20 sept. 2005

One characteristic of the customary way of doing things is its invisibility. That's why the SoQ doesn't exist, because it is simply a name for what normally goes without a name. It's only visible to those who don't belong to it. It's not that we don't LIKE it. I could like or dislike a poem whether it belongs to the SoQ or not.

Put another way--someone who claims to like poetry of all different types but in the end as an editor only publishes what I would consider SoQ. The claim rings hollow. Of course, this SoQ editor is an urban legend, like the cat in the microwave or the Community College narcissist-hoaxter-sociopath. We know these people don't exist. All resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

23 comentarios:

Henry Gould dijo...


this kind of commentary is meaningless.

Cite some examples of good/bad poetry.

Then, if you're going to use them as examples of some general theory of contemporary practice, cite some research. Survey the literature. Do some homework.

Otherwise, all this is is in-group hype. Worse than useless for the craft of poetry.

Henry Gould dijo...

p.s. I know you're just kidding around with this.

I just find all the SoQ/Other talk nothing but POLITICS in the derogatory sense of the term.

Jonathan dijo...

I liked you better when you had your own blog.

Just kidding! HG is still my favorite uncategorizable poet.

Yes, it is a political / ideological question. But it impinges on the art of poetry in that it explains the fact that there can be contradictory notions of this art in conflict.

If someone said, yes, I like all kinds of music, but in practice only accepted bluegrass as legitimate, there would be a problem. Bluegrass would be the norm and all other styles would be seen as good to the extent that they approached bluegrass. We would view this person as delusional perhaps. Luckily this bluegrass lover is an urban legend, like the School of Quietude itself.

Henry Gould dijo...

I'm still blogging again, old bean - if erratically.

Jonathan dijo...

You always blogged erratically, whenever you blogged. I think you've given it up seven or eight times in recent memory, but you're always back for more.

Henry Gould dijo...

I only remember giving up 2-3 times, but that could be my recent memory failing.

Seth Abramson dijo...

All right, Jonathan, I'll bite. Not because I find this line of discussion particularly profound or interesting, but because I can't help myself. Literally.

Words have a meaning. You call SoQ the "customary" way of doing things but that implies, of course, a "custom"--a term which, ironically (given my profession) I think you're actually trying to use in its legal sense: "A common tradition or usage so long established that it has the force or validity of law." [The other definitions of the word are so personalized they would do little to advance your argument here].

The problem is, a) many poets are not directly influenced, in their own writing, by what they read; b) the SoQ (even allowing, for the sake of argument, that it exists) doesn't depend upon or acknowledge any conscious meeting of the minds between poets; c) no one could possibly argue that the so-called SoQ constrains them. So, the long and short of it is, who cares? In other words: isn't the reason people write the way they write because that's how they want to write, not because that's how they feel pressured or unduly influenced to write? It's like saying the reason 89% of African-Americans vote Democratic every four years isn't because they prefer Democratic policies, but because they haven't the sophistication to elect a better path, politically. Nonsense! And no wonder it's always Republicans who are spouting it: it's stunningly self-serving. "SoQ poets" know the anti-SoQ stuff (whatever that means) is out there, and they elect not to write it. [Shrug]. Does that make the SoQ a pariah, or anti-SoQ poets martyrs?

You can see, then, that the "SoQ" theory requires--to be interesting to anyone--that poets be simply too ignorant to write more like their detractors. Where would the fun be, if it was a conscious choice? In trying to change their minds, or in belittling them by implying their aesthetic decisions were uneducated? It's a loser either way.

As to poetry editors: you forget that they cannot publish what they never received, and to the extent anti-SoQ poets sometimes clique-ishly refuse to submit to certain journals they perceive as "pro-SoQ," they make their own bed, don't they? And the editors' beds, too--for them.

The other thing you must consider is, if your theory is correct, there are many, many, many fewer poets writing anti-SoQ verse than SoQ verse. And certainly, you'd agree those poets are no more talented than other poets, on average--in terms of native skill--they're simply more "aware" of the new kind of poetics you and others are pushing. So let me ask you: if 900 poets write SoQ, and 10% are talented, that's 90 poets submitting talented SoQ work to a given journal. If 100 poets write anti-SoQ work--which, you'd agree, can't be automatically said to display native skill simply because the poetics are well-selected--and, again, 10% are talented, that's ten quality poems. See the problem? The anti-Soqers are outnumbered 9-to-1, and editors will have a much better chance of "missing" those 10 poems (because editors are imperfect) or else they will fail to see the anti-SoQ poems for what they are, when they see them, for having seen so many bad anti-SoQ poems to begin with (also true for the SoQ poems, of course, but then, under this fanciful hypothetical, the editor would have been forced to select SoQ poems to fill an issue requiring, say, 50 poems, so a bias against SoQ, or a generalized suspicion of SoQ, would have been impossible).

The point is, I think there are poems that work and poems that don't. Period. Incredibly daring poems are harder to pull off, but also fall flat on their face with greater regularity than less daring poems. And editors don't publish bad verse just because it's ambitious; if it's as hard as you and others think to write quality anti-SoQ verse (again, whatever that means), then that "10 poems" I hypothesized above is actually more like three to five poems. Indeed, to find an incredibly daring poem well done is something every editor hopes for--but it's so much rarer than you seem to suggest it is, which is a tragedy all its own. So, I don't buy the SoQ theory as a matter of "custom," or generally: I think it's like the way conservatives call anything they don't like, no matter how much pragmatic sense it makes, "politically incorrect." It tars an entire universe out of spite for a single orbiting moon or two, and much of good intentions and design and craft and result--and most importantly, much which, in actuality, resists such easy black-and-white dichotomies--is thrown out in the process.


Jonathan dijo...

I can't respond to all of this point by point. I'll just say I wasn't thinking of the legal sense of the word custom, of which I was woefully or blissfully ignorant--choose your cliché.

It's hard to believe that you don't know that this particular mode of writing, call it what you will, is supported by hundreds of MFA programs and reinforced by hundreds of magazines. It's emphatically not just the way people just "naturally" want to write.

Your statistical model seems ultimately self-defeating. That is, if you sit back and wait for the poems to come in, and aren't specifically looking for something different, then yes, you will end up missing the few poems that are different from what you habitually like and publish. There are more proactive ways of editing. Putting up the call for poems on your blog is a good step, by the way, because it got people like me to submit.

This work is out there. It's not some statistical oddity. For example, in The Duplications.

Would you have published any of the poems I have published on TD? I probably wouldn't have published anything you have up on NHR. You have biases and preferences just like me. There's nothing wrong with that. It's what is generally seen as "normal" mainstream poetry, however, that claims not to have any bias at all. Everyone inside the SoQ denies it exists. Everyone on the "outside" KNOWS it exists. It's a difference in perspective.

Henry Gould dijo...

So Jonathan, according to your model, every "outside" poet carries around, like a pregnant albatross, a little internal image of generic SoQ poetry. & perhaps the defining quality of your outside tribe is this shared "I-have-seen-the-snipe!" consciousness.

But wouldn't this leave you "outside" poets with the sneaking suspicion or furtive qualm that you, too, must be producing a certain generic, boilerplate product - simply because you all share this internal Other in the belly of your aesthetic?

I'm definitely not a SoQ poet as you define same. Yet I don't recognize anything authentic or recognizably concrete within the critical category so-called. It's an empty box. & I'm not an anomaly. I'm a snipe.

Jonathan dijo...

It's definitely an eye of the beholder phenomenon. It's a vague name for something that I recognize when I encounter. So does everyone else, but some don't want to admit it.

If it doesn't exist how do you know you're outside of it? Aren't you conceding some relevance to my definition. That is, you could probably predict the names I would put in this category. Thus it is a category that you share too. Whereas if I said "beeswax" poets and gave you a list with no defining characteristics, you would be hard pressed to name another beeswax poet.

I don't know that we all write in the same style simply because we recognize that there is a dominant style that we don't share. That would be fallacious. Everything that is not bluegrass is not automatically classical.

Jonathan dijo...

I like the albatross image though, like Baudelaire.

Paul McCormick dijo...


You're oversimplifying. Are you a Common Snipe? Greater Painted-Snipe? Latham's Snipe? Jack Sipe? Robin Snipe? Do you have big buffy wingspots? Are you sexually dimorphic? When was the last time you probed marshy ground for worms?
Whatever the case, your photo indicates loss of a wing. Yes? Tell me, Gallinago, how did it happen?

Paul McCormick

Seth Abramson dijo...


In many respects (not so much with my poetry) I'm very much a literalist, so I'll respond to your first response and then read the others and see where I'm at.

I should have expanded on my "political correctness" comment; what I mean is, the phrase "SoQ" saves you and others from having to do any heavy lifting as critics, and therein lies its fatal flaw: "SoQ" becomes the shorthand everyone understands and adheres to blindly, even as its definition pulls further and further back into the recesses of time, until someone can say "SoQ" and everyone will nod, but no one really knows what it means or if they agree with the classification or if they really even believe in such distinctions anymore.

Which is my point: yes, of course everyone has biases, and of course every editor (including those at TNHR) does some soliciting; at the same time, there's a difference between a "bias" and a "prohibition"--an enormous difference, Jonathan--and no one I know of supports the notion of a wholly solicited journal. After all, if that's what your looking for, why not just read Best American Poetry, a pretty good example of non-SoQ "NYS" poets circling the wagons and shunting off all the poetry they don't personally like? The beauty of the literary journal is its penchant for open submissions, transparency, and democratic principles. It simply doesn't do to say that because an editor doesn't publish a specific type of verse in a single issue of a journal, that editor would never so publish such a work, or that because there is work of a certain kind out there to be solicited, an editor should brow-beat a poet with no inclination to publish in that particular journal into doing so. It seems indelicate, doesn't it? Where's the duty on the militant anti-SoQer's part? Is there any?

As to MFAs: well, I can't speak to that, because I wasn't trained in one. I largely trained myself. But generally speaking, I think there's a broad consensus that the best teachers of poetry build upon their students' natural inclinations; they do not merely indoctrinate. And if what you're decrying is bad teaching, I'm with you. But I rather think you've taken it much further.


"everyone inside the SoQ denies it exists, everyone on the 'outside' KNOWS it exists: it's a difference in perspective"

--is priceless. You must see it. It is an unassailable, tautological, impenetrable, and wholly false brand of logic. And so it's not good enough. Prove that nearly every poem except your vaunted 10% (or so) falls into a "School"-type designation called "SoQ," and you'll sway me...but slogans which lock out debate or discussion based on a you-don't-know-and-so-can't-see sort of envisioning won't do it. Nor will pretending to be able to distinguish between the "vaunted 10%" and the other 10,000 poems published in print each year, by way of...well, by way of not seeming to make any distinctions at all, at least not between the myriad forms those other 10,000 poems take. It's like a magic trick you're never forced (or willing) to explain; it dazzles the audience, but it frustrates the other magicians when you suddenly clam up on the details.


michael dijo...

all the things i like best are unclassifiable.

there is a school, but it's not an academy. it's a place called suburbia, & you carry it in your head; just as there are Quietly Drab people who fancy themselves poets, so are there Quietly Drab painters & musicians: people who have no other ambition than to replicate effects they've already experienced, & get paid for it.

it makes me sad, but i know there's a place for them.

and the place of their reward is also the arena of our being fed to the lions.


Jonathan dijo...

The critical heavy lifting has already been done. I'm not going to duplicate Charles Bernstein's essays on this blog. What I'm alleging is fairly uncontroversial. I could 100 Marjorie Perloff-style readings to show you what I mean but why bother? There are books by Hank Lazer that essentially repeat these arguments by Perloff and Bernstein. I'm assuming my readers already know these arguments and have read these texts. These are not my ideas.

There is no consensus at all about what a good teacher of poetry does. That is just more of the normative thinking you seem to accept without question. I would think that the best teacher of poetry might shake a student out of her complacency, for example. If "good teachers" produce students who write more dull Official Verse Culture Verse, how can there be a consensus about that? That's only "good" within a particular closed set of assumptions.

I said it's invisible because normative, you say you don't see it, so in that sense we're agreed.

Paul McCormick dijo...


Between flag and fog buoy, country music.
The parlor takes a deep breath, Vaughn Williams the remedy.
A father misdiagnoses his daughter?s whooping cough for a large white bird.

Notice what this snipe is not doing.

To embolize the day?s early advice you must retract all glazing.
A black-shawled woman, a white-throated sparrow?
Willie Mays maunders round the corn?s ballad silk.

Notice what this snipe is not doing.

A marine writes home to his bus stop window:
Do you still feng shui with the bed?s kempt rhombus?
A dry-mouth forest pinpricks Cordoba.

Notice what this snipe is not doing.

There?s a rusty demon sallowing in the lobby?s public payphone.
There?s a cinnamon moon spicing the gold-black harbor.
National exit swan-dives into a miner?s lead mirror.

Notice what this snipe is not doing.

Untouched, cold, forest, lake?24, girl, pearly, lips.
The original scallop?s a devoted wall-paperer.
The sandy lounge cataplasts my toes? infallible svelte.

Notice what this snipe has not done.

Stuart Greenhouse dijo...

Seth, you're arguing against Jonathan's point like a lawyer, not a poet.

Go read an anthology from 1900. I promise you you won't find 10% of what you read interesting. The 'avant-garde' (I'm using the term as an archaism I think, but it applies retroactively, for this purpose) which became Modernism, that is interesting. Then and following, talent didn't sort out evenly through "schools"--one manifestiation of talent was what "school" you seemed to belong to, or, more in the lines with the "SoQ" characterization, what "school" you didn't belong to.

The Paris Academy's ability to exclude so much major (fine arts) talent over such a long period of time is probably the best example of this, ever.

It hasn't always been like this, precisely. But modern times, and the way class plays out now, makes the demand for 'safe' verse both more widespread and dictates that it will get more distribution. That's the short argument, as I understand it.

Personally, I don't fully buy the "permanent revolution" aspects of this understanding (to borrow a cliche's structure, a permanent revolution is is bound to be neither), but there's something true, I think, being addressed which should give every poet pause. As a lawyer, one only has to make it seem the onus of proof is on the other side, which is how you approached Jonathan's position (and I can understand that, I can)--as a poet, your primary responsibility is to your art, and that requires, among other traits, a curiousity for synthesis, and the deepest understanding one can manage--which the entire concept of right and wrong, in the absolute sense, will by definition undermine. The answer may not be so easily expressed, but one has to feel towards it as best one can . . .

There's a reason, before Pound, the magazine Poetry sucked. What do you think the reason is?

(And just to be clear, Jonathan, know that I think that, tempting as the SoQ sobriquet is to brandish, it is a lessening, an allowing a term to control/limit your perception. Poetry is not an overdetermined matter of a linear progression through stages, like RS posits. Hegemonies are complex, too.)

I write this as someone who would probably be classified in the SoQ pretty quickly, if any one felt like bothering, both for my poetry and for my belief that the SoQ doesn't exist as a school, per se, btw. So while I don't agree with the boundary delineations, I do think the ones drawing them have some extremely valid components to their vision.

Now, god help me, it's time to go play Pokemon . . .

Jonathan dijo...

Good points, Stuart. There's a safe way of writing poems that's institutionalized at any given moment. It's not that those who follow this path are lacking in talent, or that all those who reject it are talented.

I resent those who can easily identity other schools of poetry, NYS, Language Poetry, whatever, yet think that the mainstream is simply poetry itself, transcending all schools presumably. The mainstream Iowa-workshop tradition is just as much a "school," that is, an identifiable style, as any other. It's been critized in this way from within as well. Donald Hall with his criticism of the McPoem, for example. Or some of Jonathan Holden's essays on the scenic mode. There's a huge bibliography on this, yet someone can always come along and say that it doesn't exist, it's just "quality poetry."

Jonathan dijo...

I'm sure i've ruined my chances of actually getting into the New Hampshire Review. Enfuriating the editor is not wise when you've just sent poems there.

Seth Abramson dijo...


You've ruined nothing--I'm not infuriated. I'm before judges and juries and prosecutors and accused criminals and courthouse galleries five days a week, you're not going to say anything in a discussion of poetics I can't handle. Sure, I like to snipe on occasion, but I'm smiling while I do it I promise you.

I could say more, but all this talk about "seeing the invisible" and the world being blind and ignorant to its own manifest faults and everyone being less wise than their detractors and nothing being about taste but only enlightenment makes me, quite honestly, long for the days of Goth teenagers stalking angrily through Harvard Square during my law school years--they believe in all the same puerile ideologies, yet have the decency to wear makeup so everyone knows to avoid them until they've grown up and/or matured, whichever comes first.

On the bright side, I think this sort of obscure angst-ridden Nessus-cloak-wearing tragicomedy could make for some truly horrific poetry.

Cheers, all,

Seth Abramson dijo...

Hi there Stuart,

I previously said, in a conversation with Tony Robinson--admittedly, on my blog, not here--that I find most poetry boring and on some days don't even like poetry. I think I'll leave it there; the reality is that, whatever we may say here, I still have an obligation to distinguish between the myriad types of poetry being written right now--however fine those distinctions may be in the minds of some--rather than throw my hands in the air and simply say it's all conformist bullshit, which frankly speaking I do not and have never believed it to be. Moreover, I think saying so is a cop-out, while realizing that many others don't think that, and I respect their right to an opinion every bit as much as I respect their own attempts to find the poetics which suits them the best.

Hey, you think anti-SoQers have a beef, how about the formalists?

[Shakes head].


Seth Abramson dijo...


That Goth comment sounds rather harsh in retrospect. It was intended as a joke, J.--you have to remember that, as a public defender, I work in an office environment where people swear and say what they want and talk shit and don't worry about political correctness...so if I'm a little over-the-top, it's because I don't live exactly the sort of "safe" suburban lifestyle Michael presumes...

Sorry about that,

Jonathan dijo...

Not to worry. I'm used to a lot of give and take in the comment boxes.