So it's not the avant-garde per se that interests me so much as the dimension of extrapoetic experience they've opened. I would revise Monday's negative statement ("I am simply unlikely to be really satisfied by an encounter with a poem that does not use some aspect of form to problematize its ready reception") to read, "I am simply more likely to be interested in a poem whose context of production is in some way palpable." That could manifest in any number of ways: in the poem's engagement with a particular literary tradition or predecessor; in the poem's awareness of its own historical moment; or simply in being published in a magazine or on a press that has published contextually complex work in the past. A poem doesn't have to be "difficult" or "inaccessible" to qualify as interesting under these conditionsthough it's likely to be "inaccessible" in the sense of not being distributed by some Official Verse Organ, which is still where literate non-poets are most likely to encounter poems. But I am ALSO still interested in poetry that problematizes its ready reception that isn't particularly interested in contextthat is, plain old difficult poetry, which Jorie Graham's work certainly qualifies as. (For the record, I am extremely fond of her books Materialism and The End of Beauty.) But I want to affirm that it's still primarily pleasure that drives me as a reader, and not any tendentious sense of duty; I'm fully on board with Ezra Pound when he says, "Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man"? I'm going to close with part of a comment I just posted to Chris Lott's blog:
I’ve already copped to enjoying difficult poetry and I don’t think there’s anything puritan about that; if anything, I’m a decadent aesthete reveling in having trained my palate to appreciate oysters and choclate-covered grasshoppers. I still enjoy a burger and fries, but not so often from the fast-poem joints. More to the point: it’s true you have to understand something about a poem to enjoy it: few of us truly enjoy hurling ourselves headfirst into the dark. But I want to use “about” there in the archaic sense as when someone asks if you have your keys about you. If you understand something of the poem’s context, that gives you just enough of a foothold to risk encountering what might appear opaque at first glance. The point has been made by others that undergraduates often have an easier time reading an experimental contemporary poet than they do a Shakespeare sonnet or a poem of Browning’s because the contemporary poet at least shares their context. Only those who have been trained to recognize specific historical configurations as poems are going to balk at new configurations they don’t recognize. In short, the more you read, the more contexts become available to you–and the more likely you are to become bored with off-the-rack stuff. My affection isn’t finite but my time certainly is.