Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is poetry different from, say knitting? Is it masculinist to ask?

"... with the internet, the necessary leisure and space required to pontificate or noodle about in an ostensibly literary way is available. In fact, it’s sandwiched in between factoid ranches, stand-up routines and throw-away lines masquerading as ad-hoc journalism, and all manner of fortified compounds where goods and services may be purchased, or talked about in such as away as to resemble an actual lifestyle. That’s it: the internet makes talking into a lifestyle. It used to be that you had to go to some kind of retreat, consciously display some kind of apparel or equipment, or in fact have certain characteristics in order to belong to a lifestyle, as it were (“I am my lifestyle, and my lifestyle is mine!”), but now everything is communal. Your quip, your predilection for Orson Scott Card novels, the holographic detritus of your trip to Niagara Falls (does anyone ever go to Niagara Falls anymore?) is a small cataract of a vast extroversion that pours invisibly into the computer screen and splits prismatically and instantaneously into thousands of virtual spaces, mirrored and Xeroxed and refracted endlessly through search engines, aggregators, blogs, hyperlinks, etc.

And it doesn’t feel to me like poetry is very different in this respect, than, say, knitting. Partly because it is impossible to place a wall around it in the way one did in the old days, when you had Gentlemen’s Clubs, or country estates, or Masonic Lodges. Generally (although this is less and less the case), the only thing sequestered about poets is their words, which exist in a printed space that ranges from obscure to almost totally occluded and invisible to the naked American eye. Perversely, this seems to me to render literary performativity even more of a thing apart from the work itself, though it may be that this is no more true than it was 10 or 20 or 50 or 100 years ago. The only difference is now that we have the virtual equivalent of a shopping mall, instead of the frangible Rosetta Stone of a newspaper or lecture hall." -- Excerpt of Simeon Berry's response to my recent Harriet post on poetry and privilege, via the Ploughshares blog

MEANWHILE... Though I'm reluctant to yoke it to the knitting analogy above, the question of "masculinist agression" in the po-blogosphere has arisen, so to speak.

Pictured: A contemporary of Harriet Monroe, knitting and smiling


Zachariah Wells said...

Seems to me the biggest difference twixt poetry and knitting (and my mother knits for a living, so I've actually given this some thought) is that you'd have a harder time passing off an ill-fitting, pilly, acryclic sweater full of holes as a high-quality finished product. Perhaps this is because people actually wear sweaters...

Lemon Hound said...

Yes, masculinist aggression is certainly everywhere. It's a very clever beast though, and knows when it needs to be charming, and when it can afford to be cruel. It's also very good at deflecting, which makes it hard to call out. The my thump is bigger than your thump resonates.

I read an essay last year that traced rhetorical styles and the popular misconceptions around the apparent singular model people recognize as being successful. Gender of course figured, but not only. What is clear is that people mistake the literary brute, with being somehow more authoritative.

More on this later.

Lemon Hound said...

Some great thoughts on poetry and privilege, a notion we have in some ways forgotten. And I think forgotten in different ways on both sides of the border where access means very different things.

All this talk of trying to thin poetry down, or make it one thing, or not another makes me crazy. I continue to run into poets old and young who are out there, as described above, simply knitting away.

And sometimes when we find those, who have been long silent, and don't know how to play the poetry business game, or refuse to play, or even that there is one, they have assembled our time in simple stitches, much more beautifully than all the fuss we make and endure.

Of course sometimes it's just babble too. But what I want to say is, poetry doesn't just want to be free. It is. That seems to drive people insane. And like many things in our time, they want to patent it. Own it. Stop it from its wild variations.

Poetry is free. It's poetics and criticism that seems trapped.

About the distinction between public roads and the internet, and the way we are seeing the internet as our future...I'm not convinced. Or perhaps I'm just hopeful, but it seems we have hit our peak with the internet.

Irving Layton said...

So whatever else poetry is freedom.Let
Far off the impatient cadences reveal
A padding for my breathless stilts.Swivel,
O hero, in the fleshy groves, skin and glycerine,
And sing of lust, the sun's accompanying shadow
Like a vampire's wing, the stillness in dead feet --
Your stave brings resurrection, O aggrieved king.

Lemon Hound said...

Oh, I wonder who is hiding behind Mr. Layton?