Monday, June 22, 2009


Rain and more rain last night and into
the morning: it’s early afternoon, Sadie’s
napping, gray skies promise nothing
except more grayness. Back to Ammons
this morning, formulating some ideas
about his relationship to space, his
desire to think through classic philosophical
problems such as one:many or transience:
permanence can perhaps be subordinated
to a desire to get oriented, to think the world
without abstracting it to nothingness
or getting lost in the details: it is a
mark, I think, of his postmodernity, though
that’s not a buzzword we tend to associate
with old Archie and his backwoods
persona: what I’m driving at is that
there’s a trend in American poetry
from romanticism toward materialism,
a materialism that in the living mode tends
to take social if not socialistic form, viz
the Language poets in the 1980s: younger
poets now often straddle or work a seam
between some notion of identity confronting a
real world (residual romance or a romance
of the residual) and the social materialism that
preoccupies itself with an indefinite multiple
of discourses political, economic, advertorial,
pop cultural, scatological, ecological, etc.: the
wriggly line that Ashbery’s career has inscribed
on the American language which we ignore
or follow at our peril. Ammons challenges the
romantic (and the self) without quite leaving
its bounds, but it’s not Marx or Debord
that renders his materialism but birds, beasts
and flowers: yet his strategy
can seem surprisingly similar to Ashbery’s
given that he too can interweave interpolating
voices: it’s just that he’s outside (Ashbery
always seems to be writing from a Victorian parlor
filled with post-1945 art and a TV set permanently
at 4 in the morning, screening old movies or
ads or Warner Bros. cartoons—there’s a window
but it never has the same view twice) or
looking into his backyard and involving
the languages of physics and biology and
mathematics with dirty old man talk and
the naive speech of mountains and academic
meeting-speak: social materialism for Ammons
is one not particularly important (but not
discarded either) strand in the warp
and woof of materialism writ large, the
perspective, rare in academia, of a man
who really believes the world of seasons
and plants and animals contains and compels
the more worldly world most poets (including
this one) say signifies most. Yet his language
can be as playful, as slippery, as excessive
as Ashbery’s, so that I wouldn’t be too
surprised to encounter Daffy Duck
as well as living mallards paddling
through one of Ammons’ longer poems.
So as usual I find however hard
I pitch the ball from my usual concerns
it falls back into my well: how to write
pretty well believing that my I exists
but that language, that world I never made
(see another Duck, Howard the) is
more labile and connected, hook-and-eye style,
into any world we can construct with our eyes
up to and including the so-called natural world
with which I have a push-pull relationship.
Sadie won’t sleep much longer, I’ll
pull the plug here, a parenthesis
between rainstorms and the coming evening,
a break in what my neighbor Brad
calls the delirium of rhetoric.

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