Why hasn't the SoQ ever acknowledged the fundamental difference between them and the post-avant poets? What is that difference?
The answer is obvious: their different relationships with Time, how Time manifests itself in their processes and products.
That's all that fundamentally matters to both groups: Time, and the ways in which they attempt to deal with the horrible and liberating clicking of that clock.
As a proud, insignificant member of the SoQ, I am annoyed that my peers haven't acknowledged their charmingly absurd relationship with Time, and how it impacts their art. But shame on the post-avant poets as well! If they're going to ridicule, they need to map out these difference in a more concise and useful manner. If this pressing matter was addressed in the way it should, both groups could continue fighting with renewed energy rather than trotting out the same old arguments.
Rather than rehash the positions and definition, which I may do if I ever decide to make this a more complete post, I want to delineate the differences these distinctive groups have toward Time. I always feel that SoQ poets misread Ron Silliman's dichotomy. It is a polemic, which seems to be a word that many SoQ poets seem to forget in all their self-aggrandizing, and ultimately, boring seriousness.
At the same time, the distinctions are weird. It is queer, odd, startling almost the way that Time is regarded by these factions. How though can anyone blame them? Time is queer, perhaps the most perverse thing of all.
I am going to outline these differences briefly between these camps and come back to them in a later post.
1.) Time in terms of labor. How many times have we not heard an SoQ poet whine about how long it takes to create a poem? Time is always pressing on them to complete this perfect verbal object. They don't joke about Time.
How could they? Think about it. They always pride themselves in that it takes years upon years and upon years to find that perfect word. They bemoan their resistance toward Time, and how they nobly refuse to resist its temptation to quicken their process, the discovering of matching the perfect work to objectively portray a feeling, or object, or person. You can always imagine them working way into the night, pacing frantically, hoping to find that one last and final word. Do they make love the same way they write their poems? Don't they ever believe in a quickie.
You can't help and laugh at the amount of pure pain they share in finding that right word for that right object, because if they don't the entire world may be destroyed.
It is weird that most of my teachers have been SoQ poets, and they have been the most dismissive when students ask for extra Time, or when the student himself talks about his process. All that matter is the poem, they say. Weird that they discuss their labor in the same way their students do. "It took me literally three decade to find the last three words to that poem," they said, "Or I've been thinking about that poem for two hundred years before it came out the way I wanted it." Time is relentless and uncaring in regards to their artistic process.
Post-Avant poets usually react to Time in a completely different way. Sometimes I've heard them even brag of how little work it takes. They seem to base a lot of their poems around a writing exercise of some sort that never needs to be rewritten or polished. It simply is and then you move onto the next poem.
And, the SoQ poets reason, how can their work be any good if they don't spend an eternity sweating over a poem? Obviously theoretical positionings make this even more clear. A Post-Avant poet would never claim that a word can represent a object. Language is more slippery than that. SoQ poets in isolated examples may believe this, but their poems don't represent that. They may announce the slipperiness of language but that idea is carried out through lyric and narrative strategies that never disobey, or do in such an overly self-conscious way that you can feel their terror. They must dismiss it as a radical thought and get down to that real business.
I love that one female post-avant poet (I can't remember her name) boasted that she wrote an entire book in one day. What an interesting! Who cares if it's a piece of crap. At least it's a cool idea. But those SoQ poets, they struggle day in and day out, sometimes even skip a trick at artist colonies in order to find that one last word that will solve the puzzle of poetry once and for all.
2.) Time in terms of immorality. It could be argued that both SoQ and Post-Avant poets want to live forever; who doesn't? But I would make the claim that SoQ buy into that rhetoric with a fiercer intensity. If you spend your entire life working on that one significant poem, discovering that perfect arrangement of words, doesn't death owe you?
And that damn Norton anthology, almost always filled with SoQ poets (I am talking about specifically poetry anthologies--I have a colleague doing amazing work for an upcoming Norton Anthology of the Bible).
If you look at a Norton Anthology of poetry, really any one, towards the end, there are a fairly decent amount living poets who need more books sold to break even. Norton knows this, so they force the editors to put them in there. With such popular, highly regarded Norton anthologies, you might, if you an SoQ poet, actually be able to watch your own immortality take place. A lot of those SoQ Norton anthologies include authors who --guess what?--include authors publishing with Norton. Death and life is taking place right before your very eyes!
That's magic. Or an act of God. Who knows? But it is something. There's modesty with Post Avant poets: they know that immortality is a funny thing so they do spend more time producing and producing, hoping that the sheer mass of their work may force the world to recognize them. They always brag about the number of books they created.
They also never use spellcheck. Their journals are filled with dumb typos. Too busy creating the next piece, I guess.
3.) Time in terms of age. You really won't receive that much acclaim, entrance into the better SoQ magazines or publishers, or receive the grants, until you've lived long enough for the Senior Citizen's Special at Denny's. Or the need for an artificial respirator. Since high school, I've been looking at lit mags of national reputations. I was recently in a library, reading one from 2008, and then the same one from 1970. Guess what? They contained a large percentage of the same authors! The only good thing is this could save all SoQ poets a lot of money. We don't need to buy the most recent periodicals featuring our own. We can browse the stacks from the 60s and 70s for free and still get the basic idea as to what's going.
Whenever I see a poem by Richard Wilbur, I'm shocked. Same thing with W.S Merwin. "I thought he was dead," I say to friends. The friend says, "So did I." Cryogenics is definitely the way to go.
The Post Avants are always changing, thinking about new names for their movements, creating charming manifestos, including younger and younger poets in many different series. Names change from issue to issue of their magazines. Which is equally annoying. Who am I supposed to form a parasitic relationship with? I love being a sycophant! How do these post avant poets know who to network with. Or maybe they just all gravitate toward Ron Silliman. Earning brownie points for carting his zillion manuscripts into his garage. She's sick of them pushing her out of her own house. They're already taking too much space in the attic, crawl space, living room, bedroom, den, kitchen, toolshed, pantry, closets, and of course, the bathroom, upstairs and downstairs...
To Margot Kidder, With Love
6 days ago