Thursday, May 06, 2010

Seeing Donald Revell’s New Poems in APR

Seeing Donald Revell’s new poems in APR this week brings back a question I had recently that I haven’t gone back yet to try to answer: Is Donald Revell’s journey to become a mystic a change or an unearthing? Which is, has he been building to this, or did he have a revelation of sorts about ten years ago?

“Out to the west”

Out to the west
First moments of sunrise
Black feathered lightning

Miss Curry left a harvest in the bed
A first home
All winter through
Rooms fell one by one into the street

Black feathered lightning angel of death
I do not think we shall keep our appointment
Dear Miss Curry we are both of us married
Disappointed not at all but crying

I’ve seen mountains racing from the sun
I’ve seen immortals and you are one

I didn’t end up saying anything on this blog about the panel at AWP that Donald Revell and Tony Hoagland were on, mostly because I couldn’t find my way into saying anything very interesting. They were both interesting in their own ways, but I found myself in agreement with neither of them.

Hoagland was positioned in the role of gatekeeper, as much as he said he didn’t feel comfortable in that role. Personally, I think he rather likes that role, as he’s putting himself there. No one’s forcing him to be the defender of the canon, even as he said, he likes and does many of the things he’s arguing against. Or some version of that. It’s a fine point he’s putting on it, where to draw that line. I would love to see someone torture it out of him. Stephen Burt, had he been there, might have been able to do it (but he had a very good excuse for missing it I hear!).

Hoagland had a thesis along the lines that the power of art comes from its investigation of suffering, which allowed Revell the opportunity to come back with a form of “I’ll tell what suffering is: Suffering is these canonical poetry anthologies you’re defending!”

That’s a paraphrase. But Revell positioned himself as the coach for the new. The unknown. The not yet done. But Revell’s main thesis against Hoagland’s version of “suffering” was to say that to a believer there can be no tragedy, as all stories have a happy ending [here he pointed up at the ceiling]. That did nothing to convince me of much, as I’ve never believed in roofers.

Revell also had a nice line, something along the lines of, “Tony and I agree on a lot until we start talking.” I believed him, as I have a similar relationship with some poets I know, including Mark Halliday. We do fine when we’re in the abstract, but when we move to examples, well, things go awry.

And that’s what I expected to happen, but things didn’t go awry at the panel, mainly because they agreed on their examples. How could such a thing be possible on a pane all about the new poetry? Well, though they started off talking about the new American poetry, when it came time for examples, for some reason, they went back to Rene Char and Marianne Moore and George Oppen and W.H. Auden, among others.

That was an odd turn. But they were both smart and interesting and it was nice to see how they could disagree on poetry while agreeing on great poems from the past. But what about these poems of the now? These examples that were pertinent to their discussion? Were they just being polite? The hall was packed. I think we all left not sure what we had just left.

As interesting as suffering and Jesus can be, I look forward to a more topic-driven version of this forum again, one where there is dialogue about what is going on in contemporary poetry. We’re at a very interesting aesthetic time. I would love to see some smart people talk about it. Maybe Burt can propose a follow-up next year? Pretty-Please?


At 5/23/2010 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting question, but what a terible poem.

Did you choose it on purpose?


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