Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Home from engagement celebrations, which were simultaenously enlivened and dampened Sunday night by the torrential rains that swept the Washington, DC area. Drove in the rain yesterday, too, and it's about to rain here in Ithaca. Catching up with my contributor's copy of Denver Quarterly, in which a portion of Compostition Marble appears under its original title. Wonderful percussive popcorning ears on display from Stephanie Anderson ("It's my turn for callus. Tussle and muster / me to ore"), Crystal Curry ("morning's throat & navel / play / my flatterman, my strapless cop, my / star to string / the wires up"), Sarah Goldstein ("Juggernaut, give me all you have— / flower band, bait whistle, morning on a branch"), and Joshua Harmon ("Green bolts in hills' haet: nub and quick, windy and wracked, pulls a slip: a furl limns tips split, a sleaving, slift"), while more sibilant musics are on offer from Chris McDermott ("Chronic simpers in between. / They temper an otherwise / ache niche") and Sandra Miller ("neither is the shady vox in the open savanna / open to ask a snare or ask / to snare itself")—her splendidly strange book oriflamme. is engagingly and perceptively reviewed in this issue as post-zaum rather than post-language by Karla Kelsey). The contents in general seem nightly pressurized: there's a long-lined meditative poem that somehow reminds me of Coleridge by Ben Doyle, two suggestive poems titled "Installation" that are both artworks and descriptions of the encounter with artworks by Joe Bonomo; a conversation between and poems by Aaron Kunin and Ben Lerner; a vein of elegy illuminated somehow between some Mandelstam translations by Andrey Gritsman and a poem of Joanna Klink's titled "What (War, 2003—); some poems and an essay on the poetry of nightlife by Daniel Tiffany; and other riches not yet plumbed. If I may strike a Sillimanian note for a moment, I think DQ and Chicago Review between them demonstrate some of the finer possibilities of academic literary journals when permitted to bear the stamp of a viewpoint.

Also read the Mark Halliday piece on Helen Vendler's Invisible Listeners in Pleiades that Jordan commented upon last week. Like Jordan, I find Halliday to be an engaging and entertaining writer, even though he's as willing to divide the poetry world into halves as Ron is, and though he would firmly locate me in the "wrong" half of "postmodernist blur-buzz boosters." I actually have a lot of sympathy for his notion of the centrality of the person and the interpersonal to poetry, something articulated at considerably greater length by himself and Allen Grossman in The Sighted Singer—but I fail to understand why a poem must actually contain some sort of rhetoric of paraphrasable address to show "interest in the reader": Halliday complains that Ashbery's poems show very little interest in their readers and therefore it doesn't make sense to call him a poet of "intimate address" as Vendler also does with George Herbert and Whitman. It's true that Ashbery isn't solicitous of the reader: he doesn't take you by the hand, or rather when he does it's to lead you down a blind alley that then opens onto surprising vistas. But Halliday seems to diagnose the contemporary poetry of "blur-buzz" that isn't in the line of "the greatness of Yeats, Frost, Stevens, and Eliot," "poets who make earnest, urgent, paraphrasable declarations about life," as contemptuous of readers, or worse, feigning uninterest in being read. "Poems seek readers," Halliday writes. "Poems are social acts in relation to anticipated readers." Absolutely. Maybe even it's true that the best poems are paraphrasable—I just think maybe they're not paraphrasable yet. That is, they offer an experience in language, rather than represent an experience with language, and one might then try to represent the experience one has had—in conversation, in a review, and best of all I think, in a poem of one's own. That still remains my highest mark of quality in poetry, my equivalent of top-of-the-head-removal: the itch set up by words in my own fingers and ears. Good poems are catching, even if you don't fully catch the meaning, even if you don't feel quite qualified to be a given poem's addressee, yet. I don't see why such a model of reception should disqualify anyone from eventually achieving the "greatness" that Halliday talks of: "Like Vendler, I love the idea of greatness, and I'm repulsed by the notion that in some politically salubrious way we have outgrown the idea of greatness." There's still some essential, inimitable spark that a poet brings to his or her language and surely bonfires are still possible. But I'm still convinced that the more open forms (whether or not the communities that gather around these forms are genuinely "open" is another question) that invite the participation of reader/writers are both more democratic and more true than those which package a readily paraphrasable meaning, while by no means foreclosing the infinite possibilities borne by individual talent.

No comments:

Popular Posts