Sunday, May 07, 2006

Day Twelve

It's not really day twelve, of course - I've lost track and been too busy this week marking papers. A problem with this whole endeavour, with the particular lists I devised for myself, is that I find it hard to shift from the mindset required for reading theory to the mindset required for reading poetry. In a way, it is just hard to read poetry for an exam. With the prose and theory, there is something recognizable to be got, and I need go only slow enough to get it. With poetry slowness is part of the point.

I've been trying to slow down and focus on poetry this week (hard to do when my deadline is getting nerve-wrackingly close). Some poets are easier to focus on than others, of course. I've just been perusing Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry, from 1960, which is a kind of who's who of American poets of a certain progressive avant-garde breed, encompassing the Beat poets, the New York School, the Black Mountain poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance, as well as others. It does not include confessional poets, many academic poets, the ones that would be seen as more traditional. It includes the inheritors of Pound and Williams, but not those of Eliot or Frost, let's say. Its appearance marked the establishment of a clear dichotomy between two competing fields of American poetry.

So far, I find it easiest to slip into the rhythm of the Beat poets (Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti are all in there) and I find the New York School (O'Hara, Ashbery, Koch, Schuyler, Guest) witty and strangely light-hearted. Ashbery and Ginsberg were among my favourites before I embarked on this review. The parts I'm having more trouble slowing down enough for are the Black Mountain parts. Creeley is crisp and serene but still cryptic; Duncan and Dorn are a little more clear but quirky; I like some Levertov, but Olson, the granddaddy of the bunch who is the first poet in the collection, continues to seem mostly pompous and esoteric to me. I feel like given the amount of reverence shown Olson I am exposing myself as an impatient philistine by saying that. But while I sense a lot of wisdom in his writing - each line is thick with allusion and archetypes, and also thick with an overwhelming sense of grandiose life-affirming philosophy - I don't sense much ability or desire to connect or to share the comedy and pathos of human life, as it's found in the NY School. Alas, my reading list is crowded with BM poets more than anything else. One of the best things about this collection is the section of theory/poetics statements at the end. One thing that I feel like re-reading is Olson's Projective Verse essay, a massively influential document, although I don't think his theory is really of much help to me.


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