"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Friday, April 16, 2004

We Can Do It!

Poetry as War. Avant Garde and Feminist Poetics. Some notes, composed in ten minutes upon a broken office chair while awaiting the Pixies reunion.

Part I

“Avant Garde” is a military metaphor. It means “advance guard.” Poetry is war. New poetry, experimental poetry is on the front lines. It is the advance guard. Problem is, the rest of the troops always catch up. The avant-garde then must constantly renew itself. The new quickly becomes the old. Marinetti talked of ripping up manuscripts of the men over thirty. I'm 31 and quickly becoming irrelevant.

Rhetoricians commonly oppose “speech” with “force.” Walter Benjamin on violence, Gewalt, force. This is a binary opposition that is easily undone, however. That’s what rhetoricians do. They undo things. Or redo things. Depends on one’s goal. Violence is not the opposite of negotiation, it’s the other side of the coin. The coin’s edges are thin. Thus in the world of “experimental” poetry, “speech” is not an alternative to violence, but also a form of violence.

In “Trilogy” H.D. re-examines the old adage, “the pen is mightier than the sword” which is a reworking of this idea. H.D. does constructive violence to language. She dismantles and rebuilds the word, The Word, myth, magic, gender roles, and war. Poetry is war and poetry is against war. Remember Sam Hamill?

Avant Garde groups are formed around an idea. This idea is usually contempt, digust, dissatisfaction with the status quo or with another Avant Garde group. Avant Garde art is always AGAINST something. Does it have to be this way? Perhaps not. But it always is. Poetry bloggers are against “mainstream poetry” and the “SOQ.” Sometimes they’re not.

Where then are the female Avant Garde groups? What are they reacting against? Alicia Ostriker, in her book, “Stealing the Language,” attempts to argue that “Women’s Writing” is a unique category, that women poets form a collective, a group, bound together by more than their sex, but by their poetic concerns, by their program, by their reaction against the male-dominated writing establishment. Part of me wants to believe this. I also don’t quite believe it. The danger in Ostriker’s thinking is that it reinforces the most basic binary opposition: men vs. women. All binary pairs are little hierarchies. It also essentializes femininity and womanhood. I think it’s more complicated than that. My answer, though, also risks essentialism. What’s my answer? What’s the question again?

Arielle’s “Gurlesque” interests me because it is a poetry "movement" created not by a group of poets, but by a single poet-critic in an attempt to describe a set of tendencies common to young poets. It’s a group that defies the rule of the Avant Garde that I postulated above. These poets are grouped together not because they are women (tho’ most are—AG told me right after I read to a less-than-packed house in St. Louis that I, an ugly fat man, was a Gurlesque poet), and not because they are collectively against something, but because they share common characteristics, concerns, among them a love for pop-culture. I’m going to add another: a distrust of “Great Art.” And yet, they're making great art.

More later. Comments welcome.

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