Thursday, May 07, 2009

Younger Poets are Still Ignorant

I found this excerpt from a Tony Hoagland interview that I think disproves the notion that he has a neutral relationship to the poetry he thinks is being written right now:

"...It's a very effervescent poetry that's being written right now. But it's also a poetry that doesn't have very much allegiance to experience, and not necessarily a deep vision of how it has consequence to living and to walking around in the twenty-first century. In other words, it seems to be largely a poetry of entertainment. It's a poetry that could be labeled "aestheticism.""


Blogger Seth Abramson said...

I studied with Hoagland; he is definitely, as a general matter, hostile to what he calls "The Poem of Our Moment." He believes these poems lack "emotional weight" and that there is no evidence of the poet's "stake" in the poem and that such poems do not "accumulate." They are thus, in his view, ephemeral--wispy. He takes a more tempered view--but still very much, as I read it, a pejorative view--is his essay "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment." Here's some of what that essay gives you on the Poem of Our Moment (in addition to some of the complimentary items Michael mentioned):

* "[not as] reader-friendly"
* "[not as] lucid"
* "[not as] inclusive"
* "a fashion"
* "abstract"
* "somewhat absurdist"
* "has no sequence"
* "has no center of gravity"
* "has no body"
* "has no assertion of emotional value"
* "[they] showcase personality"
* "implies a kind of spectral, anxious insubstantiality"
* "elusiveness is the speaker's central characteristic"
* "the last thing such poems are going to do is risk their detachment, their distance, their freedom from accountability"
* "the one thing they are not going to do is commit themselves to the sweaty enclosures of subject matter and the potential embarrassment of sincerity"
* "self-consciously odd"
* "committed to a push exteriority; they may entertain, but they do not admit the reader"
* "relentless dodging or obstruction of expectation"
* "evades knowability"
* "have a passive-aggressive relationship to meaning"
* "the coy ellipticism of these poems signifies a skepticism about the possibilities for poetic depth, earnestness, even about feeling itself"
* "their self-conscious lack of consequence is part of the problem"
* "in their effort to circumvent linearity, or logic, or obviousness, they have eluded representing anything but attitude"
* "might we ask what we lose when we jettison cohesion and continuity from our poetry? Perhaps as readers we lose the pleasure of security, the feeling of being deeply seated inside a poem, of progressing through a dramatic structure that accumulates and deepens, delays and delivers"

In the context of Tony's other writings on poetry, it's clear that every comment above is a pejorative.

Be well,

4:10 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I guess that pretty much takes care of that argument.

I think they key here is his use of "aestheticism" without an engagement with what that term has meant over the past 100+ years. It's the same line of attack Mark Halliday used against Clover in his essay a while back (ie"the Scandal of the Lettrist Jacket").


4:19 PM  
Blogger Seth Abramson said...

P.S., FWIW, I'll echo what Francois said, below, which is that Tony was a great teacher. Like F., I disagreed with much of what he said, but he's clear, concise, articulate, thoughtful, and at least some portion of his worldview informs my own--Tony's voice is merely one voice in my internal dialogue, however, rather than anything like the Voice from the Mountain. Best,


4:49 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I think one can put much of this down to a similar phenomenon to the question of Humanism you've discussed earlier. A lot of the comments Seth quotes are rallying calls to reinstate the liberal-humanist model of unproblematic subjectivity as a seat of reason and agency, unthreatened by thinkers such as Lacan, Kristeva, Deleuze, Lyotard, etc etc. This may be where the pathological fear of theory is coming from. Hoagland, Wojahn et al. may be scared of that which threatens their perception of the unassailable self.

And as for our (I'm 23, and just out of undergrad) supposed lack of awareness of tradition... I find the continual assertions of this supposed "fact" incredibly insulting. Just because i may not find Lowell and Berryman suitable models does not mean i have not read them, and i would far rather draw from Stein, and Europeans such as Schwitters, Arp, Celan et al, and it would not surprise me if Hoagland and co. didn't know these folk wrote as well as painted A(Celan excluded of course).

In the latest issue of Poetry NZ (I live in New Zealand) a previous MFA candidate wrote an essay parroting a lot of these arguments, essentially arguing that there was little to no good writing being published in the US by the younger generation. I found this shocking. My reply is on it's way to the editors, and after publication will be available on my blog. Johannes - I discuss your work, I seriously hope i do you justice!

5:56 PM  
Blogger Rauan Klassnik said...

i saw Hoagland talk on this subject at a panel at the Austin AWP..... what i remember most is how damned fcking smug he was,....

the crowd seemed to be lapping it up, though.

i was throwing up.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

If you want to have a look at what i'm writing, just flick me an email (address is on my blog)

7:31 PM  
Blogger Fran├žois Luong said...

Tony was a great teacher for what I was trying to do at the time (this type of insipid watered-down casual New York School imitation), but I think I learned more from Tony's slips (such as a casual mention of the Objectivists). Not to mention I had Dan Price (philosophy professor at UH) to give a counterbalance by re-introducing me to Jacques Roubaud and Emmanuel Levinas. I often tell people of the shouting match between those two my thesis defense became.

Anyway, everything I've done artistically has moved far away from Tony. Like, the very end of a 25-dimensional spectrum.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Max said...

While I would tend to agree with the worldview that we shouldn't burden ourselves with now-transparent layers of certainty in an oblivious, naive fashion, I also find issue with the argument that people who hang onto this purity are "afraid" of the alternative.

First of all, what are we? High school jocks? Second, what's wrong with being "afraid"? Are we advancing the absence of fear or anxiety as some sort of universal good? I'd actually be inclined to see value in these particular criticisms if I felt that there were a tangible fear in them.

But anyway.

What I find particularly grating is the notion that these people are writing about the striking lack of polish in young poets, yet never really addressing the fact that they're talking about ... "young poets." By their own model of Seriousness, wouldn't the "young poet," by definition, be only in the early stages of achieving Pure Poetic Wisdom? There seems to be this idea that the poet should be born fully-formed, writing as though he/she is a Great Oracle by age 22, or fuck it all.

Can't we just sum up this debate by saying something like "Reactionary idiots are nothing but stupid idiots, now why don't you just roll over and wait for the impending deathbed conversion"?

9:30 PM  
Blogger janjoplin said...

I like what's quoted here from Hoagland. Especially, "evades knowability...passive aggressive relationship to meaning...a fashion..." Very funny, wish I said it. So what? These cats (me too) are getting older by the second. You all are the up and coming poetic minds. Stop whining about it and keep writing your poems. Younger poets are ignorant; There's a bliss in that. Old poets, hardening of the arteries? Two things I learned in graduate school/life: All criticism is valid somehow and also somehow not valid. What matters is the writing. The rest is a crapfest.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Brennen Wysong said...

Here's a link to "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment" that Seth mentions above.

7:37 AM  
Blogger John Gallaher said...

I love this:

"have a passive-aggressive relationship to meaning"

and then

"might we ask what we lose when we jettison cohesion and continuity from our poetry? Perhaps as readers we lose the pleasure of security, the feeling of being deeply seated inside a poem, of progressing through a dramatic structure that accumulates and deepens, delays and delivers"

I would posit that to "lose the pleasure of security" is one of the things poetry should hope from a reader.

Just saying.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Another thing that doesn't seem to get mentioned is the possibility that the way MFA programs and their "workshops" are run may contribute to the proliferation of the style that Hoagland et al dislike so much.

Myself and pretty much everybody I knew during grad school fantasized about writing poems that would confound the workshop, whether that meant writing something "impenetrable," or something so transparently "perfect" and "orderly" that it completely avoided criticism. It wasn't necessarily driven by a positive aesthetic, but rather a sort of latent spite for how workshops were run.

Which isn't to say that all of the poetry mentioned by Hoagland et al (it's hard to know exactly which poetry they're talking about, though) is written with this motive in mind, but I wouldn't be surprised if the MFA experience didn't inform it at least to some extent.

8:28 AM  
Blogger R. Sanford said...

"I would posit that to "lose the pleasure of security" is one of the things poetry should hope from a reader. "

I rarely feel the need to post simply for the sake of emphasis, but I believe this sentiment to be entirely worth doing so.

I would add: poetry should probably hope for the same thing in other people 'doing' poetry (writing it, discussing, it, whatever), which I suppose would seem to be what these 'young writers' are doing, sometimes whether they intend to or not.

I'm personally a bit on the fence of these two little 'camps' (can't stand the terminology, but I'll let it pass...)

i.e., I've read a lot of new poetry where I would agree with Hoagland almost categorically -- all attitude, little or no genuine meaning, 'doing it to do it', for whatever reason.

But I've also read 'old' poetry that was so concerned with 'allegiance to experience' or a certain...I don't know, tradition, or weird feeling of obligation to tradition, or whatever, that it made me nauseous.

I suppose being one of these 'young writers' allows me to feel like it's okay that I don't know where I stand. Do I feel like 'tradition' and so on are important? I want to say yes, but I'm not sure I believe it or if I'm saying it because I feel like I'm supposed to. On the other hand there's something seemingly immature to me, or maybe arrogant in the idea of saying tradition / canon / 'old poets' don't matter. If they don't matter could I ever matter? Or a Tao Lin ever matter?

I feel like I'm getting too sidetracked with my personal debates -- my point is I feel like I can see both sides here. I think Hoagland & co. have a point, but I don't think they've got it right.

I'm also not really buying into the idea that there's no kind of 'purity' or genuine meaning that shouldn't be strived for, so let these kids do what they want and take them on their own terms, even if they don't come to the table with any.

But part of being uncomfortable, which I think is wonderful, is being willing to accept that tradition may not be that purity, or not the only one.

11:54 AM  

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