Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Bookery now carries The New York Quarterly so I've been browsing through it. It feels like a journal from another planet—certainly a long ways from anything poetic or otherwise that I associate with the words "New York." There's a long "craft" interview with W.D. Snodgrass which I suppose might be more interesting if I already cared about his poetry—yet I feel that the format of the interview is almost designed to be uninteresting because it keeps everything relentlessly on the level of personal history; larger historical and poetic movements are excluded except insofar as they lend themsleves to personal anecdotes about the likes of Lowell or Frost. In the back, a Justin Marks has written an article that's part of an series with the immensely pretentious title, "The Present State of American Poetry." The three poets Marks considers are all dyspeptic white men—one of whom, Denis Johnson, doesn't even write poetry anymore. That means that Marks ends up using The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems, published in 1982, to talk about the present state of American poetry! (And he isn't interested in Johnson's influence on the contemporary scene, either; all three essays are devoted close readings to the poets' work that reference no living poets as either contemporaries or antecedents.) Then he writes this sentence in his second section: "August Kleinzahler is known—to the few who knows his work—for mixing registers." What "few" can Marks be talking about? If he means the general reader who mostly ignores poetry, fine, but can that possibly be his audience? How unknown can someone like Kleinzahler—who's won the Griffin Prize and is published by FSG—really be? Perhaps Marks has bought into Kleinzahler's own aggressive outsider rhetoric, but still. I can't find any such egregious faults with his treatment of Franz Wright for his third and final section, but the whole project seems to hover in some weird margin to the "American poetry" I'm familiar with: it feels ritualized and irrelevant, the antechamber to a tomb. It's probably not Marks' fault; if his piece didn't have the enormous burden of expectation that "The Present State of American Poetry" puts upon it, I'd think it was a basically unobjectionable example of the close reading many readers claim to want in the stead of airy theorizing and compulsive categorization.

The magazine has a fussy feel to it, from the editor's note, which deplores abstraction in poetry as a flight from emotion, to the detailed submissions guidelines that remind you to "Proofread your poems before sending them to us. Misspelled words and typos may bias screeners against your work." The poems themselves are a mixed bag: the editors seem to favor heterosexual eroticism (they've even got a Timothy Liu poem about a married couple's sexual ennui!), anecdotes about sick parents and sexy waitresses, and superannuated jazz references (not one but two poems mentioning Coltrane in the title); but there are also some word games, like David Lehman's "SF" ("SF stood for Sigmund Freud, or serious folly, / for science fiction in San Francisco, or fear / in the south of France") and Richard Kostelanetz's "Within 'Richard Kostelanetz'" ("Centralized OK trash. / Crazed, loath stinker. / Stink crazed loather," etc.). These and a few other lively poems (Jonne Joseph's deadpan parody of the folks, "Eugene McCarthy, How Could You?"; Emily Brungo's genuinely sexy "Love Is a Puppy from Purgatory"; Justin Marks' own short poem with a fine, crusty title: "Carbonate Precipitation on Sand") are exceptions to the overwhelmingly sentimental rule—too often the product of poets and editors who harp on about how there's not enough emotion in contemporary poetry. There's affect galore yet I'm unaffected.

No comments:

Popular Posts