Just read your piece on Pound. I especially appreciate your critique of the "state of things" in the final paragraph. Most important and useful to point out this "with us or against" mentality prevelant on both sides of the verse culture divide.
On the one hand, the avant-garde (in general) re-gardes the "official verse culture" as some sort of monolithic, programmatic, homogeneous whole, which attitude eschews the whole issue of having to take account the actual work of the "mainstream" (whatever that means in poetry), allowing readers (by which I mean our generation of poets, who've grown up with the divide as more or less a given) to simply write off the majority of American poetry in favor paying close attention to a small faction within the broader scheme.
On the other hand, many "mainstream" poets tend toward the same behavior, smugly assured of their genius and the inherent "quality" of their work by legions of editors and academics whose job it is to "authorize" authors for popular consumption. Many of them don't even know a single avant-garde poet by name, and many use the same dismissive gesture directed at them by the avants through equally homegeonizing terms such as "language poetry" or even "avant-garde."
But what is the value of this division? Is it politically efficacious? Is it intellectually ethical? One can't read everything, but must one choose what to read based solely on what you aptly term "cultural allegiance"?
What has been attractive to me about "difficult" work (which need not necessarily mean "avant-garde," cf. Ed Roberson or Yusef Komunyakaa) is that it attempts to deal with complexity on its own terms. Perhaps a better word for complexity would be "irreducibility." Difficult poetry seeks the irreducible, which might itself be defined as "untranslatable complexity."
I would distinguish this term from the related "negative capability" in that it points away from the subjectivity of the artist in the production of art (or the spectator in its appreciation of art) and toward the orientation of the work itself. Irreducibility is that complexity (of being, not NECESSARILY of linguistic difficulty) which resides in the work, not as static form, but as that which lives.
I admire Pound (cautiously) precisely because he understands in his work that complexity is comprised of "variety, optimism and excitement," not of ideological fealty, academic sanction, eshatological ennui or transgression as a value in and for itself.
One of the most moving and interesting things I have heard from the Pound cult of the 50's was Jackson Mac Low talking about admiring Pound's works despite his fascism. At 85, he said found himself still wrestling with this apparent contradiction. That, my friend, is negative capability, to stay optimistically IN the complexity, in the irreducibility, knowing it will not, cannot, ever be resolved.
MikePosted by Brian Stefans at December 15, 2003 11:09 AM | TrackBack