recently on another blog someone commented that I was ranting, incoherently for a poetry that is innovative and challenging. So I thought I ought to say what I mean....
Main Stream Poetry? Like Watching Paint Dry.
Reading Poets like Jorie Graham, Tony Hoagland, Ed Hirsch, Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Tim Siebles, Kay Ryan, Franz Wright and many others who fall into the river of mainstream contemporary poetry their work is often uninteresting with the taste of wallpaper paste for the following reasons;
1) the subject matter is often a bore and is based in either personal experience, humor or some other sort of post confessional mode. No one really cares about how these poets work out their manias and need for therapy and their work is like watching paint dry.
2) The writing itself is simplistic and does not challenge us as readers to expand our minds and our need to grow as an audience. All one has to do is read one of these poets or their kin and then read work by interesting poets like Robert Creeley or Charles Bernstein to figure out that there is allot of drivel being excreted by our mainstream friends.
3) Allot of mainstream poetry pretends to be deep and emotive when really it is an occasion to celebrate some banality be it Child birth or environmental destruction or alike but to sew it up in a nice poetic package.
Experimental Poetry drifts toward Banality
It is normal for experimental poets to make fun of the more mainstream among us and to act as if because they are following in the traditions of Stein or Pound or Howe or Bernstein their work is somehow more interesting as less banal and many times it is but sometimes it is formulaic.
In point of fact allot of PostModern, Post Avant writing is unreadable but at least it is interesting!
Picasso asserted that one must be able to create the art before one can abstract from it. Many Experimental poets have simply passed over literary formation to get some books out and get that MFA and model themselves on some poetic mentor without really thinking about their own formation. It is impossible to be a great and innovative poet if you are not a deep reader.
Experimental poets who are deep readers are not the norm.
Poets like Peter Gizzi or Lisa Jarnot are rare gems in an ocean of less than well read who frankly get published because they were in he right place (Add MFA program here) at the right time (In their 20's when they are attractive to former professors). Or know someone who will publish them.
The experimental writers that I think are truly innovative you will find a few things that they all have in common.
1) they are a little older and to use Peter Gizzi as an example they have lived full lives apart from their poetic lives. they have rich formations the way Creeley and Duncan had rich formations in activism. Look at the poets for whom this is true, Gizzi, Creeley, Bernstein, Stein,
Williams, Jarnot, and on an on.
2) They have read allot and they are well informed.
I think of poets like Jen Hofer, Catherine Daly or Peter O'Leary, or John Tipton or translators like Chris Daniels or others who are not just writing for poetry-land but are truly writing poetry that is innovative and has some depth be it Hofer's interest in Latin America or Daly's use of mystical texts or O'Leary use of medieval and post modernists or Tipton's use of measured experimentation.
3) How many times have you sat at the reading and listened to a 27 year old poet, writing about some sort of obscure idea or artform and after a while you realize that they know very little about anything?
Think about how refreshing it is to read a book of poetry that is obviously well thought out?
I realize that many people in Poetry Land are sensitive souls and that I am a bull in a china shop and tha even mild critique is viewed as mean spirited.
This commentary is not personal, it is business.
I am weary of sitting and listening to work that has not been thought through and puts on the costume of experimental while really being someone's therapy or someone's gimmick.
We all know the mainstream stuff is mostly boring crap but we have a right to expect more from those who call themselves experimental and dare to carry that mantel.