Tuesday, January 14, 2003

One thing that's always puzzled and frustrated me is the prolixity, if that's the right word, of so much avant garde poetry. There seems to be an ethic out there set up in opposition to the "well-made poem" (well-wrought urn) whose principal means of opposition is to produce five books in the time that ordinary poets produce one. Or maybe I should say "publish," since part of the avant garde project I'm talking about is to seize the means of publication: these books appear through the small presses associated with the Language movement and New York School (you can find a good list of them here at Duration Press) and seem quite prepared to shower bookstores (at least bookstores in NYC and the Bay Area) with the entirety of a given poet's production. Individual poems, especially prose poems, often seem to me unforgivably long—and yet they're not necessarily any less "crafted" than a short lyric by, say, Louise Glück, who would certainly be considered a prolific poet by mainstream standards at one book every two to three years or so. Maybe my attention span was irretrievably damaged by the Norton Anthology (3rd ed.), which comprised my first serious encounter with poetry at age 15 or so and seems to have nothing longer in it than Pope's "Rape of the Lock." It's even harder to read this stuff online; I like books because you know where they end, whereas a poem posted online could scroll on infinitely, or terminate in a next button.

Am I trapped in some paradigm akin to that of the museum spectator who appreciates Picasso only because s/he knows that Picasso could "really draw"? Do I mistrust that which is written quickly and at length? (A quote that I've seen attributed to Cicero, Pascal, and Mark Twain: "I apologize for the length of this letter, but I didn't have time to make it shorter.")

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