Saturday, November 29, 2008

Carolyn Forché: Gathering the Tribes

Gathering the Tribes, Carolyn Forché (Yale UP, 1976)

I've read most of Forché, backwards – 1st The Angel of History (1994) a year or 2 after it came out, then The Country Between Us (1981) maybe 3 years ago, & only now her 1st book, Gathering the Tribes. (Haven't seen the most recent – 2003 – Blue Hour.) I've found them of diminishing interest, I guess, tho I can't really muster much enthusiasm even for Angel. Gathering is very assured, intelligent writing, however: very, very good, of its kind. Stanley Kunitz's foreword leers embarrassingly, even for 1976 ("the outstanding Sapphic poem of an era").

Of course, whenever I read a book that I can sense is well-written, deeply-felt, etc. etc. by a poet from another aesthetic tradition & find myself unable to work up any sort of enthusiasm, I get all worried that I'm falling into the manicheanism that Don Share excoriates so nicely in his "little everyday fascisms" post*, referring transparently yet coyly to Ron Silliman's response to the reams of reviewery devoted to the Lowell/Bishop letters. Don makes the case rather nicely for a kind of "big tent" response to poetry, or what Eliot Weinberger calls somewhere "exogamous reading": "I know of no bookshelf," sez Don, "that can't simultaneously contain Lowell, Bishop, and the other poets mentioned above [Zukofsky, Oppen, Olson], along with Niedecker, Bunting, Pound, Eliot, Ashbery, the recently canonized Jack Spicer and dozens more."

I wonder if in my case it isn't a matter of breadth & intensity of attention, whether the enquiring faculties of my poor limited brain aren't simply scrambling for the RAM necessary to keep up a real attention to what's really consuming me at the moment (broadly defined): the five or six poets I'm supposed to be reviewing or writing essays about right now as I blog, the French Revolution, Beckett, garden history & theory, neoclassical architecture, the English Revolution, Hegel, Panofsky, etc.

Or maybe I'm just a dilettante. Hey, that's it! Any way, about 10 years ago I gave up chucking books because they didn't fit into the moment's aesthetic configuration; it always turned out that there would come a moment when I wanted just that volume, & it was gone. So until the shelves are double-full & can hold no more, or the house collapses Umberto Ecoishly, my poetry section is by default a big tent.
Hey, did I mention that I have a podcast up at the Poetry Foundation?

*Tho I find it ironical that one of his commenters sees fit to paraphrase a conversation with August Kleinzahler, perhaps the only person on earth I consider a true enemy – tho I've still got his books on my shelf.


Norman Finkelstein said...

"the recently canonized Jack Spicer." Now that one caught my eye. On the one hand, he's been canonical for me for a very long time. On the other hand, the idea of him becoming canonical in any of the usual senses of the term would probably have him spinning in his grave.

And I promise I'll listen to your podcast real soon...

tyrone said...

Finally got around to the podcast--a perfect introduction, I think, to your book. And the fact that you got to kick Eliot and Pound around a little had to be satisfying...


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