Thursday, May 15, 2008


I've decided to undertake another "test of poetry," this time over Don Allen's seminal anthology New American Poetry 1945-1960. [Thus is uncoded the obtuse title of this edition of Simplest Things Last.] In worrying over whether I "passed" the last test, I noticed that in my reading practices, "I accept the [Poundian] model of melopeia, judged on criteria of suitability (sound that echoes sense), vigor, and mellifluousness; phanopeia, judged by resonance [and] freshness; and logopeia, judged by aptness, pacing, and soundness. I find that my taste responds to complicated surfaces, luminous details, competing systems (frames, registers, etc), slight shifts (when I can detect them), assonance and consonance, and reserved mystery" (STL #48). In this second test, I am seeking to deepen and enrich that framework. The anthology in question is well-suited for this purpose. The poets represented in all respond in some ways to Pound's poetics (sometimes to contest or reject it, but never in ignorance of it) and the anthology was the first to include a "poetics" section (it might mark the birth of that discipline, but that's a question for other scholars.) My question for this test is "In what terms, and by what terms, should poetry be judged?" I'll coordinate between the statements on and enactments of poetry and in each post develop some key terms of my poetics.

In coming weeks you can expect to see pieces on the first four poets in the anthology, the Black Mountaineers Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Robert Creeley. The anthology include statements on poetics by all of these except Levertov. I plan on writing between the two sections of the book as much as possible: I've started on Olson, using his idea of the Image as Vector to think about "Maximus, To Himself." I'll follow suit with Duncan, but with Levertov I've decided not to seek out any poetics. I did once write a short essay on this model, drawing on material in Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry, a volume from the 1990's very much modeled on Allen's anthology. However, I've decided to strictly limit myself to materials included in NAP. I reserve the right to respond however I wish--if inspiration leads me back to Zuk's or Pound's ideas, I will follow it.

With that procedural stuff out of the way, I'll concluded this long-delayed, awkwardly formed note with some further thoughts on the anthology. It's often pitched against Donald Hall's traditionalist New Poets of England and America which appeared a few years earlier. I only know that book by reputation, but judging on titles alone you can see that Allen's interest is in creating a new distinct tradition--not only the geographical refinement but even the movement from Poets to Poetry does that. This anthology therefore is an argument--that there is a strong and variegated community of poets at work in the U.S.A. He divides the 44 poets he selected into five groups: Black Mountain, San Fransisco, the itinerant Beats, New York, and an odd "other" group that no seems as easy to sort into the existing categories as the others. No matter--the geographical groupings suggests a period of ferment about to mature, that "something is happening but you don't know what it is." And indeed, much did happen subsequent to this anthology. In the 1960's many new poetries made an impact on American and world culture. In the seventies, the poetics section of the anthology had grown into the first poetics programs in universities--spearheaded by Olson's and Creeley's work at Buffalo. To say that NAP defined a field is no overstatement. I'm now beginning to see how it's a touchstone to my own scholarship, and surely Olson more than any one refined the understanding of poetry as an intellectual nexus, creating a space for poets as researchers, fitting in as poets at research universities. (That's an influence he has had apart from what I fear is a generally declining poetic influence.)

I'll end a good way--abruptly. I see I've started to talk about one of my favorite topics, Olson, and so I'll pick up with his poem that gives this blog its name next time.