Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Reading Nick Piombino's excellent Ted Berrigan post I was particularly interested in this parargraph:
Reading Lifkin's book also brought back a number of vital memories of the Ted Berrigan workshop I attended, along with Carter Ratcliff and others, in 1967. He spoke about the "speed" of contemporary poetry. OK, we know about Berrigan's affection for the drug of the same name, but let's forget about the 60's flavorings for the moment. Berrigan was talking about the fact that when we read contemporary poetry there is an *electric* (instantaneous) quality to our contemporary way of reading that is unique to our era. He used Ashbery's Tennis Court Oath as an example. He was saying that we don't stop to think about each word the way we read poetry now. We engulf the pages instantaneously, ravenously. As he spoke about this, he kept pulling on the chord of the electric light hanging from the ceiling over and over turning excitedly turning it on and off. He made me realize that when we read poetry now we read with the speed of light, the speed of thought, so it should be written and presented with this factor in mind. His Sonnets helped make this an era of lightning fast poetry, He also spoke of the loss of nobility in poetry as well, so he was aware of the price that we might be paying for this type of insatiability. But I think he, and the New York School in general, did much to counter the mournful tones of so much 20th Century poetry: ("I grow old, I grow old, I will wear the bottom of my trousers rolled... I have seen them singing each to each...I do not think that they will sing to me")
First off, how interesting it is to compare this description of reading to the one ascribed to Ashbery in that New Yorker article—a style of reading that Tony Robinson, for one, claims to recognize as his own. I think of that kind of reading and writing as "ambient poetics"—a Wordsworthian construct according to this Timothy Morton article—but if you take "ambient" in its contemporary sense as in ambient music you can get that "speed of light, speed of thought" sense out of it: a necessarily electronic composting of a dozen musical styles for atmospheric purposes, so that to listen for individual voices or styles is to listen in the wrong way.

Secondly there's that question of "nobility," which Nick asssociates with the "mournful tones" of high modernism, specifically Eliot. I wonder about this. "Nobility" is an interesting way to describe what's missing from high-speed assimilative ambient poetics; if we associate nobility with the mournful or nostalgic then it does appear as a token of the Modernism that, according to one standard narrative, is succeeded by a Postmodernism that is confronted with the exact same acceleration/fragmentation of socialty but celebrates or at least gets high off of that fragmentation instead of making doleful utterances about it. But should we be so quick to consign nobility to the dustbin? We as 21st-century Americans are more suspicious of rhetoric than any other culture in history that I can think of, but that seems less to have insulated us against sophistry than it has assisted the rise of those who don't expect to be believed, but only wish to see their "talking points" repeated. Is "nobility" a tone, a vocabulary, a narrative, or an intention? Perhaps nobility is the wrong thing to wish for from a democratic polis/poetics. Perhaps "high" language and rhetoric can only function now as a more or less ironic component of a poet's pastiche. But if the New York School and the Beats are Romanticism from below, maybe they've simply inverted nobility without actually emptying it out: insead of "The Noble Rider" we are nobly ridden. There is certainly something elevating to the person in "Dear Margie, hello," once that phrase has passed through the entire gorgeous machine of The Sonnets. And the apparition of "The Poems" that floats in its lyric sea. Speed aside. Speed a path, an ultimately destructive but no less elevating arc toward the transcendent. I like Nick's musical phrase: "the chord of the electric light."

No comments:

Popular Posts