I want to resume the question of poetry and history that I discussed in my post re: Cecil Giscombe and my review of Ken Rumble’s Key Bridge. I would argue that, in both of those books, the absence of detailed history signals an unwillingness to “depict,” due to a suspicion the slipperiness of narrative or representation and the tendentious (even authoritarian) closure those activities often provoke.
The flip side – that which is renounced in such a decision – is any responsibility (epistemological and ethical) for writing history – or at least responsibility for doing so on the part of poets. If there is no “subject of history,” does that take us off the hook of history? By us, I mean people who write and read literature (writing for art’s sake). This could turn into a very old, tedious, and unresolvable debate, which is what I don’t want it to do. But I do detect a couple of tendencies (unscientific perceptions, these) in recent poetics that beg the question.
The first is the apparent resurgence of lyric. In the 80s and early 90s, lyric came into disrepute, esp. amongst feminist critics – esp. those influenced by continental philosophy – suspicion of the unified speaking subject (read: Law of the Father) and of the “lyric complex” of love, beauty, and femininity. However, in the last (what?) ten years or so, a new generation of lyric poetry has emerged that presents us with a more diffused subject, in which lyric gesture, while moving and sincere and all that, is also be self-conscious about The Lyric Tradition. This development has made lyric more palatable to more people - and, perhaps, made narrative less so, especially to those with an avant-gardie self-image.
The other tendency is towards what might best be described as neodada, absurdism, scramble-systems and word-salads. I guess one could say Langpo is (was?) a manifestation of this – due to post-Althusserian suspicions of syntax and semantics per se. But today it seems less a result of political commitment than of (political, social) despair. I’m thinking of the kind of jokey, aloof, poppy irony (sorry, *post*-irony) on the part of many younger poets who are still immortal (or not yet destitute). They often hit the zeitgeist smartly on the head, but I’m left wondering So What. I wonder that after I read some of my own stuff, in fact, and I’m not even young. If you accept any version of the category "history" as valid, do you have to at least flirt with representation? Or does history represent all that passe Olson stuff?
I have to wonder to what extent it's a matter of being willing to present primary texts - to let the texts "speak for themselves," rather than the speaking persona of the poem. Reznikoff tried to do that in his Testimony poems. Flarf is an interesting contemporary example of the poetics of the primary text - of nailing the zeitgeist using other people's words. But what's the shelf life, absent the paratext - that is, the historical context - if it's not obvious from the text itself? And if the answer is "None - that's the point," then where does that leave "history"?
(you can see my problem, here . . .)
To be continued . . . [possibly much, much later]
Kevin Varrone's BOX SCORE: An Autobiography of Zeroes - [I'll be delivering this talk in Ottawa, Kansas on Friday. In the meantime, I highly recommend Kevin's book; I've read it a dozen times now, and it has rew...
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