Welcome poets, I’m Anna Montgomery, and I’ll be your host today for Meeting the Bar. I will be introducing you to some aspects of contemporary poetry. While we’ll focus on one each time I host, about once a month, I intend for the exercises and experiments to build upon one another as we explore together. I believe these ideas will stretch your imagination and skills in ways you may not have encountered or even considered before. I ask that you entertain and try these techniques, not necessarily that you embrace or incorporate them. By the end of this series, and by remaining open-minded and willing to try new things, I hope you’ll find an expanded sense of what’s possible in poetry and a better sense of what ideas in contemporary poetry will be of use in your artistic endeavors. Learning, imitating, and experimenting are useful ways to improve our poetry. To put us in the spirit of things I’ll start with a reminder from Ray Bradbury that, ‘Creativity is a continual surprise.’
Some of the aspects of the Language (or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) Poets, Postmodern, or Avant-Garde (a contested term) will be contradictory. Language Poets do not have an agreed upon set of tenets to which they adhere. Influenced by post-structuralism, deconstruction, feminist critique, and the poetry movements that preceded it language poetry is a concatenation of convergent and sometimes divergent ideas. The fallacy of the high/low cultural distinction; self as construct; concepts of non- or anti-narrative; ambiguity; and eliminating the distinction between thought, utterance, and text, are just a few of the concerns that define postmodern poetry. Largely it calls into question assumptions about the foundations of poetry, as Susan Howe aptly asks, ‘Who polices questions of grammar, parts of speech, connection, and connotation? Whose order is shut inside the structure of a sentence?’
We’ll investigate these issues and others without getting into an academic critique, i.e. the post-Marxist slant of the Aesthetic Tendency and the Politics of Poetry: A Manifesto. Rest assured, not only do I not have a manifesto or credo of poetry to peddle but I am not an arbiter of taste, here to persuade you of the efficacy of these ideas, or judge of the success of your experimentation. I’m a fellow poet traveler, interested in expanding my own horizons and enjoying the journey with other lovers of the art. Experimentation can be a frightening experience. A D Jameson makes an excellent etymological point that ‘both experiment and experience share a root with peril’ which is why we come together in this mutually supportive environment. Let’s share some trail mix, commiserate over blisters, and have some fun along the way.
Since many of you incorporate prose, or aspects of prose, into your poetry already I thought this might be a good place to start. Even if you haven’t tried it, it’s highly likely you read prose and are familiar with its tenets. Within postmodern poetry, prose, or prose-like passages can provide a way to meld narrative and anti-narrative elements. It can also allow the poet room to switch from abstract to concrete language, from more structured communication to free verse, or to create a collage. Prose poetry preserves poetic language through heighten imagery or emotional effects. To help us more fully grasp prose in poetry or prose-poetry here are three short excerpts and one much longer selection:
from Rosmarie Waldrop’s Inserting the Mirror
I tried to understand the mystery of names by staring into the mirror and repeating mine over and over. Or the word ‘me.’ As if one could come into language as into a room. Lost in the blank, my obsessive detachment spiraled out into the unusable space of infinity, indifferent nakedness. I sat down in it. No balcony for clearer view, but I could focus on the silvered lack of substance or the syllables that correspond to it because all resonance grows from consent to emptiness. But maybe, in my craving for hinges, I confused identity with someone else.
from Codex by Stephen Rodefer
That is the glebe and this is the glissando. The future is nothing
But a flying wing. You must make your case either with names or with an
A position or a disclosure, a microbus. The corridor, the cascade, what stuck.
from Jealousy by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
Attention was commanded through a simple, unadorned, unexplained, often
up to now, a margin of empty space like water, its surface contracting, then
along buried pipelines, where gulls gather in euphoric buoyancy. Now,
the growth of size vital, the significance of contraction by a moat,
a flowerbed, or
a fenced path around the reservoir, its ability to induce the mind’s
growing experience of the breath
A wonderful reading by the author is available here for Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s Fog: http://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Berssenbrugge/WPS1/Berssenbrugge-Mei-mei_01_from-Fog_WPS1_NY_4-28-06.mp3
In researching this article I reread and highly recommend Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology edited by Paul Hoover. A helpful book for those looking to delve deeper is The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth Century Poetry by Christopher Beach which not only covers the Language Poets but movements throughout the past century. Another invaluable resource was English 88: Modern and Contemporary Poetry, a course at the University of Pennsylvania taught by Al Filreis. Professor Filreis has a site full of lectures, books and many other amazing resources: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/chap900a.html & http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/home.html. In addition to these fine sources I want to highlight an excellent article by A D Jameson (who gave his permission to share and quote from it), What is Experimental Art? , published at Big Other: http://bigother.com/2010/03/12/what-is-experimental-art/ . I’ll be referring to and drawing from all these sources in articles to come as well.
Now for the fun and challenge: write a prose-poem or incorporate passages of prose into your poem. If you have difficulty writing prose or would simply like to try the challenge you can incorporate another writer’s prose into your work. Proper attribution is required and fair use applies (http://www.mbbp.com/resources/iptech/fair_use.html) or you can mine free source material http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html. Postmodern poets often borrow from other writers. Oh and Happy National Poetry Day to the UK! I didn’t know until Glenn Buttkus let me know via Twitter. The theme is stars, a bit of synchronicity for me (if you read my poem you’ll see why). Their link is here: http://www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk/.
• Write your poem and post it on your blog or website.
• Copy the direct link to the URL and paste it, along with your name, in the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.
• Stop by the pub to read and comment on the work of other poets who are participating, especially those who cared enough to comment on yours.
• Have fun and spread the word to other poet friends.