Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's always a bad time for poetry, yadda yadda; another installment of Make It New, Already!

Another corker of a thread, by Kenny Goldsmith, at Harriet which asks the age-old question, "Why aren't YOU doing more for the avant garde?" (So much for hybrid poetry, eh?) If Reginald Shepherd were here, he would say... in fact he did say, in an earlier edition of this old debate:

The avant-garde isn’t the advance guard anymore, and hasn’t been for a while. The armies have been disbanded, though many of the officers have yet to inform themselves of the fact. There are, of course, many people who haven’t yet passed through the avant-garde and never will. (It would be nice if some of those people would at least read Eliot. But then, it would be nice if some of those people would read Keats.) But once you have passed through that avant-garde door, there is no forward march, no destination or telos, just an open field. In the somewhat exaggerated words of philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto, “there are to be no next things. The time for next things is past. [RS: nice paradox.] It [is] like coming to the end of the world with no more continents to discover." [...]

Obviously, experimentation and innovation will and should continue, in the sense of trying something out to see what happens, of engaging in poetic endeavors without knowing or attempting to predetermine the outcome. Poetry is always at least in part a foray into the unknown, a project of finding out what happens in the process of participating in its happening. But the sense of a forward march, of a correct path to the future and a virtuous method by which to reach to that future, is gone, or at least no longer valid. To what destination are the arts, is poetry, marching at this very late date?

-- from "Defining 'Post-Avant-Garde' Poetry"

(Hm. I wonder what he'd have said about the Arthur Krystal quotes from my earlier post, e.g., "the arts as we know them have run their course. You can argue this until your face is blue, but it won’t change the historical fact.")


the unreliable narrator said...

I would do more for the avant-garde, I really WOULD. But they made me pack up my Barbies and go home, because I (sometimes) told (fragmented) stories and had a left-leaning margin. And assonance. I think it was the assonance they really didn't like, even more than the narrative scaffolding.

But, is there a PayPal account where I could make anonymous donations? Because I don't want them to suffer from cold and hunger! Even though I suspect they'll just spend the money on drugs....

mgushuedc said...

Here's a pretty good, though old, interview:

Katy Tried said...

They wouldn't spend the money on drugs; they'd spend it on a Prada mark-down at Century 21 or a good bottle of scotch to offer at the next party (at which some eminence will preside).

Perhaps the new editor of the PF should consider rescinding the emeritus clause. Hardly anyone but Dinh and Goldsmith keep blogging (for free) after their contracts; it's tiresome.

It's tiresome too to see the comments pile up in their inboxes when a real poet like Lavinia Greenlaw was utterly marginalized.

Don Share said...

That's a good point about Lavinia. Her posts were evocative rather than in-your-face provocative, so many of the usuals held their poised tongues.

Lemon Hound said...

Good Lord, have I become a usual?

Don Share said...

Oh, Lemon: that was a bad choice of words on my part. You are delightfully not-usual. And I agree with you that these are good times, even with the quibbles!

I can't stop wondering, by the way, about the whole left-margin thing. Please don't think we have some kind of doctrinal preference for poems that hug them!!

brian a j salchert said...

Earlier when I was here, I was about to say: Maybe that's why all the re-categorizing of late; but now with the appearance of Lemon Hound and your comment to him, I am
impelled to write something that doesn't touch the left margin. Actually though, I don't believe in striving for newness for the sake of newness. Besides, what's new to me may be totally bland to someone else.

Was it Patrick McGoohan?

the unreliable narrator said...

It were Patrick. (But Lemon is not a he. :o)

(Also MIA today: Ricardo Montalbán. Coincidence?)

Now I'm imagining writing a piece with NO margins. It's wouldn't be either right- or left-wing, but would just kind of fall off the page absentmindedly....

I think we need to update these lyrics, too:

"New, new, / wouldja just MAKE IT NEW—"

UbuWeb said...

> "Why aren't YOU doing more for the avant garde?"

Wow, Don. In a very long post, there's one tiny mention of ag's neglect by Poetry mag and you think the whole thread is about that? No. It's actually about the fear of what might happen to ag poetry if a WPA agenda sets in, informed by history. The thread might be asking that question, but the post certainly isn't.

Lemon Hound said...

To be fair though, hasn't Poetry Magazine stated such a preference? In any case, I'm excited by the changes around here (your magazine etc,), and in poetry in general. Not because I have a specific agenda other than wanting to see more openness and curiosity in general. There's much to learn from the extreme positions, but of course they are part of a spectrum, right?

I am not saying that one needs to abandon the right margin etc., I am acknowledging what I have seen in my reading.

And one last note: I think it's absolutely fine to say "I want to publish this kind of poetry..." I just think that one should own that position, not deny it.

Is this about intention? Not sure.

Okay, back to poems.

Don Share said...

Kenny, no, I don't think the whole thread is about that. But naturally I'm going to respond to it. I mean, the can't-win implication is that if P. publishes work of the a-g- it's a WPA agenda... and if we don't, it's programmatic and even political hostility. I hope it's understandable that I'm reacting to that and leaving the rest for others to debate (which is what I said on Harriet, in fact). Worse yet, I get accused of "good intentions" by Joshua as if I were some kind of sap!

I support, though, the question your post asks and the way you've paraphrased it here. And I appreciate both very much.

Don Share said...

Lemon, where have we stated "such a preference"??? We don't have a preference, and if we did, I'd say so. There is not a "kind of poetry" the mag wants to publish or not publish. That's the point I'm making!!

Anyway, I, too am excited these various changes, and love your own openness and curiosity.

About the right margin: I like what Ron S. said about it today - if you're going to do it, then know why you're doing it. Absolutely. But I can't see why it's inherently, a priori good or bad to hug a margin or not.

Lemon Hound said...

Aren't you new to the magazine? I have actually seen comments such as "no prose poems will appear in Poetry" etc. I don't think I am imagining that. But one only needs to take a dozen copies of the magazine and flip through it to see what I mean.

And I agree with your point: "if you're going to do it, then know why you're doing it. Absolutely. But I can't see why it's inherently, a priori good or bad to hug a margin or not."

All I ask is that people understand that they are making a decision when they hug the margin, or when they write a sonnet, or free verse, or choose to do a constraint based poem.

Formal poetry isn't the "normal" route, the default mode, against which all others must be judged...

But this is a tired strand. Or I'm boring myself with my own arguments and really, it's such an exciting time! Challenges and quibbles included.

UbuWeb said...

Don, I understand and sympathize with your position. Anything having to do with The Poetry Foundation is fraught with... well, you know. I have felt it too, having had Ubu's podcast funded by them as well as all the blogging I've done for them. I really didn't want the thread to turn into a rant against the PoFo, though it somehow always seems to.

I think Emily did a great thing with the blog, which brought in a number of different voices to the PoFo that had really been absent. And folks in my community are always telling me how impressed they are with the blog. I respond by telling them that had I been censored in the slightest, I would have walked away from it immediately. But to their credit, they have never edited anything I've written, nor have they ever even intimated that I had gone too far (and believe me, I tend to go too far!).

But the problem that my friends seem to feel is that for all the openness and progress the PoFo has showed on the blog, the magazine -- in spite of the incursions you mention -- is still really lagging. So it comes back to a sort of, "we'll let the wild stuff live on the web but we wouldn't let it anywhere near our primary product" attitude. Very similar, in fact, to the NYTimes, where I have been, for example, prominently featured in their Paper Cuts blog, but would *never* make it into print. So those attitudes smack of "well, we know this is important and it looks good for us to show that we're paying attention" but when it comes to what print-based publications consider to be "the record," they can't go there.

Also, I recognize each publication has its bias. It would look silly, say, for me to feature work of Billy Collins on UbuWeb. I admire his talent, but it simply ain't what we do. And I admire things that show their bias, their taste, even if I disagree with its stance. The problem then is that the PoFo has been wanting it both ways and once that happens, it opens up all sorts of lines of questioning that otherwise wouldn't be asked.


Don Share said...

Lemon - new to the magazine is the point. But nowhere has the magazine ever said anything like "no prose poems will appear" - that's nonsense, and the magazine has certainly published prose poems. It's this kind of negative mythology about the magazine that I'm whining about.

Kenny, thanks for indulging me so generously with your follow-up comment! Look, it's just not so that we have the "wild-stuff on internet/otherwise not near our print product" attitude you suggest. The problem, as I've stated, is that the folks who contribute on the website don't want to be in the magazine because it stands for this that and the other thing, as above... which is, frankly, a self-fulfilling prophecy. As for what the PoFo "wants," I can't speak. I'm repeating myself, but nobody at the Foundation tells us what to do or how to think. Their programs are their programs and the magazine is the magazine.

And as for the magazine... lagging, well. I notice that the new issue of the Chicago Review has many of the same folks we publish. Ditto recent issues of Smartish Pace. These aren't a-g outlets, but what I'm saying is that if there's a "lag" then it's PRINT MAGS in general that are lagging, no? Perhaps you can tell me - I've asked to no avail - which print magazines are, for lack of a better word, "wild" in the good sense you mention. The web is wilder than print, which is a problem for us all. And I think you'll see Poetry evolving rather than lagging. But the main thing I'm responding to is attributing to us some "stance" we do not have. By the same token, we aim to publish a variety of works from one end of the spectrum, as LH calls it, to the other. I can see why to some this would be discreditable or rear-garde - but I disbelieve that it is.

Anyhoo, thank you again, Kenny. The lines of questioning are open!!

the unreliable narrator said...

Kenny's paraphrase—I, too, liked it. And found it useful.

The new WPA should devote itself to making literary t-shirts. And the first one should read "Hugged Your Margin Today?"

I have a terrible personal fond weakness for institutions and organizations whose new leaders try, against negative mythology, to evolve. Which is why I will certainly shed tears on January 20.

Are we fired up and ready to go?

Don Share said...


Just for fun, I quickly flipped thru some recent issues of Poetry mag. Here are poets published between 2007 and 2008 (only, since I'm not that crazy to make a point!) who don't hug the left margin:

Charles Bernstein, Mary Kinzie, Dana Levin, Ange Mlinko, Averill Curdy, Craig Arnold, Atsuro Riley, Elfriede Jelinek, D.A. Powell, Jorie Graham, Seth Abramson, Philip Memmer, Adrian Blevins, Elaine Equi, Fiona Sampson, Todd Boss, Nicky Beer, Scott Cairns, Eleanor Wilner, Nance Van Winkel, V. Penelope Pelizzon, John Peck, Yitzhaq Alahdab, Judith Teixeira, Giorgio Bassani, Muyaka Bin Haji

Prose poems: Molly McQuade, Fabio Pusterla, Karen Volkman (version of Ponge), Joan Houlihan, Zbignew Herbert, Rimbaud tr. by Reynolds Price

Some I was here for, some before my arrival. OK?

Mary Meriam said...

Well, I did my best for Lavinia, and where was everyone else, hmmm, Unreliable?

I found your blog a few days ago, Don. I think POETRY, being at the top, is in a sort of target position, like it's expected to perform miracles, or else. Poems can only do so much. Plus, there's such a complicated psychological drama going on: you want to be inside those covers, you'll never get there, the big bucks, maybe you should hate the journal, maybe it's better to ignore the journal, but maybe it's best to intensely criticize the journal.... etc etc etc ad nauseum.