Friday, October 21, 2005

SOQ and Post Avant?

I realize this distinction is too simple and needs a lot of asides etc. But I found it very helpful to read volume one and volume two of Jerome Rothenberg's Poems for the millennium and compare it to say the latest Norton anthologies of poetry. Both the Norton and Rothenberg anthologies have some poets in common, but it seems to me the Norton is A LOT more narrow in terms of the possibilities of poetry.

The more contemporary poetry I read, the more I notice differences between SOQ and avant poetics. But I had to read a shitload of all kinds of poetry. Both wide and deep as they say. I think the poetry from these various traditions is much more than style.

Maybe those differences are challenged with the youngish poets whose work is published with Fence, Verse, Jubilat, Conduit and so on?

I am not sure, but I would lean toward saying no. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading some of the poets in these mags and books from these presses. Or that their poetry is somehow not as "good" because it doesn't feel avant to me. I try to read books of poetry on their own terms. I am very familiar with a wide-range of poetry (Albert Goldbarth, Seamus Heaney, Dean Young, James Tate, Stephen Dobyns, Jorie Graham AND James Joyce, Bruce Andrews, Ron Silliman, Robert Duncan, Clark Coolidge, Zukofsky, Basil Bunting etc.

I also don't exclude a poet or poetry if it doesn't "fit" my idea of Post-Avant or SOQ. But I do think there are significant traditions behind both. I find almost all of the poetry at Barnes and Nobles uninteresting and most (not all) do seem to fit into SOQ (for lack of a better term). The Post-Avant and historical avant garde are much more diverse.

It makes me wonder a bit in terms of American politics. The common notion is the Republicans kicked ass because they managed a unified front whereas the Democrats had too many splinters and were less centralized.

In no way do I think so-called SOQ are like Republicans in terms of politics, but the structures might be similiar. I mean, the various avant and post-avants seem very decentralized and therefore less seen (small press history is essential to any study of the innovative traditions in poetry).

All in all, I think avant garde as a label sends up too many cardboard one-dimensional assumptions. Maybe innovative poetics is better? Ditto SOQ. Maybe the terms need to be more descriptive (and tentative) than evaluative?

Labels suck. They should be questioned. But no one reads poetry without all of their previous reading experiences.

I love Rennaisance English poetry and the Metaphysical poets. I also love The Canterbury Tales.

I think the assumptions of fads and "make it new" in terms of innovative/experimental poetry need constant re-evaluation.

The Romantics may be the first in the history of innovative poetics.

One big project of the historical avant garde is to narrow the distance between life and art.

As a whole, I don't think this is the case with more mainstream practices.

Even the easy-going conversational poetry needs constant tweaking (Billy Collins uses language to break down the distinctions between life and art so does that mean he is part of the innovative tradition in poetry?)

There are a lot of poets slavishly imitating the romantics with their descriptive nature poetry etc. To my mind, that is not in the spirit of the romantics.

Yet, even the Romantics are diverse. In terms of canonization, can most folks name three poets who were NOT Romantics writing around the time of Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats etc.?

Anyway, for me it's about the possibilities of poetry. The sheer range of avant or post-avant practices really opens up possibilies for my life (and art).

I wanna question art constantly.


Pris said...

On nearly every blog these days I read about poetry in terms of what movement it belongs to, and the movements grow by the day, it seems, and become more difficult to differentiate, one from the other.

My question is, who sits down and says, 'now I'm going to write a poem from the New Sincerity POV or the Avant Guard POV or the Post-Modernist POV'? To be honest, I can relate a whole lot easier to movements in the art world, such as impressionism, pointilism, surrealism, etc. They're a lot more clear-cut (to me, anyway), though I would ask, even then, if an artist said, 'I'm tired of doing I'll do some Surreal art.

I enjoy writing a poem simply to express something using my best abilities in the way that seems natural at the time. I enjoy reading a poem simply to read a poem, not trying to decide what movement it belongs too. If it's good, I judge it by how it works internally and for me.

While I have a Ph.D. and have studied art and literature, my degree wasn't in the field of English or Creative Writing. Maybe that makes the difference?

Thanks for the post.

postpran said...


I understand what you're saying here. I don't think it's a matter of deciding to write from such and such a movements pov. For me, at least, it has a lot to do with who I've read, loved, and internalized. Most of these loves come out of the avant garde tradition in all of the arts (visual, musical, poetry etc.)

I think it also has a lot to do with community.

Anyway, thanks for responding.

Pris said...

I can understand the community part, certainly. It helps to have a group of people understand what you're trying to do. I see you live in North Carolina. I grew up in South Carolina and have been through Greensboro any number of times in earlier years. My ancesters also come from Ireland:-)