Monday, July 21, 2003

It's weird that Henry Gould is claiming that the contemporary avant-garde is grounded in the "lack or displacement of any lineage," when it seemed to me like the whole recent Ron Silliman/Brian Kim Stefans debate was in part about which lineage the avant-garde could claim, not whether it had one at all. If Silliman is, for Gould, the face of the misguided "oppositional avant-garde," what does he make of Silliman's citation of "the triumvirate of Creeley, Zukofsky & Stein," or of "the barbarians, led by Olson, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Levertov, Ashbery, Duncan, Creeley, O’Hara & LeRoi Jones"? Silliman's point isn't that the avant-garde has no tradition, but that it has a powerful one, and that in fact its tradition has triumphed over what Silliman sees as its opponent.

"The great models of the past" are all well and good, but even Harold Bloom knows that poets get as much mileage from chafing against their predecessors as from imitating them.

I'm most bothered by the statement that avant-gardism is simply "a displacement of the most basic aspects of poetic making with technical novelty." Nobody believes in mere "technical novelty"; to say that of a poem is simply another way of saying that it's silly, pointless, or boring. In fact, it seems like it's been the task of the avant-garde over the past century to pursue novelty with a purpose--precisely with the goal that Gould describes: a better "verbal response to reality." It just depends what reality you think you're responding to.

The labels "innovative" and "experimental" are occasionally annoying for this reason--that they suggest just fooling around with techniques with no purpose or direction, innovation for innovation's sake. And in fact, much of the poetry that falls under these labels is "imitative," following or building on a style that has developed just as robust a tradition as any other.

No comments: