Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The hybrid-way or the highway

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word "hybrid" comes from the Latin hibrida - the offspring of a tame sow and wild boar. There are lots of citations of Darwin, but we won't go there; now, I'm not the guy who just finished reading the entire OED, but it looks to me as though the word has fewer citations from poets than almost any other I can find. It's quite curious, then, to find Cole Swensen disputing the notion of a fundamental division in American poetry, and proposing that "the model of binary opposition is no longer the most accurate one and that, while extremes remain, and everywhere we find complex aesthetic and ideological differences, the contemporary moment is dominated by rich writings that cannot be categorized, and that hybridize core attributes of previous 'camps' in diverse and unprecedented ways."



michael robbins said...

The comment I tried to post on H anticipated Boyd's & Ange's quite sensible points. Oren Izenberg, in an unpublished paper, points out that Swensen's thesis of hybridity is actually an argument for the ascendancy of the avant-garde -- to sever traditional poetics from its commitments is simply to deprive it of its force. A poetry committed to the revelation of truth "is not merely one style among others," to be raided magpie style, "but a bid for revelation & truth." The medium is the extra-large.

Ange Mlinko said...

Michael's so right. The older (New American-generation) poets I've personally known really think that their poetry is/was a a "bid for revelation & truth." An immersion in, say, alchemy and gnosticism was more important than an immersion in, oh, Modernism. (Others would eschew the mysticism and go for the Freud and Marx, but the principle's the same.) I myself have been too much the aesthete. But many of the a-g I've known have not, I repeat, not been aesthetes.

And now that I have seen the professionalization of a-g formalism, I find myself utterly repelled.