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Is poetry special?

There is sometimes a hazy line between innovative and so-called mainstream poetics. But for me, there is also division between art and poetry that tries to close the gap between art and life and those that create a specialized discourse. Both language poetics and new formalism in the United States, as many poets and scholars have noted, are two sides of the same coin. The emphasis on critical theory in the English departments of universities have certainly contributed to this specialized status of poetry.

Mainstream poetics often accuses the innovative or avant tradition of elitism.

But that is not the issue. It is far too simplistic.

This is not a well-thought argument but the NY school of poetry and the Beats have shown us the possibility of using the personal in innovative ways. Ditto Flarf. Many poets are innovative but do not fit into either the innovative scenes or the mainstream scenes.

There is also the hipness factor. What happens, as Mark Wallace notes, when our avant garde deodorant runs out and we start to stink. The natural scent of our body fills the trapped elevator full of all the hip linguistically innovative poets.

Then what?

What if you are a poet in the UK and you are not a part of the university?

Don't get me wrong. I want to be hip. I want to be innovative. I enjoy some linguistically innovative poetry. But I find myself drifting more and more towards poets that use the personal in innovative ways (Bernadette Mayer, John Wieners, Jack Spicer, Anselm Berrigan, Amy King etc etc,)

I used to think the so-called in-between poets in the U.S. were not interesting. But maybe the original idea of Fence magazine was right. Maybe sitting on the fence produces the most interesting new work? Maybe poetry is a tad too balkanized?

I do recognize there is a real difference between the poetry in mainstream UK publications and the poetry coming out of various innovative traditions in the UK. But it seems like the use of the personal has been co-opted by slam poetics and simplistic confessional ism and identity politics (Carol Ann Duffy etc.)

But I am very bored with Language poetry and its derivatives. I am also tired of the overly academic side of innovative poetics.

If I teach university again, I want to teach people who are not poets. Not part of the small circle we call the avant garde or post-avant. The world is a much bigger place!

The simple sentence is just as complex as a sentence with disrupted syntax. And sometimes. maybe a lot of the time, I hear or read poetry that tries on the clothes of complexity (ruptured syntax, high diction mixed with informal diction, parataxis etc.) but reads like one of those terrible academic essays that says nothing!

Ok. This could go on and on. This is not a hard line. I admire some poetry/poets that rupture/disrupt syntax. I admire some poets that believe in the marxist potential of language poetics. But overall, I am bored bored bored with linguistically innovative poetry coming out of the language school tradition.

I do, despite all this, believe there is a real difference between most mainstream and most innovative poetries.

As a few UK poets have noted, the innovative and personal seems to be largely missing in the UK scenes!


Pris said…
Excellent post. I just put a link to it in today's post on my blog.
postpran said…
thanks Pris :-)
William Keckler said…
"Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

That's what I always say.

Being all virtuous and shit.

But secretly I know they do know.

What they do, I mean.

Then they write the books about doing it.

Well, they take turns doing that.

Meanwhile, civilizations rise and fall without really paying attention.

I think you've got the right idea about what to jettison and what to keep.

Your healthful nomadicism will probably force you into sanity repeatedly.

postpran said…
hi William,

Yeah I think you are right.

"In the world but not of the world."


"of the world but not in the world."

I not sure which one, if either.

There's a lot to observe.

Somehow just gotta keep that fire burning.

The world is a big place. Academia is one small place and a department is even smaller. Poetry has gotta be bigger.

I'm still confused why all those lovers of good music and art (indie rock, alt-country, jazz and so on) can't find something in contemp poetry.

Damn specialization!!!

Authenticity is perhaps a dirty word. But I think we know it when we see it!

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