Monday, January 15, 2007

An Interesting Perspective on Some of the Poetry of Our Moment

I found this, from a review of seven recent books of what might be called 'alternative poetry' (on the analogy of 'alternative music') in The Boston Review, to be a refreshing attempt to describe rather than simply polemicize about one part of the current American poetry scene(s). I have not read Stefans' poetry, but from this piece he seems to be a very intelligent and clear-sighted individual.

“Identifying a central tenet governing American poetry today—at least of the innovative or ‘alternative’ sort—is a hardscrabble affair, and I won’t pretend to be any good at it. At best one can say that it is ‘not just postmodernism anymore,’ meaning that poets in active rebellion against the status quo of the major presses are doing a lot more than rupturing or reducing language to atomized bits, or engaging in polysemic play, or enlivening ‘ellipticist’ practices to ally their work with the major trends of latter-day Modernism. If anything, many innovative poets today are looking for new contracts with their readers, and many are investigating the possibilities of rhetoric: how to use language to be persuasive and argumentative or simply entertaining in manners that court light verse, autobiography, and even meta-fictional universes such as those of Donald Barthelme or Thomas Pynchon.

"There may be several explanations for this turn, chief among them the Internet’s presence as a literary forum offering infinite [sic]varieties of language for use and manipulation. Also pertinent are the prevalence of activist thinking in a time of war, the higher level of formal education among today’s poets compared to that of the past’s misfits and social mavericks, and perhaps even a new interest in writing that, while exploratory, is not so alienating as to be merely fodder for college seminars. In fact many poets today are working through language in ways that move back and forth across the Modernist break, expanding their idioms to include antique strains that recall the Pre-Raphaelites, the Romantics, and the Enlightenment, thus experimenting with the old to estrange language and make it new."

“‘He do the Police in different voices,’ says Dickens’s Betty Hidgen, admiring the animated way that Sloppy reads the newspaper aloud in Our Mutual Friend. Made famous as the working title of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this sentence has become Modernist shorthand for the claim that a text features a plurality of speakers and viewpoints or an interplay of linguistic registers. While few poets possess the cornucopia of voices Eliot did, innovative American poetry as a whole might be said to have been doing the police in different voices of late, sometimes harking backward in order to advance. This is also reflective of larger trends in the arts—the faux-naif Super-8 features of Guy Maddin, the return of figurative painting to the top galleries, the retro-fit fashions and the fetishization of analog recording endemic in 'indie rock‚' all of which point to a dissatisfaction with the idea of a singular, technologically determined ‘new’ to which we all must adhere, and to a desire for a new contract with the audience. Proselytes for new-media art might be the exception, but even in that field, artists such as and Corey Archangel call upon the aesthetics of early computing (the first Atari systems, the pre-Netscape Internet) to show there is no ‘now’ now, and that, without effort, most of us have absorbed the language of today’s art without opening a single critical study. This has been a great boon to poets who are dying to have fun and are employing compelling rhetorical affect—even personae (in Pound’s sense)—as an otherness to engage and provoke.”

from Brian Kim Stefans, “Make It New,” The Boston Review, Volume 31, September/October 2006

Brian Kim Stefans’s most recent book of poetry is What Is Said to the Poet Concerning Flowers. His book of essays and interviews Before Starting Over (Reconstruction S.) came out last fall with Salt Publishing.


NEG said...

BKS's new(ish) book of poems is wonderful!

shanna said...

he has a book of critical essays from salt too, that i just got.

Lawrence LaRiviere White said...

Going back to the Waste Land is always welcome. & I think the back-connection to the Dickens parallels what BKS describes, an open-ness to a fuller range of literary possibilities, esp. in terms of reading. Being able to read variously precedes being able to write variously.