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

Monday, August 01, 2005

Jeannine mentions a lecture given by Paisley Rekdal. I'll excerpt here:

Speaking of women poets, one of the lectures from the conference that has stuck in my mind was Paisley Redkal’s rather academic but fascinating delivery of a paper on the lyric I, anger as the “unacceptable” emotion in poems, how the recent rejection of emotion in poetry is actually a rejection of the feminine, how the reaction against “confession” in poems was likewise a reaction against poems about women’s lives, despite the fact that the first major confessional poets (Snodgrass, Lowell) were men. “You can write a poem about anything nowadays, except emotion” she said. “It doesn’t have to make sense, it’s all about wordplay and disguise, it highlights the intellect, it rejects those messy female “feelings.”

My response:

Methinks Paisley doth protest too much. But not really. That is, her cheeky statement both resonates and points to the wider range of aesthetic and thematic possibility in poetry, poetries, that is already there. It’s a statement that seems pointed, but is actually diffuse. As soon as you say something like “emotion is not allowed in poetry” you can’t help but think of all the “emotional” poetry out there. We are swimming in it. Paddle, paddle.


The New Sincerity is a reaction against the sort of bloodless, soulless writing that seems to dominate the post-avant or non-SOQ po-land. Notice that I say “seems.” In this, it (the NS) continues to be tongue-in-cheek. What we really want is to maintain our indie hipster status and write poems that we like. We want Silliman to notice us, but we also want a wide readership. We want people to throw away their books by Jewel, and oh, say, Bruce Andrews, and instead read Andrew Mister, Joe Massey, Reb Livingston. And Wallace Stevens. We are aggressive self-promoters. But at least we're honest about it. And most of us did not accomplish what we wanted to in our twenties. We don't wish to have our manuscripts tossed in the wastebasket by those younger than us when we reach forty. The oldest of us are nearly 33.


The trouble with a lot of post-avant writing is that its practitioners seem to have forgotten that process is a means to an end. Too many seem too interested in the process. The end product in negligible, or if not negligible, so weighted with its own cleverness that any emotion remains latent or buried under big words, lofty ideas (that aren’t all that lofty), and so forth.


There's plenty of poetry in the so-called SOQ that is full of emotion, that is about emotion. So Rekdal seems to want to escape the SOQ, while rejecting what seems to be the dominant period style of those in the post-avant lineage.

I'd say it's not the dominant period style, however. It appears dominant at times because certain high profile bloggers make it seem so (Silliman, Tost). I know, for one, that I'm probably not going to be interested in Fascicle, for example, no matter how "good" it is at doing what it does because the sort of focus on poetics and theory and poetry that eschews emotion in favor of "intellect" and "experimentation" is a focus that doesn't excite me. It appealed to me more when I was a younger man, but as I get older and crankier, not so much. I don't know how Silliman does it!


Plenty of us "other" "younger" poets writing about emotion, plenty of us unwilling to ironize ourselves out of feeling. Missing a verb in that sentence.


To posit that "emotion"="feminine" is almost as ridiculous as suggesting that "Mexican-American"="tortilla-eatin' beaner."


The fact is, one CAN write a poem about whatever one wants.


Radish King said...

Now go clean your room.

Old Crankpot Poet

gina said...

It seems funny to me that one even has to be in the position to make a case for emotion. But if this case did need to be made, then Tony, my bro, has done it. Of course there is emotional poetry out there. Of course we can write what we want. Of course we can be newly sincere.

Tony said...

so when someone like paisley rekdal makes her case, she's really making a case for "look at me!" she's really saying that she doensn't want to be unhip and all louise gluck and shit, but that she's also dissatisfied with sillimans and tosts. so are most of us. she couches her comments in lingo and rhetoric that makes it seem like she's fighting the small person's good fight, that she is the minority voice. actually, though, i think she's speaking for most of us.

Anonymous said...

why so anti-intellectual?


Tony said...

how is this post anti-intellectual?

i can see how you might say the conversation with ginabird is anti-...

Anonymous said...

you are the anti-christ


Anonymous said...


You shouldn't jump to conclusions aobut Fascicle like that!

I have been working with the gang at editing an international section for the first issue which is really going to be quite something--around fifty poets and translators (and among hte greatest translators into English, as you will see). Much of this work is full of "emotion," I assure you.

So don't make up yoru mind just yet!


Anonymous said...

oh fuck emotion!
what have you done for me lately?

you have ruined my life!

Anyway, emotion is so bourgeois...
let's have Passion!


Charles said...

I might lean towards agreeing with Paisley on "emotions" = "feminine" to some degree, although I would want to qualify it somehow. To say, maybe, that "expressing emotion as emotion" = feminine (and this being, naturally, a complete and incorrect stereotype. I have a similar feeling about a lot of white male poetry, which I've blogged about extensively. There are some white male poets who write about their "feelings" as if having them is enough of a prompt for a poem. I think as difficult as some women have perceived the reception of their more emotional writing, men have struggled with finding ways to construct emotion in a poem effectively. This is messy. I'm sort of thinking out loud.

gina said...

I'm agreeing with Charles (I think), but in the sense that it's damned hard to extricate "emotional" women poets from the confessionalist stereotype, and more difficult to extricate the pejorative from the confessional. I tried to teach Plath in a survey course last term and every kid in the room rolled her eyes.

But the confessional and the emotional: that seems to be a legitimate link? If you have thoughts otherwise, I'd like to hear them.

(whatever the hell "emotional" means)

Tony said...

I think we need to deal with the trickier question of "what is confessional?"

I think of it as almost a period term--something we use to describe a certain grouping of poets writing in the late fifties-early sixties or thereabouts: Plath, Berryman, Lowell, Sexton, etc.

Or "confessional" can refer to a certain "therapeutic" strain of writing, I suppose. Anybody actually read _Life Studies_ lately? It is so lightly "confessional" as to make one wonder what all the fuss was about! John Donne is WAY more confessional than Cal!

So I don't know. I think if anything bothers me about "confessional" poetry, and Plath specifically, is that the emotion tends to be pretty one-dimensional. In the talk that Paisley gave, there was some mention of anger or rage being "forbidden." Well, of course it's not forbidden. No more forbidden than emotion in general. However, if that's the ONLY emotion in someone's work, it gets old rather quickly. I roll my eyes at Plath too--it's not that I don't appreciate her as a poet, but I can't handle the blood on the paper after a while.

Of course, I'm no Plath scholar, so I'm probably missing something.

Tony said...


BTW, I *do* think that having feelings is enough reason to write a poem. I have two manuscripts of poems that are well, spurred by my feelings.

I guess the question is--are the poems good? If they are, I imagine, then one wouldn't say to oneself upon readin them, "these poems seem to be written by one who thinks that having a feeling is enough reason to write a poem."

It's complicated, this deception.

jenni said...

I think your movement is cool. Good luck with it.

But about emotion=feminine--I think she has a point--it dates back to the rationalists view and Aristotle's "Politics" where he claims that "reason" is only fully operable in men, and women and children are ruled by bodily appetites and emotions--thus they should obey the full reason of males. "Reason is male and must rule, feelings are female and must BE ruled." This "rationalist" view leaked into christianity--in the Confessions of the philosopher Saint Augustine for one, and elsewhere, and these christian ideals and morals are the standard in this culture (and many others). So yes, it is definately a stereotype, but it's nothing new either--I've known men who are very "sincere" emotional people (my husband is more sensitive than i am) and i've known women who seem to have hearts made of dust. Anyways, enjoyed reading. keep up the good debate, dude.