I read Marjorie Perloff’s “Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric” today. I’m not feeling very engaged today, or focused (migraines and stormy weather and all), but I’ll start out by saying this article does a great job of describing the inner workings of the Poembassy in my head that I blew up years ago (see this blog’s title/poem). Perloff has developed and condensed in this article many of her ideas about the current state of Laureate or academic lyric poetry along with the poetry of appropriation, remixing, mashing, citation, multimedia, etc., which stands outside of or against that status quo:
Composition as transcription, citation, “writing-through,” recycling, reframing, grafting, mistranslating, and mashing—such forms of what is now called Conceptualism, on the model of Conceptual art, are now raising hard questions about what role, if any, poetry can play in the new world of instantaneous and excessive information.
As a poet who has for years been using computer programs to do “recycling,” and “mashing” (my favorite of those terms) I am happy to see such a succinct description of this development in poetics, and the readings of Cage’s and Howe’s poems are excellent. And while Perloff’s analysis of the conforming pressures of publication on creative writing faculty seems sound to me (along with the backlash that can accompany a professor attempting anything “experimental” within the graduate workshop setting, where too many M.F.A. students are similarly obsessed with the demands to be published, gain a good reputation, and win awards in order to establish a career), I do feel optimistic about the future of creative writing in the academy for poetry, granted that there is room for optimism for the humanities and/or higher education more generally in this country.
Maybe I’m just deluding myself, as I am considering putting myself on the market for a professorship (any digital poetry jobs being posted out there?) and I need to have something to keep myself motivated. I am certainly more of a pessimist and nihilist by nature. I do have some experience to draw from for my optimism, though. My writing has definitely been outside the status quo since I began an M.F.A. program in 2006, but I was able to get through it all without much conflict and a good deal of encouragement while writing in a range of avant or experimental modes. My thesis was completed as five distinct chapbook projects, two of them exclusively written in collaboration with computer programs and source texts, one of them a citation poem that used Google News, one of them visual or concrete in nature, and another which was a loose collection of poems written in a variety of ways with and without digital means. I had no trouble defending its aesthetic, in spite of these aesthetics being outside of what is the academic norm. (I should also note that I was and am still struggling to fully understand the poetics of what I am doing.) I offer this as just one example of how, at least within one graduate creative writing program (and not one with any avant- reputation), “otherwise” or experimental writing is at least given space and tolerated.
My experience with web publication and group collective blogging (see eRoGK7 on Gnoetry Daily) have given me some optimism as well. I feel that I am one of hundreds (or is it thousands?) of young writers who are using these various Conceptual and digital techniques and are serious about writing poetry that is an engagement with language, the world, politics, living and being, etc. There is more going on online that interests me than in most print journals (the Chicago Review remains a notable exception), and the resurgence of vispo and vidpo is extremely exciting. I would love to know if there is greater interaction between poetry and other arts now as well, as it seems that poetry is being viewed more widely as a vibrant art form than a stagnant literary form, something I strongly advocate. Having more poetry writing programs established in arts schools and the art departments of larger universities would be a great thing to see happening as well.
So I’ve lost my focus. “Poetry on the Brink,” in spite of its title which seemed at first to suggest another alarmist end-of-the-poetry-world argument, is a good article to explain some of the major directions in the real world of contemporary poetry, and I’d recommend it along with Perloff’s most recent book, Unoriginal Genius, Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems with Craig Dworkin’s anthology of 21st century poetics, The Consequence of Innovation.