Alice Notley Is My Hero
There is a wonderful, fascinating, even funny moment in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers when Alice Notley, in the midst of her profile, says,
"I don’t have a poetics. I think that’s bullshit… I change my style all the time. I change the forms I use. The whole thing is in flux. I think that poetics is an industry."
Which caused Jonathan Mayhew to write:
There is/are only poetics, there is not "a poetic" of this or that. There are emphases within this, or statements of where one is "at" at a particular time. That's why a blog might state a different poetics every day, but in an evolving series. It's temporal and ongoing. You can't have a poetics, in the sense of possession; you can only participate in it. It's thinking I understood something the day before yesterday, but realizing it's only a partial understanding. That is why Alice is right to call poetics bullshit. It is an inherently provisional enterprise. (This is different from someone who never thinks about poetics in the first place.)
Poetics in the neoclassical sense of prescription, how boring is that? Poetics can only be descriptive, in the sense that linguistics is descriptive. Describing what good poets already do, not telling someone what to do. Or worse, what NOT to do.
I like these formulations. I've always disliked "a poetics." A poetics is a backward looking formulation. To know where one is at, to know "a poetics," seems reduced, reductive, to me. Am I missing something?
A poetics is only really visible looking back. To say one has a poetics in the present tense, in the way that one may have a cold (as I do this morning), and then to be able to speak it, is a lessening of possibility.
I suppose one might say one has a compositional method, as Ashbery does, but even that becomes to feel a little prescribed. One might say "usual compositional practices," but to me the idea of a poetics is best left to someone other than a practicing poet.
Or is this just a way to let a poet out of answering an important question, that if the poet would force him/herself to answer, the poet and the questioner would learn something about the art?
Anyway, Alice Notley's new book is Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005. We should all go out and buy several copies.