Sunday, 23 May 2010

objectivism's children

At a Friday night one-off, Shearsman launched three books. Michael Heller’s Beckmann Variations, Elaine Randell’s Faulty Mothering and Robert Vas Dias’ Still · Life. It was a superb reading from all three poets of work that was meditative, precise and witty with that sharpness of form that characterises what I’d see as the Objectivist diaspora. These poets, all very different nonetheless had in common an attitude at variance with the poetic often encountered in writing schools. The ‘teaching poetries’ these days tend to be variations on new formalism on the one hand, or language poetry on the other. These poetries (at least their lowest-common denominator variants) share a reliance on method that lends itself to educative practice. Method is an unquestioned constant for those at the conservative end of the spectrum; it’s a device to hold content in its place and a signal that one is to be taken seriously. For those of Langpo disposition method is especially useful as a set of artificial rules to detach the poem from the tendency towards humanistic discourse or ‘plain speech’. Poets like Ron Silliman often enough claim Oppen, Niedecker, and Zukofsky at least for their own purposes. But the kind of chiselled, glyph-centred work the Objectivists produced (though Zukofsky’s Catullus may have hinted at this disposition) seems to me a long way from ‘the new sentence’. The poets who read on Friday are still around to broadcast their work. Others of the same ilk no longer here to remind us of the fact (Paul Blackburn for example) risk neglect in a world of ‘teaching poetries’.


david lumsden said...

Interesting observation on the "teaching poetries" which leads me to wonder what are the pertinent differences between being taught and being self-taught (which would have to include working it out with a bunch of mates). Also interesting to ponder WHY the "creative writing" boom has panned out the way it has - it seems there were other possible courses ... I'm thinking of things like Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry or the way August Kleinzahler talks of Bunting's classes.

Laurie Duggan said...

These are interesting questions David. I think a lot of what I've said comes out of the problems I've had myself with teaching. I think often enough students are drawn to method whereas I've always functioned through doubt (the last thing a lot of students want to hear). But then I didn't have to pass an exam.