Skip to main content

Jorie Graham answered my question

Strange connections. The conversation over at Tony's blog really picked up with the issue of responsibility. Over at Smartish Place ( I asked Jorie Graham a question about influence and responsibility (after reading Tost's piece in Typo about the mongrols).

Here's the question and the answer:

marcus slease, N. Ireland: How do you feel about younger poets who mix "avant Guarde" and "Mainstream" techniques? (The mongrols as some call them). Do you feel this is irresponsible? Should younger poets show more awareness of context, history etc.?

Jorie Graham: In the long view, these techniques are the various voices of one body, of a people, in a language, in a moment of history. They have come out of political or theoretical thinking, yes, but they have been transmuted through persons, temperaments, talents, experiences. In the end it is the voice you hear--the style is the personhood--even if it wants to eschew personhood. That is what moves, persuades. That is, too, what makes a young poet want to be influenced by this poet rather than that. Even to take stylistic devices from this poet rather than that. You don't find a poet reading a theoretical text that provides the underpinning for a poetry and saying, aha, yes, I want to write to fit that theory. But you do find poets hearing or reading a body of work and thinking, damn I'd like to try that--it sounds so good, it can DO so much, I love the ground it opens in my sense of what's possible in a poem. Of course all poets need as much awareness of context as possible--but lord knows not just poetic or philosophical or theoretical context. As for whether it's responsible? Influence is influence--it's a contagion--it's a form of love--stop it and you stop the flow of future poetry. A hundred years from now these differences will be footnotes, it will all look much more alike then it now seems. Or so I think.

So the footnotes of history. response ability. canons. influence. my head is buzzing like a mad man.


Chris Vitiello said…
Marcus, thanks for posting this note from Jorie Graham.

I disagree with her primacy of the "writer's voice." Immediately I think of Raymond Queneau's "Exercises in Style" as a shining turning-inside-out of both her idea of voice/style as original impulse and her assertion that theory is not the original impulse for writing.

I can also speak for myself in saying that for the last five years I've rarely written any poetry that did not originate in premeditated theoretical work. I work out what the characteristics of the poem and the writing will be (long or short lines, grammatical tendencies in linebreaks, use simile/metaphor or not, use first person personal pronoun or not, use imagery or not) before I start putting words down. I submit this abstract and theoretical work as qualifying as "writing a poem" as much as the eventual putting down of words was.

I'm suspicious that Graham might take, if pressed, the next step of aestheticizing theory itself. This would allow theory to be a subset of something that can be qualitatively judged as craft, which is the stuff that canons are made of.

Popular posts from this blog

poets reading poets

There are on A now: Andrews, Antin, Apollinaire, Ashbery

A project from the Atlanta Poetry Group. Check it:

The Poetry of Tao Lin