Mirror, mirror, on the wall.
The past we look back on, the past we call the past, of
course, is always changing.
true as any new edition of a history book.
So anyway, as this is all old hats now, here’s a reminder of
what the past might have been, and was.
A couple weeks ago, I don’t remember why exactly, but Don
Share wrote something or linked to something on facebook that made me think of
the forgotten (I think completely forgotten?) poem Wm Brown.
It took me a bit to find the anthology I remembered him
It was The Major Young Poets
(1971), edited by Al Lee.
What remains interesting to me about this anthology becomes apparent
immediately, once one reads the poets included:
David P. Young (who we know now as David Young)
First, yikes, the editor chooses eight poets to represent “These
are the new American voices,” and they’re all male.
In 1971, an editor could get away with such a
blind spot, but now it screams at us.
That’s one thing.
But, looking at the poets included
(the poets can’t be blamed for the blind spots of the editor), they all (with
the exception of Wm Brown, and possibly Michael Benedikt, who mostly stopped
publishing in 1980) went on to be pretty important figures.
What a great stroke of luck or imagination to
pick eight poets under 35 at any one time, and then, 40 years later, to still
have six or seven of them be recognizable.
It’s kind of amazing.
What’s more interesting even than that is to imagine what
poetry would be like now, if these poets would have ended up representing the
mainstream of American poetry.
argue that they have (I mean, how much more mainstream can one get than Simic, Tate,
Williams, and Strand?), but I would argue against it.
The gestures that people describe the poetry
of the late 60s – early 90s through barely exhibit in these poets.
They are the (somewhat) popular outliers of the
mainstream of their day.
For example, here’s a representative poem from Michael
A conversation with Cornelia about her friends.
People just love to meet them, she says.
There’s Harry—he amuses everybody by sitting
in a corner and staring at the wall with his thumb in his mouth.
There’s St. Angelo—he likes to make kites and
is covered from head to foot with a fine yellow down.
There’s Lemuel Mole—his vocabulary includes a
complete repertoire of subway sounds.
also good at imitating plumbing.
one they call The Nameless One—he’s up there on the roof right now, fixing up a
pair of wings for himself.
Then, one night, whispering in
a dark place, Cornelia tells you she’s throwing a party for all her favorite
people and you’re to be the Guest of Honor.
This looks a lot more like the poems being written in 2012
I predict that in a few more
months Benedikt will be rediscovered.
I were an editor at Wave, I would be looking for the publishing rights, as I
believe his books are all out of print.
There’s also, apparently, a wealth of unpublished work from 1980 to his
death in 2007.
All this is really just to say that conversations about poetry
revolutions and such are always going to be less revolutionary than they at
That’s fine with me.
A few bits from Al Lee’s introduction that I found amusing,
looking back from 2012:
“The happiest achievement of this ‘generation’ has been to
join the community, more or less, undisrupted by the squabbles of circles,
coteries, and cabals.
The Fifties and
early Sixties were an age of instant ‘school’: a school was a handful of poets
who didn’t like the way another handful was writing—one could be fifth best in
a school of five and still think of oneself as the fifth-best poet in
Just as the schools have broken up, the styles of the
younger poets have broken out with more adventure.
They have become more uncharacterizable.”
“Call this absence of theory an anti-theory, if not a
pre-theory: “all possibilities are open.”
It is an attitude (“a spiritual condition” perhaps) that stands where
esthetic principles used to in poetry, and where they may return.
[. . .]
This moment—the contemporary nerve of our literary and
social history—is the controlling factor that prevents the anarchy that’s
supposed to go along with abandoning the rules.
The diversity stays under one roof.
[. . .]
The influences, what there are, are predictably from the
preceding age-group(s) of American poets, but more noticeably from an
assimilation of European surrealism.
One quality that distinguishes the younger poets, perhaps
from those a few years older who are themselves a part of the new poetry, is
the far-off places they have gotten to.
There are things happening in their poems, stories being told, that we aren’t
used to in poetry, that we have only lately learned to imagine in public.”
That should give a little splash of air on anyone who’s
written about what we’re recently calling the new poetry.
To close, a more familiar poet to these sorts of
discussions, James Tate:
THE LITTLE BROWN ATLANTIC
flunky has a glamorous hernia.”
We sure are worried about you
We’re always going around here
When we got that telegram
and last night and last night I
and last night an
and the day before I was sick
they are never coming back.