Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Metatarsal foot support.


Duchamp: A Biography
How I Work as a Poet

Blackbirds, ambling down Manning...


When I use a word like "tradition" in talking about my poetics (how ridiculous -- poetics!) I don't mean anything static -- I mean something open -- constantly in flux, both emendable and corrigible. For example, obviously, Tzara's cut-up method is now a part of the "Tradition" of poetry (and also of art), but in its moment it was experimental -- not to mention, also, avant-garde (experimental and avant-garde aren't necessarily the same thing).

Still (with Tzara yet in mind), much of what passes these days for "experimental poetry" involves cutting things up and putting them back together in a variety of different ways -- some work, some don't.

When I juxtapose words like "traditional" and "experimental" my only aim is to include the WHOLE of poetry -- its every possibility.



--Merely architecture? Like a living skeleton? There's no such thing as a living skeleton...


I am not at all interested in prescribing RULES for writing poetry (either for myself or anyone else) -- particularly not ones which limit poetic expression. On the contrary, what I'm arguing for is inclusiveness of method, style, technique, etc. The poet should be (and is, of course) at liberty to USE anything and any means necessary to make a poem. This is great. This is how I try to work as well.

I do feel, however, that there is a lot of contemporary poetry that has taken on the liberty of means at the expense of the ends and aims of poetry -- in Johannes Goransson's words, work which is all "style". That seems to me a good/clear way to put it. And I would like to add (primarily as a reminder to myself) that: the payoff for reading a poem should be proportional to the amount and kind of work that it takes to read it, i.e. to GET it. This payoff may be a matter of form or content or both (certainly it is a matter of material choice), but my favorite payoffs are those which point me both inside and outside the poem. Perhaps I am excited by work which contains a sort of conscientiousness of the fact that poems are made by people for human reasons. I do not feel that this is a limitation, rather merely a necessity (a necessary, though not sufficient condition) if a poem is to be significant -- and by significant I mean: something more than the sum of its parts and process.


Avant-gardes are always most IMPORTANT as a response in/to their art/historical moment. Eventually they are subsumed as a part of the tradition.


At that point they cease being avant-garde and their methods, techniques, and approaches to making work become another set of tools in the poet's toolbox/arsenal, i.e. they can no longer be used by themselves to "make it new" -- though they can and should be used to "make it" -- and also to "make it" in the service of whatever the NEW NEWNESS happens to be, which in our time (after the collapse of art and theory into one big manic ball of contusion) is something that is not be reducible to a mathematical or poetic FORMULA.

When one boils away the fat of the poetry that matters, something inexplicable, surprising, depth-charged remains.


--Sounds grave.


Nothing static. Everything overlapping. Open-ended...


Ted Berrigan's sonnets are a perfect example of poems made by any means necessary (both traditional -- the sonnet, the sonnet sequence, lyric expressiveness, etc. -- and experimental -- collage, appropriation, the space of the page, etc. -- see I'm using these terms loosely, ordinarily) to make poems that operate at the highest levels of both aesthetic practice and real human import. That is, once again, they were not MERELY experimental for their own sake. Berrigan never lost sight of the poem as a human document, one that does important -- emotional and aesthetic -- POETIC WORK.


Clearly, I don't KNOW anything -- nor do I think I really want to. Talking with my friend DW about blogging last week -- I realize how silly all of this actually sounds -- and also how certain -- perhaps even pompous it may seem. Please understand that that is neither the intent, nor the spirit in which I am writing. DW knows this, because he knows me, but what about the other few of you...?


Perfervid excitement! And then this thing



The house across your lips
Not a cloud in the sky
You put on your pants
like a mouth-off...


Johannes said...


I agree with you (as I suspected when I first commented). I like your idea of the open tradition.

But that's not usually how this concept is used. I often find it's used to exclude works that challenge conventions.

It's interesting too to think about Tzara because mainstream American poetry has never embraced that aesthetic. It still poses a challenge.

We can maybe stomach it in Ashbery's elegant rendition of it (Ashbery is still attacked, still perceived as nihilistic by many), but not Tzara's own work (How often is he taught in Modernism classes for exmample, how many peopel have even read a poem by Tzara?). Even Berrigan (another Tzara-influencee) does not nearly have the presence of many lesser mainstream figures. It's amazing.

You and I may like Apollinaire but how many American poets have even read him? How often is he taught in Modern Poetry classes?

It's intereseting to me that you mention visual art because the situation seems quite different there.

For an example of the dangers of "tradition", I recently wrote on my blog ( about Morgan Schuldt's interview with Charles Wright where tradition becomes a phobia and an excuse to make defensive and sweeping (inaccurate) observations about experiments of various kinds.


Lester Shue said...

I still feeling yr hedging a bit, hankering for the human in the poetics of the day. No grand statements here....give me a couple more examples of yr aesthetic....

Matt said...


Thanks for the comment.

You are correct: no grand statements (though the stuff about the demand for a payoff in meaning proportional to the work one must do to read/"get" a poem seems rather grand to me)(also, I guess I feel like I've made all the grand statements I know how to make at this point, and my time spent as a philosophy student makes me very wary of slicing and dicing my words too much).

I think of what I'm talking about here as little reminders (primarily to myself -- though I'm thrilled for the feedback and dialogue with others, like yourself and Johannes): to develop a poetics (there's that word again, which I'm also very wary of) inclusive -- not exclusive, not conclusive, NOT systematic, but "...criss-cross in every direction over a wide field of thought" (Wittgenstein).

All the grand statements really come after the fact -- the poem(s). And what I'm trying to talk about here is a kind of poetry that I have, up to this point, largely failed to write... though I do see other people knocking at its door (see below).

So, maybe I am hedging a bit. It's just that I want poems to be EVERYTHING that poems can be simultaneously -- a constant re-invention (mutation, hybridization) of everything that's WORKED -- that's been effective/affecting -- plus anything new that we can throw into the mix (which, at this point, could be -- and sometimes is -- new strategies or techniques -- but often is new personalities, individual voices/individual poems [rather than a body of work], disembodied singing mouths in our singing mouths, ones we can't quite fathom, but which nevertheless feel like something necessary).

Poetry that works does magic.

For other contemporary-ish examples of the sort of thing I'm after: Dean Young's poems "If Thou Dislik'st What Thou First Light'st On" (which is a cento) and "Leaves in a Drained Swimmming Pool," Paul Violi's "Index"..., Beckman's SHAKE..., Gina Myers' "9.25.04", many of Anselm Berrigan's poems, Betsy Wheeler's non-sonnets, Noelle Kocot's "Poem for the End of Time" ...the list could go on and on. In editing the next issue of Forklift, I just read some new work by Matthew Zapruder, which has heart and guts, but which is also doing things with syntax that people who say they're "doing things with syntax" only dream of -- and he's doing it organically and for a reason. It isn't put on. It's part of the poem.

Of course, there are also great examples from the past, which were mega-important in their moment and also still resonate with us today in terms of both their contents and the poetic tools they've provided us for making MORE poems in our own time. I've already mentioned Berrigan's THE SONNETS and Tzara's HOW TO MAKE A DADAIST POEM, but there's also Apollinaire's "Windows" (which is one of the first collage poems), Breton's "Free Union," Corso's "Bomb," "Marriage," and "Hair" -- which are all (in a strange way for 1960-ish) both monuments and memorials, odes and elegies, Lew Welch's "Chicago Poem" which drowns me everytime -- the city as a "blind red rhinoceros", Dickinson's dashes... This list, too, could go on and on and on. And obviously, here, I'm talking about works/tools which have had a real impact on me -- and what I'm trying to write. There are MANY MANY others, which I haven't mentioned -- which I haven't as yet made as much a part of my toolkit as I'd like.

Thanks again for the comment.


Lester Shue said...

Jeezus, manifesto. But it is all in what youre not saying, beneath the surface....I praise the Whitman in you, and that dirty word called "passion". Some of your picks Ive read before: Zap, Berrigans (all), Beckman---- still get a sense of trickery (poor vocab) from them. Will check out the others. Im having fun with Clover's "kids" and the Lynda Hull's collected and some Michael Schiavo and Graham Foust. Sheeit.Sorry, Im writing down the whole library list. Best to you.