Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Action, Not Really

Action, Not Really = Complaining about oil spills while driving. iPhone and iPad excitement despite "hell factory." Fake poetry "wars" whilst real ones fester. AmPo egos & ageist crap whilst the planet glugs. So it goes...


From Aram Saryoyan's "Letter to the New York School" -

What I have to say is simple, but I think it's true. In my opinion, the work being done right now by many of you who are my contemporaries is of a high quality in almost every dimension but one. Perhaps two - at least two words come to mind, but perhaps the two words are one. The two words I'm thinking of are honesty and sincerity. It seems to me that these are the two qualities most subject to abuse in the work of the New York School. I realize immediately of course that my very mention of these two words constitutes and abuse of the aesthetic with which you have now so completely identified yourselves, but I do so without really fearing the consequence. To be considered a crackpot or a cornball by the New York School would only place me with the mass of humankind in the eye of its aesthetic, and I don't mind the association at all. I only hope I'm worthy of it. At the age of thirty, the whole question of uniqueness becomes a little absurd - if one is alive at this age, one is inescapably among one's brothers and sisters, dependent on them for help in one form or another in simply getting through.

The point is the work I'm referring to was simply not written for humankind. It's like a machine constructed with absolutely no purpose in mind for it and immediately released on the world at large as if it were the gift of the ages, all rewards in itself, etc... I find it harder and harder to see the point of it all...

As one who once considered himself in the vanguard of writing as writing, it is difficult for me to describe my feelings when confronted by a new generation of writers who are dedicated not to an exploration of any particular literary dimension I can identify beyond a snotty tone of voice. I know this isn't something I ever had in mind.

Beyond that, there are a number of other identifiable trends, which I would characterize briefly as: 1) Poems that prove how smart I am; 2) Poems that prove what a master of rhetoric I am; 3) Poems that prove I am a dope addict; and 4) Poems that just generally prove how hard I am to understand in any way...

I am a writer because I desire to communicate with my fellow man and woman and child and writing is one avenue open to me to do this. As I experience more of life, my respect for it grows, and it is impossible for me to regard it, and anyone else in it, as the subject or object of any kind of literary exercise. It is an experience that is bigger and more profound that any telling turn of phrase or immaculate run-on sentence. It is quite simply real. Not brilliant, not arcane, not sarcastic - but alive, and in just being alive more meaning than we could ever hope to fathom. The most we could hope for, I believe, is an honest and sincere accounting of our experiences as members of this miracle of being alive in time.

-- ca. 1974

Reprinted in Door to the River: Essays & Reviews from the 1960s into the Digital Age (Black Sparrow/David R. Godine, 2010) - which also includes Aram's notorious review, first published in Poetry, of Zuk's A 1-12 and A 13-21.

Cf. Zuk on sincerity & objectification, Poetry., v. 37, no. 5.


Lemon Hound said...

Well Don, you know what I'll have to say about this...but I'll say it again in any case. I agree that there is something missing, but I'm not sure that blaming it on a mechanical approach to poetry is the answer--alot of verse seems mechanical to me. A lot of what passes for sincerity I find stinks worse than the most shallow poetry on the shelf.

There is a kind of burning that I miss--and tend toward. And it isn't earnest, it isn't feel good, it's a kind of visceral human churn.

Some flarf satisfies this yearning. Not all. Not most. But some.

I'm still trying to work out what that quality is. I appreciate this note, and any poet's attempt to come to terms with this disjunct.

Don Share said...

Well put, Lemon: thank you.

BTW, Joshua Clover said to me on FB:

"Wow, it's like a parody indictment of humanism, presented by advocating its greatest idiocies as if 'sincere' and 'authentic'!"

So there ya go.

Don Share said...

Oh, and Gene Tanta writes in to say:

"Don, I love this! The honest (the anti-snide) and somewhat desperate tone of voice engages me as the best manifestos try to engage. Though manifestos have their issues (masculinitist and even arrogant seeming), I write prose in this tone of voice because I am willing to sacrifice humility to clarity. Maybe I'm wrong and should go meditate.

To substance, what's the matter of being sincere around the clock? Can sincerity even exist without irony? And if tone of voice (to form meaning or anti-meaning) must vacillate in a dialectic or in the boom-bust poetic economy between sincerity and insincerity, are we back to well-wrought modernism? What gives? What has given in this meantime?"

Jordan said...

Dateline: Bolinas...

equivocal said...

David Byrne has a great analogy relating to sincerety, towards the end of his TED talk, around the 14 minute mark: http://www.ted.com/talks/david_byrne_how_architecture_helped_music_evolve.html