One of John Latta’s posts from last month offered the glimpse of a world where Jack Spicer may have had a more benign input than Charles Olson. It had me thinking once more about the ways we learn to write poems in a world of shifting directives. When I began to write, my models were blundered into, more or less. They were an often conflicting set of sources and I was naive enough not to perceive or at least to worry about this. Once I began to read Ezra Pound everything changed. My poetic was informed by reading lists, with ‘dos and don’ts’. To some extent Charles Olson’s example confirmed this process. Of course it is very attractive for a young writer to have things so mapped out, and it is undoubtedly educative, but ultimately it may lead to a dead-end. The law-giving poets remain great but their greatness resides in their idiosyncrasies, not in any reproducible formulae. I’d honour Basil Bunting’s self-description as a ‘minor poet not conspicuously dishonest’. It’s the best we can aspire to (though the older BB nonetheless developed a liking for cup-bearing female adolescents).
The head honchos of Langpo behave as though a dictatorial modernism were still available, yet the language of the ‘post-avant’ often has another edge to it. In its rhetoric of constant innovation it resembles nothing more than the ethos of late capitalism, where redundancy has no connection with utility. The new model is good just because it is the new model. All else is consigned to oblivion. Looked at from this angle, Ron Silliman’s poetics resemble the reductive path pursued by Clement Greenberg (What baby? What bathwater? What bathtub?). Significantly the lawmakers of the ‘post-avant’ world tend to be men. These oligarchs present themselves as outsiders while exercising a considerable institutional power which is tenaciously and constantly affirmed. They must live with their own fears of redundancy I guess. At least I hope they do, otherwise they’d be Stalinists.