Sincerity Once Again
Describing movements and artistic tendencies is always going to fail in the face of examples, due to overriding differences in temperament among the authors in the movement, so I’ll stick with just this question of sincerity and leave the other half of the movement that questions and works with spirituality (and myth and Necessary Fiction, etc.) off for now, but I’m still thinking about them as part of the same general tendency. And once again, because I listen to a lot of music, I’ll start with a couple bands for the soundtrack (look them up on YouTube, if you don't know them well. It'll be worth your time, promise):
Destroyer – Kaputt
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
You can tell immediately the gestural, non-linear lyrics, the use of cliché or kitschy arrangements that sound like they’ve been appropriated whole measure from a 1986 Pat Metheny recording session.
“You’ve got to be kidding me” is one reaction this work risks.
“Is this hollow irony? Is it satire? Is it serious?”
“Is it making fun of me for listening to it/reading it?”
Moments of incongruity abound in this art (music, poetry, visual art). Syntax that twists, breaks, stutters, or otherwise risks incomprehension. Methods that utilize outdated, or kitsch, or tonally “inappropriate” material. Earnest, non-winking delivery. Playing it straight: Just because we’re scared of death doesn’t mean the poem is.
This poetry will usually have surreal elements, and/or elements from the rhetoric and imagery of fairy tales. There will often be something in it that someone will call “inappropriate.” It’s usually playful, which can contribute to a feeling of inappropriateness, depending on the content. Is it serious? Does this poet mean it? This is why the question of sincerity rises.
Heather Christle: What I actually said was “Bewilderment is the new New Sincerity,” which was a very funny joke.
I try not to aim for bewilderment too often, because I find I get more excited about making confident statements, ones that are frequently misguided. I like a poem to steer me wrong. I like an authoritative gasp of the absurd. I don’t want to be a sad little adorable poet in a big confusing world. I want my poems to be the big confusing world.
That said, there are moments when my poems and speakers do get into that bewildered state. It happens. It’s okay.
What some have called “The New Sincerity” (which started as a joke, but maybe caught on, and then is maybe furthered by Christle as a joke, but which seems to be catching on), isn’t about sincerity, it isn’t proclaiming itself as sincere, and it isn’t using direct autobiography. What it does is it raises the question of sincerity in much the same way that Jeff Koons does in his art. Examples, along with the poetry of Heather Christle: Zachary Schomburg, Julie Doxsee, Mathias Svalina, and Julia Cohen, to name just a few (off the top of my head). There are many more. I’m being kind of Octopus-centric in my thinking right now.
Here’s a poem at random from Heather Christle, from Boston Review:
Acorn Duly Crushed
Dear stupid forest.
Dear patently retarded forest.
Dear beautiful ugly stupid forest
full of nightingales
why won’t you shut up.
What do you want from me.
A train is too expensive.
A clerk will fall asleep.
Dear bitchy stupendous forest.
Trade seats with me.
Now it is your birthday.
Someone will probably slap you
about the face and ears.
Indulgent municipal forest.
Forest of scarves and of beards.
Dear rapid bloodless forest
you are talking all the time.
You are not pithy.
You are like 8,000 swans.
I cannot fit you in my mouth.
Dear nasty pregnant forest.
You are so hot!
You are environmentally significant.
Men love to hang themselves
from your standard old growth trees.
Don’t look at me.
You are the one with
the ancient noble terror.
Bad forest. Forest with
important gangs of leaves.
Dear naïve forest,
what won’t you be admitting!
Blunt international forest.
Forest of bees and of hair.
You should come back to my house.
We can bag drugs all night.
You can tell me
about your new windows.
How they are just now
beginning to sprout.
Some of this sounds like the Gurlesque, some of this sounds like Elliptical Poetry. Some people will say it’s nothing new. Some will say it’s wild and uninhibited.
This review of the new album by the Cults describes this tendency well:
“Madeline Follin’s voice is high and extremely girlish, Brian Oblivion’s arrangements are perky, bright and obviously indebted to a more innocent era of pop. Their first album as Cults can get extremely twee, sometimes aggravatingly precious. What makes the record work is that the two find ways to subvert their youthful sound, or at least add a touch of darkness to songs that would be little more than adorably melodramatic in lesser hand. 'Bad Things,' my favorite song from the album, really creeps me out. It’s very catchy and sounds sweet, but when I hear it, I just expect something incredibly bad to happen to its protagonist. There’s something very portentous about this track — that I can’t quite piece together a narrative but feel sure of the subtext only intensifies my feeling of ‘ahhhh, no!’ when I hear Follin’s tiny voice sing ‘I’m gonna run away and never come back.’”