Tuesday, August 12, 2008

conversion narratives

I was thinking: One thing that bothered me (below) in my discussion with Mark was what I perceived as patronizing remarks about me not knowing language poetry. I was thinking about that today - I think what bothered me about this was the frequent mantra I hear from the langpo/Buffalo crowd that the reason not everyone likes language poetry or is not wholly absorbed in it (I certainly like a lot of the poets associated with langpo, my phd advisor wrote for the original l=a=n=g journal) is that we don't know enough about it. The same thing happened when James Pate wrote that essay for Action, Yes a few months ago. He just didn't know enough.

[Clearly this was not Mark's fault, and I am happy to learn about his favorite lesser-known poets! I overreacted.]

And the conclusion is also that if we knew the whole story we would be won over, change sides, so to speak. This is why I so often hear "conversion narratives" when I hang out with poets - when I saw the light type of stories, when I began to prefer Michael Palmer to Donald Hall etc.

Well, if you read my "autobiographical notes" over the past week or so, it may strike you that I was never really introduced to "Quietist" narratives. I remember when we lived in Alabama, Joel Bruewer, another poetry professor there, thought it was hilarious how little Joyelle knew about "narrative poets" - the James Wright kind of poets. I would say I know more about language poetry than I know about the James Wright school of poetry. I've read several books by Leslie Scalapino (many times over in some cases) but I've never read a book by Donald Hall (I have read individual poems by him but was never interested enough to read a whole book). A lot of contemporary non-lang poets I didn't find out about until I got to Iowa.

This is not to flaunt my ignorance, but to undermine these simple conversion narratives. As in the Jorie Canon, the conversion narrative merely tries to foreclose discussion: you just haven't read enough. And as in the Jorie Canon, the challenge is not language poetry (which in some instances, as I note in my previous post) fits quite nicely (in fact much much nice than someone like Edson, who doesn't fit at all, he'd "Bad James Tate" to invoke Chad's anecdote - Or Ted Berrigan who may fit with Sonnets but not at all with anything else) but someting else, something more like a lyrical way of reading (thus for example, Bernstein can't fit in with the JG Canon because he's too abrasive and - perhaps more importantly - unlyrical, comic, parodic etc).

PS
On the other hand, you run into the narrative from anti-language folks that all lang-types are "brainwashed" cyborgs. That's for example what the people on foetry were saying, and when I tried to suggest they were being simplistic they went all rabidly moronic on me (interesting how the "open forum" of foetry became such an impossible place to have intelligent discussion!). Clearly this narrative is pretty stupid and doesn't merit any more discussion.

6 Comments:

Blogger mongibeddu said...

Of course the prevalence of conversion narratives is a good indication that one is dealing with an aesthetic experience for which close reading is inadequate.

BF

9:11 AM  
Blogger jane said...

I think Ben meant "essential" at the end of his comment above! That Italian must be messing with his English.

9:42 AM  
Blogger mongibeddu said...

Something essential can still be inadequate (try living on air).

What I mean is that there are texts valued more for what they do than what they say. Or whose value as statement only becomes evident once they're accepted as instruction.. Hence the tendency to explain with a story instead of a close reading...

But this English is messing with my Italian, so I'm going to go back to Ariosto.

BF

10:53 AM  
Blogger jane said...

Yeah, indeed, just right. At the same time these "conversion narratives" are, as Johannes intimates, ideology under a different name. And while there's no outside to ideology, one oughtn't get "complacent" about it (as Jasper said elsewhere); one of the essential ways to measure the ideological content of a conversion narrative is via close reading of the aesthetic object that inspired it, entirely stipulating the fact "close reading" (esp as it stands theses days) is itself ideologically saturated...

Okay, all this contemporaneity is messing with my history, so I'm going back to 1989.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Jasper Bernes said...

I guess I don't understand the point here, Johannes. I mean, if after having read two or three books of Swedish poetry, I proceeded to say inane and misinformed things about the subject, you would (quite rightly) tell me that I didn't know what I was talking about. What's the difference with James Pate and langpo?

5:16 PM  
Blogger Jasper Bernes said...

Oh, and I didn't mean to imply that Pate was "inane" by example above. I do think he was a bit misinformed, or simply not expressing his case clearly, but not "inane."

5:18 PM  

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