Saturday, February 18, 2006

(Hopefully, after my AMC post, this will make me seem all smart and stuff...or maybe not...)

I've been reading Poetic Culture again, where Beach is talking about the widely varying careers of two varying poets. While I actually like Hejinian somewhat, I for some reason thought Dobyns was solely a novelist due to a poor choice in the B&N bargain bin a few years ago..Apparently, he's a poet and not a very good one. Since I had to write them up for class, here are some vague thoughts on how I see my work fitting into the continuum of super innovativeness and mainstream vanillaness.

I am in a very strange position of being someone whose work, up until the last couple of years would probably have been leaning toward the Dobyns side of things, but whose current work is moving further toward the Hejinian . A number of things determine this. Until the last three years or so, my exposure to contemporary poetry was very much of the “official verse culture” variety, having gleaned a lot of it through things like the Poulin anthology and other Norton-like books. My poetry gods and goddesses began with the confessionalism of Plath and Sexton and continued through to Strand, Gluck, Forche, Dove, and Rich. My work reflected this, pretty straightforward, sometimes lyrical, occasionally narrative. When I began the MFA program, suddenly I was exposed to all sorts of things I’d never really encountered before, having not really gotten much poetry beyond typical English department fare—most of it pre- or early 20th century. Contemporary poetry, if we covered it at all, tended to end around the mid-seventies. Suddenly, all these other poetic models were cropping up, some of which I liked (like Imagists, the Surrealists) some of which I didn’t (New York School, Langpo). I became much more aware of what was possible, and my work began to reflect that.

Unlike what I see with a lot of Langpo and its spawn, I still think language “means,”—at least something, and that a poem ought to have some internal logic, even if that logic doesn’t always conform to what’s outside of it. I do agree that the word and the thing are not always necessarily aligned, but there’s a tension in that which works well no matter which camp you fall into. I also think that the referential and associative quality of language should somehow co-exist with being challenging and interesting—different from everyday speech yet still the same somehow. I want something recognizable and accessible to draw me in, but also things to be just a little bit skewed and unexpected, perhaps in image, or logic, or syntax. And I want a certain tightness, preciseness, even occasionally density. So much of what I see, especially in more mainstream journals is too loose, too prose-like, too sloppy. Most of it the same first person—sensory experience-followed by some sort of predictable epiphany. And yet I look at a number of journals with a more innovative bent and I’m often lost as how to enter the poems, lost as to what sort of terms to apply to them. And yet I don’t want to avoid challenging language. But I don’t want difficulty for difficulty’s sake either.

My process in writing is probably far more innovative than its end result. I tend to use a collage techniques a lot (not always necessarily the found aspect, but more the layering), sometimes also incorporating other text, or in dialogue with other texts. Formally, I probably fall more on the Dobyn’s side, typically writing in stanzas, in poems about a half a page to a page in length, and yet my poems tend have more impact as longer projects than they do just on their own--like fragments that often form a whole. They tend toward more or less everyday language, but that language has increasingly become more and more fractured, denying that unified and consistent voice.

I’m probably most often stuck right in the middle of the continuum, some of my pieces moving a little bit more left, some a bit more to the right. So the contemporary poetry scene tends to frustrate me endlessly. I see it all the time, one side completely dismissing the other as either indecipherable on one side or predictable mainstream blandness on the other. Granted both are right on some counts (I’m thinking Bruce Andrews nonsense on one side and Billy Collins vanilla on the other.) But there’s a whole spectrum in between that’s ignored when people start dividing into camps.

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