Because love is a battlefield, baby. And don't you forget it.
As Hank Lazer writes in his introduction (http://writing.upenn.edu/library/What-Is-a-Poet/
“The 1984 ‘What Is a Poet?’ symposium took place at a time of considerable
tension within the world of American poetry.”
It begs the question regarding the tension or
not so much tension there might or might not be in the world of American poetry
in the fall of 2012.
How tense are
Do you feel tense?
Are we all happy campers with each
Are we playing nice?
Over the past few years I was thinking there was quite a bit
of tension, mostly surrounding—people taking pot-shots at—what some were
terming Third Way or Post-Avant poetry.
Does anyone term anything that way anymore?
Has the wind gone out of the sails of
Well, in 1984, that ominous-sounding time that we all
were looking forward to, we were, as the saying goes, promised jetpacks by
then, if you’ll recall.
And all we got
was Ronald Reagan’s second term.
know about you, but I was feeling a little sore about the whole thing.
So, here’s the question (it’s not my question, by the
way, but it seemed to be 1984’s question): does language create the world or
does language describe the world?
In my 2012 view, they’re both wrong.
As I see it, poetry is a social act, and
social acts are constructed by language.
But they get themselves all swirled up in flying bullets and getting hit
by busses and such.
Those were simpler or
else more complex times.
think I’m beginning to see a basic reason we’re disagreeing here.
You approach the world as a construct which
humanity has made, and therefore language is a construct, so you approach
experience through language.
argue that for poets experience occurs as a primary thing, without language in
I quoted Dante yesterday to you
We have visions, we have
experiences for which there is not language, and our job is to create that into
And that seems to me a radically
different point of view.
We do disagree fundamentally
because I don’t think that there is any such thing as uninterpreted experience
and I don’t think we ever have an experience of anything that isn’t an
interpretation when it arrives to our knowledge.
don’t believe that for one second.
you had been in an automobile accident, or I could give you even worse examples
– if you’ve ever had somebody shooting at you in a battlefield, where the heck
is interpretation coming in there?
I have to decide whether the bullet’s going to hit me or not, Louis.
what has that got to do with interpretation?
If a child dying of cancer is suffering excruciating pain just as if it
were a grown-up person who is able to reflect upon its pain, does that mean
that it is not experiencing that excruciating pain?
Of course it doesn’t mean that.
think, I mean nobody is saying that.
think we’re not going to resolve what are essentially philosophical and
theological or metaphysical differences, religious differences, really, among
us. If you had a panel of different religious people representing different
religious groups you would, who were trying to come to some consensus, you
would have some of these same disagreements. I think the problem I have is not
so much understanding that people have a different viewpoint than I have –
believe me I've been told that many times [laughter] and I accept that. I do
find it a problem that, and I certainly tend to do this too, that we tend to
say "poets" think this and "poets" think that – because by
doing that we tend to exclude the practices of other people in our society of
Lazer, writing in 2009, sums up the continued relevance
of the 1984 symposium this way:
“The emerging critique of the burgeoning creative
writing/workshop industry, the rise of critical theory and its importance to
English Departments and to interpretive methodologies, and the increased
attention to Language poetry and other innovative poetries contributed to the
kinds of tensions reflected in the concluding panel discussion.
One might argue that the mid-1980s
represented a much more polarized time in American poetry – a time when camps
and schools of poetry held more sharply delineated differing assumptions and
when those affiliations led to a sharp sense of turf (reflected in networks of
publication, employment, prizes, and the other apparatuses of official [and
unofficial] verse culture).
it might be more common to assume that we live in an era of happy hybridity – a
sort of post-polarized poetry world, in which students are free and encouraged
to try any form of writing – that claim belies the fact that there still are
walls and differing assumptions about how to proceed as poets.
It would be intriguing to have another symposium
– again, with the deliberate intention of having poets and critics of differing
perspectives (and beliefs) present to articulate and discuss those differences
So who would be on the panel list at such a symposium if
you were hosting it in 2013?
I’d be up
for watching that. It would be a good use of AWP or The Poetry Foundation.
Here’s the 1984 final panel:
What’s your 2013 panel of ten?
Here’s one, off the top of my head, just for fun. It’s not as diverse
as it should be to really get things rolling. I should try again at another,
but why don’t you instead?