Friday, July 18, 2008

Canon formations to the right of me, canon formations to the left of me

I can't think of a reason in the world to add to the cloud of bloggetry relating to the appointment of Kay Ryan as Poet Laureate of the US, but want to make one tiny point. Of all the commentary, I suppose I enjoyed Ron Silliman's the most. I'd only say myself that as a reader (and editor), I enjoy work by Rae Armantrout and Elaine Equi in much the way I do work by Kay Ryan, and see them as distinct writers (of course) - but not so far apart aesthetically. Yet it looks as if Ryan can be tagged "SoQ" while - I presume - nobody would label Armantrout or Equi that way. Is the difference in... their subject matter, their syntax? As Ron points out, it's not a question of who's an "outsider" or not. So I get the whole thing about "kinds of poetry," but the particulars don't align with the taxonomy; they never do. Fortunately, as a reader and editor, one is... is obliged to be... eclectic; Rae and Kay have been in Poetry, and Equi will be soon. Superb poets all.

Maybe, to paraphrase another PoLaur, there are canon formations to the right of me, canon formations to the left of me... Over on WOMPO there's also a negative reaction to the appointment, on various grounds: that she's not really an "outsider," that she's been in Poetry, that she wrote about going to AWP, that she teaches and that she hangs around with people who criticize "academe" [sic], that she's "divisive," and that she must know Dana Gioia or vice versa. Perhaps this means she rather nicely falls between the large cracks.


Meanwhile, I can't resist quoting in whole David Shapiro's comment on Harriet in my post about boxes, which turned into some sort of digression about what's "contemporary":


Thank you, Don, for knowing what I was once told about the Zohar from a student of Scholem,

Matti Meged: the mystical hero is always alive and dead at the same time. Sounds like... Hegel's Dante. Someone at Columbia once asked me if I "liked' Dante. I was speechless and asked back. The professor said: I think it's an ego trip. I said: Yes...but he invented the ego, plunging as Hegel writes, the real into the unreal.

John Forbes, sweet Australian poet, also alive and dead, wrote a poem in which he meets O"Hara and sees that Frank is writing though dead. "What a guy."

I was asked once by Richard Kostelanetz on a street in Soho who was my favorite poet. This was twenty years ago. I said Perhaps Wallace Stevens. He said: But Stevens is dead. I said, proleptic remark, But not for me. He's not dead for me. Nor Cezanne, nor Watteau.

Dead contemporaries was the sick label given by one encyclopedia to poets too 'early dead to be disposed.' Many are disappeared while living and writing intently.

But even Marx was intrigued: why do poems and sculptures last? Duchamp said they didn't, they often died. But Marx was thinking of the sting of Balzac, conservative, dead, and more full of analysis of late capital than so many others seemingly alive.

I had not thought death had undone so many. Kalidasa, Basho, Rimbaud (and Michael McClure once added Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow)--are they dead now? Who tried to kill Frank O"Hara ? with their shriveled arrows? Alive like Joe Hill. Frank said: You thought they killed me? what? with their shriveled arrows? Who let him in? The joking genius Djinn. Who tried to keep him out?

X Y and Z the lout(s). Who tried to kill Frank O'Hara?

He died and can write, as well.

Posted by: david shapiro on July 18, 2008 10:47 AM

[Bless you, David!]


the unreliable narrator said...

"School of Hushhush" indeed! [snorts approvingly]

I don't know from Armantrout, embarrassingly (as in fact I don't know from half the writers about whom you so brainily blog, much less why you and J. were playing tug-of-war with that used book) but since Equi started out as a performance poet--that could conceivably be the (fuzzy) navel from whence stems her purported avantism, n'est-ce pas.

Or, the pragmatic blunt instrument for telling SoHH from Silliman-Approved: their politics. OMG, I didn't say that out *loud* did I?!

Don Share said...

It's all purported. One coterie says the other isn't a coterie, and, inevitably, vice versa. To top it off, a person who's gone out of her way not to be part of any coterie is now guilty of coterie-by-association. You can't win!!

Ange said...

Well, I can't say I've read Althusser but I know that his definition of ideology might help here. A paraphrase:

"We are always-already subjects in ideology, in specific ideologies, which we inhabit, and which we recognize only as truth or obviousness. Everybody else's beliefs are recognizable as ideological, i.e. imaginary/illusory, whereas ours are simply true."


Hence, Kay Ryan (or anyone) can't claim not to inhabit, always-already, an ideology -- a.k.a. a worldview.

It is true, of course, that in this account of things, "you can't win." I don't have any answers, but I see a *huge* gulf between poets trained in Marxian/ post-structuralist theory, and those not.

Don Share said...

Thanks, Ange, as always. This helps a lot, esp. because I've not been trained in *any* theory, I'm embarrassed to admit! Maybe I'm even post-ideological and/or post-theoretical, though that must be unlikely: it's only a matter of time before someone else tells me what my ideology is! I don't say any of this glibly. The kind of eclecticism I'm interested in has clear and inexorable limits.

Nevertheless, I really am convinced that the much-debated "site-specificity" of poems vanishes long before the poems do.... fortunately. There are countless examples of this.