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Ivan Arguelles’s Response to Jake Berry’s Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion)


(Jake Berry’s interview where he responds to the responses can be found here)



I have read Jake Berry's brilliant essay "Poetry wide open: the Otherstream". I am so much in agreement with it and it is so much in my own line of thinking that there is little I can add to what he has to say. Ostensibly not a polemic nevertheless this essay is bound to put the "keepers of the gate" on the defensive, as well it should. The "keepers of the gate" have a job protecting the "professional" poets who from their academic bastion rule the field.


About two decades ago I wrote a small essay called "White Writing" which appeared in an early issue of Larry Smith's Caliban (itself a self-proclaimed successor to George Hitchcock's influential little mag Kayak). In my essay I attacked and at the same time equated the two apparently unrelated "schools": the Iowa Workshop group and the LANGUAGE people. It was my contention that these two groups, who had pretty much co-opted poetry since the death of Olson in 1970, were really at work in one and the same vein. Theirs is really an "anti-poetry", interested mostly in just "writing", that is "white writing", stuff devoid of nerve and that has been cut off from the Muse.


Virtually all the published poets around today are academics who stem from either of these schools of "anti-poetry". There are institutions like Poets & Writers and Poetry House that help maintain and proliferate these groups with workshops, grants etc. whose theme is often the teaching of poetry as a "craft". It is as if there were a conspiracy to keep "real poetry" hidden from the view of the masses, who themselves are encouraged to think they too can "write".


When Berry says of the Iowa school that "a deeply personal experience has been communicated" I would have said, "a personal experience has been communicated but Not deeply." In contrast to this Berry correctly says that poetry "is a result of a disturbance of the mind of the poet" and that "poetry creates an ache that can never be healed". To this I would add that "real" poetry as such in its modern guise, and which has its roots in Blake and Holderlin, is precisely not explicable nor should it be. Poets should be talking to the gods and not their computers. To paraphrase Nietzsche, poetry occurs when the Muse takes you by the hair and you don't really know what is happening, but it may be that the poet becomes the "other" in that process. In Berry's words "Whatever can be apprehended, grasped or named is not the other."



who come to study not life

but its mundane chores and charnel

house the whores delectable a

prize in midden-heaps for those

that counting is the only game

for those who cannot above prose

rise, is it not hell their one

and only fane the boulevards

of littered prosody, come then

away to groves and shrines

where mystery, to dreams that

through cloud scrapes break!

here, admit “I do not understand”





copyright © Ivan Arguelles




Ivan Arguelles, author of numerous books of poetry, including A Day in the Sun, Comedy, Divine, The, Madonna Septet; "That", Goddess and many others, is also the editor and co-founder of Pantograph Press, which published Jake Berry's Brambu Drezi many years ago.