Here's the logic: I want to teach the course with an emphasis, not on a half-dozen or dozen or 20 "major" figures, but on group-formations, "schools," filiations of influence. Allen here is I suppose the inspiration, with his initial (& still to an extent valuable) groupings of San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain, Beats, New York Poets; one can cobble together interesting tours of various more recent groups out of Hoover & Weinberger (Language Writing, Analytic Lyric, 2nd generation NY School, etc.); Weinberger is good on the isolatoes, & provides some useful stuff by earlier (2nd & 3rd) generation modernists – precisely the folks who slip thru the Allen chronological cracks – late WCW & Pound, the Objectivists; & there are plain just a lot of interesting poets in Swensen-St. John (if a fair number of duds, as well).
We'll see how this all works out. I suppose in some circumstances I would anticipate objections from some quarters for not really doing anything at all with "official verse culture" post-1945: "where's Robert Lowell, where's Anne Sexton?" On the one hand, I rather snidely feel that including those folks, even as "mainstream" baseline against which to talk about poets I find really interesting, would be rather like including John Williams's Star Wars soundtrack in a course on contemporary "classical" music, just to show what most people were listening to. On the other hand, as lovely & bright & lively as my students are, they seem to have almost no sense whatsoever of literary history, of the immediate past (or even the more distant past) of their own art (I speak here of the MFAs, but the MA students are just as innocent). That of course isn't their fault, tho one might fault them for a lack of consuming curiosity. But it makes for an opportunity, I think: to present some of the really vibrant aspects of postwar American poetry with almost no reference to the "grey flannel" formalism of the 1950s, the histrionics of the confessionals, the quotidian sludge of the 1980s workshop industry.
Every anthology presents its own narrative of literary history, of course: heroic embattled outsider experimentalists in Allen & in Silliman's American Tree, heroic isolatoes in Weinberger, unruly wilderness of unsponsored creativity in Hoover. I'm interested, tho ultimately still unconvinced, by the salvific closure of Swensen & St. John's. After decades in the wilderness, all of the experimentalisms of the '60s, '70s, & '80s have finally found a place at the table, in the form of the new "hybrids" springing up all over the country (mostly, it seems, in MFA programs). A cynic sees this as the belated institutional "consecration" (Bourdieu) of the avant-garde, but in a significantly denatured form: more tonic in that drink please, much less gin. The parataxis is groovy, but could we please slip the central subjectivity back in?
Swensen's intro takes the mainstream v. opposition model – one version of Ron S's "school of quietude" v. "post-avant" distinction – as a given, but claims that while it was accurate in its day, it just isn't valid anymore. Hmmm. True to a certain extent, I suppose – but Swensen, taking Allen as her baseline here, elides the very real fact that Allen never presented "two camps" (the New AmPoets v. the Mainstream): he presented 4 loosely defined groups, plus a grab-bag of uncategorizables from which one could construct at least 2 or three more. The story was never quite as simple as "us against them." What's missing from American Hybrid is any sense that group formations, personal associations, shared journal affiliations or publishing houses matter anymore. If you're interested in such esoteric matters, you have to divine what you can from the rather skimpy author's bios.
I suppose, once again, I'm hankering for a better map of where we are, a richer sense of relationship among the denizens of the now. Literary history, in a word: someone write the history of Flarf, of the Flood Edition writers, of the Brown University avant-garde.
Struck by Kit Robinson's computer industry metaphor in Grand Piano 8: the "tech" guys "wrote the building blocks, a tool set called PeopleTools, and were responsible for the software architecture"; the "apps" guys used this architecture to write the specific software programs that enabled companies to do stuff (payroll, accounting). The first-generation Language writers, then, were techies, opening up & tinkering with fundamental working of language: for them, "the infrastructure space was the interesting place." But then – ominously? –
They did not anticipate all the uses to which their work would be put by later writers for whom Language writing would serve as a technical platform for writing that also embraced narrative, character, identity politics, satire, drama.