Robert Archambeau: We're still shopping at the Romanticism Store
I’ve made it something of a habit not to deal much with poetry written before 1911 or so (really, more like 1922 probably). And sometimes I like to irritate my friends by saying things like, “Poetry didn’t start until ‘Prufrock.’ ” They really like that one. It betrays all my biases and my fundamental lack of depth.
And then someone comes along and says something that as soon as I hear it I feel that little snap of inevitability, that little click of the future and the past (the future in the past). There have been many over the years. Sometimes it’s a book of poetry. Michael Palmer’s Notes for Echo Lake. Jorie Graham’s Region of Unlikeness. Sometimes it’s an essay. Ron Silliman’s “The New Sentence.” Stephen Burt’s “The Elliptical Poets.” Don Gifford’s The Farther Shore: a Natural History of Perception (which prefigures much of Archambeau's main point [up to 1984, that is]). And each time the past comes back, and it’s us.
Today’s little snap of inevitability comes from Robert Archambeau. Granted, he’s not saying something that hasn’t been said before (which is always the criticism whenever someone says anything it seems – so the disclaimer), but when I’ve heard it or thought it in the past, it was always general, like “Ashbery is really a Romantic poet with a magician’s hat.” That sort of thing. (I’ve also heard similar things about Stevens, but that’s beside the point at hand.) He puts a little more flesh on that skeleton:
“In many ways, I think some of the most thoughtful poets of the last few decades have been practicing a kind of modified or inverted version of Romanticism. Think about elliptical poetry: so much of it is all about the lack of formal coherence that you think it'd be the farthest thing from Coleridge’s organic form or its New Critical offshoot, the well-wrought urn. But the deliberate incoherence of elliptical poetry is really out to accomplish the same sorts of things Coleridge outlined. First of all, elliptical techniques are all about differentiating poetry from prose, about upholding what Barthes called “the discontinuity of language.” Poetry is different, we see, because it doesn’t try for prose coherence. And in the deep ambiguities and incoherencies of elliptical verse, we’re looking at effects similar to those Coleridge saw as belonging to the symbol: we avoid paraphrasable meaning, we escape the utilitarian logic of means-and-ends. Some see this as purely a matter of beauty, some see it as a critique of a society that relies on a logic of language to support its logic of power. Again, all of this is very much in line with the general trend of thinking that runs from Coleridge through Mallarmé, and even through the New Critics.”
Here’s a link, in case you haven’t already seen it:
To add to his point. Don Gifford, as I mentioned above, back in 1984, wrote The Farther Shore (published in 1990). In it, he traces historical perception from the far shore of Gilbert White’s end of the eighteenth century through the midstream of Thoreau’s time (where Walden Pond was more Walled-in Pond) to the near shore of how we perceive now. From the careful edges of 1789 to the edgeless era of the just then (1984 remember) burgeoning Internet. It’s a wonderfully written and closely observed book. I recommend it highly, even as it only takes us so far. The story now, from Wordsworth to (insert name) is fuller. Anyway, one point – if I’m remembering correctly – places Romanticism as the first chapter in the story of who we are now. Anyway, perhaps it's a rhyme with the Archambeau . . .