Friday, March 27, 2009

Avant garde poets: charge!!!

I'm not feeling good about much right now. I just wrote a boring as hell poem. I read Kinsella's Warhol at Wheatlands poem which made me want to write something similar. Nothing came and I ended writing a stupid thing about the graduation ceremony I went to yesterday. 

Reading has been good though, the preface to Denis Haskell's poems in Landbridge: Contemporary Australian Poetry (1999, Freemantle Arts Centre Press) has something I completely and utterly agree with and also several things I completely and utterly disagree with.

He says, quoting Pound who quotes from 'The Chinese':
Only emotion endures
Arguing that only poems with emotional resonance have the ability to transcend fashion and politics and appeal to audiences indefinitely. I think in many ways he is right. Emotional intelligence is something all great poetry shares, but he goes too far with the idea:
I aim to do this without slickness, easy irony or surface effects and without entering the perpetual child's garden of gimmeckry known as the 'the avant garde'.
Child's garden? Gimmeckry? He couldn't have used stronger words to describe an ever-changing movement that artists for centuries have devoted their lives to. 

The avant garde for me represents the people at the front. It originally meant the foremost advancement of an army, a vanguard. It seems to me he is confusing an eternal truth of poetry, that of emotional resonance, with the mode of its delivery, its 'surface effects' as he calls it. All poems have surface effects, it was makes them interesting, it is the music, the shape of the words, the imagery, the irony, the surprise. I love poetry that uses all these things to acheive emotional resonance. That for me is a successful poem. 

He seems to be saying he wants to be somewhere in the middle of the army, maybe in the rear (he certainly likes to sling arrows from the back) which is fine, but I think we need a full army to keep advancing. To shoot your own vanguard seems to be a stupid tactical error. The avant garde will always end up in the main-stream as the battle progresses and a new vanguard will appear. The stuff he is writing now, that he thinks is so safe and of the people for the people, would once have been avant garde. I am sure of that.

I am liking this army metaphor now. I could go on to say in this era of post-modernism it has turned to guerilla warfare where everyone is lost in the jungle, each writer for themselves...but I won't go there. Not today anyway.

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