John Ashbery. After a weekend spent with all I could get my hands on (from anthologies), I know little more than I did before. His poems, at least the more resistive ones, seem to follow themes. The first section of Rain, for example, I read pivoting off of “livid” both color and emotion. His lines are admittedly awesome, very tight collections.. but doing something quite different from Pound wringing lilies from on egg corn. There is often little to wring. This is not a criticism. One aspect of a lot of avant-garde poetry of the last 50 years, with Stein and Dadaists protruding through this conceptual curtain, is this creation of poems that don’t have a center that can be read (i.e. a center of meaning). Rather there is a kind of collage that follows a pun or some other theme (I’m grossly simplifying here). Some find this writing akin to finding shapes in the clouds, and mean this as a form of opprobrium. Of course, this is a totally unacceptable criticism, quite simply because they are not clouds! Jackson McLow once said no matter how hard he tried to take himself out of the piece he was writing, he never could. No matter how aleatoric and random the piece was, he was still “in” it. Now, the argument that these “cloud” poems invite the reader to become part of the process of writing is true, but tired. There can’t be a poet out there who hasn’t heard that one! Poems such as these do also invite the reader to reassess the production of meaning (though this may not be so new either). Anyhow, the point is, the author is there, and the poems should be a creative investigation into communication. Clouds are there as part of the process of nature, these poems are there to invite readers to look at processes themselves. The criticism I do have of this kind of poetry is several-fold. One criticism available for some of poets is that there is an over reliance on centripetal forces (as identified by Voloshinov) in language. That is, dictionaries, thesaurus’, and obviously Standard English (though the last point may reflect more in the way of class and ethnic background of certain writers). Rae Armantrout, and perhaps some of the language school, fails to see language operating dialogically (c.f. the Boston Review). Another is that poets have not yet taken a look to see what is beyond the parameters of their discipline. Poets, following in the trend of whichever stage of capitalism we are in now, may be guilty of specialization, and this, to finish my lunch break should be resisted..

No comments: