The writing's on the wall. But what does it say?
We continue to describe, debate, etc., the period
style. Is the period style simply the “usual”
poem of a time? That doesn’t work,
because then what we’ve thought of as the period styles of the past weren’t the
period styles at all. So is it the
manner of the poems that get the most awards?
Also, no, as the awards of the past reveal.
Here’s Seth Abramson’s take:
“Scholars of the avant-garde warn darkly that we are
suffused, in the twenty-tens, in a period style enamored with pretty rhetorical
gestures, self-indulgent egotism, self-expressive melodrama, and bourgeois
epiphanies. These scholars have been reading too little and too narrowly; the
period style they describe was ubiquitous in the eighties and early nineties
and, while now and then evident even today, has in the greater part been
replaced by a dramatically divergent aesthetic sensibility.”
I kind of agree with him here. This is the negative way to describe a large
segment of the poetry that is often termed “Quietude.” Right?
(There are more positive ways to describe it, but I’ll leave that for
others to do.) But it seems to me, from
looking at the raw numbers, that this is still the most common type of poem
being written today. But again, the most
common poem doesn’t mean “period style.”
Either way, we all can kind of guess who’s being talked about.
Here’s where he gets really interesting:
“Dominant now are classically paratactic ‘implied’
lyric-narratives—employing the comma, that is, not the caesura; gesturing at
story, not fetishizing it—marked by their disjunctive enjambment, eccentric
juxtapositions, an absence of temporality, choked-off grammar and syntax, an
indifference to the lyrical ‘I,’ and a penchant for mastering (in the
neo-Modernist lineage) extremely well-said non-sense. This period style’s
lyricism is all akimbo; its jagged edges and field-composition jump-cuts
compose a despairing sort of postmodernist music which yesteryear’s
neo-Romantics and New Formalists and post-confessionalists would hardly
I want lists of names!
I'm kind of thinking he’s talking about John Ashbery? Or Ashbery-like poets? (Skipping the fact that Ashbery’s been
publishing since the 1950s.) Perhaps the poets
once described as Elliptical poets? Post-Avant? Third Way? This
is something like the group that Tony Hoagland has said in the past represents the
current period style. If so, it’s a fair
number of poets, and some have gotten awards and notice recently. Here he continues:
“What's most striking about where we've come to in American
poetry is just how universally this period style is well-executed, where present:
of the many books not selected for review here, a clear majority exhibited a
pleasing-enough competence which, while never jarringly or demonstrably
idiosyncratic, nevertheless suggested to this critic that a veritable horde of
our nation's younger poets, particularly those hailing from
academic-institutional contexts in which a healthy one-upsmanship is now
brewing, will shortly enough make us very proud indeed. A second group of
younger/youngish authors has learned to dial back the period style just enough,
and compound it with their own unique contributions just enough, for all those
generative period-features and occasional eccentricities of concept and
structure to be appreciated rather than merely noted.”
This fascinates me.
The way styles (I’m skipping the whole “period style” thing for now,
because I don’t understand it.) work is that once we say things like “how
universally this period style is well-executed,” and “a clear majority
exhibited a pleasing-enough competence which, while never jarringly or
demonstrably idiosyncratic,” about it, then it’s all over and headed for the
library shelves. And this: “A second
group of younger/youngish authors has learned to dial back the period style
just enough, and compound it with their own unique contributions just enough,
for all those generative period-features and occasional eccentricities of
concept and structure to be appreciated rather than merely noted” points our
possible way to something new.
So are we done with this style? Is it all over? It seems to me, in philosophy, the postmodern
period and its attendant interest in relativism that has given these poets much
of their energy is no longer generating much enthusiasm. So what is?
The new thing. It’s on its way.