Saturday, January 29, 2005

Dentistry Transmogrified

While reading Paul Hoover’s introduction in Postmodern American Poetry, I literally had to STOP! Just three pages in because it’s quite obvious that this is alien territory. Now I’ve perused this stuff in the past, but for the first time I can see that something is amiss. This is not some religious denomination. This is a totally different god. “The material of the art is to be judged simply as material.” Of course this goes against every grain of my body. Where else could some one say this in any segment of society and be considered a sane person: “In general, postmodern poetry opposes the centrist values of unity, significance, linearity, expressiveness…” In other words, sanity.

But I promised myself that I would stay open to this world. Because their sentiments are so close to mine in so many ways. “Postmodernism decenters authority and embraces plurality.” I’ll vote for that. But “empty words” over “transcendental signified?” Well, we all have our differences.

Ah what’s that saying? Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. So, I’ll try it.
My First Attempt at a Postmodern Poem

Silence selects the lecture. Peanut butter!
Jellyroll souls are saved in no tomorrow.
Understand this and you understand that
you understand this: I have to go
to Radio Shack and buy a Monster Cable
splitter. The manager just told me so.
The refrigerator is humming a tune
from tonsils and appendectomies.
The sounds that midnight fakes look
closer in the mirror than the moon.
Bring in the closer, that silly corkscrew,
to eliminate all lemonade and send
the showers to Iraq and rake the leaves
before the isolation chamber strikes
another chord for low cholesterol.
In other words, I (beat) heart blue.
Oh please forgive me Richard Wilbur.


Geof Huth said...


Great poem, but your heart doesn't seem in it!


EILEEN said...

Ah! Well, if you'll pardon me from quoting from one of my poems (and only cause I can't remember at the moment which particular source I'd plaigarized to write said poem), your pomo poem reminds me of some lines I wrote where I said "Christians and Dadaists have something in common: both speak in tongues."


Mark said...

Heh! I can't tell if you are being facetious or not, but I kind of liked that.

I don't know your tastes in visual art, but as far as language poetry goes, I'd say that in some ways language poets look at language like Pollack did the canvas. It is in some respects a flawed analogy because paint is actually material and words are not, but in a way I think language poets are in some ways striving for the materiality of words. Every act of human creation is, in fact, artifice.

Maya Deren said the project of mythology was to illustrate “the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter," and I think in some respects the project of nonlinear, nonsyntactic poetry is to illustrate those "facts of the mind" by way of "the fiction of matter" insofar as the fact that, in our brains, words are somewhat equivalent to matter in that we use them to articulate to ourselves "what" a given thing is. In the biblical eden story, Adam's first task is to "name" the world, the word we give a thing becomes inseparable to the thing. So I think the objective of some in poetry, is to provide a kind of tactile experience of these word/things which is open-ended and thus causes a given emotional response in the reader. When we lilsten to the chatter in our heads, it isn't always linear or narrative, and I think some poets are striving to mimetically represent this. When I look at a Pollack, I feel a very emotional response. This same response is possible, looking at a Vermeer or a Dali (surrealist, but not abstract), abstraction is simply operating on the level of the surface itself, which, as an object is the same thing as something that is representing something representationally. Which is not to say that photorealistic paintings, or photographs, cannot be awe-inspriring. I think you're right in saying that it is a "different God," we need God and Satan, Marduk and Tiamat, Odin and Loki, etc., etc.

I don't think that most language or post-language (or whatever you want to call them) are calling for the complete abandonment of narrative, I think they are merely looking to explore the other possibilities of languaeg, and hoping that readers will approach said explorations with an open mind. As obviosuly you are since you're reading about it.

In some ways what you are doing is more difficult, plumbing the depths of an already heavily explored territory, reinventing the wheel in some senses. The fruits of that patience are profound. I'm not convinced that everyone lifting the aegis of metric/formal verse is possessed of that same patience.

I don't think it is incorrect, either, to say that some forms of verse are a departure from "sanity." I know that much of what I write is not coming from the part of my brain which is the one that does my laundry or balances my check book. But I think there is wisdom to be found in those parts of the brain, just as there is wisdom to be found in the "sane" parts.

I don't think you'll find the well of language poetry, etc. to be dry. It also requires to a certain extent an application of patience. But I think your own work will benefit from the exploration (just as the work of any poet benefits from the exploration of formal verse, etc. With all of the time and patience in the world I would do just that).

Anyway, these are intended as words of encouragement and solidarity. At the risk of bloviation, I'll stop now!

Mark said...

Hah! Just to prove that I'm not an elitist intellectual, I spelled "Pollock" wrong...

samcandide said...

The poetry of the New Madness--shall we heal it or dive in? I dip a toe from time to time; I long to plunge, but I have too much to say. Or not enough.

I bought the same anthology last year and have been struggling to understand. Have I so soon been superseded? I'm hardly started. I think the mad new poetry may have an erasure effect, give us a ground zero from which to build something new. I think incorporating its strategies may fertilize. I can't write it, though, even just-pretending.

Michael said...

I recommend a Chardonnay like BV 2000 & maybe don't try quite so hard. :)

Greg said...

Geoff, It’s not that my heart isn’t in it as much as I need to use all the mind I can in order to begin to grasp these concepts.

Eileen, I may have erred in that direction on this attempt. Next time: less tongue, more teeth!

Mark, I’m trying not to be facetious here, although I’m sure some hints of it may sneak by my inner censor. I like your Pollock analogy. That’s my understanding of this, and it hurts my head looking at it as a poet. But I can grasp it better with your take. As for an open mind, I am trying. I’ll confess it was once closed, but there’s nothing to be gained looking at things from that perspective. I think these poetry wars are really senseless. If you disagree with a school of poetry, then build a better one. And promote it. Let the poets write what they damn well want to write. And leave the politics for politics.Thanks for the encouragement as well as the theory. Both are much appreciated.

samcandide, as for healing: I think the physician has to heal thyself. That’s my intention here anyways.

Michael, but I only drink reds!

EILEEN said...

Tsk. Tsk. You only drink reds? the real deal here is whether your new exploration will translate into bringing the delights of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier et al into your life...those liquid sunlights....

Well, in general I don't like viognier (except for Pride viognier) but I can say that...I've already tried much of it...


BeckoningChasm said...

That can't be a post-modern poem--it made too much sense, and the poem was definitely linear in progression.

Try writing it without any verbs at all. Or nouns, for that matter. And put it lots of exclamation points. There: post-modern mastery!

Greg said...

OK, I'll sample a white Friday night and see what poem arises from its bouquet. Any cheap suggestions. I mean suggestions for an inexpensive but good bottle. But I'm afraid I'll need to use nouns. I'll see about the adjectives.

BeckoningChasm said...

Here's a post-modern poem:

For of now, the
Because when, after
Never, nor since
Acclaim under why

I left out the exclamation points, sorry....

Greg said...

Well, I think that's one kind of post-modern poem. I believe there's a spectrum. From the little that I've seen.

BeckoningChasm said...

Actually, it wasn't a poem. I was being ridiculous.

My own personal definition of "post-modern" is, Any work of art whose sole content is an ironic commentary on its own form. (This is solely based on my encounters with works.)

So, a real post-modern poem would be something like:

Here, five syllables
Here are seven more below
Here's another five

Greg said...

A post-modern haiku! Nice.