Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I'm still thinking about the "new ordinary" and how it might differ from the old ordinary, either in its confessional or New York School ("I do this, I do that") versions.

I guess the list of characteristics Stephanie gives--"a repeated combination of pop culture references and the voice of 'personal' experience, familial relationships, epiphanies experienced in the rush of daily life"--seems like it might be a perfect description of Frank O'Hara, after all. If Silliman's work represents a "new" ordinary, though, maybe the difference would be that it is an ordinary that is not happening to anyone in particular (gaining its importance from that) but an ordinary that is happening to all of us, a kind of field of daily life we're all moving through together.

The confessional poem is shockingly "ordinary" in one sense, since it does dwell on personal, private, and everyday experience; yet its interest can only lie in the assumption that its author is an extraordinary individual, whose foibles and traumas might be our own but exaggerated and blown up, or who by dint of special social status (e.g. Lowell) is seen as "representative" or elevated in some way, worthy of being watched.

I think O'Hara, or maybe even Ted Berrigan, would be the better model for the kind of ordinary poem Stephanie's talking about, one that doesn't just look inward but also outward, to the world of popular culture and media. So how would what Silliman's doing differ?

I think there's still the importance in O'Hara of who's doing this and that--that the "I" of O'Hara, however complicated, is the filter and ultimate redemption of the materials. It's not to say that personal experience is absent in Silliman--there's no doubt that what is observed in his work is seen through his eyes--but that there's a greater effort to decenter that, perhaps with the hope of creating a sense of the ordinary that his (paradoxically) more generalizable, more like the cultural field we move through.

Of course, a conscious return to the "ordinary" poem might be seen as a backing off of the more radical version of this project; the dominanting, in-your-face formal principles of works like Ketjak and Tjanting point strongly to a mode of organization that is impersonal (though consciously chosen). If Silliman returns from that to the "ordinary" (lyric?) poem, does the organizing principle again become the individual ego?

No comments: