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

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"wide range"

From the University:


The Contemporary Poetry Reading Group invites you to join us this year for a number of serious and engaging discussions of great poems. We are an informal meeting of graduate students interested in poetry written after the Second World War.

In previous years we have read and discussed a wide range of poets, including Doug Anderson, Hayden Carruth, Amy Clampitt, Rita Dove, Carolyn Forche, Louise Gluck, Geoffrey Hill, Philip Larkin, Li-Young Lee, Paul Muldoon, Sylvia Plath, Richard Siken, Gary Snyder, Brian Turner, Connie Voisine, Robert Penn Warren, Rosanna Warren, Richard Wilbur, and John Witte. This year we'll be reading a number of new and established voices, and we'll coordinate our readings with poets visiting campus, including M. Scott Momaday and Mark Doty.


Larissa said...

Your criticism is a bit too implicit for me to read clearly. Obviously their and your definition of a "wide range" differs. What exactly is the point of contention, if you don't mind clarifying?

Tony R said...

Hi Larissa,

Yes, the group of poets that they use to demonstrate a "wide range" is actually pretty stylistically homogenous. That is not to say that every one of these poets writes like every other one, but the majority of them (possible exceptions: Richard Siken, John Witte) are aesthetically very similar.

Most of these poets write lineated epiphanic prose. I won't say that it's an invalid practice, but there is certainly much more out there.

Jonathan said...

Hill is not similar to Snyder. Muldoon is far from Plath who's far from Carruth who's far from Wilbur. Clampitt and Penn Warren are different from each other. Larkin and Siken?

Some of these names I haven't heard of. Witte? Presumably not like Larkin or Hill.

So there's a wide variety there in some sense. I don't think it's a homogenous group at all. I think what you mean is that there's a wider range left out, wider than what's there. They are all late 20th or early 21 century poets writing in English. That's pretty narrow in an of itself.

Tony R said...

Hi Jonathan,

I posted and deleted this comment once because I didn't notice who had posted the comment. I confused you with someone else.

Anyway, here's my latest version:

Well, if we're going to play this way, please define "far from" and "not similar" and the implicit claim (?) in the phrase "Larkin and Siken?"

We're both being vague but I also think that you could understand how my "aesthetically very similar" and your "far from" could be valid descriptions of the same thing, depending on how widely we'd read, how much of a "range" we've been exposed to. In our particular case, I’m pretty sure you’ve read much more poetry than I have, and much much more poetry in Spanish than I. So this may not have something to do with our reading. Maybe we just mean very different things.

If "Larkin and Siken?" is meant to imply that they are dissimilar, I can give you that one. After all, I did say that Siken and Witte are possible exceptions to my blanket statement.

And of course I meant that there's a wider range left out than what's there. Isn't that implicit in my critique? If there are 100 types of bananas on Earth, and my greengrocer claims to carry a wide range of bananas, but he only sells 7 varieties (as opposed to Safeway's 3) am I out of line to question his notion of "wide range"? His range may be wider than Safeway's but not wide in a more general sense.

To say that these poets represent a wide range, to me, is like saying that Eugene has a wide range of late night delivery options. After all, you can order from Dominoes, Pizza Pipeline, Pizza Hut, Abby's, and Papa's. I'm probably missing some too! Oh yeah, and then there's Kowloon! (Maybe that's Siken, or Witte, or hell, even fusty old Geoff Hill.) (Of course, you haven’t been to Eugene, but I imagine that the situation in Lawrence, Kansas, isn’t much better.)

Finally, the fact that they are all late 20th century poets writing in English is a non-point. I refer you to the flyer itself:

"We are an informal meeting of graduate students interested in poetry written after the Second World War."

So my definition of "wide range" or anyone's defintion, must be situated within that particular constraint. If it's not, it's a useless statement.

Jonathan said...

Yes, they could be "valid descriptions of the same" phenomenon. That's my point, that wide and narrow don't make much sense unless there is some idea of what counts as similar and dissimilar in the first place. Maybe Plath and Snyder are two peas in the pod for you, but I wouldn't call them "homogeneous" myself. I don't think Larkin, Hill, and Clampitt write "epiphanic prose." What makes them seem homogenous to you is the common horizon of taste they might appeal to, not necessarily their styles.

I don't now Siken well enough to know how different he is from Larkin, hence my question mark. That was fudging a bit on my part.

My point in bringing in other languages and time periods was that there were other perspectives by which the group might seem more homogenous.

It's not a very attractive list for me, I'll give you that...