11 jun. 2007

Here's an idea. Every poet has three literary contexts.

(1) The immediate past. The writers imitated or admired in youth or during a formative stage.

For Lorca, that would be Rubén Darío and then Machado, for Pound, Browning or Whitman. For Creeley, Pound and Williams.

(2) The present literary moment during the writer's maturity. For Lorca that would be the avant-garde movements of the 1920s, Dalí and Buñuel. For Pound--Joyce and Stein.

(3) The "usable" parts of a more distant past. Not all parts of the literary tradition are actually usable in this way. For most of us most of the time the literary tradition is inert, not reactive.

For Pound it might be Calvacanti plus Noh drama, etc... For Lorca, the entire poetic tradition of Spain.

The first modernists were not fully modernists yet. They are 19th-century poets still. Their sucessors will be full-blown modernists in their literary formation, but by the time they reach their own maturity there will be a different situation in which modernism can no longer be the same thing, so their modernism will look like something else. Literary careers develop over long periods of time. The kid who grows up wanting to be Tennyson discovers that there is no Tennyson anymore.

So a poetic style is a layered, intertextual construction. There should be at least three temporal moments to think with respect to any poet. Think of a Pound translation of Calvalcanti, done in a style endebted to Rossetti. That makes my point more "visible." But I contend that similar things are going on even when it isn't as easy to pinpoint those three "moments" so neatly.

The fourth factor is the poet him or herself--experiences, readings, preferences. Along with the "usable past" this is the most variable ingredient, since not everyone shares the same foreign languages, the same periods, etc...

So it puzzles me when people write in more or less the same style as other people. Usually it happens when poets want to fit in a peer group, or imitate a prevailing model, and have little sense of the poetic tradition beyond the immediate past.


An anthologist should never put *self* into anthology. The only exception is when it is an anthology of a particular group done from the inside. So Breton would be allowed to put himself in the surrealist anthology, for example. His absence would ruin the anthology.

6 comentarios:

Jordan dijo...

What if poetry is, like music, profoundly imitative? The period style would fill a collective need for, say, a querulous attitude, or to rock out, or to present a stately simulacrum of perfection on earth.

Jonathan dijo...

Well it is profoundly imitative, that's for sure.

Jordan dijo...

Canonical history rewards the best differentiators, not necessarily the most reliable makers.

Canonical history is both an achievement and a trap.

John dijo...

Jordan -- you are so right about canonical history. On some topics, Artemisia blows Caravaggio away, but since her style is hugely indebted to his, she is left out of the history books, until she comes back in under guise of "woman painter," when people start to notice, hey, her "Judith Beheading Holofernes" totally kicks Caravaggio's ass! (which it does.)

Jonathan -- I'm glad you mentioned Rossetti, who is much more Pound's context than Whitman.

I really like Hayden Carruth's token poems that he put in "The Voice That Is Great Within Us." That seemed an honorable way to do it -- notebook poems that he wrote while editing the volume.

Jonathan dijo...

You guys are really kicking it into high hear in my comment box. Thanks.

Maybe being a good differentiator is as significant as being a good maker?

Carruth is a good example of what I mean. His absence would not ruin his anthology, so he should have absented himself. Neither would Hoover's in Postmodern American Poetry, or Louis Untermeyer's from his numerous anthologies.

Rothenberg putting himself in Poems for the Millennium makes the book into an anthology of his circle. By placing himself outside the circumference he would have made it a different sort of anthology.

Glenn Ingersoll dijo...

I rather like the editor's poems being included in the anthology because then I get a better sense of where the editor is coming from. The editor's poems can tell me why the editor liked poet X, it's because poet X writes like the editor. What helps remove the cloak of anonymity (& pose of objectivity) from the editor is a good thing.