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

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Crafty McCrafterson

Jonathan is on. Again.

He outlines four possibilities for "craft"--four types of poems that may or may not exhibit "craft."

When I object to craft, it's usually on the grounds that I simply like poem Type 3 best. Usually. I respond to artlessness--perhaps it's the middlebrow in me. Jonathan mentions O'Hara here (as I have in the past) but I'll add A.R. Ammons, and raise you middle-period Ashbery. Anyone ever notice that the poems in "Some Trees" seem to be "crafted" a la Type 2?

I probably object to craft because the poems I think I try to write strive for a certain artlessness, a certain craftlessness. So, in the end, it's all about me. What a jerk!

When I walk into the classroom to teach a poem by Ashbery, O'Hara, or Ammons, however, I emphasize aspects of the poem that we might refer to as craft (Type 2). Why do I do this? Probably because my teachers did. My two main mentors are hardline old school New Critical types. It rubbed off. And it's easier to talk about poems by talking about craft. It's a concept we all understand. When I teach Shakespeare or Donne, I'm all about craft. So I don't hate craft. But I'm still uncomfortable with it as a determiner of merit when talking about "contemporary" poetry.

I'm drinking my Starbucks coffee, and I'm wondering why Starbucks and Popeyes Fried Chicken both eschew the possessive apostrophe.

And I am decidedly middlebrow and I deride the highbrows whenever I can. This must have something to do with my distaste for "craft." That said, I don't exactly embrace my low-middlebrow background. I don't fetishize my working class childhood or the particular "ethnic" foods I grew up eating. I don't care "what work is." What it comes down to is this: I am avoiding taking responsibility. So yes, I'm implicated in this system that Jonathan describes. The middlebrow approach is, I guess, the easiest route. Much easier than being highbrow (like Jonathan) and taking responsibility for one's smarts and education and tastes. On the other hand, if one is a poet, being lowbrow (or rather embracing the lowbrow with a high-middlebrow aesthetic) is fashionable if you sleep with the right people or eat the right food, or grew up in the right neighborhood--or LOOK like you did.

I should point out that I am in no way ashamed of where I came from, or who I am--I just refuse to use identity and background as a meal ticket.

I love Starbucks. Don't care for the New Yorker. Used to read Harper's. I eat Popeyes whenever I can. If I ate it whenever I wanted to, I'd be hugely fat.


Jonathan said...

Good response, Tony. I don't really see you as a middlebrow. You edit The Canary, after all. Now, if you were the editor of Ploughshares I might see your point.

C. Dale said...

Ouch, Jonathan. Ouch.


You don't strike me as middlebrow at all, no matter how much Starbucks you drink or Popeyes you eat.

Anonymous said...

Lowbrow 4 life, bitches!

-A Mr.

Jake Adam York said...

I'm with you on the Popeyes, all the way. (I avoid being hugely fat by biking a lot.)

But I'm goig to disagree with you about the essential artlessness of Ammons, especially. I think if you accept a sort of New Critical or New Formalist definition of craft, then many of the elements of craft are missing from an Ammons or an O'Hara, but that doesn't mean that there are no element-level poetics. Both seem very interested in the ways in which the length and rhythms of conversational phrase syncopate one another inside the governing rhythm of a long-ish sentence or the ways in which words that share roots or sounds play against one another, the ways in which "occasional" or "accidental" correspondences provide structure for utterance or consideration. In many ways, these elements are more classical --- they seem more like rhetorical elements (like polyptoton) than like New Critical poetic elements, but I think they're poetic nevertheless.

You deserve a longer and probably more coherent response. I'm working on something on craft over at Thicket, which maybe you'll check out.

More later.