American Hybrid? Coming Soon!
I'm quite fascinated by what Cole Swensen and David St. John might have come up with. I'm worried a bit by the fact that, in the essay in the brand new Writer's Chronicle that reprints Swensen's introduction, that she might be casting most of her attention at writers in their 30s. This age thing has me in knots (tomorrow is my birthday you see, and I'm turning 44), as I'm wondering why it seems important for people to notice. Ron Silliman did a similar thing a few days ago nodding to poets in their 20s and 30s who will be taking poetry someplace . . .
Anyway, more on that after I think about it for a few more days. A few more jealous, soul-searching days as I have to suddenly feel like I'm already boxed into the past. Ouch. I hope poets over 40 still matter. And will continue to do so.
Is all this talk about young poets just shorthand for "the future," or is it a manifestation of the cult of the young? We do so love the young, especially in the abstract. Anyway, the age thing wasn’t really the point of either Silliman’s post the other day or Swensen’s forward to American Hybrid. So, to redirect.
Swensen’s forward ends with a move I’ve always really liked, the “come to meeting” move, where we’re all in this together:
“Poetry is eternally marked by, even determined by, difference, but that very difference changes and moves. At the moment, it is moving inside, into the center of the writing itself, fissuring its smooth faces into fragments that make us reconsider the ethics of language, on the one hand, and redraft our notions of a whole, on the other. Putting less emphasis on external differences, those among poets and their relative positions, leaves us all in a better position to fight a much more important battle for the integrity of language in the face of commercial and political misuse. It’s a battle that brings poetry back to its mandate as articulated by Mallarmé: to give a purer sense to the language of the tribe. It’s something only poetry can do.”
I want this to be true. I really do. And when I look out at a lot of poetry (poetry that I love and poetry that I don’t love but in which I can see worth), I can feel it to be true, but there are a lot of poems out there that I feel misuse language in just the same way that the political and the commercial misuse it. That’s a thorny little caveat to get around, at least for me.
And then Mallarmé. Has that ever really been true? Maybe it was once, when dictionary makers went to literature for examples of usage, but is there any way that the language today bears any vestige of “a purer sense” after all the strong poems that have been written? Perhaps we, the readers of poetry, can claim some benefit from all the subtlety and clarity, but can anyone else?
That said, as a reader of poetry, I’m looking forward to this anthology. I’m sure to like a lot of it.