Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Al Que Quiere!

"Literary style is the expression of the innate person, not something you buy into with options for future makeovers."

. . .

"[My work] runs counter to a lot of what is deemed avant-garde work. I noticed I couldn't really write the thinky or conceptual poems that mark their territory through a refusal of sense data, or spatio-temporal conventions. I've written a lot on Susan Stewart's work, which takes as a starting point Marx's notion that even the five senses are the product of historical forces - they have a history, and for Stewart poetry is a record of that history.

And I have a history, and it is legible in my work both as content and in the development of styles and methods. I wouldn't have it any other way."

-- Ange Mlinko, in conversation with Jordan Davis


From the dustjacket of the 1917 edition of William Carlos Williams’ book Al Que Quiere!:

“To Whom It May Concern! This book is a collection of poems by William Carlos Williams. You, gentle reader, will probably not like it, because it is brutally powerful and scornfully crude. Fortunately, neither the author nor the publisher care much whether you like it or not. The author has done his work, and if you do read the book you will agree that he doesn’t give a damn for your opinion. . . . And we, the publishers, don’t much care whether you buy the book or not. It only costs a dollar, so that we can’t make much profit out of it. But we have the satisfaction of offering that which will outweigh, in spite of its eighty small pages, a dozen volumes of pretty lyrics. We have the profound satisfaction of publishing a book in which, we venture to predict, the poets of the future will dig for material as the poets of today dig in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.”

-- via cs perez, who adds:

... the epigraph of Al Que Quiere! is a passage from the story "El hombre que parecia un caballo," by Guatemalan writer Rafael Arévalo Martínez (whom Williams translated with his father):

“I had been an adventurous shrub which prolongs its filaments until it finds the necessary humus in new earth. And how I fed! I fed with the joy of tremulous leaves of chlorafile that spread themselves to the sun; with the joy with which a root encounters a decomposing corpse; with the joy with which convalescents take their vacillating steps in the light-flooded mornings of spring.”

[all this info can be found in the notes to the collected WCW]


LH said...

"I noticed I couldn't really write the thinky or conceptual poems that mark their territory through a refusal of sense data, or spatio-temporal conventions..."

I have never understand this assumption that either "thinky" or "conceptual" or "avant garde" for that matter are not lyricly oriented, or that they don't use sense data, and don't record traces of our world with the same earnest pleasure that a more linear, or unified narrative or lyric poem might do.

Henry Gould said...

I don't want to have another big argument about poetry in the abstract. But I was thinking about this issue, vaguely, as I was walking to work this morning (before reading this post). & I THINK I lean toward agreement with what Ange Mlinko wrote.

We are flooded now with virtual realities & verbiage & discourse. What distinguishes poetry from "everything else"? I'm beginning to think that it's the dramatic quality of an actual person, a distinct & unique person, SAYING something... uttering something... communicating... out of the depths of their unique angle on the universe.

It's close to drama... but in the case of poetry the poet becomes both narrator & actor. It's close to fiction... but it's an enactment, an embodiment, not just the narration of a tale. It's close to discourse... but it sings : it is terse, concise, precise, colloquial, vivid... dramatic... personal.

Poetry emerges out of a need to express something which is more intense even than the need to fabricate something (to fashion something out of words, to make art)... or let's say it emerges from a fusion of 2 equal & different intensities (the need to speak & the need to "make").

I sense that Ange's aversion to "thinky" poetry has to do with an imbalance toward the "fabrication" end... a thinness of underlying presence/history/individuality...

Henry Gould said...

& I believe John Latta's passionate blog entries of the last few days speak directly to these issues...

Don Share said...

I lean toward her, too, Henry. Yes, Latta, but to underscore all this further, check out today's post by Ron - click here to read
- yet again attacking Lowell, heaven knows why! Anyway, here's what he sez:

"That which forwards the evolution of poetry, something that occurs raggedly & in fits & starts, is really the heart of writing practice, the pump that breathes life into verse & makes it relevant to our lives. This is why Charles Olson was a major poet and Robert Lowell a wasted minor talent at best."

Now I don't get this at all; you can hate on Lowell if that's fun for you, but tell me the wildass fits and starts of the odd poems in Mills of the Kavs, the crazy reiterative/rebarbative experiments in the Notebooks-cum-History period, let alone the prose in Life Studies (which prefigures Ashbery's Three Poems) don't constitute probings as envelope-pushing as anyone's. [But see earlier post on C. Ricks for potential demurrals from the subversive as automatically a good thing. And - if we're not supposed to believe in reified, institutional greatness anymore, than surely we should not be sneering either about "wasted minor talent"! But I digress, and think R.S.'s earlier comment on David Barber's article far more to the point and well-said.

Meanwhile... I love both Ange's poems and prose, and yet.. I think that in some fascinating ways they don't quite correspond. True for Geoffrey Hill, too, if you try to reconcile his prose w/his poetry. The sign, I would say, of very powerful intelligence & even, dare I say it, negative capability & irritation!

Don Share said...

Insert hanging bracket wherever you like. I hate comment boxes.

Henry Gould said...

Well put, agree 100%. & I see the same thing in A.M. Might have something to do with the contradictory energies (make/speak, playful-indirect/bluntly-direct) of NY School, out of which she "tumbled".

& I could have put that better. I coulda.