The post below by Marcus (postpran) on 10/21 about The "School of Quietude" and the "Post Avant" sent me thinking. This is partly a comment on Marcus's highly interesting post, partly some random notions that may be related.
Three poets who were writing in English around the same time as Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, etc., and who are not usually grouped with the Romantics (by people who concern themselves with such groupings) are Walter Scott, Walter Savage Landor, and George Crabbe. Thomas Hood is another. (This is in response to a specific question Marcus posed.)
The Romantics (Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, etc.) were not necessarily the first in the history of innovative poetics. Certainly not the first in the world (consider, for instance, the Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty, or the first Japanese tanka poets. The poetries of India, Persia, the Arabic world, have seen wave after wave of experiment and innovation for centuries, to name a few.
In English, an early innovator was Chaucer. He wrote, in English, at a time when the aristocracy of England spoke French. To write in one's own language, the language of everyday life (rather than the language of the aristocracy) -- this perhaps has relevance to the passionate work of some of the poets of today whose work might be described as avant-garde or post-avant?
Another innovator in English, later than Chaucer, earlier than the Romantics, was Shakespeare. Chaucer and Shakespeare, obviously, lived and worked among the many other poets and writers of their times, and in the world at large. They did not live or work in isolation; they were not the only ones.
The avant garde does not always "narrow the distance between life and art." Some poets usually described as avant-garde (at least during their time) created work that, in its effects, resulted in creating greater distance between art and life. Ezra P0und, for example. Even Pound's best work (and I admit here I'm not much of a fan of his poetry or other writing) -- the "translations" in Cathay, for instance -- seems to me to have a nostalgic stand-offish quality, as though one were looking at a highly mannered drama frozen in time in a painting on a wall at the far end of a large room.
I don't really agree that there is such a thing as the School of Quietude, or that there is such a thing as the Post Avant. Labels can be useful at times; it's nice to know whether a can contains peaches or green beans. I don't object to all labels as such. I disagree with the particular labels School of Quietude and Post Avant. I don't think that these labels describe things that actually exist.
The way I've seen "School of Quietude" used, I gather that it usually refers to poets who write in (mostly) standard grammatical sentences, using more or less standard syntax, usage, punctuation, and so on. I gather that some writers and critics feel that these practices tend to result in writing that evokes a mood or sensation or perception of quiet, a calm or meditative mood or state of mind. Something like that.
The way I've seen "Post Avant" used, it seems usually to refer to poets who attempt to disrupt standard grammatical sentence structure and syntax, using words without regard for (or in deliberate or ironic defiance of) standard usage or standard spectrums of usage. Poetry in which the communicational function of language breaks down, frequently to the point where the poem no longer appears to be written in a currently existing language. (I think of Marx's phrase "the anarchy of capitalist production.")
Each of the above describes a very narrow aesthetic range. I have questions about how much use either of the terms is, as any kind of category or description of actually existing poetry in the world. I agree with Marcus in his skepticism about this.
I was fascinated with Marcus's comparison with Republicans and Democrats. I'm not sure if I agree about which is which.
If we say, for the sake of discussion, that the above categories do exist, then to my thinking the majority of the poetry of the "post avant" definitely reminds me of Republicans. I'm not sure who the "school of quietude" reminds me of -- maybe John Kerry. I work in the billing department of a large corporation. A typical poem by a "language" poet (possibly one of the branches of the post avant tree) resembles, to me, the pages full of fractured disjointed data I look at on the computer screen all day long. Or, maybe, a speech by Bush.
A typical MFA program poem (maybe a branch of the school of quietude) reminds me of an office memo. Or, maybe, one of those corporate "mission statements" one finds at the front of an employee handbook.
There are many poets whose work has been important and useful to me for a long time, which speaks to me about the world I live in, and leads me to ways to speak about the world and myself in my own poems. Ultimately, the best way I know of to say what I think about poetry, about writing poetry, is to name some of the poets whose poems have reached me the most deeply and passionately.
Some of them are:
Thomas McGrath, Sharon Doubiago, Federico Garcia Lorca, Tomas Transtromer, Kenneth Rexroth, Etheridge Knight, Joy Harjo, Yosano Akiko, Tu Fu (or Du Fu), Sappho, Paul Eluard, Nancy Morejon, Dafydd ap Gwylym, Rene Depestre, Audre Lorde, Robert Bly, Anuradha Mahapatra, Ruben Medina, Anya Achtenberg, Zoe Anglesey, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Miroslav Holub, Anna Swir, Sesshu Foster, Janice Mirikitani, Adrienne Rich, Agostinho Neto, Margaret Atwood, Nazim Hikmet, Ibn Hazm, Pat Lowther, Adrian Mitchell, Andrew Salkey...
Not many of them are in either the Rothenberg or Norton anthologies.