Thursday, March 13, 2003

There's a lot of Oedipal angst going on in Blogland lately, most of it directed by young male poets against older male Language poets. I suppose I'm guilty of this myself with my claim that Nick Piombino is Emerson rather than Whitman—though it's hardly a dishonorable position to be in, in my book. Why so much anger and invective directed against Silliman, Bernstein, etc.—is it because they're more accessible to us than the poets who provide the real public face of poetry these days? W.S. Merwin and Sam Hamill were on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer last night, and my reaction to that is somewhat complicated. I fully support Poets Against the War, no matter how much solipsistic drivel it's fostered, because it's made politics relevant to poets who'd never really considered their relation to politics before. And of course it's worked in the reverse direction—I find it remarkable that people at The New Criterion and even The Weekly Standard (whose influence at the White House is substantial) have felt it necessary to denounce this poetry. There's no better indication of its influence, of the threat that it poses to the nakedly imperial ambitions of what Norman Mailer, in a surprisingly cogent and coherent article), is calling the "flag conservatives." Debates about whose poetics are more righteous in this context are not unimportant; nor am I going to call for a more judicious tone or nostalgically recall the tact, good taste, and good fellowship that supposedly once characterized the discourse of poets. There have always been and always will be turf wars, and one generation's fight to escape the perceived yoke of the older generation (a strange yoke in this case, for it is the yoke of license, of having been granted permission to rebel—again I think of Piombino's wonderful notion of Freedom as tool) is inevitable and healthy.

That having been said, I wish we could start directing the energy that we're putting into invective against our Dutch Uncles and start redirecting our energies against the still-oppressive poetics of the School of Quietude. Even as Merwin and Hamill and even Billy Collins deserve our accolades and respect for the political stances they've taken, the poetics they represent is what's really keeping all us young folks down on the farm. And of course it is true that their conservative poetics cannot help but infect their politics, and that the broadly oppositional strokes they're painting now have only the crudest and most momentary utility. If we ever pass out of this moment of unignorable crisis back into the pre-prewar state in which our government's assault on freedom and the genuinely democratic was more stealthy and innocuously natural-looking, that will be the moment when we will need more than ever to assert a diversely oppositional poetics against the Collinsesque writing which forever proclaims its innocence and irrelevance. If we can't let go of our resentment and bitterness let's at least channel it in the direction where it will do the most good and make the most meaningful noise.

And how about some more estrogen in Blogland, huh? I'm tired of all these men, young and old, trying to shout each other down. If you're a woman and you're reading this, please start your own blog today.

No comments:

Popular Posts