Sunday, February 16, 2003

Jim Behrle, poet, firebrand, and editor of can we have our ball back?, has posted an exhilirating speech he made at a San Francisco Small Press Traffic event yesterday (while, presumably, the marches were going on—and how thrilling was that—millions of people shouting millions of NOs? At the very very least Tony Blair will have to sit up and take notice) about the bad rap our generation of poets (Generation XXXVII, I think Ron Silliman likes to call us) gets from the generation that came up in the sixties. I don't endorse everything he says—how could I, being fully embarked upon the course of professionalization that he decries?—but I almost reflexively seize upon his claim for the relevance of young poets versus the tendency of certain older poets at certain times to become mired in dreams of beatnik glory. Let me add my voice to Jim's chorus and say: Get over it. Let me quote Jim quoting John Yau in the Poetry Project Newsletter: "All moments are historical." Abso-damnly right.

While I also want to simultaneously endorse Robert Creeley's declaration that "Poets are a company and poetry must finally be a tribal art, despite the fierceness of the contest," as well as Jim Behrle's update that "poetry is a Casanostra" (I take this to be a conflation of casa nostra, "our house" with the Sopranos-style "cosa nostra"), I think it's also healthy to remember that a poet should at least hesitate to join any club that would have him or her as a member. I'm a little alarmed by Jim's list of extra-poetic influences: "I'm thrilled to be influenced by Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, ABBA, Beck and The Pixies." Alarmed because I've been influenced by the exact same list. I guess it makes me wonder if our "generation" is really something much narrower: white boys and girls from the suburbs traumatized less perhaps by AIDS or Rodney King-style injustice as the sudden evaporation of the certainty that we ourselves would be evaporated by a nuclear war. When I look at the eighteen year-olds in my class I'm struck by the thought that not only is their pop culture subtly different from mine but also that they simply don't remember the Soviet Union, much less Reagan's promise that "The bombing will start in ten minutes." I guess I'm just reacting here to Jim's attempt to crystalize his historical moment, which is also mine, which is also passing as surely as the Sixties did. It's not just Silliman, Hejinian, and Larry Fagin who are going to be challenged to remain open and relevant in the coming years.

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