Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bloggers Weigh in on Today's Poetry Scene

A friend recently voiced his utter frustration at the type of poetry that gets selected for publication in the journals and magazines to which he's been submitting his work lately, many of which some people would give their right arm to be published in. Is it just me, or does it seem to be getting harder and harder to find really good poetry being written in and/or published today in America? (By that I mean poems that offer more than chaotic emotional eruptions or deliberate wordmangle "just because one can"). Why are there not more insightful, meaningful poems that actually SAY something--rather than just confuse, irritate, "entertain" or bore?

Hybrids in corn produce interesting, and sometimes alarming, results. The same can be said for hybrids in poetry. Norton’s Anthology of New Poetry, titled American Hybrid, focuses on the blend of traditional and experimental poetry by today's poets, constituting what they deem is a new hybrid. One blogger calls it "a textbook of bland self-absorption" and "a sad case that unknowingly expresses the malaise of our time's poetry." He finds very few poems in the book worth a second look. "If this is the best writing of our era ... then we are in an era of shit."[1] He is referring to the books' poems representing 70 of today's published American poets.

Johannes Göransson over at Exoskeleton gives a less blunt and more detailed review of American Hybrid, beginning with their premise: "In order to have a 'hybrid' of two kinds of poetry, you must subscribe to the two-camp structure; viewing the proliferation of styles and aesthetics as more complicated disturbs the attempt to create a synthesis." For him, "American Hybrid merely proves that 'indeterminate' poetics has shaped the tradition, leaving it as high-minded and ambiguous as ever."[2]

Gary Charles Wilkens questions the book's calling American poetry today a hybridization, saying it's "too slip-shod to call [it] a way, or a movement or a style." The book is "simply the numerical collection of isolated writers plugging away at doing what they want." He nevertheless recommends reading it, because he says it's like looking in the mirror at how "American poetry is slowly, painfully, changing."[3]

One of the newer trends in poetry that some find painful, is flarf, which Meg, another poetry-loving blogger believes exists "because the language of poetry has become dismal." [For more recent flarfspew, see Poetry Mag's July/August 2009 edition.] Could new and better technology have anything to do with that?

"What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age?" asks Kenneth Goldsmith in discussing flarf and conceptual writing in his "Introduction to the 21st Century's Most Controversial Poetry Movements".[4] The Internet makes poetry infinitely more accessible. More poetry can be shared, and published. Start a personal blog, fill it with your poems, and that's "publishing" them.
That way you're not at the mercy of publishing trends. (A number of years ago the proliferation of fiction written in the present tense was an unnerving trend. If you submitted fiction written in the present tense you'd have had 80 times more chance of getting published than had you not, for example.)

Poems that have survived the centuries that are still being read today, quietly watch as each generation attempts to stretch its voice. What would anthropomorphized Grandfather Poem say to Young Flarf, I wonder. Like a tasty watermelon, great for the moment, but it's not got much shelf life. (Into the Tortured Metaphor bin with you for that one, ha ha). Seriously, apart from intentional shock or clever word positioning or high entertainment, what does flarf offer to the reader other than novelty? What's my beef with it, then? (playing the Devil's advocate here). Is it that it dares to call itself Poetry? Well but it is-- poetry. It's a part of what constitutes poetry today and it's claiming its place. (Define Poetry.)

Granted, much of what is being written today is a mixture of the old and the new. No matter what they label the evolution of poetry from generation to generation, it's not the method, process, or end product as product that interests me so much as the content. Why is there not more really GOOD poetry being published, whatever its lineage? Is there "good" flarf poetry? (Define good.)

I admit I'm not very well acquainted with the trends and movements re: poetry, past or present, much less to which school(s) a poet might or might not belong. My interest in a poem lies not to which school a poet belongs nor to what movement he/she represents, but what a particular poem "says" to me. It's entirely subjective. Do the words mean something to me, do they resonate, does the poem awaken something in me that prompts me to say: "Wow, this is REALLY GOOD!!!" Does it draw me to read it again and again and again, savoring its words, its images, the sense it gives me that something really important is being expressed here. That sometimes happens for me with a single poem from someone whose writings I wouldn't ordinarily spend much time on. So I guess, for me, the WORDS and their impact are their true measure of worth.

I am late for Mado's 86th birthday party--gotta go. Just some random jottings re: fellow bloggers weighing in on the state of poetry today. The discussion will continue ...

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