Monday, July 20, 2009

STL #90: New American

John Wieners, Ron Loewinsohn, David Meltzer

One of the innovations of the NAP anthology, is, I believe, the inclusion of the poetics section at the end. In basing so many of my readings on these statements I reveal the assumption that they matter, that codifiable (or at least articulatable) poetics underlie individual poetic projects (and further, that poems are moments in individual poetic projects) (and further-furthermore, that "codifiable" and "articulatable" are words). Allowing only poetics of selected poets is something of a disservice (as is my recent practice of 'group readings') to the unrepresented poets, though the poetics should be deducible from the poetry. But the assumption of individual poetics reveals a main theme in this anthology and in poetry influenced by it: that a poet's work is an individual negotiation of his or her world, however defined. This individualism might be what makes this anthology American poetry "American."

The last item in the poetics section is a poem by John Wieners "From a Journal." He argues against the idea of poetry as an exalted special category of universal knowledge. His poems are only his personal "salvation," or way of knowing himself, and a reader "can do with them what he likes." What can be shared in the reading of poetry is the "different techne a man uses to make his salvation." This is why some many of the poems in from this time going forward incorporate their own poetics as subject matter, either implicitly or explicitly. Wiener's "A Poem for Painters" does. This impressive poem is a meditation on knowing the world through art, starting with the portraiture ("Our age bereft of nobility/How can our faces show it?") and concluding with his own poems (which "contain no / wild beestes, no / lady of the lack, music / of the spheres, or organ chants" but "Only the score a a man's / struggle to stay with / what is his own, what / lies within him to do.") This heroic vision of poetics is immediately undercut by the qualifier "Which is nothing" but doing so gives a existential nobility to Wiener's work.

My other theory of what makes this the anthology American its expansive geography. It's organized into geographical sections, including the Beats whose home is "on the road" in the that "holy triangle" from New York to San Francisco to Mexico City. Poetics and geography aren't necessarily unrelated. The Wiener poem I just mentioned travels from coast to coast and Ron Loewinsohn (born in the Philipines) does the same in "Insomniac Poem." The title suggests the restlessness inherent in the generation that explored the nation (and the world) as they experimented with their writing. Loewninsohn describes being "awake, alone & aware / or our own absurdity" a dour precondition similar to Wiener's that likewise led to a kind of nobility--with this awareness, "we can begin to love & to give / to clothe ourselves in the color / of the Shasta Daisy." A massive enlightenment of the world population, perhaps through poetry, would create "Two & a half billion Gods / crowning the crazy world with sainthood." Some of this generation of wanderers eventually found 'home' some place, like Loewinsohn did in San Franciso, or through some enlightenment like he describes.

The last poet in the anthology, David Meltzer, also discusses the poet's work and travels far and wide in his work. "Revelation" travels through time and space to describe a meeting of himself and the Japanese master Basho. There short poem concludes with a meta-discursive formalist gesture: "The haiku will come later. / After dinner & / a Havatampa cigar." This stanza not only fits the spirit of the haiku but the 5-7-5 form. The Hav-a-tampa cigar plant in Tampa, Fla. actually just closed a month ago. The cultural and chronological non-sequitur rattles the formal cage that he set up, and once confirming and rejecting the overloaded communion with Basho, where they drink tea, eat soup, drink beer, and smoke cigars. This sensual cluttering might either delay the clarity of the haiku or constitute it, if not both at the same time.

In this last Test on Allen's New American Poetry anthology, I feel I've finally uncovered an area for academic research: did this generation entangle open field poetics and geographical mobility in a renewed definition of American individualism?