The Argotist Online
M. Bennett’s Response
(Jake Berry’s interview where he responds to the responses can be found here)
Berry does a great job in his essay describing the state of affairs of poetry in
North America today, and I agree with pretty much everything he says.
Perhaps, however, he is a bit too generous to the “Iowa” and
“Language” cliques of poetry,
which in my view seem more like schools of mere rhetoric, which primarily teach
and uphold a process of obtaining various kinds of institutional employment.
That is not a bad thing in itself, what with the need for jobs,
institutional intercommunication and “teamwork”, but let’s call it for
what it is. One could say that
it’s not really “poetry” that’s being taught or learned.
that persists, that is read, and read very differently through succeeding
generations, always has its origins on the outsides of contemporary cultural
institutions. For the poet to
perceive and experience the world, and to re-experience
it in her/his art, she/he has to work outside
those institutions. You can’t see
expand a bit on points Berry makes regarding what he calls the “collapse of
time”: another way of
understanding our world today is to consider the incredible increase in both
population and in the means of communications.
There are so many people in the world, that no
one is truly alone. Whatever
you are doing, there are others doing something very much like it, and due to
the ease of contacting and communicating with those people, a subculture, a
group, forms. With its own networks
and bodies of available artifacts, ideas, and work.
Think of it: up through the early 20th Century, if you were
doing something unusual, chances are that you would be known for it, even if
mocked and dismissed. In today’s
mass culture, you are invisible. Except
to your subculture. This is quite
different from the past’s forms of cultural communication, and has its
advantages and disadvantages: it provides enormous freedom, but at the cost of
think this phenomenon is also related to the relationship between poetry and the
larger culture in matters of politics and social issues generally.
In the past, poets were often considered important voices in the
social/political dialogue. And
often so much so they were considered dangerous and would be suppressed (or
killed!) by the state. This still
occurs occasionally in parts of Latin America and in the “developing” world.
But by and large, the poet today is simply ignored.
This does tend to affect what she/he writes: if one is ignored, one tends
to write to please oneself, since oneself is one’s only, or primary, audience.
If society and the general reader is indifferent to and/or has no access
to the narrow world of one’s own subculture, then why write anything at all
addressed to them? Which only makes
it less likely that the larger audience will pay attention.
poet may be a “legislator of the world” but it is becoming an increasingly
secret and private legislature, one that affects the world slowly, by dribbling
new ideas, words, and forms of language into the wider language, and therefore
the thought and behaviour, of the culture at large.
The poet can conceive of her/himself as a virus, (to adapt the conceit of
Bill Burroughs), a slow-acting and invisible one, successful, that changes the
world it inhabits.
© John M. Bennett
M. Bennett has
published over 400 books and chapbooks of poetry and other materials.
Among the most recent are rOlling COMBers (Potes & Poets Press), Mailer
Leaves Ham (Pantograph Press), Loose Watch (Invisible Press), Chac
Prostibulario (with Ivan Arguelles; Pavement Saw Press), Historietas
Alfabeticas (Luna Bisonte Prods), Public Cube (Luna Bisonte Prods), The
Peel (Anabasis Press), Glue (xPress(ed)),
has published, exhibited and performed his word art worldwide in thousands of
publications and venues. He was
editor and publisher of Lost And Found Times (1975-2005), and is Curator of the
Avant Writing Collection at The Ohio State University Libraries.
Richard Kostelanetz has called him “the seminal American poet of my
generation”. His work,
publications, and papers are collected in several major institutions, including
Washington University (St. Louis), SUNY Buffalo, The Ohio State University, The
Museum of Modern Art, and other major libraries.
His PhD (UCLA 1970) is in Latin American Literature.