Wednesday, February 15, 2006

institutionalizing poetics ii

New mailbox; will post photo when I get around to photographing it – you'll just have to wait.
Joshua/Jane responds to my last post:
For what it's worth, I'm not sure that I draw the same conclusions. I'm interested in the expectation that poets ought to have theorized their own work in certain ways -- and how that expectation might be historicized. I'm less interested in debating whether actually theorizing one's own work is good or bad, and am prepared to take that on a case by case basis.

Relatedly: from my own experience of writing programs, I would say that it's frustrating that "poetics" (et al) courses are expected in lieu of critical/analytic courses happpening down the hall in the English Department. I am not at all averse to the idea that writing program students ought be expected to labor over critical knowledge, and indeed, contra your history, fear that these poetics classes are disreputable not for being an unnecessary supplement, but rather an insufficient one: a pale compensatory veil to cover over the absence of historical, aesthetic, and philosophical engagements that were once far more common among poets. When I hear "mardi," I think Mallarmé and Valéry.
Nothing here to disagree with: and SM & PV were precisely what I had in mind when I mentioned "mardi" – tho the fiction writers at least in my old program were far more like to think "Mardi Gras." At least within the institutions of MFA and PhD programs in creative writing, one might historicize the recent demand for poets to theorize their work in terms of something like disciplinary mimeticism: English studies managed to legitimize the reading of vernacular literature precisely by inventing the theoretical scaffolding of New Criticism; creative writing, now by some accounts one of the few growth sectors in the humanities, is trying to legitimize itself – while simultaneously trying to retain the air of the individual afflatus – by requiring self-reflexive "poetics" moments.

The increasing appearance of "poetics" sections in poetry anthologies, and even of anthologies of poetics, is I suspect largely driven by the market these new "poetics" emphases in creative writing programs have created. Most of such books are precisely as useless as the ubiquitous, mushroom-like "introduction to theory" volumes that turn up in my department mailbox every month.


Norman Finkelstein said...

It seems to me that at a certain point, most poets reflect on what we can call their practice, broadly speaking. This may come in the form of a journal entry, a letter, an essay, a manifesto, but in some cases, in poems themselves. What results is certainly "poetics," but not theory, at least if one holds to the dichotomy of theory & practice. This is why, in regard to poets, we might put aside the term theory and use reflection instead.

A good instance of all this would be Michael Palmer. In an interview from 2000, in Jubilat, he notes that "I was always more interested in writing poetics from the point of view of the poet, rather than--if I can make that distinction--the poet-critic, where a poet operates both as a writer of verse, let's say, and as a fairly orthodox academic critic. For me, it's very important to maintain the insistence that all I know is learned right in the poem." Ironically, many of Michael's best statements of "poetics" emerge from his interviews, which are yet another site for reflection.

Henry Gould said...

I agree very much with Norman here.

Sorry to harp on Mandelstam so much, but I'm reminded of the comments of one of his earliest & most perceptive critics, Yuri Tinyanov, who described M's poetry as built up from an "architecture" of "nuance" - ie. the poems build inwardly from reflecting (thematically, affectively, etymologically) on themselves. In other words, they GROW through reflection.

This rings so true in my own experience of composition.

Michael Peverett said...

Seems to me Mark that there's a subterranean train of thought going on in your blog, from Thoreau's joyously disenchanting meditation on how literature that starts off "out there" turns into our comfort zone, then via Frankfurt, to the huge success of poetics as a sexy subject with students and as an institutionalized shaper of good citizens.