William-Carlos-Williams-001

A longish essay on poetics that I first wrote in the 90s and revised for publication on Jacket 2.

Here’s the short intro:

“A Poetics of Virtuosity” considers — through the writing of A. R. Ammons, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Rimbaud, William Carlos Williams, and the obscure Trumbull Stickney — what it means to write against the dominant literary modes of your time. Of course, it is impossible to know when writing a poem what the “dominant mode” of your time exactly is; the argument here is that Williams, caught up in the fever of modernism and his impatience with “literary” lyricism — that which failed to account for the singularity of the poet’s body and the incompleteness of experience — worked through a poetics of “stuttering” (I take the term from Nathaniel Mackey) to achieve his own highly concrete, often fragmentary, poetics.

Implicit in this essay — first written in 1996, when I was working through my own apprenticeship as a poet in New York — is the argument that this modernist “fever” had largely abated in the postmodern moment, and that writers like Ammons had found ways to create “virtuoso” works because of a relative lack of concern with personal and poetic singularity, not to mention possessed of a richer philosophical understanding of the mind —> object relationship and theories of time that are at the foundations of Western philosophy. But I wasn’t reading much philosophy then despite some college schooling, so my use of such heavy terms such as “being,” “becoming,” “immanence,” and “flux” are loose. (I’ve tried to tighten up the vocabulary with this revision.)

“A Poetics of Virtuosity” tries to synthesize social concerns (how poems are read and accepted by readers and critics, how literary culture changes over time) with phenomenological concerns (how the poet interacts with a poem as it is being written, the effects of technology and physical disability on writing, what of a poem and the poem’s “content” resists the writing), though it is really only a suggestive sketch — a record of my enthusiasm from an earlier time. These interests, however, have gained ground in the wake of the rise of digital culture in the late ’90s, during the recent vogue for “speculative realist” philosophy (especially the writing of Quentin Meillassoux), disability studies, and the “return to the lyric” that I see happening with many poets today, particularly of the form that wants — in a strike against poststructuralism — to chart individual experience.