6 jul. 2005

Contemporary poetry doesn't depend on literary theory in a direct sense. The founders of the major styles and modes have not been literary theorists in a direct sense: Ginsberg, Ashbery, Rothenberg, Antin, Creeley, O'Hara, when they write about poetry, do so in fairly "direct" terms. Creeley's distinctive "Creeley-speak" is a struggle to articulate something significant that he cannot express in plainer speech. It's not a plain speech insight dressed up in a theoretical meta-language. People have "applied" Derrida to Ashbery, but Ashbery does not sit around reading Derrida at night.

There are counter-examples. Olson, for example. McCaffery. Some of the language poets have adopted a more theoretically dense style, although interestingly enough I can see a lot of them moving toward a "plainer" speech than was fashionable in the 1980s. Bernstein defends obscurity in principle but writes an increasingly pellucid prose. No special training in literary theory is required to read Ron Silliman's poetry--or his blog.

Of course, avant-garde literary theory in France arose from the attempt to codify or explain the findings of the literary avant-garde from Mallarmé to Robbe-Grillet and Sollers. There is a natural affinity between, say, Derrida and the literary avant-garde of his time. When he wrote about poets he wrote about Celan, Ponge, Mallarmé, Jabès, just as Barthes wrote about the nouveau roman, or Blanchot about Char. "Deconstruction" in the US tended to gravitate toward re-readings of Keats or Wordsworth, so this connection was obscured. Hillis Miller never made it past WCW.

I guess there is a basic literary culture that both poetry and "theory" belong to. Some basic assumptions about language. The idea that poetry puts the signifier in the foreground. Studying some literary theory isn't going to do any harm--unless you take it too seriously. It is not a master-discourse which explains literature, but part of literature, an attempt to explain in formal terms what poets already know. It could have some heuristic value.

The same could be said for poetry itself, and the issue of "difficulty." Difficulty itself has no particular value. Some poets need it some of the time, and some readers need that experience of texts that need to be "worked through." Some of my favorite poets are relatively "easy." Kenneth Koch, who died on this day a few years ago. (Those lines in the post below are from "The Art of Poetry," by the way. I'm sure "you" knew that already.)

Not even "intelligence" has an absolute value. Sometimes "stupid" is ok. It's gotta be the smart kind of "stupid," though, not the dumb kind. Just as intelligence has to be light on its feet rather than ponderous.

1 comentario:

Kenneth Sherwood dijo...


Thinking on your theory, poetry observations - I wonder if you really want make the "difficulty" or surface of the language the measure of whether X is theoretical or not. I do like your sense of much contemporary poetry doing work that's coextensive with theory (i.e. not object to which a method might be applied).

And then difficulty.... Isn't it a bit like noise, in the common-sense sense ... in that your difficulty may be my favorite guitarist ... a designation not of response to not a description of any quality intrinsic to the poem?