Saturday, January 18, 2003

An article in this morning's New York Times proves, if proof were needed, that poetry in and of itself offers no resistance to paradigms of war.

The general sounds like a thoughtful man—a Princeton PhD, no less—probably even a good man. But the notion of poetry instrumentalized as a kind of psychological cushion or preparation for the field of battle is extremely disturbing.

Jeffrey Jullich sent me an interesting e-mail today welcoming me to the experimental blogging community:
Your perspective, or situation, in regards to the "experimental" poetry that you're newly attracted to, that is, that you seem relatively new to it all apparently and coming out of a recent "conversion experience," was much the source of interest and what defines or localizes the contribution of your position. That fragile, somewhat dewy-eyed, sensory overload, Ovidean phase of discovering and transition into experimentalism is rarely chronicled or spoken about, especially in fluent prose like yours, ---as though poets have some sort of embarassment or shame, not having been sprung full-blown into it, having once been green and provincial.
Welcome to the Poetry Ghetto, ephebe.
"Ephebe" indeed. I have to say I don't feel much like an ephebe, though it's true that I didn't really discover the experimental/New American possibilities in poetry until roughly three years ago. I know much, much less about that "scene" or "scenes" (the proliferation of which Heriberto Yepez objects strenuously to—check out his blog) than your average poster to the Poetics List—but I would have to say my knowledge of experimental poetry greatly exceeds that of most of the poets I knew at Montana and Stanford, and is geometrically greater than the knowledge of your average literate person. But it's true that I'm not afraid—or trying not to be afraid—to appear naive, or to restrain my enthusiasms. There was a terrific This American Life show a while back called First Day—about people's first day on the job, or in a relationship, and how someone in that situation inevitably tries to pretend that it's not the first day, that they've always been there. This sounds not unlike what Jeffrey is talking about.

One thing I disliked about the Stegner program was the general attitude people seemed to have there—broadcasting their sense of having "arrived," of being indeed the "working writers" the program claims to be for, whose ideas and aesthetics were already settled and written in stone. It was not the kind of atmosphere that encouraged any kind of experimentation, as I saw it—rather, one brought in one's poem and then had to be prepared to defend it against all comers. My workshops at the University of Montana were much more congenial—everyone there was an ephebe, and knew it, and it felt safe to bring in something new and say, "This is new—I don't quite understand it myself—could you help me out?" If I ever get around to leading a creative writing workshop that's the kind of atmosphere I want to foster, even if the students all have books and regularly publish reviews in Poetry and Parnassus.

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