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Nomadic dispossessions

Before I went home to Ireland last Christmas I had a recurring dream/nightmare that Ireland had been coopted by Las Vegas. All the green fields changed into a desert of neon lights. While the dream was certainly personal in its manifestation of the anxiety of identity ( emigrated to Las Vegas from Ireland in 1985 right after watching E.T.) it also might connect to a larger issue of cross-cultural innovative poetics.

As more and more innovative poetics from the U.K. gets published in the U.S. the problem of contextualization becomes apparent. Is British, Irish, Scottish, and Welch poetry united to (or indebted to) the innovative traditions in the U.S.? Or, how can an American avant-garde read innovative U.K. poetry contextually?

While there is certainly a strong influence of the New American poets in individual innovative works by U.K. poets, I think it would be a mistake to read these works transnationally as an united struggle against oppressive mainstream practices.

The configurations of tradition and innovation in the U.K. and the United States are certainly different (as they are different in Canada and the United States). The pioneer and revolutionary ideology/history of the U.S. is a context much different than the problems of individual and social identity in the U.K. The U.K. itself is composed of various contexts that too often get conflated. For example, there might be more in common with innovative Irish poets and black British poets than poets from their respective countries (Ireland and Britain). Both Irish and black British poets are burdened with identity. An affirmation of identity. The more mainstream poets in Ireland take a very narrow nationalist agenda; whereas the more innovative poets complicate these nationalist leanings.

The nationalist pull of Irish poetry is much different than a nationalist pull in American poetry. An identity denied (or surpressed) first needs to be manifested before it can be challenged. In other words, if London controls the identity of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Northern England etc. then the poetry of those respective regions tackle identity in a much different way the mostly white avant-garde of the United States where identity is often equated with dominant power structures (self-expression being one manifestation).

So, Mairead Byrne's The Pillar is innovative in terms of both performance/orality and on the page, but it's innovation is also largely connected to Irish culture. Not in a narrowly essentialist way, but it is not transnational (i.e. an international avant garde). In other words, the alienation of individual innovative poets in the U.K. is much different than the any alienation of innovative poets in the United States and if we conflate the two (via anthologizing etc.) it might merely reinforce the power dynamic such poetries are challenging.

Difference is not the only context however. There is cross-fertilization between U.S. innovative poetry (esp. the objectivists via Bunting etc.) and Irish innovative poetry. But the projectivist tradition in Irish poetry is site specific and need a cultural context. It is not merely a choosing of style (as in here's my new hairdo).

It seems like Charles Bernstein is guilty of conflating various avant garde/innovative practices as a united struggle. While this be partially true, it does not hold weight without specific contexts.

I am in between America and Ireland in all senses. I am a nomad which fits nicely into the U.S. melting pot ideology. But remnants of my Irish identity didn't quite melt. What is Irish and what is American? I don't know. But even the term American breaks down under various specifics.

When I lived in Bellingham, WA I often took trips up to Vancouver, B.C. I felt very at home there and for a while I wanted to live in Canada. I noticed difference right away between Canada and the U.S. but often times those differences are erased by the dominant powers of the U.S. media etc. While Ireland/England form a complex historical identity struggle (moving both ways. English is defined by being not Irish and vice versa) the struggle with identity in Canada seems just as complex (British, U.S. etc.)

(note to self: This steam of thoughts doesn't even begin to get at specifics. Thatcher asserted there is no English identity just as Reagan was re-asserting a 50's identity for the U.S.)

Comments

evie shockley said…
marcus,

this post is extremely interesting and thoughtful. i suppose (hope) it is obvious how applicable your thinking about irish and black brit poets (vis-a-vis identity) would generally be to african american poets. even if someone from one of these (or similar) groups rejects the "burden of identity," to paraphrase you slightly, it still means something different than the rejection by other folks of self-expression as a problematic aesthetic mode. your post makes visible a number of other poet(rie)s that i will want and need to read.

peace,
evie
chris said…
i too find this fascinating Marcus. thanks.

chris murray

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