This is the problem with blogging - you feel the urge to respond before you've thought things through. I want to respond to Bob Archambeau & Mark Scroggins & Ange Mlinko & Josh Corey & Ron Silliman all at once... but I can't put it togedda!
I want to tell Bob that I still have misgivings about the grid project, since it seems like some kind of critical trespass, an over-reaching into the domain of the poets. How so? Well, for one thing, because there is a quiddity & a particularity to individual poets & their work which is more than the sum of their placement on a chart; in fact, perhaps the central literary strategy, for some of them, has consisted in transgressing the boundaries of previous charts! How does that fit into the snowflake?
More importantly, the grid is a power-move. It reifies poetry, & in so doing, achieves its own (upper-hand) purposes. The aims and teleologies of individual poets, paradoxically, often transcend literature-as-system. The grid, on the other hand, boxes them in (to a critical GPS location).
But I'm repeating myself.
& what I really want to talk about is the L. Hammer book, & Hart Crane, & the meaning of it all. But I can't. It's too complicated.
Eliot, Allen Tate, the New Critics : they tried to create a new version of pure poetry, of Symbolism, of autotelic art. Under the sign of a backward-looking, authoritarian (anti-democratic) religious perspective. It was a neo-classicism, which rejected Romantic-humanist-renaissance notions of world-renovation and the (Blakean) power of the imagination.
Crane was their opponent & their scapegoat.
The poetry movements of the 50s and after broke up the NC monopoly. Now poetry was personalized, democratized, psychologized. At the same time, the institutional "craft" approach of the New Critics helped establish academic support for the newly-popular poetry professions.
Underlying the turmoil and spiritual angst of the 20th century was a philosophical problem : what is the relation between reason & faith? Between logic and imagination? The Enlightenment never completely resolved the deeper issues, which stem from medieval and archaic (prehistoric) times, having to do with the human conceptualization of what is real (myth? superstition? faith? science? rationalism? realpolitik?) The modernist quarrels over the proper attitude toward art & poetry are really only epiphenomena of these deeper unresolved issues.
Now we have a broad-based popular many-sided poetry scene, with no official dogma and much uncertainty. As I understand it, however, there are two fundamentals which underly the good poems. These are:
1. Pure literary skill. The best poetry displays an awareness of past efforts, and re-makes them - with its own originality, elegance, intelligence, beauty, pathos. It carries forward without losing or denying the past; instead, it wins the past for the present. (This is part of the platform of literary (Russian) Acmeism.)
2. Moral substance. The poetry gives evidence of a personality, engaged with human problems, above & beyond the functional, acquisitive, superficial values of someone else's (debased) measure of literary prestige. This poetry, in contrast, reveals its own inherent values. It may do so with great malice and spite : but it shows awareness, nevertheless. It aspires to ends beyond itself - within itself.
It may have to keep very quiet, considering the braying noise of the jumpy & yakkety culture surrounding it.
Then again, it may find a way to be epic & heroic again. This is what Crane proposed, and tried to achieve : a new grand style, a contemporary form of spiritual affirmation through the poetic Word. That (neo-Romantic) aspiration is what the neo-religious poets (Eliot, Tate, Winters et al.) found so threatening. In a sense, they were searching, too : but in the climate of the 1st half of the 20th-century, for those aspiring snobs, only a very dogmatic and reactionary religious attitude seemed possible. It was a time of war on all fronts.
But the religious (and, equally, anti-religious) imagination can work synthetically, too - with reason, with imagination, with individuality, with communal norms and laws. It reconciles these things, shows them to be still viable, makes Earth a veritable home.
I think this was a basis for Crane's generally positive, yea-saying, visionary attitude. I think John Berryman, also, was working, terribly and agonizingly, & humorously, in this direction - toward freeing himself, toward spiritual liberation. His late poetry encapsulates, sums up that struggle.
It's the autonomous strength of the imagination - Stevens' giant, Stevens' lion - which carries both the threat and the redemption. Because faith only becomes nourishment (that is, truly reasonable) when the imagination can assimilate and accept it; and only the imagination dares come close to expressing the (dangerously) inexpressible.