Monday, April 19, 2004

The new Chicago Postmodern Poetry site (a spinoff of Ray Bianchi's former Chicago Postmodern Poetry Calendar) is now up, with listings for Chicago-area readings, as well as reading reports, reviews, and poet profiles. There are reports on the recent Robert Creeley reading by me and Ela Kotkowska, as well as my review of Alli Warren's SCHEMA, now preserved for something like posterity.

I admit that I'm a little wary about the "postmodern" label that Ray's chosen; academic discourse these days has developed something of an allergy to the term, which is maybe seen as a very late 80s/early 90s way of seeing the contemporary period; or maybe it's just that Fredric Jameson's notion that "postmodernism" is the ideological art of late capitalism (i.e. that it is precisely the kind of contemporary art that poets don't want to be making) has been too persuasive. That said, it does seem that "postmodern" has a certain purchase as a term for poetry here in Chicago; longtime Columbia College professor Paul Hoover did, after all, edit the Norton Postmodern American Poetry anthology (does anyone really use that book anymore? I remember it seemed so cool when it was published in the early 90s, but now it seems kind of dated), and other, crankier Chicago poets can still be heard stomping on the "reeking, maggot covered corpse of 'postmodern poetry'" (remember, this is still above all the town of the poetry slam).

Not that there's really a good alternative. Ron Silliman uses the term "progressive" to headline his "Philadelphia Progressive Poetry Calendar" (although I originally thought this was meant to suggest people going to each event in succession, like a progressive dinner). For Ron this label is pointedly political--progressive poetics as progressive politics--but no one else really seems to have adopted it, and I can't say "post-avant" with a straight face. If anyone needed evidence that "experimental" as a label is dead, just look at recent arguments on the Poetics list, which suggest that "experiment" has become an empty gesture, a mere label of value. Even Chicago Postmodern Poetry's own about page just complicates things further, declaring itself "firmly rooted for lack of a better term in the innovative 'avant garde' tradition".

So what's left? Well, working on my dissertation has convinced me that "avant-garde" still hasn't outlived its usefulness as a label, in part because it avoids the merely formal connotations of "experimental" and "innovative" and the critical baggage of "postmodern"; it suggests not just an aesthetic but a social formation, a community of writers making its own way. Hope I'm right.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Your first 2 links are reversed and broken. s