Monday, October 23, 2006
A Grand Experiment
In reading Lauterbach's new book of essays, "The Night Sky," she writes:
"Recently, I was introduced as an 'experimental poet.' The adjective was uttered with mild disdain; I felt as though I was being damned with the faintest of praise. In the world of poetry, to be experimental is sometimes taken to mean you have, as the poet Charles Bernstein has remarked, an aversion to form, rather that an adversion to conformity."
I love this quote - but it leads me to ask, in the world of poetry, what is conformity? What is experimental?
I've also heard of small journals that take the opposite stance and attempt to limit themselves to "experimental" poetry. I read in submissions guidelines - if it's narrative at all, don't send it. Also, places that say we don't take poems about 9/11, poems with any grounding, poems about grandmothers and so.
Is there anything wrong with a magazine sticking picking an aesthetic and sticking by it? I can see the lure. It makes your work easier. Submissions are read quickly, and your audience sticks with you because they know what to expect. But, I find the whole thing grossly problematic.
1. Who sets these labels? Define the following words: formal, narrative, lryical, conventional, and experiment? Who gets to pick who's what? Bernstein (one of my favorites) is considered a forerunner of experimental, but many of his poems are narrative. Berrigan is another experimentilist, but he wrote sonnets. And where do Fanny Howe, Seamus Heaney, and Jorie Graham fit?
2. People who exclude are missing out on a lot. It reminds me of the Lower East Sider who brags they never go above 14th Street. Well, that's too bad because The Met and Central Park (not to mention Brooklyn!) are the highlights of New York and they're really missing out. Thus, people who refuse to read Mary Oliver - or people who refuse to read Bernstein.
As poets, we are automatically the outsiders of society. Do we need to do to each other too?
Posted by Jennifer Bartlett at 7:36 AM