Thursday, November 09, 2006


So the whole exhausting business of the mid-term elections is over, & a substantial portion of the electorate sems to have decided that they have spent long enough dining on Republican shit – tho we mustn't forget, as we are told by sage voices on the Left, that we've just swapped menu choices for a slightly less odiferous ordure – ah well, some folks are so busy being unacknowledged legislators of Utopia that they have no time for the actual business of sublunary politics. "If we just make clever fun of Capital long enough," one friend drawls, "it'll eventually just up and die of shame and embarassment."

I'm almost too immured in work to be happy, but I'm managing. A whole slew of new books in the last few days, which I'm dying to read but have to steal time from more pressing obligations simply to look at: Under Virga by Joe Amato (BlazeVOX), with one of the most visually striking covers to come under my eyes in ages; Kate Greenstreet's first, case sensitive (Ahsahta), whose precision of language squares with Greenstreet's artist's eye (also on view at Every Other Day).

From Salt, that hive of UK-based poetry publishing, along with usual cartload of new poetry books, 2 volumes of criticism: Andrew Duncan's The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry and Peter Barry's Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court, a blow-by-blow account of the brief period (1971-7) when the National Poetry Society's journal, Poetry Review, came under the editorship of the indefatigable and polymathic Eric Mottram & became an avant-garde publishing outlet. (Not a precise parallel, but imagine Lisa Jarnot being named editor of Poetry magazine, instead of Christian Wiman.)

Probably part of what makes Barry's book so appealing to me is that it's an unabashed work of literary history, an extremely rare animal these days. David Perkins asked the question Is Literary History Possible? in one book, & his monumental 2-volume History of Modern poetry seemed to answer "no," since it amounts to potted career summaries and critical pronouncements about a couple hundred poets. But I'm not sure the genre's anywhere near dead. For all its shortcomings, I confess to a sneaking fondness for Julian Symons's Makers of the New: The Revolution in Literature 1912-1939 (Random House, 1987). There's still a place for well-written, lively narrative explanations of literary events, & I think the deft author can fit in whatever theoretical machinery she happens to find compelling, from the rise of Late Capitalism (as in Peter Nicholls's Modernisms) to Bourdieuvian mappings of fields of power & cultural production.

It's time, I suspect, for someone to get to work writing a global history of alt-poetry in the American 20th century: sure, we have books on the Beats and on the New York School (tho I haven't yet been able to pick up David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde), but where's the histories – not the critical studies, but the narrative histories – of Olson and Black Mountain, of the Objectivists, of Spicer, Duncan, Blaser, & the San Francisco Renaissance? Where's our next Georg Brandes?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mark--regarding a history of Black Mountain, well, you could do worse than dip into Martin Duberman's account: Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community.(1972, 1993). Still a valuable work.