Friday, 11 March 2011

on roots

Reflecting on The Ground Aslant, Harriet Tarlo’s anthology of ‘radical landscape poetry’ has clarified a few jumbled thoughts I’ve carried around for some years now. In particular these concerned the place of those poetries which remain resolutely modern or postmodern and yet don’t take the path the Language poets have chosen. Of course I’m generalising here but certain kinds of poetry that have taken as models the work of Jackson McLow or even the Oulipians wish to remove themselves altogether from the realm of psychology in which, so the story goes, we are bound to repeat outmoded patterns. There’s a Zen moment in McLow’s career however, in which he seems to realise that even chance methodologies fail to operate as they are meant to because the results are already determined by the choices we’ve made regarding the point at which these operations are put into action. In the one-off LANGUAGE ISSUE a couple of decades back, JH Prynne argued that it is actually impossible to remove ourselves from our conditioning. Of course chance methodologies can and do serve a purpose but there’s no point in elevating them into any kind of metaphysic. We ought to be well aware of the contradictions these days when Oulipian practice and Language theory have produced ‘teaching poetries’ as academically functional as the earlier (and ongoing) ‘workshop’ poetries in which the ‘self’ was central. The writing that has lost out to some extent is that which can’t be packaged to such a degree and a lot of post-Poundian, post-Objectivist work fits this bill. It is the rootedness of such work that to my mind will guarantee its survival (‘no ideas but in things’ indeed – and, yes, I know this is itself an ‘idea’). I think of the word ‘radical’ in this light. ‘Roots’ are made as much as found. And like rhizomes, they need not suggest any kind of patriarchal history.

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