Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Thoughtful response to Friday's post by Henry Gould, who as ever sticks to his purist's guns. I have to think more about his argument, but I'd like to raise the question that I think falls into the gap between our two positions: what is the role of community for the poet? It seems to me that every poet, and every poetry, imagines a community, of readers if not necessarily of other writers; every poem creates the idea of its audience. I have a longing for filiation with other poets, but this is contradicted by the tendency of, as Henry says, "ideological formations to make claims on poetry." But it seems to me that ideological formations are always making claims on our poetry; it's simply a question as to whether we can come to consciousness about what they are, so that we might be able to choose otherwise. I'll always prefer the company of a poet who wears his or her politics on their sleeve to one who claims to be beyond politics. That's living poets. My favorite dead poets are exempted because, however "apolitical" someone like Stevens may have claimed to be, history allows me to situate him in a precise way; I understand where he's coming from. And with that understanding I can suss out what it is in his poetry that appeals to me and is still of use. There remains, of course, a powerful irrational component—the vision thing—which I remain open to, almost against my will, regardless of what card a poet carries.

The great poets always embody contradictions, and I can find poetry that carries ethical along with aesthetic weight even in those writers who were in the grip of anti-semitism and sympathy for fascism: Pound, Eliot, and Lawrence all speak, at least at moments, for values I cherish. Their poetry does "transmute everything (political, social, religious, aesthetic) that comes within its range," but the untransmuted world remains; in fact its presence is heightened in its absence from the poem. And so a poet's attitude toward his or her particular, historical world is always going to be crucial to me, as a reader and as a writer. The "originality" that Henry elevates into something of a fetish-term for the best poetry is literally invisible without an understanding of the poet's situation in his or her time. And so a poet who actually makes and registers in their poetry some effort to understand their own context (it may be demonstrated by logopoeia, allusion, or discursivity) has the most of my attention. The news from poems: just that. The history of the present moment that only a profound effort of linguisitic attention (from someone who knows how to listen to their culture) has any hope of producing.

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