Thursday, July 23, 2009

STL #91: ATOP II Wrap Up: Line and Lineage

I'm going to begin by quoting a paragraph I wrote at the beginning of this second Test of Poetry, written over a year ago. In it I quote the wrap of the previous test, so some of this is three-times removed:
I've decided to undertake another "test of poetry," this time over Don Allen's seminal anthology New American Poetry 1945-1960... 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.
I didn't refer back to this during the reading project, and at times I felt adrift, picking up on random qualities to harp on. But in constructing a personal aesthetic, an ongoing if not life-long project for me, following your instincts and even the happenstance created by the juxtaposition of different authors and the selection of their poems can be fruitful. Having read back over the last 22 posts (and correcting the typos I saw), I have come to realize some more things about my tastes. Writing through poetry can be very helpful. Though my mode is generally descriptive of my response as I work through the poem, pausing to articulate that reaction allows the poem to linger longer in the mind.

Many of my comments fell into the category of line or lineage. I fell into the gravity of Olson's oracular commentary on the line as the unit of the poem's energy transmission. For those who work "in the open," the line whether or not thought of a unit of breath, is the graphic reflection of the poet negotiating his or (seldom, in this sample) her materials. I was particularly interested in the line in my first posts on the Black Mountain poets (who I spent the most time on), but it continued outside that boundary as well. The work of Larry Eigner and Robin Blaser in particular brought the interface of line and energy into focus for me. Both those poets are very interested in the surface of transmission--often the physical body, especially for Eigner.

Other of my comments were oriented toward the poet's self-constructed lineages and alliances. The structure of the anthology encourages these readings. In the Preface, the very first words of the book retrace three generations at work at that moment--the late flower of Pound and Williams and H.D. Cummings, Moore and Stevens; the mature works of poets who emerged in the 30s and 40s, including Bishop, Rexroth, and Zukofsky, and the emergence of this "strong third generation" into several loose geographically defined nodes. The back matter allows space for the poets to explicitly name their inspirations and co-conspirators, though these names crop up in the verse itself too. Creeley's expression "the company" focuses the concept of self-constructed lineages for me. Though these pacts sometimes encourage the datedness that comes through (the timeless is individualistic) occasionally, they are also nourishing for the field of poetry at large. That primary metaphor of the open field where these poets work is suggestive: the company is out working in this field, but the members' individualism is easily expressed in the very openness of the field. Ultimately, the concepts line and lineage come together. If line is an attribute of "how you sound" it's also a marker of who you sound with. The project of the anthology was in part to create a new nation of poetry out of the (American) earth broken by Pound and Williams and recently tilled by Olson.

I noted a number of poets I'd like to know better. The most surprising were Paul Blackburn, and Jack Spicer, along with Eigner and Blaser. I'm also interested in the bizarre work of Orlovsky and the obscure Stuart Perkoff, though I've a feeling these last two may backfire on me. Since I've some spare time this morning, I think I'll make a card of books to look for, and perhaps report back here later.

So, what's next in the world of STL? I have notes for a few topics that I could back to and finish, I began an album of the month project that I'd like to go back to (and a backlog of topics), and I could do a round up of summer reading (before it's over). Eventually I'll do another Test, perhaps on Copper Canyon's Gift of Tongues, an old favorite. I'll try to post once a week again, starting next Tuesday.