Monday, June 22, 2009

Agitprop: Thing of Beauty

My new Jackson Mac Low book arrived today. It's called Thing of Beauty and is his selected and new works. Only just got into obviously and mainly only read the foreword and a few of his early ones.
My favourte so far is What's the matter don't you like candy (not too sure about that title though) that he wrote in 1941:

I have been told that a child crying indicates the death of a songbird
I do not know whether to believe this, but I know crickets are often
affected by high temperatures
I would like to know what the bug is with long thin six legs who paused
fluttering up and down for a while just now and then
flew away
It might have something to do with the crying of children
He goes on like that for about two pages, the phrase: 'crying of children' is repeated all over the place and he builds it up through that repetition exploring all sorts of weird ideas and incidents around 'crying children.' It works though, I think, because of that matter-of-fact tone and the unusual places it goes.

Anyway, he is much more well known for his chance-operation poems or his 'systematic' type ones, where he uses two texts to create a new one. And the foreword goes into quite a bit of detail about why he went this way and it basically comes down to his buddhist belief about removing ego from art, although he later admitted there is as much ego in chance operation as in the traditional lyric poem. He also talks about politics (hello, back on that again) which is strange for someone who has pretty much no control over his how his work comes out. It sounds like he had very strong view on war and violence, but I wonder how many people would know that of him from his work (his earlier lyric poems were often heavily political)? I guess there is nothing wrong with that, but to talk about it so heavily in the introduction to a work spanning 50 years that could be interpreted in an almost infinite number of ways strikes me as a little strange. Perhaps he considered his rejection of the ego as his ultimate political statement? He does talk about poetry as being capable of change, but subversively so and not through direct agitprop argument which I agree with, but I'm still not sure he is doing that either:
The politically aware artist can hope that what gives her pleasure and what gives her pain will give others the kinds of pleasures and pains that may help engender more positive social arrangements [interesting that the artist is a 'she' like a boat].
Anyway, he has undoubtedly served post-modern poetry to no end and is an important figure and I should really hold judgement on the existence of politics or beauty (another thing he is said to hold dear) in his work until I've read the whole thing. All interesting stuff, I just wish the Frederick Seidel best of book was the same price. Times certainly are tough right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

/* Google analytics */