CONTEMPORARY POETIC BANALITY
All comments welcome; and welcome as additions to the site:
Unless otherwise stated,
© A.E.M. Baumann
This is a fragment of comment from the American Poetry Journal Facebook page, in a posting about Marjorie Perloff's recent article, "Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric" (here):
Andrew E. M. Baumann We don’t read the poets that were popular when Pound and Eliot were being published in ‘underground’ journals – not because they were beating a dead horse, as it were, of Victorian era poetry, but because they were poor imitators of those who came before them (or, more encompassingly, poor imitators of poor imitators, or, more accurately because it was they who killed the horse to begin with). Banality: how many hundreds of pages of books and journals do I read before I find something that teaches me something about poiesis (which is to say, is itself in honest engagement with poiesis)? My argument is and always has been because contemporary poets, like those at the previous turn of the century, know little about poiesis, little about poetry. Perhaps they know biography, and type, and can give sufficient paraphrase of content, and show how to mimic formalist structure (or, at least, can speak about mimicking formalisms, or pretend their free verse stems from the gifts of Pound, when really they couldn't give fifteen coherent words on the "musical phrase," don't even bother with engaging Olson). And, of course, to speak as Perloff has elsewhere, they very much hold the dogma of American mediocrity as justification for their lack of individual effort. Can they read Pound’s “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris” or Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and engage them on the level and in the ideational field presented? Have I ever read such from a contemporary poet? Have I ever heard such engagement with poetry in the words of contemporaries? (What? Poetry is not about intellectualism! -- somehow, they justify themselves, even though all that persists through time is nothing if not from intellectuals.) All I hear is poor deliveries of very poor understandings. Thus, the current poetic field of flowers, each and all lost in the endless monotony -- however colorful -- of weed. [I rant, ergo sum.]
Chris Crawford So Andrew, fan of poetry or poet?
John Guzlowski Andrew, a good way to get a sense of what poetry might have been like when Pound and Eliot started writing is to read the first volume of Poetry Magazine. It will tell you more about poetry at the start of the 20th cent. than just about anything else.
Andrew E. M. Baumann Thoughts the morning after: in part, last night, I was trying to write as much as possible out of my readings of Perloff (of whom I am a fan, but whose limits, also, I can see -- as she, I believe, intends it to be). But also, what I did, once upon a time, was actually look back at the poetry magazines that were popular after the turn of the century, at the poets that were popular within those magazines. Thus my statement. I don't think I would call Poetry Magazine, who took on Pound on in 1912 as a regular, part of that fold. (That itself is recognizably somewhat insufficient, but there is limited space here.) As for personal experience, I will rehash my by-now-over-tread story: There stands a pile of recent releases of poetry on a friend's desk. (Stands, that is, in a rather loose sense.) I ask: why are you wasting your time reading that pablum? Response: a general defense of contemporary poetry (read: contemporary poetic conventionality). In response: a wager. Randomly pick a book. Randomly open a page. And - voilà! - exactly what I predicted: an 'I' poem about sentiments over the poet's father's (if male, mother's if female) death, as relates to memory as linked to a home-made-picnic table, or some other joint endeavor. Or, as I more broadly call it, weeping over dead puppies. The experience of the field of weeds: "same -- same -- same -- same -- same -- same [repeat ad nauseum] -- hey! now this is . . . . oh wait. It's Hayden Carruth. Of course it is." (Which shows I've been trapped in a cave most of the last decade.) Perhaps my wager was greatly chance -- but that the great field of banal poetry (banal not just in content but primarily in poiesis) permits -- and even invites -- such a wager, speaks much. [And now I am late -- I have to run.]