Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gen-M Literary Metamodernism

Seth Abramson has an essay up on literary Metamodernism (defined here: over here:

Here’s the opening sentence:

It’s not so often anymore that we read a book of poetry and think to ourselves, “This poet means exactly what they say.” 


I’m still thinking about that sentence.  I’ve been thinking about it a day or so.  I know (kind of) where Abramson is coming from, but I still can’t grasp it.  Is there a feeling, then, that as we read most books of poetry (new poetry, I’m imagining?) we get the feeling that this poet doesn’t mean exactly what they say?  I can see that, I suppose, but it’s not really a question that comes to my mind while reading a book of poetry.  I guess it does in a book where that is a foregrounded question, when it’s way up front, but I don’t usually think to myself “does this poet mean exactly what is being said here?” 

It’s an interesting perspective, but I don’t share it.  That problematizes my reading of the essay, as I can’t quite ride with the anxiety for authenticity that permeates the rest of the piece.  But I can understand that if one does have that feeling, that the poetry one is reading doesn’t mean exactly what it’s saying, then I can see what Abramson is getting at. 
Maybe it’s a generational thing, and I’m slipping out of generational relevance.  It happens to us all. 


At 7/21/2013 11:41 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Hi John,

FWIW, that opening sentence was very much inspired by Andy's collection. Reading it, I realized it was almost entirely free of artifice, and then I realized immediately after that that I hadn't felt that way about a collection in a long while. So often metaphor is used to stylize and render as "poetic" thoughts that we don't actually process naturally in that way; or, you increasingly have books that are "projects" in which poets use persona or ahistorical ventriloquism to process a topic in something other than their natural mode. In Liner Notes you really feel like you're seeing the poet processing things in real time in a way your friends, my friends, regular people everywhere would do. Re: authenticity, I do think it's generational. The best test of whether there's a problem is a hard one to run: Find out whether today's younger poets are actually reading much if any poetry. In my experience, they're not. And the main reason is that so much of it feels obscure (theory-driven) or artificial (neo-Romantic) to them, and the lives they're actually living are nowhere to be found on the page either as to content or process. I think one of the few poets in America who is writing what/how/where he is living (besides Mister) is Matt Hart; but more broadly, metamodernism gives younger poets the chance to be as artistically and intellectually ambitious as they want to be without becoming so self-serious that they lose sight of the ridiculousness and fluidity of the Internet Age. Again, FWIW.


At 7/21/2013 11:42 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Frankly, when did we ever think that when we read a book of poetry? Or a novel even? Literature always involves an element of performance that undermines the idea of "saying exactly what you mean to say."

To put it another way, which of the following "meant exactly what they said"?

H. D.

At 7/21/2013 11:48 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


The emphasis in that sentence was definitely on the word "exactly." And from your list I would in fact say that Bishop, Eliot (sometimes), and Williams actually did that quite often. Also, Shakespeare in the sonnets, of course. But you have certainly stacked the deck by including symbolists(!) Their very ethos was to avoid direct statement of the thing. Our time is quite different: We are told "post-confessionalism" dominates, but we do not often feel that anything authentic has been confessed. In fact, that's more or less the definition of post-confessionalism: ironic (i.e. insincere, guarded, obtuse) confession. So I'm really surprised that that is considered the dominant lyric-narrative mode of our time and folks don't see false confession as a major player in contemporary poetics.


At 7/21/2013 12:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Maybe it has something to do with the "not meaning" half of the sentence. It doesn't make me feel defensive, it just makes me scratch my head. Does Ashbery mean exactly what he says? I really feel like I have no way of knowing. If he doesn't mean what he says, exactly or inexactly, what does he mean? It's an interesting question.

I understand your point more clearly as a reaction to Flarf and conceptual poetry, where what is said is not the point, but rather why they're saying it. (Or something like that.)

Anyway, I'm going to keep scratchign my head about it. Something in this -- the fact that young poets get right away what you're saying, while I'm having a dificult time -- points to something changing. In stance, or viewpoint. Or just in experience.

Gen-M, then, as you're posing it, probably should have a more recent lineage, putting the birth dates as 1965 - 89 (am I remembering right . . . sorry if I"m off) should proably be more like 1975 - 90 maybe.

At 7/21/2013 12:22 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Hi John,

You might be right. It's all about dating the CW "boom" and gauging median program-matriculant age. If we say the boom was 1991 and the median program-matriculant age is 27, we get 1964 for when poets reasonably first began participating in the "boom" through MFA attendance; if we say (as arguably we could) that the boom was 1994, and if we use the youngest program-matriculant age (21), we get 1973 to 1992 for Gen-M, which might be a better fit. I will have to think more about this! Thanks,


At 7/21/2013 12:27 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hmm. I'd say that your boom years might well be correct, for when things started ramping up (just thinking about when AWP exploded), but I'd say that the ethos (for want of a better word) lagged behind the bodies. It wasn't until the explosion of the Elliptical Poets (and then what followed) that anyone was using language like "They're just ironic" or whatever it was they were saying then, I forget.

At 8/22/2013 3:41 AM, Anonymous Titus said...

This is fantastic!


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