Another old-fashioned notion

Ron Silliman's blog post of today argues that the explosion of contemporary poetry production, the exponential growth in the population of good poets, makes anthologies as we know them obsolete.  He suggests that new kinds of web-based aggregators and reference tools for collating & organizing access and attention to all these poets are on the horizon.

Today, it seems, the advocates for multiplicity (in all its forms) are many.  Not only are more and more poets acknowledged and recognized, but more and more diverse forms of artistic and quasi-artistic activity are now called "poetry" (see : conceptualism, flarf, uncreative writing, performance poetry, visual poetry, and many more new types of digital/intellectual games-playing).

I would like to sketch out (very sketchily) an unfashionable, diametrically-opposed position.

These days we have difficulty imagining the notion of semi-hierarchical framing structures, which shape the world of human culture and intellect.   But I think it might be important for the health of contemporary poetry if we were able to do so.

Poetry is subsumed by a larger cultural/intellectual system we call civilization or history. The professional poetry factory (perhaps especially in the U.S.) tends to forget this. Poetry comes to the fore when it engages with these deeper, more universal entities. Shakespeare and Dante are considered masters and touchstones, not simply because they developed beautiful and intricate poetic styles, but because they fashioned their art in order to engage with the deepest intellectual, historical and moral currents - the structuring historical "problems" facing human civilization in their age. 

Poetry's interaction with culture & history is not determined by numbers or headcounts. There's an element of intellectual/artistic leadership involved (as there is in science, or politics...). The individual poet sets his or her seal on this larger dimension - by means of conscious, critical engagement with a shared, common, communal world of general culture and history - of fact and event.

Unity and synthesis require choice & judgement. It's an unfashionable notion in an age of multiplicity and relativism.  The problem is not too many poets for decent anthologies.  The problem is that we lack the intellectual tools and the moral fortitude to conceive of poetry within a larger (historical) frame, both unitary and fateful.


The Next Big Thing: A Meme about New Books

What is the working title of the book?

I'm calling it Ravenna, just in order to keep track of it.  But it doesn't really have a title yet.  So that's its non-working title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, it came from many directions.  But let's say I was at loose ends, having finished a very large book-length poem called Lanthanum - latest in a series of long poems I've been writing since the late 1980s.  I'm trying very hard not to do that again.  I want to write single, stand-alone poems now, and to actually get them published (rather than publishing them myself).

Yet old habits are hard to shake.  There were some paths I'd been taking in Lanthanum, and before, which were my own sound, original - and I wanted to keep building, somehow, on that.  Take it another step.

And there were some subjects attracting me - big, comprehensive ideas - I wanted to pursue in an extended way, with variations.  These ideas, themes, emotions seemed to be constellating, strangely, around Dante and the city of Ravenna (where he spent his last years, and is buried).  Dante, that is, in connection with some of the architecture and mosaics there, which filter into the Divine Comedy.  However, the immediate catalyst, which precipitated this project, was (as often the case with me) a kind of pun.  Last fall I also happened to be diving back into some favorite old poets of my school days, especially Apollinaire.  When I discovered that Dante's Paradiso had been infused with images from the mosaics in the Byzantine church of St. Apollinaris, I felt a kind of "subject rhyme" - a hunch that I might be striking a vein.  This is in part anyway how the idea began to percolate.  There are some other hugely essential puns involved, as well.

What genre does your book fall under?

Hermetic, riddling, unnoticed, ignored poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Monica Vitti and Richard Harris.  Or Geraldine Fitzgerald and Woody Allen (as Dante).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ravenna is an archipelago of geographical, historical, psychological, spiritual, and phonological landscapes, evoked or epitomized by the word Ravenna.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I started this project in December, 2012.  It's ongoing.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The Holy Ghost, and her avatars Osip Mandelstam, Dante Alighieri, and Monica Vitti.  Oh, and Geraldine Fitgerald, too.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Ravenna produces a "wall of sound" effect, which blocks out and wards off anyone who doesn't belong there.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully neither.  But I'd like to find a publisher, if I ever finish this language experiment.


Warm thanks to Don Share for tagging me in this game.  The only response I've had to a tag of my own came from my dear friend (and translator into Italian) Anny Ballardini.  Your turn, Anny!


Old poem in which snow makes an appearance

Blizzard night here in Providence.  Thought of opening lines of simple old poem, published 40 yrs ago in Where the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day.


           It's dark out, the snow
lies endless miles around the house.
I hear words inside me like a little cart
as it rumbles away through fog.
They escape my hand.  One time
I met a friend in the city,
and something heavy fell from the buildings --
we shake tight hands
and escape each other down the street.
Now the line runs on,
my hand moves, my head sleeps.
Before dawn it will begin to snow again,
people will climb out of bed
scattered all over the world;
here I can smell that day and the street
that ends in my thoughts,
dreaming of my friend with no empty hands.