Friday, March 19, 2004

I love sonnets (q.v. the ongoing discussion between Mike, Jonathan, Kasey, and Tim). I probably got into the University of Montana because of some very New Formalisty sonnets I wrote about my distant cousin, the boxer Barney Ross. I still like some of the maneuvers I had to make in order to force narrative into the essentially lyric/argumentative form of the sonnet; I think, too, that I demonstrated a little bit of the necessary self-consciousness Tim talks about by attempting to reproduce Chicago gangsterese in some of the poems—a dialect as stylized to our ears as Renaissance thees and thous. Mike (and Chris Lott) says there's no intrinsic value to the new, which makes no sense to me, because our moment is new, or at least contemporary. But either you believe there's a conversation to be advanced or you don't. Either you believe that the 21st century must be addressed in a 21st century idiom (which is never purely new, of course, but the accumulation though not the culmination of every previous century's idiom), or you don't.

My ongoing project Severance Songs consists entirely of mostly unrhymed sonnets (though I've been introducing Keats to the Cremaster Cycle in some of my most recent poems, adapting Keats' rhyme words to Barney's bizarre fleshscape). Sometimes I play with narrative, or more often refer to narrative; but I have to say that I think the sonnet is ill-adapted to narration, and in any case narrative is precisely the thing I go to poetry to escape from. The linear story with a beginning, middle, and end is so much the dominant mental formation of our culture that even slight deviations in the forms where it is most expected (as in Pulp Fiction's chopped-up chronology) are praised and vilified for seeming radically new. The imperatives of narrative ("then what happened?") obscure what I think of as poetry's much broader mandate, now unavoidably summarized for me by Drew's aphorism, "Poetry has the capacity to deal with the nonevents of life in a way that other art forms couldn't possibly manage." So why drag events (or rather, the representation of events) into an art form supremely well equipped for the kind of epistemological and ontological investigations that representational forms can only pursue in the most incidental fashion?

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