Monday, September 03, 2007

anthologies (again)

The other day Joyelle got a promotional copy of "Contemporary American Poetry" - first edited by A. Poulin (translator of Rilke I believe) and later revised by Michael Waters.

If you're going to have a title like "Contemporary American Poetry" you have to make some attempt to be representative of contemporary american poetry. I am amazed at all these anthologies are produced that claim to be representative of contemporary American poetry and then don't include language poetry. At this point in time, if you're going to try to make a somewhat representative anthology of american poetry you're either incompetent or lying if you don't include Bernstein, Hejinian, Silliman etc. It doesn't mean you have to like them, but you have to acknowledge them. Or use a narrower title.

This anthology includes none of these poets. So I have to assume that Waters is totally incompetent.

There seems to be something of a pedagogy war going on, with quietists producing heaps of anthologies that merely exclude langpo, and on the other hand, Sparh's book "Poetry and Pedagogy" which essentially tells teachers how to teach langpo and its descendants. Not without its problems but at least is acknowledges that pedagogy exists, that it matters.

13 Comments:

Blogger Max said...

Textbooks with generic titles are nothing new. It's annoying, yes, but I think it's more about marketing and less about exclusion at the end of the day (though I would argue--agree?-- that exclusion is always a part of the picture when you're putting together an anthology with limited space).

8:36 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I don't think it's accidental that he didn't include any language poets. You have to be more than incompetent to ignore their importance to contemporary american poetry. This is a part of the "pedagogy wars" that is going on in american writing programs. The production of students.

It is of course also about marketing - teachers want to use "representative" anthologies. That doesn't exclude the above point.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Where's your supporting evidence?

A prevalent perception of language poetry is that it is difficult and impenetrable. It seems to me that a teacher could avoid language poetry on these grounds and not be said to be "at war" with it. Is this avoidance problematic? Of course it is. But I don't think you have to frame the debate in such combative terms.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Fran├žois said...

Not mentioning language poetry just because it is "difficult and impenetrable" just seems very lazy to me.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I thought to the whole idea of an anthology was to include a little taste of everything. Like a greatest hits album or something.

But no, it seems anthologies are just a tool to ostracize those you don't like.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Not mentioning language poetry just because it is "difficult and impenetrable" just seems very lazy to me.

I definitely agree with this statement. But avoiding it out of fear that it will be difficult to teach, or because one feels that he/she lacks the requisite "expertise" to teach it, is something entirely different from waging war on language poetry or other marginalized poetic groupings.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I guess there's sort of a chicken/egg thing going on here, too. Is language poetry never taught because it's marginalized, or is it marginalized because it's never taught?

7:00 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I don't think language poetry is marginalized - It's quite central. That's why the omission is so glaring.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I don't think language poetry is marginalized - It's quite central. That's why the omission is so glaring.

I guess it depends on what level of education you're talking about. I'm fairly certain that, up to and through undergrad, most Americans have nearly zero exposure to language poetry, and that's including literature majors.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I would continue to argue that that is a negative thing. I think the whole point of an anthology (especially one claiming to be rather inclusive) would be to actually include a variety of "American" poetries.

Shouldn't undergrads be exposed to language poets?

I'm sure there's a Pinsky poem one could cut out in order to fit Hejinian in, eh?

BTW, Johannes, what is included in this anthology, just out of curiousity?

10:10 PM  
Blogger Fran├žois said...

Tony Hoagland made my classmates and me read Language poets during my undergrad. Tony Hoagland! At the University of Houston, former bastion of SoQ poetics! Of all places!

Okay, no more exclamation points for me.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

There are different kinds of marginalized. Certainly if you look at the scholarly books being published about contemporary poetry, they are almost all about Langpo or related figures. Hard to say a group is "marginalized" in such a situation.

We might say that they are marginalized in "Intro to Creative Writing" classes. And one reason might be that they are "hard to teach" -- using the pedagogy normally employed in such classes. Ie it's a poetry that is hard to discuss without some level of political discussion, something that has traditional been viewed as somehow improper to creative writing. But of course some people might think that such discussions are an important part of CW classes. Certainly some students find this very interesting, more so that formal analysis.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Sure. But academia is its own ghetto. It seems to me that language poetry, like the "difficult" James Joyce (Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake), for example, is condemned to intellectual ownership by the high priesthood of professors and graduate students. Plenty of academics write about Joyce, but who really reads Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake other than academics? It's a small party, and the celebration is barren of meaning.

7:36 AM  

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