associative leaps, their poems resembled dreams, performances, speeches, or pieces of music, and they were, in M.H. Abrams’s famous formulation, less mirror than lamp: the poets sought to project their own experiences, in sparkling bursts of voluble utterance. Their models, among older authors, were Emily Dickinson, John Berryman, John Ashbery, perhaps Frank O’Hara; some had studied (or studied with) Jorie Graham, and many had picked up devices from the Language writers of the West Coast. These poets were what I, eleven years ago, called “elliptical,” what other (sometimes hostile) observers called “New Lyric,” or “post-avant,” or “Third Way.”

What's the new thing? Well, there's a short answer, a medium answer and a long answer. The short answer according to Burt is:

Reference, brevity, self-restraint, attention outside the self, material objects as models, Williams and his heirs as predecessors, classical lyric and epigram as precedents: all these, together, constitute the New Thing.

Here's the medium answer:

[T]he new thing takes cues from Armantrout, and from Robert Creeley; from the Objectivist poets (George Oppen, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky), and from those poets’ common source, William Carlos Williams, he of the slogan “No ideas but in things.”

“A poem,” Williams wrote in his preface to The Wedge (1944), “is a small (or large), machine made of words. . . . It isn’t what [the poet] says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes” (emphasis in original). The new poetry, the new thing, seeks, as Williams did, well-made, attentive, unornamented things. It is equally at home (as he was) in portraits and still lifes, in epigram and quoted speech; and it is at home (as he was not) in articulating sometimes harsh judgments, and in casting backward looks. The new poets pursue compression, compact description, humility, restricted diction, and—despite their frequent skepticism—fidelity to a material and social world. They follow Williams’s “demand,” as the critic Douglas Mao put it, “both that poetry be faithful to the thing represented and that it be a thing in itself.” They are so bound up with ideas of durable thinghood that we can name the tendency simply by capitalizing: the New Thing.

The poets of the New Thing observe scenes and people (not only, but also, themselves) with a self-subordinating concision, so much so that the term “minimalism” comes up in discussions of their work, though the false analogies to earlier movements can make the term misleading. The poets of the New Thing eschew sarcasm and tread lightly with ironies, and when they seem hard to pin down, it is because they leave space for interpretations to fit.


To read the long answer, go here:

http://www.bostonreview.net/BR34.3/burt.php

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Kat,

Just read the article. The author's introductory comments suggest a tendency toward "durable thinghood," a W.C.W. kinda thing. Yet as I read through the numerous references to poets and their work, I was relieved to see so many variations, points of view and styles. Seemed like a bit of a reach to pull them all into one camp. I liked this one a lot:

"I admire the "startling new voice"
and the "linguistic tour de force"
but how about something to read before
an operation?"
How about a few lines to engrave on a ring or a stone?"

Thanks for the link. So many poets to discover and explore.

Chris
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Skeptical that this is anything new. I am thoroughly unconvinced.

It all remains highly focused on the personal, human concerns, with small poems in the lead as a genre, rather than extended riffs on life. It's just a variation on the dominant theme—and I've read other articles that criticize it as being just that. It's not a turn towards a completely other kind of poetry, just a shift of emphasis.

Denying Armantrout's innate connections to the Language Poets or the post-avant doesn't really wash, because again it's just a difference in emphasis not something completely other.

Nowhere in this do I find Jeffers' Inhumanism, or Gary Snyder's post-humanism or trans-humanism. I don't find Lorca's duende in it, just more intellectual poetry rather than embodied poetry. Nowhere in this is Bly's "leaping poetry," or Rilke's poetry of the inner self.

It's all still very surface, very intellectual, very head-written rather than heart-written.

Or so it seems to me.

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Dec/5/2009, 1:20 am Link to this post Send Email to Dragon59   Send PM to Dragon59
 
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Chris,

The passage you quote is one that struck me too. I also think that the poems Burt cites as examples are more like each other than they are like poems in what he calls the "Third Way" but like you I am not sure they constitute a cohesive grouping.

Dragon,

I don't really see "the new thing" as being anything new either. I almost wondered if Burt was using the term ironically, but I don't see any evidence that he is. Rather than the new thing, I see the latest trend and in this case the trend is retro. Sort of like for ten years folks have been wearing skinny jeans and now they've rediscovered bell bottoms. For the most part I prefer the new thing poems to what Burt quotes Hoagland as calling "the skittery poem of our moment," but I doubt that a truly new thing would have so many practioners already. I think this new trend is mostly a reaction to all those skittery poems. As Burt points out, "the pendulum has started to swing."

Wasn't it Bly who wrote about the difference between vertical and horizontal poetry? I think what you are saying is that the new thing in American poetry, like the old thing in American poetry, is still operating on the horizontal plane. I don't think the new thing in poetry necessarily has to be something new; it could be a deepening of something old.






Last edited by Katlin, Dec/5/2009, 9:13 am
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"Fashionable trend" is exactly what I'd call it, yes. The new bell bottoms. I completely agree that anything genuinely new wouldn't have so many already jumping on the bandwagon; things that are genuinely new and different are usually scoffed at for a time, rather than attracting so many flies.

Perhaps Burt is being a provocateur, and perhaps what Burt is indicating is that there IS a rumble of dissatisfaction in the poetry ranks, a tectonic shift away from the academic/intellectual BS that has come to dominate poetry for the past 30 years. I do think that Burt is sincere in his quest for something Other, some genuine alternative to the dead landscape—but he hasn't really broken away from the pack with the New Thing.

Therefore I find Burt's attempts to define this trend, this minor shift in emphasis, as a third way to be laughable. It does nothing to break up the existing dichotomies that have dominated poetry discourse the past decade, namely the so-called post-avant and the neo-formalist. By saying that the pendulum has started to swing, Burt perhaps unconsciously affirms that he has not stepped outside the critical dualism. A genuine third way would convert the binary pendulum into a Foucault pendulum, at least; in other words, it would move the pendulum in a 90 degree direction from its usual back-and-forth.

You see, I think the neo-formalists and the post-avant both come from the same direction. No matter how they claim to be in opposition, both of those styles are driven by ideology, both of them are head-poetry rather than heart-poetry or body-poetry, both of them are intellectual poetries rather than poetries of embodiment, and so they leave one equally cold. The other binary opposition remains between the Modernists and what went before. "Post-modern" poetry, in my opinion, hasn't finished reacting for or against Modernism—after all, "modernism" is still in its name; if it where genuinely POST-modernism, it would be called something entirely different. If there is a binary duality in Modernism, and its children, it is the dualism between the surface-language-play poetries (Stevens and Gertrude Stein lead directly to LangPo) and the Thingness poetries (WCW and the Imagists lead directly to the New Thing).

The third way has always been the ecstatic, orgasmic, duende-infused, fully-embodied mystical poetries (Ginsberg, Snyder, Spicer, Andrew Schelling's journal-poems, Hopkins, Rilke, Lorca, Elytis, Adrienne Rich, etc.) which go on as a continuous thread, often out of the spotlight. There is a wide range of styles and subjects in this thread, yet what they share is a *quality* of "praise" that is based on lived experience, and loves and praises even the dark days and hard times. I remember the last act of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," in which one of the central characters, who is very sick with full-blown AIDS, says to the gathering of continental Angels, "More life. Despite everything, I want more. Give me your blessing. I want more." The poets who praise all say things very much like that, in their many different styles and technical means.

From my perspective this genuine "Third Way" in poetry has been around for a long time, but it's either been unexplored or dismissed by most poets inventing -isms, of which Burt is just the latest, or been folded back into the Us vs. Them rhetoric (which Ron Silliman has explicitly done, on a comment on my very own blog, when I went exploring into a third way).

Robert Bly has several flaws, he's not my hero, I don't think he's a great poet—yet his poetry criticism has some very useful and valid points to it. He is a very good thinker ABOUT poetry. His book of collected criticism, "American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity," ought to be required reading. (He helped me understand why I don't like James Dickey, for example. He was also among the earliest to see what dangers the MFA-poet trend had built into it; reading his thoughts now they seem prophetic.)

When Bly talks about a Third Way, which he does explicitly in the anthology he edited, "Poems of the Two Worlds," and in his long essay-with-examples, "Leaping Poetry," what Bly is talking about is more like the poetry of embodiment and experience that Tere has talked about here so often (as have I, and others), which is a *quality* in poetry no matter what style or technical means are used in the poem. Bly does discuss duende, he does discuss the spiritual aspect of poetry—which Snyder and Sam Hamill also discuss, especially in regard to the Asian influence on American poetry in the last century.

The spiritual and psychological aspects of poetry are exactly what the duality of neo-formalism and the post-avant refuse to admit into their parlors. They won't even talk about it: they consign it to the realm of subjectivity, and ignore it.

The post-confessional lyric, which is the other major contemporary trend (not a defined -ism but a de facto one), does discuss psychology, but it's always personal rather than transpersonal. Robinson Jeffers remains a radical poet because the psychology he uses in his poems is tragic and transpersonal, and his subjects and forms are epic and huge. Burt's New Thing reminds me of the post-confessional lyric because they both tend towards small-scale poems about little things. Never anything grand or epic, always something small and easily-digestible. And the psychology of the post-confessional lyric tends to be shallow pop psychology, which (like neo-formalism and the post-avant) is all about surface and sentiment, not about genuinely deeply felt experience.

All of these poetries remain rather disembodied.

I want more life.

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Thanks, Katfriend, for the info. Once again you show your penchant for ferreting out what's coming onto the scene, both in poetry and elsewhere.

I noticed immediately that you placed "the new thing" in quotation marks in your thread's subject heading. Knowing what a deliberate writer and thinker you are I took this as a signal of a certain detached, perhaps ironic, stance on your part towards the claim itself.

Not sure I have any thoughts about the claim or the notion of a new way developing in American poetry. I am sure, quite sure actually, that if its features are as the writer describes them, with a heavy reliance on the WCW/Objectivist slant especially, I voluntarily keep in poetry's mulch heap, if not actually in its compost bin. (The organic metaphor is deliberate.)

But your post forces me to think and ask myself what, to me, would constitute a new poetry way. Its features might show something like this:

It would go nameless, unlabelled, unclassified, ungrouped. It would shape shift. It would have the magical power to squirm its way out from under the taxonimist's pin holding it down on a Riker mount. It especially, I think, would kill off, or maybe just give the pink slip to, all intermediaries standing between the poet and her reader and whose filter of perceptions always, I do mean always, gets the poetry moment wrong, make of it something less than what it is kinetically between the two principals. This last is the big thing for me. I want back and vital on the scene the unclassifiable liason, sometimes dangerous and sometimes a depth experience, between poet and reader.

Recently I was visiting my brother whom I fondly refer to as the famous teacher and Russian historian. Thinking of a poem of hers I happened to mention Anna Akhmatova. He happened to have an old documentary video on her. Everybody knows the story of how she refused to bow to the Soviet state, even after her one son was sent off to Siberia in order to keep her in check. And everybody knows the story of how Stalin took a personal dislike to her. But she was so loved that, beyond excluding her from the writers union, which meant she could not earn a living or receive state welfare benefits, there was little he could do about her case.

The documentary has this one scene in which a Sovietologist is gettting interviewed. He likens Akhmatova to a pillar. Maybe it is alabaster, or marble, or just made of stone. But it is white and it stands erect. Around it flows and swirls sewage. He likens the sewage to the historical forces that swirled around her, against which, or maybe in spite of which, she stood. That is how she is remembered. That is why Russians always go back to her and, in all likelihood, always will. This is also how I picture the poets I myself go back to time and time again. And in the moment of reading it is just me and them.

Let's hear it for a new, nameless, unclassifiable way.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Dec/5/2009, 6:46 pm
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Dragon and Tere,

Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. I'm going to put them in the popper with a few other thoughts I've been thinking on.

Outsider poems once were wilder than their historical moment, like ‘Howl’ in the fifties, or extravagantly resistant like ‘The Waste Land’ in the twenties. I’m not sure what a great outsider poem might be now. My guess is that its tenor would need to be more subtle and more delicate than its historical moment, that it would be most astonishing in what it addresses yet refuses to give in to. It would surely not be the poem of outspoken complaint or rage; that voice would be too much like the voices we regularly hear on the news.” "Walking Light" Stephen Dunn

The poet does not insist on presenting all the events of his life, and does not refuse to present them either. He brings in enough to make the poem his, but is sparing, so that space opens behind the details, just as there is space between stars in a constellation, so that through the space the reader may see the outer world, may see the mountain light. Anna Akhmatova is a master of this sparing use of detail. The poems clearly come from her “life,” yet through them we glimpse something else, not “hers.” "News of the Universe" Robert Bly
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


I'm reading Sam Hamill's recent book of collected essays and poetry criticism, "Avocations." Sam writes in more than one essay about the topics of embodiment in poetry, and fashionable trends that are best left ignored.

For example, in a long essay on Kenneth Rexroth, Hamill writes:

We live in an age in which the poetry of mature erotic love is out of fashion. Our poets and critics tend to prefer the cool cerebral play of Stevens to the naked jig of Dr. Williams. Much of our poetry takes no political or emotional risk. Rexroth was fond of quoting Yvor Winters, "Emotion in any situation must be as far as possible eliminated," following it with a pregnant pause and a great guffaw. What he claimed for the poetry of [D.H.] Lawrence may be claimed equally for his own poems, for "behind the machinery is an intense, direct, personal, mystical apprehension of reality" that is informed by his acceptance of responsibility in the cruelest century. For Rexroth, love is the ultimate acceptance of that responsibility. Like Camus, whom he admired, he engaged philosophy for the sake of clarity of commitment. "Practical philosophy," he often told his students, "has a test: If your mother or father or closest friend suddenly died, would you turn first to your philosophy professor for understanding?

The "cool cerebral play" of poems in the footsteps of Stevens—that sums up this "new thing" which isn't really. I sure as heck wouldn't this "new thing" poetry emotionally risky; rather the opposite in fact.

Rexroth's question about, would you turn to your philosophy professor, applies equally well, it seems to me, with regard to most of this contemporary poetry. The "new thing" is trying to differentiate itself from the pack, but it's not really very different. It's still cool, cerebral, and language-oriented. Would you turn to it for solace, if someone you loved had died? I think that unlikely.

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Dec/8/2009, 11:16 am Link to this post Send Email to Dragon59   Send PM to Dragon59
 
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Dragon,

If I wanted to write mimimalistic poetry that wasn't mechanistic, intellectual and cool but did touch upon the psychological and the spiritual in a way that wasn't didactic, sentimental or defensively ironic, I'd take Jean Valentine as my role model. I had never heard of her until I heard her read some years ago. I find her poems playful, open-ended and haunting. She knows how to make the silence(s) speak.

I wouldn't say Bly is my hero either. I have learned an awful lot from him though, and more so from his essays than from his poetry.

I want more life and more of the mystery.

Tere,

What a moving depiction of Akhmatova. She did turn to poetry, her own, when someone she loved died. Nothing "cool, cerebral, and language-oriented" there.

Last edited by Katlin, Dec/11/2009, 10:39 pm
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I agree that I've learned more from Bly's essays than his poetry.

Funny you should mention Jean Valentine. I credit her with nothing less than giving me permission to be the kind of poet that I wanted to be, as opposed to everyone telling me what I supposed to be. To go my own way, in other words. Discovering her book "Ordinary Things" in college was what gave me permission to write the kind of poems I wanted to write, because here for the first time was a poetic voice that sounded like my own, like what I was hearing inside myself, but which had been shot down already many times by others. Her poetry gave me the validation to do what I wanted to do. I owe her a lot. Indeed, she has been a role model for me.

I once wrote her an email letter, via her website, telling her this story, and thanking her, many years after the fact. She sent me a very nice reply.

Last edited by Dragon59, Dec/11/2009, 10:30 pm


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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


quote:

Dragon59 wrote:

I'm reading Sam Hamill's recent book of collected essays and poetry criticism, "Avocations." Sam writes in more than one essay about the topics of embodiment in poetry, and fashionable trends that are best left ignored.

For example, in a long essay on Kenneth Rexroth, Hamill writes:

We live in an age in which the poetry of mature erotic love is out of fashion. Our poets and critics tend to prefer the cool cerebral play of Stevens to the naked jig of Dr. Williams. Much of our poetry takes no political or emotional risk. Rexroth was fond of quoting Yvor Winters, "Emotion in any situation must be as far as possible eliminated," following it with a pregnant pause and a great guffaw. What he claimed for the poetry of [D.H.] Lawrence may be claimed equally for his own poems, for "behind the machinery is an intense, direct, personal, mystical apprehension of reality" that is informed by his acceptance of responsibility in the cruelest century. For Rexroth, love is the ultimate acceptance of that responsibility. Like Camus, whom he admired, he engaged philosophy for the sake of clarity of commitment. "Practical philosophy," he often told his students, "has a test: If your mother or father or closest friend suddenly died, would you turn first to your philosophy professor for understanding?

The "cool cerebral play" of poems in the footsteps of Stevens—that sums up this "new thing" which isn't really. I sure as heck wouldn't this "new thing" poetry emotionally risky; rather the opposite in fact.

Rexroth's question about, would you turn to your philosophy professor, applies equally well, it seems to me, with regard to most of this contemporary poetry. The "new thing" is trying to differentiate itself from the pack, but it's not really very different. It's still cool, cerebral, and language-oriented. Would you turn to it for solace, if someone you loved had died? I think that unlikely.

[I liked the comments here. You seem to question Wallace Stevens; this is one of the few times I've ever read anything about him questioned at all. Generally, I hear Stevens praised up and down. Good quote about reactions upon a death, whether you would go to a philosophy professor first. Good comments on the cool, cerebral and language-oriented poetry. I'm seeing a lot of it at TCP and can't quite reconcile myself to it completely, though I try to work with it. I guess I haven't read enough post-modern poetry or post-modern theory to be able to grasp it completely. I mentioned the discussion you and Terreson and Katlin are having here because it would be good for some of them to read this stuff, but I don't think I'm allowed to post the internet address, so I just mentioned it. And I don't mean just what you've said here, but what Katlin said, and Terreson. I'm going through a review of my own attitudes about "modern" poetry or post-modern postry and so this is timely. When I mentioned it to William, he encouraged me to invite you'all back, but of course, you have your own very good world scene here and there is no need for that. This particular type of discussion is sharper and more fleshed out here, which is why I mentioned it to William.
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quote:

Terreson wrote:

Thanks, Katfriend, for the info. Once again you show your penchant for ferreting out what's coming onto the scene, both in poetry and elsewhere.

I noticed immediately that you placed "the new thing" in quotation marks in your thread's subject heading. Knowing what a deliberate writer and thinker you are I took this as a signal of a certain detached, perhaps ironic, stance on your part towards the claim itself.

Not sure I have any thoughts about the claim or the notion of a new way developing in American poetry. I am sure, quite sure actually, that if its features are as the writer describes them, with a heavy reliance on the WCW/Objectivist slant especially, I voluntarily keep in poetry's mulch heap, if not actually in its compost bin. (The organic metaphor is deliberate.)

But your post forces me to think and ask myself what, to me, would constitute a new poetry way. Its features might show something like this:

It would go nameless, unlabelled, unclassified, ungrouped. It would shape shift. It would have the magical power to squirm its way out from under the taxonimist's pin holding it down on a Riker mount. It especially, I think, would kill off, or maybe just give the pink slip to, all intermediaries standing between the poet and her reader and whose filter of perceptions always, I do mean always, gets the poetry moment wrong, make of it something less than what it is kinetically between the two principals. This last is the big thing for me. I want back and vital on the scene the unclassifiable liason, sometimes dangerous and sometimes a depth experience, between poet and reader. [Terreson, viscerally I think I know what you mean, but technically I don't. I see so many approaches (sometimes called styles, traditions, schools, etc.) of poetry that I'm left with a big question mark. Your own poetry works for me, and in fact, one of my most recent poems is influenced by you in a certain way, in certain lines. But my first question is whether someone who writes in a dissonant style, you know the approach, where disparate pieces, phrases, images are thrown together and where on the surface it is very difficult to know what the guy/gal is trying to say: and where their response is: "I'm writing to get the meaning or experience or whatever that conventional word structure or syntax can't achieve." Yet, they also say they are trying to go directly from poet to reader.]

Recently I was visiting my brother whom I fondly refer to as the famous teacher and Russian historian. Thinking of a poem of hers I happened to mention Anna Akhmatova. He happened to have an old documentary video on her. Everybody knows the story of how she refused to bow to the Soviet state, even after her one son was sent off to Siberia in order to keep her in check. And everybody knows the story of how Stalin took a personal dislike to her. But she was so loved that, beyond excluding her from the writers union, which meant she could not earn a living or receive state welfare benefits, there was little he could do about her case.

The documentary has this one scene in which a Sovietologist is gettting interviewed. He likens Akhmatova to a pillar. Maybe it is alabaster, or marble, or just made of stone. But it is white and it stands erect. Around it flows and swirls sewage. He likens the sewage to the historical forces that swirled around her, against which, or maybe in spite of which, she stood. That is how she is remembered. That is why Russians always go back to her and, in all likelihood, always will. This is also how I picture the poets I myself go back to time and time again. And in the moment of reading it is just me and them.

Let's hear it for a new, nameless, unclassifiable way.

Tere



null

Last edited by Zakzzz5, Dec/12/2009, 11:14 am
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Dragon,

What a great story about the relationship between Jean Valentine's work and your own. How fortuitous that you discovered her poems when you were in college. I thought of a few more qualities in them I like: Their open-heartedness and lovely sonics.

Hey Zak,

It's good to see you. In my original post I meant to include a link to Tony Hoagland's piece "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment," which Burt mentions in his article. Hoagland helped me to better understand and appreciate what is valuable in the "old" new thing while at the same time clarifying its limitations. In light of some of your comments and questions above, I thought you might find his piece of interest as well:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=177773
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 Katlin,

I appreciate your posting the link. I'm half-way through it, reading it in my slow way. A couple of thoughts come to mind: Will the "new" stylists (and there are at least three people that write in a similar, fragmented, dissociated manner on TCP (forgive me for mentioning that site; I promise to mention yours over there, as it is necessary sometimes, in order to carry on a normal conversation: one simply doesn't list the internet address -- I think that's the protocol??????) -- anyway, there are at least three people who write that way. I'm reminded of a discussion I came across many years ago: to whit, that modern poets would never write great epics because they write little lyrics. Maybe our rushed world of McBites doesn'nt allow for epics, or even a Wasteland or a Howl. My thought is: How in the world are these fragments of dissociation going to make their mark? Maybe they/we intend to make our mark in McBites?

Maybe it doesn't matter. I'm attracted at times to that new school of writing. But someone here said or implied that that style of writing is more for the linguists or philosophers, and I tend to think there is merit in that comment. The reason I think this is partly because the more erratic and dissociated the writing is, the more likely it will be that no one but those interested in literature and poetry will be able to understand it. Then we get into that argument where eventually you realize that even "back in the day" only the nobility knew how to read; and if you go back even farther, the hearers/readers didn't have to know how to read because the poems were said/sung/chanted. So we get off on other derivative issues.

But it's a great discussion, and this is just my two cents worth. Nothing definitive from me, just throwing in some fuel. Good discussion.

Thanks again for the great link. And yes, I am somewhat ambivalent about what I am reading. Zak

quote:

Katlin wrote:
 

Hey Zak,

It's good to see you. In my original post I meant to include a link to Tony Hoagland's piece "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment," which Burt mentions in his article. Hoagland helped me to better understand and appreciate what is valuable in the "old" new thing while at the same time clarifying its limitations. In light of some of your comments and questions above, I thought you might find his piece of interest as well:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=177773



 

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Zak,

This is stuff I've been thinking hard about for a couple of years, and it's one reason I've given up having anything to do with places like TCP. (I've extensively written out my reasons why on my Dragoncave blog, so I don't feel like rehashing them here.)

Here is an excellent article by Albert Gelpi which is still one of the best overviews of the post-avant or post-modern in poetry. I haven't read a better summation yet:

Albert Gelpi on the history of postmodernism

I can also recommend Gelpi's introduction to "The Wild God of the World," which is a selected poems of Robinson Jeffers that Gelpi produced a couple of years ago. His introduction in that volume says some excellent things about all this history of contemporary poetry, and he places Jeffers within his historical context in a very illuminating way. I recommend it highly.

Slightly off-topic but closely related is Suzi Gablik's book "Has Modernism Failed?" (1984) in which she discusses all the cultural and economic forces that drove the rise of post-Modernism. For example, from p. 62 of her book:

As we move into the era of postmodernism, we seem to be witnessing the rise of a new psychological type of artist: the bureaucratic or organizational personality who lives in a condition of submission to a cultural and economic power system because of the rewards of money and prestige which are offered in return for such submission.

It's interesting to contrast this with what I've been reading in Edward Weston's "Daybooks," particularly Vol. II, about his California years in the 1920s and 30s, in which he was broke all the time, struggling to do the art he wanted to do, and was misunderstood even by other artists, because his approach to photography was so new, so different at that time. (Of course, now Weston's style in art photography, along with Adams', is the most-followed of all.)

To contrast Weston's uncompromising stance with that of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst is instructive. It seems to me that Burt's "new thing" has more in common with Hirst and Koons than it can with Weston, in terms of artistic approach: after all, Burt isn't really risking anything, his "new thing" isn't really breaking away from the privilege and economic cushion that academic-based poets have come to feel they're entitled to. If you look at Language Poetry, or the post-avant, through this lens as well, again it's instructive to see that they're more about mechanics and surface effect and reproduction—exactly like Koons. The similarities are striking.



The other article on postmodern poetics that I highly recommend is from Marjorie Perloff. It's about John Cage and his influence on postmodern poetics, etc.:

What You Say

Zak, after a great deal of reading and thinking about this topic, and engagements directly with Ron Silliman and others on this topic, is that I increasingly believe that all this language-based writing is all surface and no depth. It's tricks with words. So indeed it does have more ties to linguistics than to the history of poetry. Only time will tell, and yet I am of the opinion that it's a dead-end for poetry, and will pretty die off after another generation or two of its practitioners die off.

As for criticizing Stevens, I've been doing that for years. More accurately, I've been criticizing Stevens' acolytes, who have led us down these roads of language over meaning—roads that Stevens most definitely opened the door to, and which he is definitely the lineal ancestor of—towards what the LangPoets such as Silliman tend to refer to as the post-avant.

Silliman's stance is "all avant-garde, all the time," and it's as much as political stance as anything else. He sets up an Us vs. Them dichotomy between the poets he likes (the post-avant) and associates with, vs. those poets who represent the stream of he pejoratively labels the School of Quietude. That's a strawman if ever there was one. Because in his usage it literally means "everyone else." I've discussed the idea of a third stream in poetry directly with him, regarding Bly's "Leaping Poetry" essay, and duende, etc., only to have Silliman fold all of that right back into his Them of the SoQ. It's like talking to a brick wall. (Which is weird, because as a human being I rather like Ron.)

My basic position is that any poetry, ANY poetry, that is driven by ideology and theoretical -isms rather than by experience and the soma, and duende, is going to eat its own entrails and eventually implode. Because any theory-driven poetry, in which the theory is proscriptive rather than descriptive—and descriptive is all any theory of the arts can ever really be—is going to be written more from the head than the heart and the body, and thus will only appeal to the head, and to nothing else. Which is an apt description of all this academic poetry such as LangPo, this "new thing," and all the other disembodied poetics that might be fun as puzzles but have all the weight of helium.

As for the "all avant-garde, all the time" stance—which is absurd since you can't be an avant-grade if you're the mainstream rather than the fringe—the late great poet-critic Octavio Paz had this to say:

Many have commented on the disappearance of a true avant-garde and its replacement by avant-gardism... I see this as a prolongation of experimentation usually leading further on from collage and montage into ever-increasing fragmentation and eventually into a degenerative disease which, adapting an already common usage, I call 'disjunctivitis.' The argument, used by some producers who, correctly locating the seats of available power in the academy, have ensconced themselves therein every bit as much as the establishment 'mainstream,' to the effect that the disruption of the common linguistic coin is part of a war against 'late-capitalist' discourse is singularly inept. I do not see oppressed workers of any kind devouring the products of avant-gardism. The death-of-the-author thematics, as commonly adapted, are another inanity: when society does its very best to homogenize us, what is wrong with a strong, knowledgeable, and responsible ego crying in the darkening wilderness?
—Octavio Paz

To me this speaks directly to the fragmentation you are describing that those poets you mentioned are doing.

You see, "postmodernism" is really Extreme Late Modernism: it's Modernism's fragmentation and loss of social meaning ("Things fall apart, the center cannot hold" —Yeats) taken to the ultimate extreme. It is in fact the final, late working-out stages of Modernism. That "postmodernism" must still include "modernism" in its label tells me that it's still responding to Modernism, and isn't really about anything "after Modernism." The latter would not include "Modernism" in its label. So Burt's "new thing" might be an attempt to be "after Modernism," but it's really just post-post-modernism under a new sign.

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Goodness! So much food for thought ya'll give. If anyone wants to know why I come to this particular board it is because of the people who come to this particular board. I am not only thinking of people who've posted upthread. I am thinking of everyone. Not to get Hallmark on everybody, but it is true.

I am going to go slightly off topic for a moment and address something Zakman says. If anyone objects, let me know and I will either delete or move the post.

I guess everyone knows Rus Bowden. In addition to his IBPC responsibilities he also maintains a poetry board and a poetry blog. When I have to think administratively I've come to ask a question: what would Rus Bowden do? I respect his capacity for good judgement that much. On both blog and board his practice is to post links to other blogs and boards. Delectable Mnts operates in the same range of lattidunal play. Off the top of my head, I remember that Katfriend has posted a link to a discussion over at poets.org. Dragonman has given a link to his always thought-through blog. Pat has also given a link to her delightful blog. In our forum, News You can Use, linking to web sites is mentioned in general. Perhaps the guideline should be more specific and mentioning that the board encourages the linking to other boards. If ya'll say so we can make it so. So, Zakman, feel at ease with respect to linkages and such. But for one forum meant for members only, made as such at the request of a member, Delectable Mnts is in it for the freedom of exchange and the street runs in at least two directions.

One last word on the off-topic and I'll stop dirtying the air waves about it. I confess I cannot keep straight the two TCP boards. If the one Zakman has in mind is the one DMHL is owner/administrator of he is a member here too and stops in from time to time. Check out the forum, Ateliers, for a series of his that I'll wager will one day prove major poetry and may be a new/old thing on the scene.

I'll come back later and get back on topic.

Tere
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Well speaking of TCP, where I lurk and which I like only second to this place, it's challenged me to stretch.

One poet in particular whose writing strikes me as having a quality of deep cohesion. Not in the way language is structured to impose logic or linear sense onto thought/experience. More in the way it coheres to how the mind or consciousness actually proceeds. Really brings the relationship between language and mind into high relief.

I've come to admire this poet's commitment, no gimmicks at all. But whether it's lang-po or linguistics, it's a cut above my pay grade. My own thoughts on these subjects are muddled.

Chris

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


I appreciate what you say about links and linkages, Tere, and I'll abide by the consensus. For myself, I don't think it needs to be made explicit, as long as everyone's comfortable with links being used as part of discourse. The advantage of hypertext is that one is able to make those linkages, so people can go read the original sources and decide for themselves. I think it enriches and deepens discourse; but I've always felt that way.

Chris, there are great writers everywhere, on almost every board. But not all are a good fit with each other. (For the record, I never claimed to be a good writer, or poet; that is for others to determine, not me. The most I ever claimed to be was adequate.) And there are cliques, and then there are cliques.

The "what would Rus Bowden do?" rule of thumb is a very good one, in my opinion, because it reflects an attitude of intellectual openness and civil discussion rather than argumentative dogmatism and enforced conformity. In my experience, the only thing Rus doesn't permit is overt ad hominem attacks on a person, and even then he usually gives someone several chances to hang themselves first.

As for me, I will never have anything to say on any board on which an atmosphere of personal hostility is tacitly approved of by the admins. Or on any board in which my attempts to stand up for someone who is being unfairly attacked cause me to be also attacked, exiled, or banned. If people won't play fair, it's just not worth my limited time. Since all of those things did happen to me, on both TCP boards, at one time or another, that's that. emoticon Life is way too short.



Addendum, in case the above might be misread:

I no longer call myself a poet. I am someone who occasionally enjoys writing, but I don't call myself a writer anymore. Words are not my main tool of art-making, and I deluded myself for awhile in thinking they were. Again, it's not for me to decide about my own writing. So I am actually pretty detached and neutral from the fray, at the moment.

I also mean offense to anyone, in being honest about my current position on all this. I speak only for myself, and I have no expectations that anyone will, or should, agree with me. My roads are my own.

And at the same time, I'm less polite than I used to be. These days I tend to call a spade a spade. Too many recent brushes with my own mortality have left me impatient with indirection, and therefore less diplomatic, in my style of discourse. Again, my roads are my own. I do not expect anyone to share them.

Thanks.

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Not sure this is replying to anyone specifically; soon I'll try to reply specifically to Dragon, et al. Right now I just want to get a couple of thoughts down, as I have just finished reading Katlin's link.

What comes to mind with this dissociative poetry, which I mentioned I am familiar with from TCP (Terreson, the TCP I mean is the one where William, Auto, Steven Parker, etc. post. As you know, not long after you left there was a bifurcation, with many poets leaving both sites, while some remained with the other TCP.) -- is the move in the art world (of painters) from Impressionism to Cubism to all the things that Picasso and others did -- to eventually getting to where Pollack got. It's almost as if the poetry of some of the "fragmentationalists" is trying to accomplish what Pollack did in painting. From my perspective it doesn't seem like it will work for poetry like it did for Pollack. But who am I to say? What some of these poets tell me is that you are to grasp the meaning (sometimes they say there is "no meaning", though) without relying on the syntax, the narrative form of the traditional poetry. Which in a sense is asking us to step back to when Pollack and his predecessors were first breaking down the traditional forms of painting. (Yes, I know, we can keep going backwards to the people who preceded them, ad nauseum).

However, based on the examples Katlin's link provided, I didn't get a sense of the "transcendent" -- I especially didn't get it from the "clever" poem that used First Person, Second Person and Third Person. To me, it was just a clever poem. I read about how "confessional" poetry has been overdone, and I read the other poem, "Couples", which resupposes that the narrative form is worn out because everyone knows the answers, and any of various situations can be substituted willy-nilly. My response might be that much of the poetry being written today, and over the last fifty years may be "boring" -- as is suggested -- i.e., repetitive, because the focus is on "writing" and not on "experience."

I think a couple of you have said the same thing here. That, or the writing is being approached for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way. Which I think you've also said, to some degree. Having said that, I have read some of that dissociatve poetry that is piercing and sparkles. This gets a bit into what Katlin's link was about, or at least was mentioned there, though I'm not sure of the man's conclusion, but here's mine: regardless of the dissociative aspects of much of William's poetry, for example, the ones that resonate with me have a definite "coherence" in them. Thus, a certain story is still there, though I'm not sure William would admit to it (I won't speak for him). But I also rebel against the strictures that tell us we need to write that way exclusively if we want to be heard.

Yes, I did read the more fragmented poetry towards the end of the link. I'm reminded that James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" has yet to be surpassed (at least to my knowledge) in being elliptical, elusive, difficult writing. Is poetry barely gaining on Joyce? But who really reads "Finnegan's Wake" except scholars? Zak

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Business before pleasure: I'm with Dragon in that I don't think we need to make it explicit that it is okay to post links to other boards. We don't have a rule against it, so I think by implication that means it's okay to do.

Now for the pleasure: I recently started lurking at tcp, the one Zak mentions. I mainly follow the discussions in Everything Else and some of the poetry in Heavy Duty. I've found some of the discussions were stimulating, and I've enjoyed many of the poems. I especially like your recent poem, Zak ("Growing Old Past My Brother"--the original version, haven't read the revision yet). It's minimalistic but it's not cold, ironic or cerebral. In fact, just the opposite: moving, haunting. I've also appreciated some of the more experimental work there more than I did several years ago when I briefly posted at the site. I don't know if my perspective is different, or if the poets are doing better work. I suspect a little of both.

One poet in particular whose writing strikes me as having a quality of deep cohesion. Not in the way language is structured to impose logic or linear sense onto thought/experience. More in the way it coheres to how the mind or consciousness actually proceeds. Really brings the relationship between language and mind into high relief.

I've come to admire this poet's commitment, no gimmicks at all. But whether it's lang-po or linguistics, it's a cut above my pay grade. My own thoughts on these subjects are muddled.


Chris, that doesn't sound like Langpo or linguistics to me, but something else. I can see how poems about the inner workings of conciousness could be worth reading, if they are done well. Of course, that's what Jorie Graham claims to do in some of her work (if I'm not mistaken), and I didn't care for the poems at all. I'd love it if we had a discussion about poems, of any style really, that people think work well. I don't think we should link to poems in other forums' workshops, which after all are not finished pieces meant for public consumption, but poems that have been published in online journals would okay. Poems that don't work could be discussed as well but understanding why someone likes a given poem, especially one outside my usual comfort zone, would be more fruitful I think, would help me stretch my poetry comprehension, to use Tere's term, in the way Chris mentions.


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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Interesting insights, Zak.

(BTW, I read "Finnegan's Wake" for pleasure for the first time in my later teens and early 20s, having already read all of the rest of Joyce, and several books re: Joyce, by then. I discovered for myself that the way to read The Wake is out loud, in an Irish accent. That makes it both more coherent, and quite funny. I dip into The Wake periodically, still. I agree it was sort of the zenith of that style, and although I think Gertrude Stein did surpass it, in terms of sheer writing prowess, The Wake remains unique in many ways.)

I have Auto's first book of collected poems, which she gave me on a visit to Santa Cruz some years ago, when I was passing through. The thing is, Auto's poems, and William's poems, do cohere, as you say. But then, I'd put up their poems side by side with the poets lauded by the critics of the post-avant, and I think William's and Auto's poems are at least as good. I think the difference between them and those Burt lauds are that William and Auto do remain grounded in experience, no matter how far into word experimentation they go: it's still grounded in something, not all air. That's just my personal take on it, though.



Kat, I invite you to start a thread along those very lines. I think it could be very interesting.

For myself, I can make the same claims about unusual syntax in my poems representing different psychological states. I've made that claim many times over the years, because its one of the reasons that some of my poems are "experimental" (a tag that was often thrown at me at TCP in a pejorative sense). I appreciate and agree with the avant-garde (the original AG) in their attempts to break out of the straightjacket of form and meter and prose grammar (I find it completely bizarre that so many poets seem to think that poetry must follow the rules of prose grammar and syntax), although the thing one must always remember with "experimental" poetry is that, as in science, most experiments fail. Then you redesign and try again.

Anyway, I'm digressing. My basic point was that I agree with the intent of poets like Jorie Graham to write outside the box, and bring psychologically reflection into the poems. (Although I don't think she's up to the task.) I often turn to Samuel Beckett as an effective example of someone who has done just this; for example, in the shorter prose works such as "Lessness"

And here's an interesting scholarly article about "Lessness" that makes some points about writing to reflect consciousness: About Lessness

For my own, there's a poem called "Zuni II" at the bottom of a poetry page on my own website, which I wanted to write from the viewpoint of the fire ant colony I came across in the Zuni desert in 2003. The poem's here if you wanted to look at it: Zuni II


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Darn. A maintenance man just turned off the wrong breaker and I lost my connection. I'll have to come back later to join in the discussion, being short on time.

But this much I can post. Zakman, thanks for the TCP clarification. I hope my wrong guess did not give offfense.

I gather those who've spoken at least do not feel a more specific linkage guideline is needed. It works for me, being of the mind that usually less is better than more when it comes to protocol specifications. If others feel differently we can always revisit the topic.

I too like Katfriend's idea involving a thread devoted to showing and sharing poems that work for an individual. I might have one small concern. It would be good to keep in mind that poets tend to invest themselves personally in their poets. The spirit of the exchange, it seems to me, will determine its success. But, of course, that is always and everywhere true anyway, right?

I'll come back to all the rich thinking going on here.

Tere

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So I am making time for one small response. My date with the queen of the laundromat will simply be a bit later. I am thinking of what Zakman says which I take as saying: how do I know if the poem in front of me, irrespective of procedure, in fact is a poem.

One of the things I've noticed and admire in you is that you think with your gut. Your thinking strikes me as visceral, not cerebral. A couple of weeks ago, and getting hurled through the sky at 30,000 feet, I finally got around to reading a slight, and slightly whacky, essay by Lawrence. It is his famous little thing on the unconscious and psychoanalysis. His ideas certainly tend to the eccentric and, viewed as scientific hypothesis, perfectly unprovable. What he sets out to do is locate the seats of both the unconscious and consciousness. Without apology he locates the seat of the unconscious right behind the navel. His reasoning is that it is there where a person still feels his tie to his mother by way of the (severed) umbilical chord. Consciousness he placed in a person's solar plexus, up from the navel. He then goes on to borrow from Hinduism, speaks of chakras, pretty much gives each human organ a place in the play between the unconscious and consciousness. There are a few other twisty turns to his thesis, but essentially this is what he mapped out. He says something else kind of interesting. He says his thesis derives from his many novels, each of which, it goes without saying, is a kind of assay into what composes the actions of a restless, striving, passionate, and searching individual. Searching for what? Searching for transformations, I would say, played out in the flesh.

I don't have to either subscribe to or disapprove of his notions to get the larger thing he was after. Thinking with the gut. Thinking viscerally. Living viscerally. Keeping the animal part, I want to say pre-conscious part, alive and vital. And then the even bigger thing, or trusting your gut responses. This last would have been paramount to Lawrence who had an abiding distrust of how civilization has diminished man (woman) by virtue of how it has caused men and women to distrust themselves, their actions and their desires. A more recent British novelist would have agreed with Lawrence. He held that in addition to all the other psychological functions there is this thing he called the Nemo. He being John Fowles. For Fowles the Nemo is the anti-self, the product of too much civilization, and whose function is to cancel out desire, thereby keeping the individual in check for the closer maintenace of the collective.

Trusting your gut. This is what I take from Lawrence. First learning to think in your gut, not with your head, then trusting what you think. And so once again I am brought full circle back to this thing I keep calling soma knowledge or knowing with your body.

Zakman, this is how I approach a poem and it rarely fails me. Rules and procedures for me are questions of local coloration and, as such, both environmentally bound and biased. For awhile Victorian tastes and conventions dominated. For awhile Modern tastes and conventions dominated. I am not sure what taste and convention dominates today, but I am sure it is both environmentally bound and biased. For that matter, put yourself under the tutelage of a poetry teacher and the chance is likely you will have to deal with her or his environmentally binding biases. What does the poem speak to my body and perhaps on a cellular level? That is my question. And I confess I am conceited enough, more likely old enough, to trust what my body tells me when faced with a poem.

I started this out by saying I've come to both recognize and admire your instinctive way of proceeding. This is something of what I mean about proceeding instinctively, thinking in your gut. Our senses, it seems to me, rarely fail us. Fire is hot to the touch. Ice is cold to the touch. A smell can take us back to before we were born. A certain sound or sight can cause an ecstatic seizure felt physically. Why should poetry be approached in any way other than with the whole body, in the gut, with all of how it presses on the senses. A better poetry thinker than me said it best a long time ago. In its first moment poetry is more physical than it is intellectual.

One last thought maybe. It seems to me there is something conservative about poetry, and I mean this in the primitive sense. There is something about it that brings us back to first tastes, first sounds, first smells, first touches. There is even something about it that brings us back to the first rituals involving chant and dance, the purpose of which is always transformational. And I do mean always. A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary with my brother the Russian historian. It was about Stravinsky's Rites of Spring ballet. Back in the eighties a bunch of people got together, many of whom had been working on the project for twenty years or so, and they reconstructed the first production of the ballet in Paris of (I think) 1911. It was extraordinary. I've listened to the score a few hundred times. But I had never seen it performed. Everybody knows the riot it caused initially, which, in itself, is poetry: civilization's fear of the kind of desire that transforms. And I guess I never actually got what the ballet is about. It involves the built upon libido dance that ends in a maiden's selection who will dance to her ecstatic death before the Sun God. And her dance is transformational. And her giving of herself to the Sun God is transformational. And the spring her dance and her dance alone brings in is transformational and life giving. Funny huh? How civilization is still afraid of the senses. And I think so is poetry, at least in America.

Tere

(editor's comment. The writer's post demonstrates that he too is, in all likelihood, prisoner to bias.)

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Audaciously riffing on my own crazy post.

When you really think about it, what meaning in life is worth it, is not a lie, if not approved of sensually? As with meaning, so with poetry.

Tere
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Tere,

I know what you mean about trusting one's gut, thinking with one's gut, but I wouldn't go so far as to say off with their heads! Thinking with the body includes thinking with one's head. The brain is an organ. And let's not forget the thinking heart. Following one's senses and instincts is good, but sometimes instinct needs to be tamed, the desire of the senses overruled. I'm thinking, for example, of something as basic as someone who loves sweets and wants to eat them all day to something as base as childhood incest. A life without eros, without desire is the waste land, but a life led by following only desire could end up making one a hungry ghost. To me it's about balance, the four functions Jung refers to working together. Sometimes, yes, one needs to throw balance and caution to the wind. Sometimes one can't help but do so. Rituals are transformational, but civilization isn't always a bad thing. I'm kind of glad the Aztecs aren't still cutting out living human hearts and offering them to the Sun God. As Campbell said, "Nature intends the grail," but as he also pointed out, the left-hand path is not without peril and resurrection/rebirth is not guaranteed. Perhaps we are talking at cross purposes here, but I think it is easy, and just as dangerous, to underestimate the power of raw, bodily energy as it is to overestimate the power of disembodied mental energy.


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Kat,

Apologies for going against the flow here to
double back. Just wanted to respond to your comments upthread.

The poetry I referred to was not "ABOUT the inner workings of consciousness," rather reflects those inner workings while addressing other subjects. Maybe the inner workings of consciousness (or the issue of how language distorts or clarifies those workings) is a constant subtext of such writing, which is why I associate it with Lang Po.

Seems to me this conflict between the primal and the civilized is mediated through poetry or any art form. It's all a made thing, isn't it? All art forms artifact? No matter how infused with the original impulse.
So lang po is interested in that. Lately I'm interested in that too.

Now I've strained myelf. That'll teach me.

Chris
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Chris,

No problem with the doubling back; I'm glad you did. I want to go back to some points Zak and Dragon have raised as well. Thanks for the clarification regarding the poems you mentioned: They are not about the inner workings of conciousness but a demonstration of it. I also get what you mean now about the "constant subtext" and why you associate it with Lang Po.
Dec/14/2009, 11:41 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Chris, I hear what you're saying about art reflecting or revealing the inner workings of consciousness. I appreciate poetry that does come from non-normative states of consciousness, and such poetry often uses non-normative syntax/grammar to embody those states of mind. (A poetry of heightened experience needn't be weighed down by being written as bland prose.) Even non-normative structures, such as the prose-poem, can be part of the revelation of consciousness. (And Lautremont and Baudelaire, in their early explorations of the prose-poem, were explicit about intending to do just that.)

Which I've tried to do in more than one poem, or prose-poem, or haibun, in which the syntax, style, and structure of the poem come from within the mental frame (schema, mindset) of the character's psychology. (I don't say "narrator," because it's usually not narrative poetry.) That all sounds very much more deliberate than it usually is, BTW; my own awareness of that happening usually arrives partway into the writing, rather than something I consciously set out to do. If I did set to think from within a character, it's usually a question I asked myself, like, "How does an ant colony think, and have self-awareness?" Putting yourself into the mind of the Other, and writing from within that mind.

I understand what you're saying, I think, about all art being artifice, and about how one can be interested in exploring what that means.

The thing is, poetry reflective of the inner workings of consciousness is not owned by or tied to any one genre or style of poetry. And I would argue, on the evidence, that in our narcissistic and self-referential day and age, with a lot of narcissistic poetry being made, that narcissism isn't owned by any one style or genre, either. I find the post-confessional lyric to be narcissistic or not just as often as is the post-avant.

What I'm saying is that these are separate axes of meaning. They might touch at certain points, but they're not intimately bound to each other.

LangPo isn't really about the inner workings of consciousness, it's explicitly (reading from their own theoretical texts and manifestos) about the structure of language. That is, LangPo is not expressive of states of consciousness, at least not deliberately. (I'm sure some poets stumble into that, being human.) Now, granted, language can be expressive of states of consciousness, as we already said above—however, Chris, I would submit to you that if you're interested in using language to reveal states of consciousness, you're not a LangPoet, because that's not their mission nor their goal. Nothing so profoundly psychological.

For me this isn't a conflict between the primal and the civilized (eg. Claude Levi-Strauss, "The Raw and the Cooked"), it's a conflict created by the disembodied and overly-civilized in a deliberate attempt to avoid, suppress, reject, and even deny the very existence of the primal. It's Mannerist in its artifice, in the art-historical meaning of focusing entirely on the artificial over the natural. Head-poetry genres are not so much the end-products of civilization as they are end-products of one interpretation of Cartesian (or Manichean) mind-body dualism: in their gnosis, they are talking heads floating in a gray void. In that scenario, only thought is sacred, and all physical matter is evil.

Hakim Bey, radical philosopher author of "The Temporary Autonomous Zone" reminds us: "We do not live in CyberSpace; to dream that we do is to fall into CyberGnosis, the false transcendence of the body."

Similarly, we don't live in PoetrySpace, and poetry that removes us from our physical selves (that gut-punch response to a powerful work of art) deceives us into imagining we live in a poetrygnosis, in which all that can be known of the world must come via the word.

Well, words are not the ultimate way to experience the world, or even to express the world; at least not for this non-Poet. Words can spin lies about experience in ways that music does not; at least for me.

Poetrygnosis is a false transcendence of the body AND of the word. No experience of living is transmitted through poetrygnosis, just thinking ABOUT an experience of living. And it seems to me that most of the post-avant genres of poetry, including LangPo, are very much about poetrygnosis.

The whole point of that hoary cliché about "show, don't tell" that we've all seen in poetry critiques, is based on this same awareness that being told about an experience is not the same as having had that experience, or having that experience re-created in our own self, via a work of art.

Of course all art is artifice! But art that emphasizes its artifice, its artificialness, its disconnection from its sources of making, quickly becomes Mannerist, disembodied. Perhaps poetry has more of a problem with this than, say, sculpture, precisely because the elements of poetry, words, are already one step removed from the physical in that they are signs and symbols referring to the world, but not of the world. A sculptor's finished work remains made of stone, wood, metal, or something tangible. A poet's finished work remains more-or-less disembodied.

Nonetheless, I think there are degrees of disembodiment. A poem that can recreate an experience in the reader, so that the reader feels a somatic response, that gut-punch response, is less disembodied, if you will, than a poem meant to appeal only to the head, to poetrygnosis.

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


I just want to say:

I'm thoroughly enjoying this discussion. I don't seek to dominate it. Y'all are instigating some good thinking herein, and I'm just responding to that. If I respond at length, it's because I'm thinking it through, and so many of the points being raised by y'all deserve that.

Thanks.

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Re: "The New Thing" in Recent American Poetry


Katlin, what I get from Tere's comments is that we need to bring head and heart and hands back into dynamic balance, not that any one of those ought to be discarded. I don't want to speak for Tere, and I did get the sense that maybe he was overstating the case to make a point?

I view the situation as the head aspects of poetry having come into such overwhelming dominance in the late Modern era which we're in now (postmodernism is actually Very Late Modernism)—in the late Romantic period, the heart was in overwhelming dominance, and so the head-poetry was in part a reaction to that—that it needs to be balanced by bringing the body back into it.

In other words, the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and needs to be brought back to center.

I've often said that art needs to be a dynamic balance of head AND heart AND body (hands). You can visualize it as a tripod, or a Foucault's Pendulum, moving between points on the floor. I still think that's the case. Any art that falls too far into one aspect at the expense of the others is going to become mannered and full of habitual patterns that tend to lead it further astray.

(Of course, because my model isn't another binary dualism, few want to think about it. Our culture has developed such a deep habit of thinking of things dualistically that any other paradigm usually just draws blank stares. LOL )

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