John Ashbery’s long poem “The Skaters,” from Rivers and Mountains (1966), has been described by one critic as the quintessential postmodern long poem. Incorporating techniques such as pastiche and moments of ars poetic meditation, the text is a series of juxtapositions; it’s hard to know if the poem is even about skaters. And thus it is a good example of what many readers consider Ashbery’s difficulty.
And when the poet Martín Espada discusses his own poetic relationship to Walt Whitman in “A Branch on the Tree of Whitman,” he laments the prevalence in the poetry world of what he considers a move away from communication. For Espada, Ashbery’s difficulty is evidence of contemporary poetry’s cynical disengagement with the world of experience:Look at the movement toward obscurity…where the goal is to adopt a pose of detached, hip cynicism and not to engage with the world. Whitman is so deeply engaged with the world; you get that sense that he’s so involved. …We see, in a lot of ways, especially in the MFA world, people fleeing from the Whitman model, running in the opposite direction, toward what I don’t know. Toward Ashbery? Toward Stevens in some way? (29)
Espada continues, claiming this move toward “obscurity” is “a flight from anything that could move people, anything that could change people. It is, in some ways, profoundly dishonest” (29). In contrast, Espada claims that the poetry of the political imagination is often “clear, concrete” and “urgently direct.”
Posts tagged Poetry
There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?
They don’t make sense. Fatal glaciers, crags cranks climb,
jumbled boulder and weed, pasture and boulder, scree,
et l’on entend, maybe, le refrain joyeux et leger.
Who knows what the ice will have scraped on the rock it is smoothing?
There they are, you will have to go a long way round
if you want to avoid them.
It takes some getting used to. There are the Alps,
fools! Sit down and wait for them to crumble!
Life’s faces’ vice versas
in which we slept through
each other’s. Sentences
so free from pressure
that only new ones
could punctuate them.
I wanted to improve
myself, to wear it right,
come back de-bugged,
lust twice as tight.
the night is not a movie
(but it was) (& it worked).
Our hearts believed in
Harvey Dent: The back
it breaks. I like writing
by Michael Glaviano
Graham Foust, A Mouth in California. Flood Editions, 2009.
My first awareness of Graham Foust was, appropriately, brief and in quotation marks— a friend whose blog I read thought this sound bite worth saving: “I sample to keep my poem company.” It’s a good quote, one that piqued my interest, and I read the interview from which it was excerpted in its entirety. The interviewer’s first question addressed the fact that Foust’s newer poems are significantly longer than his older ones. In the interview Foust mentioned the 30 page poem he had just finished. He sounded like a man who, having had his way with the short lyric, was off to chase something else: “When I began to write poems, my goal was to pare things down to the fewest possible words, because, well, that’s one useful way of thinking about what constitutes a poem. … Now I’m feeling more like I can get carried away, not in the hallucinatory sense, but like I can go long distances or many rounds with a particular idea or emotion or a particular set of ideas/emotions.” At the time, I could, like, so feel him on this.
“the World is the voice of my House, my House is the voice of my body, my body is the voice of the World,”