Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Naming Names

In a comment to yesterday’s post Josh Hanson makes me honest, or at least more precise: when I pooh-poohed the Pulitzer to WCW’s Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems, I was forgetting that the prize didn’t just go to the rather lame Pictures from Brueghel poems, but to the book as a whole, which includes The Desert Music and Journey to Love as well. For all you precisionists out there watching.

Bob Archambeau has put up a “Contingent Manifesto 1.0,” and has begun showing what that might mean with a reading of John Matthias’s long poem “Northern Summer.” For those who don’t know Matthias’s work, he’s someone well worth looking into: born 1941, rackful of books published by Sparrow in the US and Anvil in the UK, and most recently by Salt Publishing (why don’t they ask for my manuscript?): A long and distinguished career, characterized by a series of very intelligent long poems mostly centered around specific places, and written in a late modernist mode deeply indebted to David Jones and Robert Duncan. Bob’s reading is smart, and gives us a tasty glimpse of the poem as a whole.

Matthias was indeed one of the people I had in mind when I promised to “name names” in re/ Bob’s contingent crew. Alcalay, whom Josh Corey cites, also comes to mind, as do Olson and large stretches of Duncan. If what we’re getting at in this “contingent poetry” is writing which grounds itself in the social and the historical – in large part thru cited or referred to documents which then confront a reader with Steiner’s “contingent” difficulty – then one sees the list getting longer and longer: Geoffrey Hill; Geraldine Monk; Peter Riley; John Peck; early Ronald Johnson; Allen Fisher; Robert Sheppard; perhaps first and foremost, Susan Howe. I guess Howe (along with Matthias and Hill and, well, most of the others) seems to me to scuttle Josh’s reservations: “My main reservation about what I'm happy to call contingent poetics is its diminished space for lyric: in the Altieri terms I referenced last week, a documentary poetics may give up too much ground to the "lucidity" side of the equation.” The question being how one defines “lyric”: Is it the personal voice (as in, “Poetry magazine has been the foremost publisher of brief and disposable lyric poems over the past fifty years”)?, or is it the heightened attention to the sound qualities of words implied by the term “lyric” itself? Either way, there seems to be plenty of space for the “lyric” in Bibliography of the King’s Book or Speech! Speech!

I want to grab Bob by his well-tailored lapels and shake him: Zukofsky with an F, an F, you whoreson knave! While I’m watching carefully, I’ve always suspected augury of “what’s next” to be something of a mug’s game. (But watch out for the Michael Jackson/Brittney Spears duet this time next year…)

Anchor has been weighed on the chartless depths of Olson’s Collected Poems. If I get lost, I’ll send up signal flares. Please rescue me, somebody…

On the earbuds:
Elliot Sharp and the Soldier String Quartet, Cryptid Fragments
Painkiller, Execution Ground


E. M. Selinger said...

Memo from the Life During Wartime dept.:

About this "contingent difficulty revival" (CDR, for short)--let's be honest, here. There's a burst of such writing after WW 1, another after WW 2 (maybe the same, just lasting), and another that hums along to Hendrix during 'Nam. Isn't the new itch to read and write poems that engage with history, and place, and the "pressure of the social" (or whatever Robert's phrase was) really an itch in some younger, post-avant parts to feel like they're doing something, well, important, after 9/11?

We are, when last I checked, at war, and odds are we will be for the foreseeable future. Sounds like a CDR moment to me.

Maybe we should add Peter Dale Scott to that list of yours, Mark. (Not that I've read him, just heard the name--but maybe it's time I checked him out.)

As for "from the warring factions," which I had the pleasure of teaching when it first came out, I'll post something of my own as soon as I can get to it. There's a short post on "L'Affaire Alcalay" over at A Big Jewish Blog already.


A. P. Bucak said...

That's Britney with one T, one T!

Mark Scroggins said...

Oops, I did it again...

Archambeau said...

Eric -- I'm not sure I know who you mean when you talk about "younger, post-avant poets" who have turned to contingent poetry because they want to feel like they're doing something significant during our most recent war. I mean, the people Mark names are all bordering on old-fogeydom (apologies to all and sundry, but there it is). In fact, if you see a "contingent poetry revival" I'd love to hear about who's doing what. I only sketch this out as a future I'd hope to see, and as one potential possibility among all of the various poetic energies out there.

Bob Archambeau