Thursday, June 29, 2006

Gratefully received: Rodney Koeneke's Musee Mechanique. Also appreciating the verse "Introduction" to Susan Schultz's A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, which I took out of the library for its chapter on Ronald Johnson as cookbook writer. I love the idea of writer's block versus reader's block, how both can be taken as learning experiences: a dialectical approach to what we can't write, what we can't read, confronts us with real and not imaginary difficulties.

Talking about my Zuk chapter with Roger Gilbert yesterday, he pointed out that a utopian version of pastoral largely excludes or leaves to one side one of the major dimensions of our pastoral inheritance: mortality. Perhaps I should plan a sequel on the postmodern pastoral elegy. But it got me thinking about how maybe the wing of poetry that's not about the social (as Roger nicely put it, "the corrigible") is that concerned with mortality and the passage of time; this seems more specific and useful than what I've been thinking of as the poetry of the transcedent or even simply the Romantic. How to think the incorrigible with the corrigible in poetry: can it be done? Is it useful to try? Perhaps a true Marxist would say that fear of death would be mitigated or dispelled by the quality of life in a truly revolutionized collectivity, but I don't think I buy this. And of course one of the major, rarely articulated fears of collectivity is that one can only enter the collective by somehow dying as an individual. I remember as a kid hearing about how socialism meant no private property, and I immediately thought: you mean I can't have my own toys anymore? Now I understand better that it's collective ownership of the means of production that Marxism aims for, and not the abolishment of private property in this intimate sense of what's proper to one. But it ought to be obvious by now that individuality is as prone to corruption and corrosion by a synthetic rugged consumerism as it is by the actions of any politburo. Anyways. One possible path is a poetry that reflects on the mortality of a collectivity. The lyric returns containing multitudes, subjectivity gets broadened and complicated. More attractive to me than the effacement of the subject or attempts to prove it's an ideological mirage.

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