Ars est celare artem

Mark Wallace & Michael Theune are starting to plan an event or conference devoted to the issues of hybrid, avant-garde, poetry style wars, etc. Might be interesting - like the battle of Saratoga.

Two related thoughts on this occur to me :

1) maybe all the brouhaha during the last century over experiment & innovation in poetry should be understood as an epiphenomenon : I mean as an off-shoot of the general zeitgeist of modernization, industrialization. In other words, not so much driven by something within the sphere of poets & poetry-making per se - but a force acting on art from outside. I realize this idea is neither new nor subtle. But it has implications when we think about "what is poetry" in itself (if you agree there is such a thing). I believe there is such a thing. I believe poetry is older & more consistent than changes within poetry. This is not to deny the value & necessity of stylistic & technical change. It is rather to frame their place within something more basic & central.

2) maybe all the fetishizing & obsession with technique (and technical gizmo-tweaking - as in conceptual, flarf, investigative, Language, post-avant, neo-formal, etc etc) - maybe all this para-poetic bubbly activity should be characterized as a logical sub-category of IMITATION. & nothing more than imitation.

Imitation is essentially preliminary to the actual art-process. By foregrounding the incessant & supposedly highly-serious important hugger-mugger over Techtweakish Innovation, poets (& poet-kibitzers) are putting the cart before the horse, turning the inside out. The Innovator will say : why not? The poet, however, might ask a simpler question : why? The cynic in me will suggest that all the group-formation blitzkrieg around technical gizmatics is simply a method to give mediocre & half-formed poets a leg up in that world where lies their main interest : the world of the world, the world of glamour, the world of buzz.

The true ethic is this : poets should front only their finished work. Ars est celare artem.


Jon said...

I think the problem is that the so-called avant-garde in poetry has nothing to say and doesn't understand that poetry is an ancient art. Certainly the the early modernists understood this. They deny the possibility of originality, but applaud innovation. Maybe because they themselves are unoriginal? In the end, the conflict is ennervating.

Henry Gould said...

They may or may not have something to say... this morning anyway, it seems to me that the crux of the problem is that expectations have been raised INSIDE the poetry world - supported as it is by academic programs, foundations, college-funded magazines, etc. - which do not match the interests of the general audience for art OUTSIDE that world. Poetry becomes an exotic hothouse species of literature, for obsessive enthusiasts only; the rest of the world looks on (if it looks at all) in puzzlement or boredom. For decades people worried about the "death" of poetry, etc.; to the contrary, perhaps there's too much of it, too much support, too much promotion... in an atmosphere of distorted or unreal or nonexistent artistic culture.

Just talking off the top of my head here.

Maybe poets need to re-think how their work is contextualized - in terms of "story" (the metanarrative of the poem); in terms of more basic & general social realities of our times; in terms of a concept or realization of the role of art & literature in "ordinary" life...

- eventually a focus on these questions would lead to issues of literary craft. Nowadays, however "craft", form, & poetry politics take the foreground, in a kind of void (which these larger questions or issues might address).

Don Share said...

Good post, mon frere. And keep 'em coming re Geoffrey Hill. I was as struck & stricken by this big book of prose as you were, and have hardly seen anything interesting written about it.

Henry Gould said...

Thanks, Don.

I sure would like to write more about Hill... & continue reading both the essays & poetry. It amazes me how he can mold his style & concerns into a unity, in the essays, as he Welsh-mines his way through 3-400 yrs of poetry. Sometimes exasperating... reminds me a little of what I THINK of as "midrash"... the microscopic focus on shades of moral implication in the use of particular words & phrases.. but it yields, it yields a LOT...