PLEIADES 27:1 is now available. In it is an interesting essay by Reginald Shepherd on the poetry climate, titled "One State of the Art." It's well worth checking out. And it gets me to this question:
Who do you write against?
What an interesting question. It was asked of me a few weeks ago, and I didn't really have an answer, or perhaps I didn't really want to answer. "Against" is about as oppositional as one can be, and I'm really not the oppositional sort.
But I've been thinking, and I've decided that there are a few poets who, for various reasons, make me wish I were someplace else.
1. Ted Kooser. Have you seen his book on writing? I don't understand how people, even people who really like his poetry can get through what he has to say about poetry. And then there's the poetry itself. (Kooser here also stands for Dana Gioia, by the way.)
2. Ron Silliman. He and I share a favorite poet, Rae Armantrout. His writing on the new sentence was formative for me twenty years ago. For these two reasons alone I should honor him, but for the fact that the way he talks about poetry for quite some time now robs it of everything, or nearly everything, that makes it pleasurable.
So that's my tiny, too easy, list of two poets who, I think, let themselves go.
It's a difficult public question, isn't it? So who do you write against? Or, as I don't really write against anyone: What poet (poets) does your poetry stand against? Who are your negative models?
In a related issue, was also asked, the same day, about the creative writing workshop: should the moderator, the person in charge, strive to be supportive of the projects of the participants or should the moderator be more oppositional . . . coach or gatekeeper. Of course, that's a reduction, and a binary (I hate binaries), but it's also a tough question.
Oppositional stances are as important to the growth of the artist as are supportive environments and shared endeavors. My answer was that one should work closely with someone who supports one's work and its direction, but that one should look for an oppositional respondent as well. To sharpen the edge. To force one to defend what one is doing.
For me, this person is Mark Halliday. He's a fine writer, and a willing correspondent, but he doesn't much care for my poetry. I enjoy talking with him.
Frank Sinatra, "That's Life"
Grandaddy, "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot"
The Replacements, "Talent Show"