Friday, July 20, 2012

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Stay gold.

In the past I would have had a lot to say about this kerfuffle.  But these days I'm feeling less inclined. Maybe it's me.   

Marjorie Perloff’s Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric:

The Gray Area: An Open Letter to Marjorie Perloff by Matvei Yankelevich:

A Response to Matvei Yankelevich by Marjorie Perloff:

One of the things I find interesting about this is how, in Perloff’s response to Yankelevich, she doesn’t distinguish between “conservative” as it applies aesthetics, and “conservative” as it applies to politics.  I wonder about this, because for years now I’ve heard poets refer to poets as “conservative,” who weren’t at all conservative in their politics. 

Someone’s missing something here.  Maybe it’s me.  (And this is the second time I've said that. Maybe it IS me.  I must be losing my edge.)

Going off of Perloff’s response to Yankelevich, there was an interesting exchange she had with Seth Abramson on facebook, but since I don’t know what the ethics are of quoting from facebook, I’ll paraphrase.  Perloff summarized some of her points against contemporary American poetry (a segment of American poetry, surely, but exactly which segment, I’m not absolutely sure [any help on this would be appreciated]).  Part of her complaint boils down to this, paraphrasing: “Regarding the issue of sound structure and lineation, no, I don't think students do have much instruction on this [in MFA programs], at least not judging by the results—why, for starters, no metrics of any sort?  Rhythm?  Why the endless filler, those words that could be crossed out so readily without changing meaning?. . . what makes the ‘free verse’ (i.e. ‘lineated’) writing I was criticizing in my essay poetry?  In fact, with all the arguments against my essay, I have yet to see a reasonable argument that would explain to outsiders why these pieces are poems—what are the minimum sound requirements to make something a poem?”

So, whether one reads the essays from the links or not, there is a question here, one that would be worth talking about. 

For me, I’m not much interested in large genre arguments.  I also see no reason to allow the definition of poetry become a checklist of metrics, rhythm, and an agreed-upon economy of language.  On the other hand, I would agree that those who are interested in such checklists also have a point.  It’s that I don’t think it’s THE point. 

I don’t really have a side in this argument, then.  I’m mildly in disagreement with Perloff, as I think, in the end, discussions such as this are more about appearance than reality, even though the dividing of appearance and reality is something of an impossible task. 

These essays about “what’s going on in contemporary American poetry,” are they really trying to understand what’s going on, or are they trying to justify their own position?  I guess that’s my position, my question.  There certainly are some poets out there who feign rhythm, the chronic “poet voice” problem that forces a lilt, a semi-question mark uptick at the ends of lines that ruin the natural rhythm of the sentence.  That’s a point I would concede.  But that’s about poetry performance, and has nothing to do with the way it performs of the page itself. 

But say, for instance, that meter, rhythm, and economy of language are the criteria of what makes a poem a poem.  Say, then, that we’re not doing that anymore.  (These are big assumptions, yes.)  Does that really change anything about what we’re doing?  A rose by any other name? 

This is an academic game, perhaps THE academic game, and, to my appreciation of art, beside the point.  Unless, of course, it’s your thing, and then, go for it. 
Everybody's happy!


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