A few days ago, on the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog, you declared, "Postmodernism is over." What was that all about?
I guess I was being silly. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to that term. Actually I was focusing on a rather narrow & specific aspect of the whole postmodernity/postmodernism zeitgeist. That is, on the effect(s) of postmodernist theory, discourse, etc. on contemporary poetic style. In this case, I was reacting to the title of Reginald Shepherd's new poetry anthology, Lyric Postmodernisms. I was also responding to some of the commentary by him & others about the general strategy or focus of that anthology. I haven't actually read it yet, though I'm familiar with several of the poets he listed as contributors to it.
So, why the animus? What is your concept of the postmodern - in general, and in relation to poetry?
I'd like to read more about it, actually. Most of my information comes 2nd-hand, by way of monographs & studies I've read on contemporary poets. The theories get filtered to me through those applications.
In regard to the general historical epoch which has come to be called "the postmodern era", I'm skeptical about neatly-bordered historical periods. It seems obvious, though, that world history is in a period of radical transition, after the huge wars of the 20th century, the Holocaust & other mass massacres, the advent & use of nuclear weapons, the vast & rapid changes in technology, in social, political & economic life. But speaking very sketchily, I would say I align myself neither with the "classical" theorists of Enlightenment modernity & progress (Habermas), nor with the theorists of Postmodernity who posit a radical change in consciousness, epistemology, reason, etc. (Lyotard, the post-structuralists).
Science is advancing exponentially. Traditional social & political structures are rapidly changing, being shaken. Near- (or actual, I should say) apocalyptic forces threaten life on earth. Our concepts of human nature itself are drastically changing. Yet I seem most interested in the curious presence & persistence of the past. Maybe I have a Bergsonian (Nietzschean?) interest in the phenomenon of "recurrence", of memory. This influences my notions of metaphysics, & "subjectivity"....
& how could I really be either a Modernist or a Postmodernist? I'm a 70s Jesus freak, to tell the truth. Shakespeare & the Bible got in touch with me personally. I'm someone who was snagged by the scruff of my neck by the Holy Ghost. I belong somewhere between Ancient & Medieval eras, back in Byzantine/Hellenistic times. I think both art and science require reason, analysis, intuition and creative imagination - but while the aim of science is to produce a consistent explanation of phenomena, the aim of art is to produce a holistic image or mimetic representation of actual (or conceptual) reality. The language of art allows for the subjective, the personal, the vital - in ways that sometimes leap beyond the evidentiary and the strictly "explicable" (subject to discursive reason).
So I guess these allegiances of mine probably define me as some kind of neo-Romantic : one who juxtaposes, in Blakean fashion, artistic vision to secular rationality, skepticism. Not that I am opposed to their synthesis, by any means. I'm an early Renaissance humanist, short on the Greek & Latin; a protege of Nicholas of Cusa.
I haven't really answered your question. But I find myself (often vehemently) opposed to trends in poetry which deny (or qualify) reason, subjectivity, realism, history, etc. I understand about the inter-personal and inter-subjective, social & historical complexity involved with any grounding of the "self". Nevertheless I would strongly affirm a notion of wholeness, which includes & enfolds : personality & personhood; historical actuality; creative imagination; artistic making. In fact for me the "prophetic" and uncanny quality of poetry is tied very closely with a belief in subjective, spiritual & psychic wholeness and vitality - a belief in some kind(s) of consciousness which transcend or stand beyond our mundane experience (or suffering-through) of time, history, mortality. I believe in metaphysical Personhood.
& I believe in the idiosyncratic, unaccountable character of the artistic gift, as manifested in poetry. I identify with poetry as, sometimes, a kind of prophetic behavior : a flighty speech-performance, which breaks through the structures & customs which tend to tame and channel it into functional & practical prose. This is the kind of "act", in the American context, which I identify with Whitman & Dickinson, & a few others. & this stance, I like to think anyway, relates to my interest in some of the Chicago School poetics theorists (R.S. Crane et al.). It's the gesture, the holistic action, which underwrites the form of poetry - & not simply the verbal material. Thus there is no way I could accept either a New Critical or a Deconstructive (post-structural) theory of poetics. Reality is not a fiction created by our own verbal constellations. And poetry is not actualized in the text; rather, the text is a score, or an aspect, a facet, of its actualization in mimetic gesture. In the poem, words become deeds.