Sunday, May 15, 2011

Remember when we used to talk about Jorie Graham all the time? (We might be doing it again!)

What was in the air back then: The Interactive Game Version

There are the poets we love, there are the poets we award, and then there are the poets we imitate. This wobbly list that follows is a list of what I remember as the poets most name-dropped and imitated. It’s not a list of what poets were the most popular. Over these years the popularity of Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Rita Dove eclipsed everyone mentioned below (save Sylvia Plath), but they were/are not, by and large, imitated. This is more of a zeitgeist list, and it’s probably more wrong than it is right. But it was a pleasant morning thinking of it.

Late 70s: Robert Bly, James Wright, Richard Hugo, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop (William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman) [Deep Image, Confessional Poetry and its Descendents] Note from 2011: Sylvia Plath still gets brought into the conversation by more undergraduates than any other poet of the past hundred years, but there's very little conversation about her after that.

Early 80s: Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop (William Carlos Williams) [L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry vs New Formalism - Neither won, but they did a number on both Deep Image and Confessional Poetry, which later got called Quietude, which took a lot of the air from the room for the next ten or so years]

Late 80s: Jorie Graham, Alice Fulton, Ch. Wright, James Tate, Mark Doty, Li-Young Lee (Wallace Stevens) [The poetry of identity: cultural, social, racial, sexual]

Early 90s: Jorie Graham, Ch. Wright, Michael Palmer, Anne Carson (Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens) [Performance Poetry, Spoken Word]

Late 90s: Dean Young, Donald Revell (Wallace Stevens, George Oppen, Emily Dickinson) [Stephen Burt’s “Elliptical Poetry” – say what you want about it now, but it hit like a sledgehammer.]

Early 2000s: Dean Young, Mary Ruefle, John Ashbery (Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson) [Poetry Projects, Project Books: Cole Swensen as most mentioned example] [Rob Silliman’s blog and the conversation on Quietude as a way to theorize {though negatively} the mainstream that refused to theorize itself]. I have a theory that the Library of America edition of Ashbery’s poetry, coupled with conversations about where Dean Young got his wacky [skittery] side brought Ashbery back to the forefront of contemporary poetry. I also think Ashbery’s near ubiquity had a lot to do with the rising tide of middle-aged, mostly white and male and heterosexual poets who were writing negatively about the “elliptical” [Post-Avant, Thrid Way, Hybrid] poets. And he turned 80, outliving most of his contemporaries, and was still productive, which allowed even those not wholly on the boat to give him a nod.

Late 2000s: Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, Kay Ryan (Jack Spicer, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes) [FLARF, The New Sincerity, The Gurlesque, Poetry Projects: Cole Swensen, Harryette Mullen, Juliana Spahr, as major examples]

Early 2010s: Guesses? D.A. Powell? Matthew Zapruder? Rachael Zucker? Michael Dickman? Zachary Schomburg? Tao Lin? [The New Spirituality? Collaborative Works?]

Questions for the next canon:

1. Will Dean Young win the Pulitzer Prize for his next book? Yes.

2. Will John Ashbery and Wallace Stevens always have their fates joined? Probably, unless the conversational aspect of Ashbery gets contrasted with the more heightened diction of Stevens. But for now, they’re seen as two great examples of The Imagination.

3. It seems to me that American poets are always flipping between Whitman/Dickinson, and WCW/Stevens, as the literary history du jour. It seems to me that for now it's Stevens and Dickinson that are firmly in the spotlight. Some of that might be due to Ashbery, and the use of Stevens to “explain” him, as well as the popularity of Armantrout and Ryan, and how they are, if not “explained” then at least made friendly to readers through Dickinson. What might trouble this is that Ryan and Armantrout are also seen as “explained” by WCW. But maybe we can get into a situation where Wallace Stevens and WCW can co-exist? Whitman, on the other hand, doesn’t get talked about much at all, that I hear.

4. What will be the next major movement in American poetry? I suggest “The New Spirituality,” a name I might have just made up. And it extends not just into religious territory (See Dana Levin’s Sky Burial as a strong example), but also to myth making (See several examples of books of Myth or/and Fable that have, and are continuing to come out).

5. Over the past 30 years, the annual AWP conference has gotten much, much larger, and has grown younger and less white. It seems it’s gotten about as young as it can get now, and I’ve started to notice a lot of those young ones are starting to get older. Could AWP start to go gray again?

6. I’m quite aware this is all pretty wobbly.

"Type that up, make ten thousand copies, and send
them to all the important people in the world."


At 5/15/2011 11:27 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

"the mainstream that refused to theorize itself":

1) That was and is the positive content of Silliman's "Quietude," the point that clearly makes it something different than "post-avant is what Ron likes and Quietude is what he doesn't like." In a sense, the challenge he occasionally articulated still stands: theorize the mainstream.

2) But no mainstream, whether literary, artistic, or political, has any need to come up with a theory to explain itself. Theory is necessary to explain the things that do not go without saying, and mainstreams cannot even see that they have assumed that they go without saying.

At 5/15/2011 11:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I like your scenario where the mainstream is not one that is imitated, but participated in. Therefore, there's no need to theorize it.

Which only lasts for one generation, as we now see looking back at what we think of as the Modernist period, where the modernist poets were, by and large, not the mainstream.

But I think Silliman doesn't like the Post-Avants any more than he likes the Quietudes, right? He thinks they muddy the water. He's more for Conceptulism and Flarf. Things he sees as Avant Garde. It's why he's always distrusted Ashbery. For Silliman, I think Ashbery is part of a friedly, or safe, Avant Garde. Not the pure stuff. But I might be putting words into his mouth.

At 5/15/2011 12:43 PM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

My second point also applies to the mainstream in politics: from the inside, radicals appear in need of explanation, but the inside is that which does not need to be explained.

A generation later, the old mainstream does require explanation, and hence theory and historical analysis. As a result, the contemporary mainstream can be quite critical of its historical antecedents, but the idea of turning such critiques upon themselves remains unthinkable.

That can be turned back to poetry: the contemporary mainstream reads the Modernists, not the poets who were the mainstream back then.

At 5/15/2011 1:46 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I agree with you, but I'm not being very clear on the distinction I was trying to make: Looking at the anthologies of the period (1911 - 1950, say), the poets we think of as The Modernists weren't as big a part of the mainstream as we've now made them. William Carlos Williams, for example, barely makes a dent in the canon until the 1950s, thirty years after Spring & All.

But I could be wrong about this. I'm just looking at the anthologies. All this aside, I still agree with your point.

At 5/15/2011 9:38 PM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Anthologies are an excellent sign of what the mainstream is. And further, they are a sign that a mainstream exists, and not only in the minds of those who define themselves as being outside it.

My own work is more in the current mainstream, but I recognize (in part thanks to Silliman) that the mainstream has a blind spot that makes it seem natural to itself (and hence not in need of explanation).

At 5/16/2011 6:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What may well be THE magnificent, jaw-dropping English-language work (for both the fields of poetry and fiction) of the century so far:
The Tragedy of Arthur, by Arthur Phillips (Random House, released last month, on Shakespeare’s birthday, which is, apropos, the birthday of Phillips, too). The second half of the book reproduces, with extensive footnotes, a complete play by WS, from an original 16th century quarto discovered in a Minnesota safe deposit box. As is explained by Phillips in the long, strange, enthralling introduction… Also included are fraught emails between Phillips and real-life executives at Random House, when personal and legal tensions come to burden the whole astonishing matter.

The book is a deep homage to Pale Fire, and exceeds it, conceptually, in certain ways–even if Nabokov (also born on the same day as Shakespeare and Phillips) as stylist is singular, of course. And the new play by Shakespeare leaves Shade’s somewhat pale poem in the dust, really.

Read it and be amazed. It is a major tour de force, if that overused phrase has meaning. Our parlor-game Conceptualists of the moment should take note and reflect on some things.


At 5/16/2011 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New Spirituality? Is it like The New Sincerity, which was neither new nor sincere?


At 5/16/2011 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or is it just the new birds?


At 5/16/2011 9:04 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I think John is probably right about that. I think I remember Elizabeth Robinson, one of my professors, saying something about how modern technology has rendered any sort of mystical (or unexplainable) experience impossible.

At least I want him to be right about that, and if I had any goals with writing, it would be to produce work that at least simulates (if not outright delivers)that kind of intangible experience.

Is it new? No, but then again, nothing usually is. What we call new is usually fresh, which is about the best you can hope for.

At 5/16/2011 12:35 PM, Blogger Elisa said...

Certainly Zachary Schomburg and Tao Lin are being massively imitated by students/young people at least. ZS goes back to James Tate, I'm not sure who Tao Lin goes back to. Beckett? Ha.

In the mid-late 2000s a lot of the poets from the Legitimate Dangers were being name-dropped and imitated (and to some extent they were imitating each other): the Beckmans, the Rohrers, the Bermans etc.

Alice Notley and Anne Lauterbach need to fit in here somewhere too? CD Wright?

At 5/16/2011 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This list makes me look fat.

At 5/16/2011 1:00 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I’m thinking of it in a non-ironic way. Or at least a “playing it straight” way. There seems to be a growing number of overtly spiritual, or spiritually-themed books around right now. I need to think about it, as it also includes the growing interest in Fables and Myths. Is it wholly sincere? Is it a Necessary Fiction, recognized as such? I really don’t know. I’m with Fuzz, I hope it develops. It would be interesting to see (and it might have a different strand weave in from Stevens, the secular version, which I’d be interested to see).


It does seem that the “I want to be Dean Young” people became the “I want to be Matthew Zapruder” people became the “I want to be Zachary Schomburg” people. Is it the same people that became the “I want to be Tao Lin” people? I don’t know, as they seem to be overlapping with the Schomburgs. A diverging strand or a braiding?

Notley, Lauterbach, and Wright! Of course, as names, yes. Very important. But were they imitated in the way that Dean Young (etc) has been? I don’t know if I could pick out a Lauterbach-ite or a Notley-ite. Maybe I’m just not a perceptive enough archaeologist. I need a better brush. CD Wright, on the other hand, I see being in some ways a part of Cole Swensen, how what they inspired was more the method than the product. Equally important. Maybe the “cool” version is in Swensen and the “hot” version in Wright?

If only I needed a dissertation topic.


It's the stripes. Try coordinating it with brown rather than black.

At 5/16/2011 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I'm picturing a Wright / Swensen hydra. Please get me a drink.

At 5/16/2011 1:03 PM, Blogger Elisa said...

I think the Schomberites and the Linites are different branches. They're both pretty hip though. ;)

Are Notley and Lauterbach being imitated? Not sure ... maybe not successfully. But I do think their names get dropped especially among grad school types.

At 5/16/2011 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the Dickman strand gets the skinny-jeans.

At 5/16/2011 1:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I agree.


I think skinny jeans were made to make us all look wobbly and fat. Why anyone ever thought they looked good in them is beyond me. The corporate joke was "I bet I can make them wear ANYTHING. Just watch."

At 5/16/2011 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost everybodyI know would love to imitate Notley. That's part of her allure--she's inimitable.

At 5/16/2011 6:02 PM, Blogger Martha Silano said...

Love this post, John.

So, it looks like Dickinson never gets old. Good news.

I would also add to the late 2000s: New Confessionalism and Okay-to-have-feelings-and-make-sense schools of poetry. And put Dorothea Lasky, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Keetje Kuipers, Bob Hicok, Ellen Bass, Henry Israeli, and a bunch of others in this month's American Poetry Review.

At 5/16/2011 6:29 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Martha,

"New Confessionalism and Okay-to-have-feelings-and-make-sense schools of poetry."

Is New Confessionalism something to do with New Sincerity? Because "confessionalism" itself never went away, at least as practiced by the 70s-80s generations of Sharon Olds, David Wojahn, etc. The new generation (Dickman, et al) seems more a continuation than a shift. Am I reading it wrong?

That would also go for "Okay-to-have-feelings-and-make-sense" school of poetry. It's been the Dana Gioia (etc etc etc) call and practice for years. Are you meaning somethign different, though? The way that it's showing up in more experimental (we need better terms than these) writers like Zapruder and, well, in-your-face-literally, as in Tao Lin?

At 5/16/2011 8:20 PM, Blogger Martha Silano said...

To clarify, what I am saying (but didn't articulate) is that it's once again cool for the under 30 set to be confessional, to have feelings. Those L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E-Y, Ashbery, Jorie raised and bred seem to be drifting over to the dark side, embracing narrative, true feelings, the blues, and the whole sour pickle. Us oldsters, we've been doing the narrative confessional two-step since Plath plopped down into our laps, but these youngsters, they seem to be drifting away from the poem that has no pulse.

At 5/16/2011 9:57 PM, Blogger Martha Silano said...

P.S. In re: Fuzz Against Junk's post that "I think I remember Elizabeth Robinson, one of my professors, saying something about how modern technology has rendered any sort of mystical (or unexplainable) experience impossible." What a load of poppy-cock! "Modern technology" sounds so funny in this context. I bet there have been lots of times during our brief human history when those who were in charge of declaring declared spirituality dead. As if Modern Technology could topple a goddamned thing.

At 5/17/2011 5:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New Confessionalism is an outgrowth of the New Sincerity. Rather predictably.


At 5/17/2011 6:06 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You’re saying this in the tone of an argument, so I feel the need to defend these things you’re accusing of having no pulse, and, by extension, I suppose, no feelings. Does Ashbery, for instance, stand for a poetics of Untrue Feelings? It would be hard to judge the truth of his feelings, or the feelings in his poems, just as hard as it would be to judge the relative truth of Shakespeare’s feelings in his poems. The only thing I can say is that I find them true.

This is the crux of the “ironic” conversations from the last decade or so. I never understood them. A lot of people were saying that a lot of the poetry out there was somehow “ironic,” where I felt much less certain. It seemed more an assertion than an argument with examples. When examples did arrive, they were signs of “irony” because there were surreal or absurd or fragment aspects to the poems, as if only the sorts of rhetoric used by 70s-80s mainstream poets (Forché, Dove, Bottoms, etc) could be considered unironic. Irony is as present in the poetry of Billy Collins as it is in the poetry of John Ashbery. One of the great tropes of Confessional poetry was its heavy reliance on irony, take Robert Lowell’s “I myself am Hell” bit, right? The great confession that’s a quote from Paradise Lost?

The great majority of young poets write very similarly to the way they have since the 70s. The practice of the majority of poets has shifted only a little in the last 30 years. If, somehow the presence of overtly autobiographical material (Ashbery also uses autobiographical material, by the way) and a content-level working with spirituality, narrative, etc, are becoming “cool,” they’re going to be cool in ways more like Lasky and less like Plath. Or, more like Catherine Wagner than Carolyn Forché.

The blues, on the other hand, never left. It’s in the apartment next door, doing fine, shaking the walls. It’s just the field is even more open than it was. I think I can hear some ukuleles back there. It’s a big room.

At 5/17/2011 6:24 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


Your assertion that modern technology isn't capable of toppling anything is a little silly, at least as silly as the parts of my post you were referring too.

It's short sighted (at the very least) to believe that it hasn't affected our attention spans, our level of patience, our social relations, and how we interpret silence.

These changes are reflected in poetry, too (Flarf, for example, wouldn't exist without Google or some other search engine).

Regarding spirituality, part of that involves engaging with the unexplainable, and, since Wikipedia has an article on damn near anything and you can access it from your smartphone from damn near anywhere, the world seems a lot smaller (I can only imagine) than it did say, 100 years ago.

At 5/17/2011 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lists are fun, wobbly and/or not. I was in school in that late 70s early 80s period, John, and your list seems pretty good, but William Stafford and Bukowski probably should not go without mention (or maybe they are too obvious to mention). And of course Kooser et al a couple years later, poems everywhere you looked it seemed about barns and shit. Hard to get away from the slippery fact that the nature of some people's writing (voice, or some immutable characteristic of style and tone and etc, for my lack of being able currently to bring a better word/definition to the table, make certain authors just seem more imitated than others, you know. You could have been as original as Dean Young in the early 1980s, but if your poem had a trout in it you were imitating Richard Hugo.


At 5/17/2011 6:45 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

TP: Bukowski! Young male poets are still wearing his coat. Of course.

And you're right, as well, about the trout. A lot of what we (readers) see as imitation of poet X is because we see so much of poet X ourselves, if it's really there or not.

I've spoken to some young poets who dislike the poetry of Dean Young, but who were often accused of imitating him. Sometimes it's just in the air, and readers lay an emblematic poet over the top of it, when it's usually more complicated. As we're seeing now with Zachary Schomburg.

That said, when a poet walks in with a tear-stained, worn out copy of The Man Suit sticking out of their back pocket, I can pretty much guess where the next bit of time is going.

At 5/17/2011 6:50 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

One of the only times that a band I was in ever got reviewed in a newspaper was in Saarbrücken in the mid-nineties. The reviewer said my band Psychic Sidekicks sounded like Lenny Kravitz. As I have listened to next-to-no Lenny Kravitz in my life, I was surprised. I figure it means that he and I draw from the same sources and take them in similar directions. Or it just means the reviewer was stupid and didn't know that LK comes from Hendrix and my music comes from The Grateful Dead.

In any case, such attributions as "he sounds like Dean Young" or (in a case that came up after a reading I gave in Scotland a few years ago) "he sounds like Billy Collins, only not funny" should often be taken about as seriously as back-cover blurbs.

At 5/17/2011 6:56 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

That's actually my least favorite tendency about the contemporary art scene in general. Everybody thinks you're referencing something else when sometimes people just arrive at similar conclusions through different means, or (in those rare cases) on their own.

Even if they are drawing on some source material, using comparisons to situate the work often makes people miss out of the subtitles in it.

At 5/17/2011 6:58 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

(Sorry, Fuzz, I couldn't help but smile at "subtitles" for "subtleties"!)

At 5/17/2011 7:04 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Andrew: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA . . . oh, that's rich. Just lovely. Someone came up to me after my band played a show (around 1991) and was just amazed that someone was still keeping the 13th Floor Elevators vibe alive. I had no idea what he was talking about. I do now, but then all I could do was nod and smile. Suuuuuuuure.

And so yes to you and Fuzz, but, you know, even so, imitation and affiliation do exist. So what's a poor boy to do?

At 5/17/2011 7:04 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I stand by my statement.

At 5/18/2011 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Forgive me, I realize you're doing history of a possibly valuable kind, but discussions of poetry that consist mainly of names depress the holy hell out of me. I can only claw back to the light when I consider that you may actually be giving me a list of people I need never read again.

At 5/18/2011 9:45 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I sympathize with your position. Lists of names! But there is something real to investigate behind each name. Or, as you suggest, run away from. Each running will then be toward something, which will be a list of counter names, the names not on this list. The names on the new list that might then become this list. That’s the politics of anthologies. And we all have them, even if they take the “innocent” form of a bookshelf.

But then again, don’t fear Kenneth Fearing. He could have been a household name, if he didn’t get himself caught up so much in his politics. Not that getting caught up in politics is a bad thing, but it swamped his work. It didn’t wear well.

It’s worth considering, in a “Look! The King is on fire!” sort of way.

At 5/18/2011 9:55 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

That reminds me of the list of names you generated by looking at Amazon's lists of other books bought by people who bought books you were looking at.

At 5/18/2011 10:05 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hah! With the same downside, that sometimes people buy books for very different reasons, so that just because you like Rachel Zucker, doesn't mean you'll be interested in the Teletubbies Winter Pop-Up Book . . .

At 5/18/2011 10:34 AM, Blogger Martha Silano said...

Fuzz Against Junk:
I didn't say technology couldn't topple distance or the need to check your email every two seconds (or shop online); I said it couldn't topple spirituality/the mystical. I believe over 90% of Americans still believe i God; Christ, something like 70% think the second coming is Imminent. That may not be how you define spirituality, and it's probably not my way either, but embracing science and technology has only heightened my personal spirituality.

But you forgot to ask, and in fact I adore Ashbery. So where does that leave us?

At 5/18/2011 10:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Um, it leaves us in agreement on Ashbery?

At 5/18/2011 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a mistake to conflate science and technology. We've gotten used to them being intertwined, but it's quite possible to be utterly dependent on technology of all kinds, and simultaneously oblivious or even hostile to science. Those who are hostile toward it (I imagine based on typically American anti-elitist and anti-intellectual sentiments) use spirituality as a primary weapon.

The percentages of Americans who believe in creationism and disbelieve the theory of evolution (just one example) is staggering. So I'm actually more worried about spiritualism toppling science. As messed up as the world is today, I'll take it over the Middle Ages.

Technology? We just have to find a way to live with it, for better and for worst. We're just in it, like postmodernism.


At 5/18/2011 11:20 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


"As if Modern Technology could topple a goddamned thing," implies it's not capable of knocking anything down. Maybe I'm nitpicking, but it seems like you're backpedaling now.

People are inherently spiritual, so that number doesn't surprise me. But checking off boxes in some online poll isn't a spiritual activity, updating the world on what you're up to via your twitter, facebook, wordpress isn't a spiritual activity, and demystifying every little thing with Wikipedia isn't a spiritual activity. At best, it's spiritually materialistic; at worst, ego masturbation.


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