Sam Lohmann and Chris Piuma are both on top of the Hejinian/Perloff/Retallack event in Portland, a big-tent affair that brought the poetry tribes together in a town I thought too small for tribes. Notebooks are blooming from laps this spring: I hope there’s more surround-sound blogging to come.
Lewis & Clark titled the conference “What's the Use of Poetry?,” a question all the contestants avoided, or answered implicitly in what they did. Perloff zoomed through the intro to her forthcoming book, Unoriginal Genius, which offers a genealogy for an emerging 21st century poetics—conceptual, polyglot, world wide webbed, and rhymes with Kenny Goldsmith—that’s departed from the narrower concerns and “period style” of 1981’s In the American Tree. (It’s a safe bet that Perloff’s the first person to ever project a P. Inman poem on a Lewis & Clark overhead.)
Perloff finds the roots of the most exciting U.S. poetry today in Brazilian concretism, Oulipo, “plurilingual” poetries from ZAUM through Pound to Caroline Bergvall, and, oddly, in Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which anticipates global shopping malls and the hyperlink. I share a lot of Chris’s doubts about Perloff’s horserace approach to poetry (“I like to pick winners,” she declared in the Q&A), but I also think she’s a good ambassador to the non-specialized, or “avant-curious,” who are used to thinking in that way, and want bullets for a syllabus. (I’m the same with new topics—I look for the illustrated timeline, and the Top Ten, then sort of let that melt away as I get to know the subject more.)
I’m doubtful we’ve moved on as far from In the American Tree as Perloff suggests. Anglophone poetry still seems surprisingly monoglot to me; the ethnic mix in many experimental poetry communities isn’t often a whole lot better than it was in 1981; the Web does as much to balkanize as globalize, and anyway experimental poets as a bunch tend to be more critical of the “global village” narrative than Perloff gives them credit for. But the bigger problem I think is that the logic of genealogies demands an endpoint, and Perloff’s efforts to build one for our particular nanosecond works to close down all these other horizontal alchemies that are going on all the time at any one time, between groups and scenes and genres and schools and political events and institutions and popular arts, Kasey’s “mandala-like criss-crossing wheel of two hundred and sixty-eight microgenealogies” that criticism as it’s currently practiced tends to scrape away in order to fit the poetry into the history. Is there a form of criticism since, what, Hugh Kenner, that’s changed to match the experiments in poetic form it sets out to describe?
(That last question's kind of rhetorical; tomorrow's answer is "Joan Retallack.")
3 hours ago