I’ve been following Robert Archambeau’s various cartographical takes on the field of contemporary poetry with some interest, acutely aware of how useful such an encompassing “map” might be to readers & students of contemporary poetry. I suspect, however, that the accurate construction of such a chart – not necessarily the laying out of the various axes, which a single person could do in an afternoon, but the placing of particular poets, & particular moments of poets’ careers, upon that map – is almost certainly a job far beyond any single reader: more a job for a research team: Bob and a half-dozen grad students.
And I've also been thinking of various sorting mechanisms that thus far might have been overlooked. Think for instance of Robert Kelly, that grand, vastly prolific figure who seems to fit so poorly into available maps of contemporary writing. I myself have been guilty of bunging him hastily into a “post-Zukofsky” mold, but by so doing I’ve willfully neglected at least 2 historical facts of Kelly’s career: on the one hand, his participation in the late 50s and early 60s in the “deep image” business – something that has no precedence in Objectivist poetics – and his publication by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press, which has the effect of presenting him in the company of the radical (and still largely unassimilated) modernist prose of Wyndham Lewis, the paleo-poetics of Clayton Eshleman, and the pop-grunge-whatever of Charles Bukowski. Deep Image is an element of Kelly’s early aesthetics, a chosen “group” affiliation; Black Sparrow is a fact of his work’s dissemination, but a fact that one must account for, just as one accounts for Creeley’s publication by Scribner’s, Zukofsky’s by Norton, & Coolidge’s by Harper & Row.
Which is to say that one ought to add yet another dimension to Bob’s by now 5- or 6-dimensional map, one that is organized by publication venues, and that plots the changing aesthetic stances of publishers; and this perforce returns us to something like traditional narrative literary theory – that is, it necessarily introduces a diachronic dimension to our mapping, rather than the synchronic mapping of the field thus far proposed – organized around the figures of publishers: John Martin, James Laughlin (New Directions), Jonathan Williams (Jargon), Douglas Messerli (Sun & Moon, Green Integer), Leslie Scalapino (O Books), Jack Shoemaker (Sand Dollar, North Point), James Sherry (Roof), and many others, not to mention the influence of poets working as editors at major trade houses – Donald Hall (Harper), Denise Levertov (Norton).
(Maybe I’m just expressing my hankering for informative literary history that is able to synthesize large amounts of data, and to draw the sorts of connections that one doesn’t get merely from reading the poets’ books and the poets’ biographies – Alan Filreis’s book on Stevens in the 1930s, for instance, which not merely changes one’s view of WS, but rewrites the entire landscape of 1930s American poetry. There has been no even half-way decent overview of post-war American innovative poetry that can compare with the various histories of modernism out there.)
For all the stones one might want to hurl at Ron S’s Calvinistic division of the poetry world into elect post-avant and reprobate School of Quietude, the place where I find his blog most enlightening is precisely in the steady stream of historical data that keeps coming out of it – who published whom, who knew whom, who was reading whom when. It’s this kind of stuff, I think – along with many thousands of hours in the San Diego and Buffalo archives – that’ll make it possible one day to draw up a Bourdieu-map that shows the contours of post-war American writing.
Me, I’m nursing a nasty new year’s cold, girding my loins for the first day of classes – Monday – and enjoying two of the holidays’ most welcome arrivals: the five-CD boxed set of Naked City’s complete studio recordings, and the Alfred Hitchcock 15-DVD “Masterpiece” collection. And staying out of the shower, just in case.