Saturday, August 23, 2003

After a long hiatus, I'm throwing my head back into the discussion-of-poetics ring. Henry Gould has done a quick analysis of the two major strains to be found in "bloggosphere poetics" and the division he's come up with strikes me as useful if not understood too rigidly. I think it's interesting to map the equally schematic "expressionist-constructivist" model onto post-NY School and post-Language, because Henry has established a link between a deliberately casual, "minor" approach in the post-NY School strain whereas the post-Language folks are committed to bringing about major changes in "socio-political circumstances"—which is surely not a minor ambition, though it comes prior to what we might hastily call aesthetic ambitions. So there's an interesting switch here: the expressionist position, which we've largely come to associate with the enormous ambitions of High Romantic poetry, now belongs to a self-consciously playful and "social" "minor literature" (that last phrase of course invokes a certain socio-political agenda, but one uninterested by definition in becoming "major"), whereas the more constructivist ceci-n'est-pas-une-poeme post-Langpo approach has moved the historically marginal position of "experimental poetry" squarely into not the mainstream, but a desire to remake the mainstream and the socio-political networks of relation upon which that mainstream depends.

The missing link in this dialectic might be the post-Black Mountain strain, if there can truly be said to be such a thing: projective verse strikes me as being the most influential and comprehensive attempt to realize the properties of language qua language within a distinctly geographical-historical consciousness (constructivism) while at the same time grounding that language within the speech of a particular body at a particular moment, whose personal rhythms and personal history shape the ways in which perception is both recorded and enacted by that language (expressionism). The question I then have is: who are the heirs of this kind of writing? Is there a second- or third-generation Black Mountain style of writing, or has that strain been fully divided and assimilated into the post-NY School (perhaps by way of the San Francisco Renaissance) and post-Language modes? Whoever these folks might be, this strikes me as being at least one way of thinking through the New American tradition toward a mode or modes of writing that preserves high ambition (both politically and aesthetically) and the mapping of new social relations (both on the micro-blog level and on larger scales)—writing with the full strength of the old utopian impulse behind it. I haven't been the most careful reader of Henry's poetry (Stubborn Grew et al) but I wonder if he would consider himself as being aligned with or at least sympathetic to the strand of tradition I'm talking about. I also wonder where I would situate myself. There's a certain relief I associate with the "minorness" and chattiness of poetry a la NY School—certainly I'm most eager to introduce that kind of writing to students who think of poetry as being both "heavy" and impossibly remote from their own everyday lives. But I'm still sympathetic to the Language project and I feel that its importance is undeniable and unignorable. Another way to rephrase the dialectic: Language poetry provides the necessary negativity (I've just started to read it but Barrett Watten's chapter on negativity in The Constructivist Moment seems enormously useful for thinking about this) but it's the NY School (most obviously and urgently through its queer and feminist exponents) has proposed a positive, or a manifold of positivity, which points toward the new kinds of relation that might come to exist in the wake of the "clearing" action performed by Language poetry. Which may just be a wishy-washy way of wishing for a big tent; I don't know. Of course it's the constructivist moment, not the destructivist—my reading of Language poetry is undoubtedly too reductive. Must think more on it. In the meantime it's an unbelievably beautiful day, my sister is visiting, and my dog is sitting mutely by the door in a pose of inexpressible longing.

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