What bothers me about the Spicer/hipster/aesthete/coterie model of the poet? I dunno, maybe I'm just a bourgeois philistine mediocrity. Or my inner imaginative model of the poetry life is a long table in some cold room in St. Petersburg (Russia), where Gumilev, Akhmatova, Mandelstam & the ghost of Pushkin are sitting around reading & commenting on a group of poems sent to them by young would-be Acmeists (like myself). Which reminds me of the years of editing a little magazine, Nedge, with Janet Sullivan, a fine fiction writer & sometime poet from Alabama. Or sitting around with Edwin Honig & Sylvia Moubayed & Stuart Blazer & others in a Providence house, reading aloud & examining each other's poems. The common denominator for all these experiences is a sort of objectivity and craft-consciousness which the group process brings to responding to poems. There is something universal & objective about it, despite our many and deep disagreements over the quality of the individual poems whcih came before us. & I think some kind of similar process goes on in a lot of editors' gatherings of various magazines around the world.
What results from this, in part, is a sense of the poem as a particular & unique artistic object, which stands or falls as such; an object existing in a big world of very unaesthetic experiences and things, which has to take this non-artistic world into its account somehow. The critical process of weighing poems brings our aesthetic responses into play : but there is a kind of coldness there too, I don't know exactly how to describe it - a kind of universal measurement, which applies across the board - like blind justice.
The coterie/romantic mode, on the other hand, seems intent on building a completely aesthetic counter-world - art as (bohemian) life, in revolt against the conventions, oppressions, repressions of the everyday. This is a very seductive, appealing image - the primordial Dionysian wildness, really. It's an inspearable element of art - our subconscious, so to speak. It represents the dreamed-of liberation from Everyman's diminished, tamed and collared faculties of aesthetic response to sensuous reality...
What I'm talking about, however, when I refer to the Acmeist mode & its like, is a contrasting "Apollonian" image of art and poetry. The poem stands alone and aloof - apart from the Romantic context of being-an-artist, of the artistic life, of "everything is poetry", of aesthetic impressionism. Its inner perfection and refinement - its balance of reason and sensation - obviate the need for either reaction or revolt. The work of art as a form of balance, equilibrium, sanity, order. I suppose this is a form of classicism...
Actually these two modes are probably both necessary, and in sort of a dynamic and productive dialectic. It's not like Akhmatova & Mandelstam, for example, didn't live very arty/intellectual, refined, extremely liminal and sometimes bohemian lives. But the process of responding to individual poems is a craft process - this is something the Acmeists continued to assert. The poem then - through the sifting of critical objectivity - & somewhat counter-intuitively - becomes a free-standing, & free, aesthetic object, a sort of microcosm. & this process of craft and craft-mastery lends poetry that distinction, that Pushkinian social dignity, independence and authority. The kind of dignity we recognize in a musician who has mastered not only the instrument, but the music and the traditions of his or her fellow artists. This is something we ought to strive toward in poetry as well. The craft-memory of artistic tradition is essential to cultural-historical memory in general - which, in turn, is essential to civilization.
(I was reminded of this last night, while playing jug band music with Jim Chapin and the KC Moaners, at a fundraiser auction for a local community garden - a total joy. & an honor to play with Jim, who is an authentic master of blues & country music (he was featured on the King Biscuit Hour radio show in Helena Ark. this fall).)
& we have to remember that, in the U.S., there are different schools, tribes, almost dialects of poetry. & this sort of critical process goes on in various distinct contexts & social patterns. & meanwhile the polemics & the politics go raging & burbling, inconsequentially & phantasmally, on, from top to bottom of the scale of notoriety & sway - from Helen Vendler down to me.