I never ceased to be amazed by the way that American poets, even now, seem to live in parallel universes. This tendency is nowhere more evident than among younger poets, who bear strongly the stamp of their tutelage and who have perahps not ventured very far from it.
That's the sense I get from Weston Cutter's "Thoughts on Structure" at Plougshares blog. He bemoans (understandably, and eloquently) how many poems take the form of the "block-o-poem: left justified, without stanzas," and written in free verse. If you added "memoirsitic," "representational," and "about a page in length," this description could still go for most poems mass produced in The [Insert Place Name Here] Review.
But it also made me realize how few poems that I read are like that. Not that they're all sestinas and villanelles, but they either use stanzas (at least) or some kind of patterned form (often aleatory), are serial poems, or make use of the field of the page in some interesting way. Indeed, if Cutter were to read the poetry books (or the journal) from BlazeVOX, which just published his book of short stories, he would encounter a variety of poetic forms that do not conform to the norm he's described.
Aside from reading (immediately) the Language book and The Politics of Poetic Form, and maybe Anthony Easthope's Poetry as Discourse, I'd recommend that Weston ditch the print journals and the big-name outfits for a while and browse some of the on-line mags that Spencer Selby lists here. Look through the Small Press Distribution catalogue, which is chock full of formally inventive (as well as formally traditional) poetry. Read up on Oulipo and New Formalism both. Read books from Fence, Coffee House, TinFish, Wesleyan, Ahsahta, Coach House, or any of the many non-commercial indy presses publishing writing in innovative forms. There's a whole 'nother world out there - and your teachers may not have told you - may not have known - about it.
I know a number of younger poets who are in a kind of indeterminate, exploratory, and probably scary space - between the conventional quasi-confessional poetry they were reared on and the "post-avant" poetry that they've heard is hip. Maybe they're biding their time, like uncommitted troops waiting to see which side is likely to win a civil war. But I hope they're learning - both by trying out new forms and also by learning a little about the history, theory, and motivations behind them.
Then there is the third parallel universe, the one that Aaron Belz lives in:
Dear New York Times “Week in Review” editors, whose gesture toward our dying art (soliciting “Twitter poems” from famous poets) has not gone unnoticed,
The results of your solicitation are most emphatically not“Twitter poems” because they do not conform to Twitter’s lack of line breaks. I want you to know how careless and silly I think your solicitation of “Twitter poems” therefore is! It makes me really, really mad. One of the reasons poetry is so hard is because it requires recognition, then possibly even mastery, of formal rules. Line breaks are one of our primary means of achieving rhythm, and otherwise an essential element of poetic form. With/without them is an enormous difference. You, a big publishing empire, toy with our art this way. Have you not heard of the poor man’s lamb? Thou art the man!
Yours somewhat dramatically!
Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)
- PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
- PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
- DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
- TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
- CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
- BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
- KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.