Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The New2 Sincerity? The New Spirituality?

Noah Purifoy, Joshua Tree 1995

I’m in casual conversation with Weston Cutter over on the Kenyon Review blog this week. Here’s a link to Part 1:


This seems to be what the zeitgeist is saying right now: “We meant it as a goof but somewhere on the way we became believers.” Or something like that.

Noah Purifoy, Joshua Tree 1995

My earlier post on the subject, for context:

Here are a couple poems to go along with. First, an example of what might be called New2 Sincerity:

Falling Life
Zachary Schomburg

You are in a very high tree.

If you jump
you will live a full life
while falling.

You will get married
to a hummingbird

and raise beautiful part-

You will die of cancer
in mid-air.

I will not lie.
It will be painful.

You are a brave little boy
or girl.

Noah Purifoy, Joshua Tree 1995

And second, an example of New Spirituality:

Dana Levin

Hawk perched low on a hedge of vine.

On hunt for what hid
          in the tangle

The small citizens, mouse and gopher.

Body of Ra the hawk signified.

In the symbol book, which I opened after climbing the stairs,
          after the hawk fanned out its banded tail like I should

          pick a card—

The book was a prisoner of my ardor for the dark—through it I stalked,
          a seeker.

It was a character out of a Victorian novel—Symbol Book, an
          imbecile, a Dutch inventor.

Saying, You must bow
          to the Hippogriff (half raptor, half horse), it must

          lower its head to your hand.

Halcón Pradeño. Mexicano. Come to me for my winter ground.

According to Whatbird.com.

Hawk perched low on a hedge of vine. Going
          heel to toe, so as not to startle.

Cloud unhooding body of Ra a pale pearl of winter sun—

Renaissance printers
          often stamped their wares with hooded falcon,

          emblem of the dungeoned seer.

That “hope for light” the darkened nourish.

Closed books, post tenebras spero lucem along the spine—

I found the phrase in the Office for the Dead, in the Latin Vulgate:
          after darkness I hope for light—

Then: hell is my house, and in darkness I have made my bed—

I thought of my father and mother and sister being dead, I was so sick
          of feeling anything about it—

The hood stood for hope of liberty.

Of wanting to swoop and soar over enormous swells,
          as in my dream.

I hovered high, I could see the mammals in the raucous waters, their slick
of danger and wonder.

My soul hath thirsted, the Vulgate said, He hath put a new song
          into my mouth.

The hawk appeared. Unhooded.
          An auspice, from auspex, avispex, “one who looks at birds”—

I’d been wanting to know if it was all right to live.

An ascensional symbol on every level, the symbol book said.

Body of Ra. Solar victory. If one can believe the book
          of symbols.

Noah Purifoy, Joshua Tree 1995

And when I’m saying “new” here, there is the air of a “new take” but I want to downplay that a little. Perhaps it’s just a new interest as much as anything else. (I’m hedging a little, yes. I’m aware of that.)


At 8/10/2011 6:53 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

“We meant it as a goof but somewhere on the way we became believers.”

I was thinking that a poet with no religious faith and no desire to be sincere might import spiritual words like soul, eternity, and transcendence, and that for several reasons. She might covet Stevens' or O'Hara's breadth of lexicon. "Their world seems so large because they use so many different kinds of words," she might think. "These spiritual words will expand my world by annexing a supernatural realm." Or he might like the way spiritual or abstract words lend an air of portentousness to the work of poets like Graham or Ammons or Charles Wright--even when he doesn't really know what they're talking about. But in using these words she might dicover an outlet for unacknowledged religious emotions which have never been consummated through the practice of any belief system. And so he might end up realizing that what began almost as a goof--a writing exercise, really--eventuated in something earnest.

At 8/10/2011 7:01 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

"Fake It 'Till You Make It" is the bumper-sticker version, then, I guess?

At 8/10/2011 8:00 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

I find your levity unseemly, John. You fail to evince the reverent solemnity due to things spiritual...But yeah, fake it till you make it. Walk it as you talk it less you lose that beat. I'm away from my books, but I think Oscar Wilde said in "The Critic as Artist" that if you want to feel an emotion, use the language of that emotion. If you want to feel love, use the language of love. It's sort of like changing your personality by checking out a graphology book and changing your handwriting.

At 8/10/2011 8:37 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I was in a conversation with some friends who watch the show Mad Men, and I think the lead character, whose name escapes me, is an example of this? The self-made man?

The "self-made man". I haven't heard of that one in a long time. It's an old idea. An idea that is the basis of many movies and books: the person who goes somewhere for some purpose, to trick someone into marriage or whatever, and then falls in love.

But I don't know how much to make of this when it comes to the new version of New Sincerity and/or New Spirituality. Culturally, I suppose one could make the case, but with specific poets I'd not want to try.

At 8/10/2011 10:21 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

You reminded me of a film called The Center of the World. It's about a well-to-do computer nerd who falls for a stripper (Molly Parker). He pays her to spend a few days with him in Vegas. At first it's just a business arrangement for her, but soon she begins to feel attracted to him because she's getting to know him all day and giving him extreme lapdances every night. She fakes it so long and well that she ends up making it. Ultimately, however, she resists involvement and immures herself in her cool shell of self-regard. I thought it was pretty interesting, but put the kids to bed before you pop it in the box.

At 8/11/2011 3:43 AM, Blogger MASchiavo said...

The Schomburg poem here focuses on childhood and/or children. This is a huge theme I've noticed not just in what might be called "New Spirituality" but in 20- and 30-something poets in general. All the Dickman Twins write about is childhood, or write from a child-like perspective, a "not understanding," thus writing it out to understand. Do you think this stance is taken to give some sort of authorial power, becoming as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven? Or, rather, if you take the stance of a child, you, as poet/narrator, are (wrongly) not required to "know" things so you can "get away" with more.

What diminishes the power for me in Levin's poem is how, very quickly, starting from a perspective that seems to be omniscient, she introduces: "In the symbol book, which I opened after climbing the stairs." This for me is the poet/narrator saying: "I do not understand this subject because of first-hand observation, first-hand understanding or belief, but rather because I read it in a book." While the poem might be good, craft-wise and provides thruout great instances of language (e.g. Body of Ra, Whatbird.com), me, I'm left empty as far as spiritual or even human revelation.

At 8/11/2011 4:22 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Michael,

This is going ot have to be too quick of a response, as I'm getting ready to head out to Adventureland, but here goes:

You're right, the New2 Sincerity does often use childhood as its springborad. Schomburg, for example, has used it quite well in other poem also. It's anything but innocent in Schomburg, though. For Schomburg, there's a large measure of horror that plays aganist the innocense of the young, or nature, which he also often uses. His imagination is more like old fairy tales than the newer, Disney versions, in that way.

For Levin, I read it differently. I like this poem, and it speaks to me on the human level, but differently than Spiritual poems usually do, which is why I think it's a good example of New Spirituality. You're thinking Emerson, perhaps? Here, what I'm seeing is a person reaching for help who doesn't have certainty, and who is reaching through texts. The key here is the air of other possibility that chances through the spiritual quest.

At 8/11/2011 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8/11/2011 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a poet (unpublished) with very definite religious convictions (Catholic), I find this conversation thoroughly fascinating. Admittedly, my poems cannot hold even a dime-store votive candle to the talents up for discussion here, yet I'd still like to inquire if there is a place at the table for the explicitly religious poet who plays (sincerely) at the edges of doubt? Here are four examples, humbly submitted:

St Gemma's Eyes

The Dying Convert

The Hypocrite

The Hawk

Thanks for indulging me. Hopefully I can add something to the conversation.


At 8/11/2011 3:44 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...

Excellent interview, great photos.

Was glad to read all this, having been thinking quite a bit over the last two years or so (as I maneuvered an MFA) about sincerity and the way it seems to be so many younger poets especially have developed a reaction to it that often resembles a phobia. The blur my MFA workshops have now become mostly strikes me as a place where a lot of young people spent a great deal of energy to appear, even as they sat in the room, as if they didn't really care about poetry--caring about poetry sincerely would seem almost as bad as writing a poem that might be accused of being sincere. It basically ended up as a situation where I felt I had spent two years listening to some absolutely brilliant people talk very articulately about what they thought and never once instance about what they felt about anything.

I usually come back around to pondering DFW's essay way back about the age of television in the US and how the sitcom was sort of a byproduct, usually, of (again, particularly young) people's life-directing dread towards being ironic first, about always needing to at worst be in on the joke and at best provoking its architecture. I think he's with you on irony--it's a nice place to visit, etc.

This is the landscape where the joke and reality often overlap, i.e., 'What a dreadfully sappy poem--oh, but wait, he's being ironic, brilliant!'

Whenever this comes up in conversation around me is almost always precedes defensive motions RE: what's so wrong with thinking? The answer (to me at least) is that thinking is monumentally important, but if there's no emotional play/exchange/interchange what's the point? 'Much ado about nothing', to me.

At 8/11/2011 7:31 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

R. Sanford,

If I were engaged in pure ratiocination --"All poets are mad; Trannstromer is a poet; therefore, Trannstromer is mad"--I might be able to express a thought unalloyed by emotion. But if I were talking about poetry in a workshop, I don't think I could say what I thought without saying what I felt. Could you? Any thought I expressed about poetry in general or about a particular poem would be inextricably entwined with my emotions, no matter how dispassionately I uttered it. Even the thoughts I'm writing at this moment are colored by my emotions.

At 8/11/2011 7:55 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/11/2011 8:19 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...


I very much believe I am aligned with you in that notion; you might then well imagine my frustrations with the experience.

I might concede that an emotion that was overly prevalent to my senses was fear--usually of being seen as sentimental. I've seen (as I'm sure everyone has) discussions of the clique-capades in and outside of MFA programs and it makes a great deal of sense through the lens of fear--tribalism, survival--no more sure way to not only be in on the joke but to know you're not the butt of it. What's so hard about saying there is no joke, or at least saying sure, but we're all the butt of it.

Some people go camping among irony, some invest in a summer home, some found nations.

My criticism shouldn't be confused with my thinking that there were no emotions felt, simply that what I see John talking about is something I felt I saw at play in one form or another nearly all of the time, mainly in the form of an undercutting anxiety. When is irony a crutch? When is it a prison? If it's not a sword you're willing to drop when it either gets too bloody or the edge falls dull you've got no business with it.

At 8/12/2011 3:38 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

Okay, R., I think I catch your drift now. My usual obtuseness is punctuated by moments of incomprehension. You're talking about MFAers hiding behind a mask of ironic detachment out of a callow fear of being ridiculed for displaying passion. Yes, a workshop can be a mad tea party--and often you can't remember your own behavior in it without acute embarassment...I was thinking about irony qua irony, wondering why people think irony inimical to sincere feeling, to MEANING. A contrast between my meaning and my means of expression doesn't preclude the meaning; on the contrary, it emphasizes the meaning...But that's just "irony is sincere." How trite. I'm tired...

At 8/12/2011 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You knew it was coming, folks: the New Irony. Remember, you read it first here.

At 8/12/2011 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "New" irony.


At 8/12/2011 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of the New this and New that, has anyone come across proposed buzzwords for the new millennium like Metamodernism, Altermodernism, Transmodernism, etc... ?

From http://www.metamodernism.com/ ...

"Metamodernism is above all about oscillation. Or at least for me it is. It is about the oscillation between the modern and the postmodern, history and ahistoricity, optimism and pessimism, sincerity and irony, the concept and the material, the figurative and the formless, narrative and the plotless, discursive originality and individual intertextuality, meaning and meaninglessness. (To be sure, contrary to what the above might suggest, it is not so much about the oscillation between binary opposites, as between the various ends on a multidimensional continuum of energies and intensities.)"


At 8/12/2011 9:36 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

Those who die of irony deficiency should be buried in plotless cemetaries.

At 8/12/2011 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poetry as the New Metatropism. I'm so there.


At 8/12/2011 4:52 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The "New" Irony! Indeed. Well, I'm back from Adventureland, so here goes:

The Anon comment about New Irony is perfect. It reflects the situation: Irony has recently been used pejoratively, as a condemnation of the stance of a lot of poets (and visual artists) . . . “They are IRONIC. They don’t mean what they say” . . . but what if they DO mean what they say? So you have this New Sincerity floated as a goof, and then people say, yeah, I like that, and you have New2 Sincerity. So irony can go back to being a device and can be taken off the list of bad things to call someone.


Post a Comment

<< Home