Thursday, September 04, 2008

The New Lyric

It’s because I like Mark Scroggins’s work so much as a writer and a blogger that I took his recent comments on lyric in his “100 poem-book” review of Peter Gizzi’s Some Values of Landscape and Weather as helpfully symptomatic:
A splendid extravagance of language, a brilliant eye for colors & for details, the objects/detritus/treasured things of the visible. Yes, the reinvention of the “lyric,” whatever that means–or a loving caress of the body of the sensual world. A splendid extravagance of forms, as well, from reinventions of the cante jondo to love songs built on syntactic games.
It seems a done deal that in our current poetic culture, “lyric”—except for the 87.9% for whom it’s still just oxygen—connotes “extravagance,” color & glitter, and a predilection for the (always almost excessively) sensual, along with the notion of “reinvention,” with its insinuation of a rescue operation, like you get on those well-intentioned radio stations that boast they’re “Keeping Jazz Alive.”

I don’t think Scroggins is saying exactly this, or that someone would necessarily be off-base if she or he did. But it bubbled in the background while I read his post, conditioned in part by the way I’ve heard Peter Gizzi’s work described elsewhere, partly by the half-cocked idea I have of New Brutalism and the New Sincerity and their quick roll off the glass mountain of the “new lyric.”

What is this “new lyric”—I mean the reinvented one you can indulge in now without feeling like you’re turning your back on 120 years of heavy linguistic invention—and why is it packaged as “sensual”? Do we need that materialist, semi-Marx gloss to work off our guilt about singing? Has the lyric gone totally emo? Or can it still be show tunes, like Elmslie?

And while we’re at it, who’s this “Cante jondo” when she’s at home? And have you read yet The Poem of A Life?


goooooood girl said...

Good good good......

Sam Lohmann said...

Yeah . . . "Lyric" is one of those annoying terms that gets used a lot because it means whatever you want it to. A lot of the time it just means "short poem," but why don't we just say "short poem"? A friend recently told me my poems were "lyrical", and then explained that term using a comparison to architecture with lots of ferny and fluty decorative moldings. But lyric could just as easily mean something very spare, stripped, fragmentary like Sappho, a LITTLE machine that gets a rhetorical urgency or illusion of directness from its shortness. I guess Sappho was writing pop songs, and one maybe useful meaning of lyric is "like a pop song," gets the job done in under three minutes and then you remember it, and it looks effortless. "Oops I did it again." I don't see any reason to feel guilty about that, but I guess that NEW word does look a little shifty.

I love Peter Gizzi's poetry, especially SOME VALUES, but I think sometimes it does end up feeling like a pop song or a music video, too bright, too clear, and over too fast. I wouldn't call him extravagant--more often too economical. There is a lot of nostalgia in his work, and a lot of ironic fake nostalgia, and a lot of nostalgically post-ironic ultra-sincere fake nostalgia irony, which at its best is all mixed up together and dead-on and funny and a little better than the best pop song even. At its worst it can feel pretty coy. A lot of his poems manage to be rather swift and precise bits of literary criticism, which I don't think of as being a traditional function of lyric, at least not self-consciously. But then you get Catullus rewriting Sappho and Ben Jonson rewriting Catullus. I don't know. Maybe next century we could try to make our poems less like pop songs and more like video games. (Is that the serial poem?)

Longass comment. Sorry. Yeah, THE POEM OF A LIFE is real good.

rodney k said...

Hi Sam,

Your comment, which gets Gizzi I think to the studs, reminded me of another aspect of his work that Scroggins points to: that “Catullus rewriting Sappho and Ben Jonson rewriting Catullus” quality you mention, which I left to one side in the post, but which Mark neatly describes as “love songs built on syntactic games.” Maybe that self-consciously game-like quality (vs. the “oops” effortless pop feel) is what’s helping to nudge things toward the video game? Grand Theft Canto??

Mark Scroggins said...

Hey Rodney, hey Sam--

thanks for the good words -- I realize what I meant to type on that post wasn't 'the reinvention of the "lyric," whatever that means' but 'the "reinvention of the lyric," whatever that means.' Whatever difference that makes.