Monday, February 16, 2009

awp/american hybrid/manageability etc

Here are some other random observations:

I went to the American Hybrid panel and it offered an interesting contrast of views. Forrest Gander suggested that the hybrid is in fact a radical, excessive dynamic, using as his example a Renaissance text written in mongrel-Latin. Another presenter - I didn't catch his name - made a similar argument for the hybrid as a mongrel of different cultures. I quite liked these two talks, but they seemed to break with the general argument that has formed around the anthology.

In difference to Forrest and the other guy, Cal Bedient argued the hybrid was a mixture of avant-gardist and quietist poetry, which in this mixture tempered the excessive and utopian aspirations of avant-gardism. He used Adorno. He praised these poets for their "uncertainty" (negative capability?) of these poets. Along the same line, Brenda Hillman said she wanted to foreground the "materiality of the text" "without sacrificing emotion." Here hybrid is a kind of compromise - as opposed to "sacrifice".

I should mention that Norton has already sent me a review copy of the book (Thanks!) and I like a lot of the writers included (Haryette Mullen, Alice Notley etc etc). What I am less in love with is the rhetoric surrounding it: This idea that poetry should be about compromise and moderation; the idea that this is somehow a moral position (Bedient); and perhaps most importantly, that there is an overarching commonality between these very different poets.

While a lot of the poetry is groundbreaking and exciting, a lot of the rhetoric suggests the same old rhetoric that has defined American institutional poetry since the 1970s: moderation over excess, the morality of temperance, the politics of quietism, ann almost purely formalist notion of art (style).

[Again: How is Alice Notley in any way a compromise or an in-between?? The idea is outrageous!]

I would say that this move to encapsulate these poetries in this formalist-moderation-rhetoric is in fact, more than any stylistic devices or author names, the nature of "Quietism." Quietism as a mode of reading, of making canons, of *teaching*.

Lynn Hejinian can be Quietist in other words, if framed the right (wrong) way.

In a strange way, this rhetoric is in sharp contrast with a lot of the poets included. So perhaps this anthology should be read as an attempt to domesticate, make "manageable" a moment of great proliferation in poetry. Perhaps someone could even write an essay about the conflict between Cole Swensen the poet/translator and Cole the critic and anthologist.

And there is of course also the importance of the "American" in the title: performing nationhood. This seems inherently opposed to hybridity as I understand it, but it certainly counters the excess of translation and international engagement (not to mention cross-genre work etc). There's a need to remove international connections in order to make the poetry manageable.

Obviously we need frameworks for reading texts: but not such formalist, reductive frameworks. Not the reiteration of the same old formalism. It's not enough to say something is a formal compromise. What does it do? Not frameworks that make the texts stable and impotent, but frameworks that make the texts more interesting, that pushes up to come up with new ideas.

My main problem is that an anthology and rhetoric like this is that it erases differences (just as the too-static notions of avant-garde and "quietism" does). Lets have discussions about poetry, lets develop different framework for reading in interesting new ways instead of just enforcing norms and canonicity. Canonicity depends on thoughtless acceptance of authority.

In its formalist focus it also isolated American Poetry from 1) the rest of the world 2) social changes 3)other arts. We're back in the American Poetry Wax Museum.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Oxford American Dictionary says that "hybrid" derives from Latin hybrida, "offspring of a tame sow and wild boar, child of a freeman and slave, etc." Not an encouraging root concept for poetry, I think.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

That seems to go back to the "barbarism" entry from a while back.

5:19 PM  
Blogger The Primes said...

Right on! Evaluating texts should be similar to evaluating the effects of new drugs...

8:14 PM  
Blogger konrad said...

Re:[Again: How is Alice Notley in any way a compromise or an in-between?? The idea is outrageous!]

Ok, i have not got my hands on this anthology, but from the way you critique it here, i wonder: is the moral claim of moderation, compromise (inclusivity?) their editorial aim or their claim of the aims of the poets? Are they insinuating or are you extrapolating that aim to the anthologized poets?

Second. I think that with "attempt to domesticate" you reveal an internal tension in the metaphor of hybrid as it is pridefully used in the US. The "melting pot" figure acknowledges both the torture (melting pot? -- yeeow!) of migrant assimilation, but also gets at the idea that there are differences in the plurality of cultures that must be "managed" -- rather than than celebrated.

My sense of what would be a good rhetoric of anthologizing would be to focus on what was contested at a particular moment rather than what was trendy, agreed upon, or worse, as seems to be your argument, a kind of big hug approach.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I definitely got the impression from Cal Bedient's paper that he was speaking for the poets. Uncertainty over utopianism. I like your idea of the contested anthology. Seems like Lentrichia or someone like that made a similar argument.


5:42 AM  
Blogger Henry Gould said...

Anti-canonicity can get simplistic too.

There's something complicated about how certain works of art become representative or lasting. Some cynics ascribe it all to power-plays & literary politics, or the tyranny of the majority-cultures...

I believe there is a strange X-factor in this (admittedly laughably imperfect - think of all the great forever-neglected stuff). Hate to use the word genius but I can't think of a better one at the moment.

The combination of an artist's mastery of his/her medium - & the ability to "strike a chord" with people at large, the unknown reader.

These works become part of the canon by fiat (when & if they are discovered).

8:35 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I don't believe in "anti-canonicity". I believe in analyzing various dynamics of canon-formation.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Henry Gould said...

Yet you wrote :

"Canonicity depends on thoughtless acceptance of authority."

I'm saying it also depends on something else.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

OK, I'm being imprecise with my language: I am opposed to thoughtless canonicity. Happy?

9:22 AM  
Blogger Henry Gould said...

The blogs are full of such slicing & dicing. It's not imprecision. It's polemics.

Definition of a dogmatist : you dish it out, but you can't take it.

9:33 AM  

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