Monday, August 07, 2006

Poetry is Hard To Talk About

So Henry Gould reviews John Latta's Breeze, a really splendid book of poems that displays the same range of omnivorous interests & wild gaiety of diction as JL's various blogs, & then there's a little blog back 'n' forthing:

JL: Thank'ee much, v. v. honored, perhaps it ain't all Wallace Stevens (dunno if I've read him all), but I did hang out a lot with Archie Ammons in Ithaca, & wonder if some of that foul-mouthed transcendentalism rubbed off?

HG: Thank'ee for the thank'ee, back to the drawing board.

(Love that "Old Peanut-head" – Temple of Zeus, every morning, swapping dirty jokes with Mike Abrams...)

But that's the fallback, isn't it? You read a new book of poems, you compare it with what you've read before – & if you're writing about it, you dress up those comparisons with the finery of "influence" & "artistic genealogy." It's not always lazyany critical procedure, any approach can be lazy, a substitute for thinking – it's not lazy when HG does it with JL. It tells us important things: this reader wants to know exactly how Hart Crane was important to early Olson, how DH Lawrence "influenced" Creeley, what Bishop got from Marianne Moore, usw. (& man was I happy when John Matthias located Anarchy in the same tea party with Geoffrey Hill & Susan Howe, "if one can imagine either one of these poets also taking an interest in Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols.")

It's an effect of age, of having read things, innnit? My Theory is that each of us has a half-dozen books or poets that serve as baseline comparisons for almost everything that comes after in our reading: & it's not because they're the best or the first at doing whatever they do, supreme exemplars etc., but because they're the first we encountered doing that thing. They become central reference points that one works backwards & forwards from. So that I for one read the Paradise Lost passages of "A"-14 (1964) and Tom Phillips's A Humument (1970) in the light of Ron Johnson's RADI OS – only because I read RADI OS first, & i had never encountered anything like it before. All "literary" ballads stand for me in some relation to John Crowe Ransom's "Captain Carpenter" (encountered aet. 17 or 18).

One reason I'm so enjoying Martha Ronk's Eyetrouble (Georgia, 1998) & In a Landscape of Having to Repeat (Omnidawn, 2004) – I don't know what to compare 'em to, & have given up trying.

"Willing suspension of disbelief" – give me a willing – willed – temporary – suspension of textual memory.


Henry Gould said...

Hi Mark - I think there's also sometimes a factor of unconscious influence. It looks like I DID over-emphasize the Stevens shadow there (& under-emphasize MANY other aspects). But perhaps if I used the term "affinity" it would have been more accurate.

Stevens & JL share a certain chemistry, I feel : it includes 1)a humorous double-triple-quadruple-take on the lexicon at hand (wordplay); 2) an unusual mixing-juxtaposing of technical language & slang; 3) a concern, IN the poems, with the hows & the why's of the locus poetry-philosophy-imagination-experience (with a knack for appropriating technical jargon); 4) an UN-willingness to poetize their autobiography; 4) a serious interest in sister arts (music, painting); 5) as I pointed out, a very similar approach to poem TITLES...

that being said, however, I see a strain of naturalism or natural observation & description in Latta which you don't find in Stevens (Stevens transmutes observation into his own strange alchemical substances).

Henry Gould said...

p.s. the two "4's" in my list of affinities (see previous comment) was done ON PURPOSE - REALLY - but for obvious reasons I can't go into the obvious reason for that HERE - will have to write a separate explication-tractate (for The Philosophical Society of Bern (Switzerland) Quarterly (2012)) on that ostensible "counting error".