Monday, July 10, 2006

I'm Still Alive (Barely)

Man, thank you Sandra for linking me up to your great blog. I need to put a link to yours, I know. Well, what have I been thinking about poetry-wise? Mostly about how my surrealistic style is basically the establishment style of poetry. I mean, John Ashberry, weirdo, surrealist. James Tate interviewed in The Paris Review. But mostly, the whole culture is tuned into odd ball stuff and dreams; watch any commerical and the rapid cuts, the weird juxtapositions, all surrealist style. So, in order to create something new, against the negative ideas/actions/expectations of our world (Iraq War anyone?), do we go back to formalism, earnestness, etc? David Foster Wallace in his essay on TV and postmodernism stated that we needed new "earnest" writers, unafraid to look at emotion and problems, not caring if they're accused of being corny or un-hip. But isn't that idea already co-opted too? Look at a TV show like "Seventh Heaven" or the Christian music/book industry. Sincerity always carries with it the idea of The Truth, authority, which I'm usually against; there are lots of meanings in this world. Is it possible to be sincere, to really mean things, without it seeming like a pose or naive? What would a true rebellion against our systemn (its culture, language, and images) look like in poetry?


Blogger J Martin said...


There are some poets, bloggers, and others who claim to be part of a movement called The New Sincerity.

Google the term. I thing the person who coined it has a blog/podcast: The Sound of Young America.

Yes, here's a link to start:

I don't know about the term "new."

10:34 PM  
Blogger J Martin said...

Oops. Guess I have more to say.

To describe the rebellion, I think first we have to describe the system, but to describe the system may require being outside the system.

The problem or one of the problems, and maybe DWF hits it in his essay, is that in addition to being willing to be accused of being uncorny and hip, the new earnest writers need to be believed, revered, in their stance (or in their multitude of stances), and in a system based on the will of the majority, based both elections and polling, a multitude of stances must somehow do what the conservatives started doing around 1964 when they ran Barry Goldwater, they must agree on common ground and support one another, give and take with one direction in mind.

Is it possible any longer to mean and be believed and to be listened to with real trust?

Have you read Moral Politics or Don't Think of an Elephant, two books by George Lakoff? Google him. I'm not sure what it has to do with poetry exactly, but peripherally, he's an expert on metaphor and conceptual framing. One of his first books was called The Metaphors We Live By. Another is about metaphor in poetry, and since then he's turned his eye toward how the conservatives in our country took control/advantage of the way 51% of the people think about the family, the world, and government.

I'm sort of blathering, but I think he's real smart. He's a cognitive linguist at Berkeley. Like I said this is sort of peripheral to poetry, but I think it's because a lot of poetry has become peripheral. The answer to why and how to mean MAY not be in poetry anymore. (Does that mean I'll quit writing it? No.) And I think this is a complicated thing, too. I think poetry has been pushed aside because it requires a deeper kind of reading than most people are willing or able to do in our technological/electronic image dependent society, within our system. I think poetry's been pushed aside because, in general, we're not as reading/writing literate as we were in the 19th century.

Most of these are unsupported half thoughts, forgive me, but I have to go to sleep soon, and I need to go write some, too.

Talk to you later,

11:02 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

If one thinks of the main aesthetic dichotomy as Sincere vs. Ironic--or even Realist vs. Surrealist--I don't think you'll have luck making space for the "new." Modern marketing and publishing methods have created a pop culture free-for-all: there's no one dominant aesthetic paradigm suppressing the other (at least, not to the extremity of days past). And that's not a bad thing.

We write as individuals (ok, occasionally in small collaborative groups), so I think the key is to aim for originality on the scale of each poem. For me, the notion of "making it new" involves writing a poem that claims certain formal or tonal tenets of a poetry "school," yet introducing elements slightly beyond the comfort zone of the style as I understand it. I'm not always successful--I blogged about growing pains earlier today. = )

I've noticed, in recent poems published by a few contemporary people with surrealist bents, a nod toward self-identification and reflexive-address of the speaker (in some cases, outright invoking the poet's first name). It has an interesting affect: not a total swerve toward sincerity--the speaker's emotional stance is rarely elaborated, nor does it overtake the surrealist narrative--but certainly a puncturing of an otherwise distanced, ironic tone.

10:46 AM  
Blogger J Martin said...

Checkout Jane Hirshfield's essay "The Question of Originality" in Nine Gates : Entering the Mind of Poetry.

8:24 PM  
Blogger J Martin said...

Can written poetry exist as pop culture and make a difference in a country of sub-literate literacy? Or does it have to be a poetry of oral proclamation?

8:27 PM  
Blogger Don said...

I think the question I had in my blog entry reached for too much. The concern about how to write poetry that doesn't fall into line with the dominant culture (writing or otherwise) is too high-level. Like Sandra said, we all just write as individuals, in certain traditions, trying to add to it and maybe even add something "new." The idea of novelty used to not be as important hundreds of years ago as it is today. I think now, because of capitalism and romanticism, creating a product that's new and improved, "individualistic," is much more important.
I guess I'm just trying to push myself, or would like to push myself, beyond my comfort zones. I'm suspicious about how certain ways of writing come easy to me, and I fear my writing will never truly get to ideas like the greats -- Eliot, Frost, etc. For some reason, I don't feel I have enough rigor, discipline, etc. Maybe I want punishment in some way? Yes, S&M poetry, that's my way! (-:
I can wait until Tony Hoagland's essays come out.

7:53 AM  
Blogger J Martin said...

Yeah. I know. Sorry I went off. Looks like I'm about to do it again. Maybe I need more people to talk to about this stuff.

And by the way, I'm excited for Hoagland's essays to come out all together in a book, too. (Have you seen the new web site "The Church of Tony Hoagland"? "We would give anything for what we have." ) Do check out the Hirshfield Nine Gates essays, too, if you haven't.

I understand what you and Sandra mean about trying to add to (or build) a tradition, but the bigger question about how does poetry, and how do individual poems, affect the world has been on my mind a lot recently.

I think Ginsberg's Howl did. He was getting to big issues, and he's read and remembered. And, he and that poem, in the context of the Beat generation, helped push our world view to the left. Now Think Tanks of the Right are trying to push it back.

I guess the question I was going off on is "Can poetry operate as politically effective speech?" and "Does it have to be explicitly political to be considered as such?"


Oh, and yeah, if I were you, I'd write a series of poems called "Waiting." And at some point in the process, I'd make a list of the poles of waiting, pair it up with some other ideas that seem to create what Doty called tension and write about those, too. You know, pairs like "justice and passion," "terror and beauty," "emptiness and space," "eros and thanatos," "opportunity and crisis."

I think your poem already operates using some opposites like this to create tension.

Based on what I've seen, Don I know you've got it in you. Just keep doing the work, and it'll happen. Like Hoagland says, "We would give anything for what we have."

9:19 AM  
Blogger J Martin said...

I mean/meant,

"I think your poems already operate using some opposites like this to create tension."

9:22 AM  

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