Monday, February 9, 2009

Some kind of poetry has been felt by several of the geologists in the region

Much taken up with how to define a way of writing poetry which is not Imagist nor Objectivist fundamentally nor Surrealism alone - Stella Leonardos of Brazil senses something when I loosely called it "reflections" or as I think it over now, reflective, maybe. The basis is direct and clear - what has been seen or heard, etc... . - but something gets in, overlays all that to make a state of consciousness ... The visual form is there in the background, and the words convey what the visual form gives off after it's felt in the mind. A heat that is generated and takes in the whole world of the poem. A light, a motion, inherent in the whole. Not surprising, since modern poetry and old poetry, if it's good, proceeds not from one point to the next linearly but in a circle. The tone of the thing. And awareness of everything influencing everything. Early in life I looked back of our buildings to the lake and said, "I am what I am because of all this - I am what is around me - those woods have made me.. ." I used to feel that I was goofing off unless I held only to the hard, clear image, the thing you could put your hand on, but now I dare do this reflection. For instance, Origin will have a narrow, longish poem, sensuous, begins "My life/in water" and ends "of the soft/and serious-/Water" ...

--Lorine Niedecker, from a letter to Gail Roub, June 20, 1967

Insofar as contemporary poetry intersects with disciplines as diverse as cultural studies and ecology, linguistics and art history, geography and philosophy, it becomes necessary to anticipate the affinities and differentials that exist in how we talk about our practice. Although poetry is not a discipline of any kind, it crosses paths with many projects in and out of the academy in its efforts to bring another kind of knowledge to the world, one that moves from phronesis to poetic techne, too—from the practical experience of our personal lives to the public experience of our social lives in and out of language on the page.

Part of what I want to say is that conversations in the blogosphere or elsewhere about the practice of poetry and ethical or social situations that give it definition and shape for others are necessary for the ongoing fluidity and movement of poetry as an art that straddles the practical and theoretical, the experienced and imagined, the felt and the thought. Insofar as we learn to speak with others about what we do—applying pressure when necessary and conceding the value in other practice when it is so recognized—then we are able to expand the capacities of our ability to advance new work into the world. This is not a formal problem—it is essentially an ethical one. The formal surface of a poem can be “inappropriate” (though it better bite), or it can be something else entirely. The thing is that it must open boundaries and not reinforce them; poetry must provide possibility and not foreclose on phronesis with theory; poetry must enhance theory by showing its practical value. We can say that poetry does not do these things—that it is not responsible for anything but itself—and this is absolutely true, too. And yet, as our lives interact within various disciplines, our sense of poetry moves over lines defined from without, and we can’t help responding in various ways to the influences of our working life, or professional life, our domestic life, our political life, and so many other intersecting claims on poetic attention, practice, ethics, and theory.

Because poetry is so fluid, and because the history of Modernism has provided so many marvelous formal possibilities and because Modernism is rich with aesthetic theory, we might now begin to approach the situation we inhabit on the margins of various disciplines to see, ethically, how these diverse parts can fit into present conditions. The old, stale avant-gardism of us-v-them, of rewriting literary history to suit the determined needs of particular in-groups, the avoidance of hard questions about contemporary practice and knowledge must fizzle away in order to bring forward the new. And by the new I mean new perspective—not necessarily form. That make-it-new thing is not just located within a formalist machinery, but in a living body of thought and practice that we, as poets, engage in.

-- Dale Smith at Possum Ego, February 9, 2009


Jordan said...

Don Share said...

Oh, go ahead and dilate further upon this.

Jordan said...

Nah. And neither will I link to Stanley Fish's equally apposite op-ed today. (Three times fast.)

But I remember liking this book. I look forward to rereading it when I'm less annoyed with its author for crediting me (among others) with his own thoughts, feelings, and now his actions ("old, stale... rewriting").

Don Share said...

Fair 'nuff, esp. re the Fish; he's been on a tear lately, eh? Come to think of it, everyone's been on a tear lately...

Dale said...

Ah, Jordan, I didn't know you liked my book: that's sweet of you. We should get together for tea sometime, talk through this mess.

And I liked that manifesto you linked to, but I still think Lou Reed's "There Is No Time" remains my favorite in that genre. Remember it from his New York album?

"This is no time to be Acting Frivolous
because the time is getting late
This is no time for Private Vendettas
This is no time to not know who you are...."