Monday, September 21, 2009

On "The New Chicago School"...

I was thinking about this over the weekend..especially since I spent Saturday afternoon down at the Series A conference, one of the panels of which was "Poetry and Place." It does seem a rather odd list. I’m familiar with the work of about maybe 50% of it and while I can see some aesthetic affinity among a few of them, I wouldn’t exactly say there’s quite enough in common (beyond being somewhat experimental and living in the same geographic region) among them when it comes to the writing itself to call them any sort of school or even movement. I did like Johnson’s use of the word “constellation” though, which perhaps is a bit more accurate depiction of things going on in Chicago. You can form links between poets, links between certain readings series and presses, each with their own constellations of poets that revolve around them, which in turn overlap with other groupings. There are certain groupings of poets constantly overlapping, and others that barely touch each other, even among people working in the avante-gard tradition. And in the larger paradigm that is “Chicago Poetry” there are other constellations and groupings one would find, even among more traditionally oriented poets like myself. And constellations within those constellations and so on. I have to agree with the sentiment that it is very dangerous and perhaps counterproductive to label something so specifically. No doubt, poetry movements are mutable things, as soon as you try to pin it down it shifts into something else or loses its charm and people get sick of hearing about it.(look at Flarf..) I also agree it’s seems to only propagate the sort of hierarchies, and cause the sort of dissension, which in a perfect world would not exist.

And of course, anytime you make a list, you make decisions of value (unless, I guess, the list is infinite, but then is it a list at all?). Looking at the poets in the blog entry I can’t also help but feel it is predominantly too white and way too academic. There are also seem to be a large number of poets who either no longer really live here, or do so only in a sort of transient college teaching gig sort of way. But then, if I were to make a list myself, it would probably be skewed somewhat as well depending on the poets I know of, my own aesthetic preference, and any other number of factors. I suppose we either have to resign ourselves to the fact that no list will every be both complete and unbiased or just stop making such lists altogether. Again, I don’t have an answer. Just thinking outloud.

It also raises the question of how much any school or movement depends on geography and how that geography becomes an entity in an of itself, ie how "Chicago" plays a role in determing this school of poetics. How is a "New Chicago Poet" informed by the landscape around them in a way that is different from a New York poet, or an Iowa City poet? What is disctinctly "Chicago" about a certain group of writers that would make such a confluence of talent impossible elsewhere? What differentiates that school from any school or grouping of experimental poets that just happens to be randomly tossed together? Perhaps Seth Abramson may be right, that the internet age and the age of MFA programs trumps geography everytime. Looking at any of these poets, I see more circles of influence spreading outside Chicago than inside it, poets linked either by mentorship, or journals/presses outside Chicago, or former MFA prgram peers. Of course, I also think there are more insular pockets in Chicago where perhaps geography and personal relationships do play a greater role, if only among poets who are more likely to socialize together, critique each others work, publish each others poems, etc.

I will say, uncategorically however, that so much is happening in Chicago at any given minute poetry-wise it makes my head spin. That is awesome, and why I am glad to be here.

There is some more discussion both here and here..

1 comment:

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Kristy,

Glad to see folks talking about this. Just a quick note to say that my position isn't quite as you've read it--I don't think internet associations or MFA programs somehow trump place, but rather that the conversation simply needs to be much larger and more dynamic than Kent is allowing for. In any case, I think my thoughts are better summarized on Robert Archambeau's blog (which you link to), so I won't try to get into more detail here. Be well,