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