Saturday, January 11, 2003

Although by most any standard blogging (terrible name!) is a new genre (a new written genre—more proof that the death of the printed word has been exaggerated), I feel like a latecomer to the field. Political blogs are a dime a dozen, and blogs by poets have sprung up like mushrooms just in the past month or so. Here are the ones I've been visiting: Ron Silliman's Blog (the oldest and the best), Gary Sullivan's Elsewhere, Jonathan Mayhew's Blog, and K. Silem Mohammad's lime tree. There are plenty more, but I'm too much of an HTML novice to want to type in all of their links just now; anyway most of the ones I've provided have handy links built in. Most of these people are associated with the Buffalo Poetics List (see the archive here), that occasionally interesting but more often infuriating list that Charles Bernstein started way back in January 1994, when I was a 23 year-old would-be novelist living in New Orleans who had never heard of the Internet. Nor had I heard of the various poetics, or assortment of aesthetics, that form the List's audience and constiuency: second- and third-generation New American poets, Language poets, and cranks.

I came as late to "innovative" poetry as I came to blogging. I moved to Missoula to attend the University of Montana's MFA program in the fall of 1997 thanks to Richard Hugo, whose poetry I'd discovered in the New Orleans Public Library, where I would go to hide out from my miserable job as a court runner for a union-busting law firm. What impressed me, I think, were his rocks-and-water rhythms: highly alliterative and syntactically inverted sentences spread out across the stanzas, punctuated with surprising caesuras. But I found Hugo's music inseparable from his subject matter—Beowulf as barfly—and fell down the hole of a boozy, masculinist, "authentic" style of writing that was, not incidentally, entirely remote in its contexts from my sheltered suburban upbringing in New Jersey. James Wright, Jack Gilbert, Philip Levine—these were my models, God help me. Female poets interested me not at all—the only ones I was familiar with were of the same confessional bent as the men, only it was easier for me to recognize their sentimentality and solipsism because it wasn't the kind I wanted to indulge in. The fact that I eventually moved beyond these models has left me with the arrogant belief that confessional/epiphany-driven poetry is a phase to be outgrown—an opinion that has gone unappreciated in some of the workshops I've participated in. I'm getting better: when someone tells me how much they love Billy Collins now, I just smile instead of ranting. Collins is, perhaps, an acceptable "gateway drug." When I first encountered him I experienced the same sense of relief that I imagine most people feel when they first read him: oh, this is fun, this is easy, I didn't know you could write about this stuff. Only much later did I develop the nagging sense that Collins truly is a poet for people who don't like poetry—in fact, he's for people who hate poetry, both kinds of poetry: the "language-based" poetry that makes its claim on you on the basis of its material appeal, its polysemic slithering, its will-to-deconstruct; and genuinely Romantic poetry whose every line declares as an article of fatih language's ability to disclose experiences of Being. Collins, like his mentor and impresario Garrison Keillor, specializes in ridiculing both intellectualism and the yearning for the sublime, while pretending to pay homage to both.

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