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Posted inPoetry

The Obscenities Are in Quotes

Whatever became of the New York School? There was a first generation, the last avant-garde according to some (but not so last that there couldn’t be a second generation and a third, and …) as whatever it was that defined the school as a school, beyond the simple fact of friendship, dissolved into the common air of the culture — which is just where it belongs. Wit, urbanity, formal exuberance, a willingness to (as Frank O’Hara famously put it) “just go on your nerve,” a dandyish pose of being more casual and less serious than you really are as an antidote to the unearned solemnity that so often seems endemic to poetry, an affinity for quotidian surrealism and lumpen absurdity and “life-giving vulgarity” (O’Hara again, of course) — these could never be the doctrine of any one school or enclosed by any particular municipality. They are simply things that keep the art of poetry refreshed, allowing it to breathe again after its periodic ascents to those lofty reaches where language inevitably becomes abstract, impersonal, and (too often) lugubrious.

Posted inPoetry

At Play in the Fields of Language: The Poetry of Cathy Park Hong (Part Two)

Engine Empire (2012) is divided into three discrete sections or, perhaps more accurately, three self-sustaining worlds, each with its own invented languages.

In each section Hong utilizes radical forms and devices — a list, an abededarian, a lipogram — to propel her poems out of the lyric torpor so many other poets embrace. The language is volatile, undergoing metamorphosis and extreme pressure. Tremors of discomfort suffuse throughout the music of Hong’s poems.

Posted inPoetry

At Play in The Fields of Language: The Poetry of Cathy Park Hong (Part One )

The argument between lyric poetry (that is poetry that arises from the poet’s voice (the “I”) or what Robert Grenier characterized as “SPEECH”) and text (the primacy of the written or printed word) is becoming an increasingly obsolete opposition. Globalism and immigration (or migration) – in the form of pidgin, mispronunciation, graffiti, and encoded signs – have overrun the various geographical boundaries as well as upended the rules defining areas of fixed vocabulary, grammar and spelling. The English language – particularly in America — is a field in which decay and replenishment are ongoing, unpredictable ruptures.

Posted inPoetry

Swallow the Meat in the Jargon

Amelia Rosselli’s is not exactly a poetry or resistance, but it is a resistant poetry. It is highly self-conscious, willed, and formally wrought. At the same time it is the product of roiling psychological and social tensions that the poet can hardly control. As Andrea Zanzotto put it, in 1976, with the authority that comes from being one of Rosselli’s few peers among the Italian poets of her time, she “was born inside this writing, and cannot escape from it; and at the same time she is outside of it, and has always contested it.” Yes, she writes, and with a fury; but she is also written, and by forces that shake her to the core. Her poetry is indissolubly both these writings.

Posted inPoetry

The Most Beautiful Perhaps

I wrote, a few months ago, of Stéphane Mallarmé as a difficult poet—difficult to understand, and difficult to translate, perhaps especially into English. What I should have also said then is that part of the difficulty lies in the fact that his poems in verse, as Peter Manson titled them in his estimable recent translation, that is, his Poésies, constitute only one facet of his work.

Posted inPoetry

Fold by Fold

Out of the amazing trifecta of early modernist French poets, Stéphane Mallarmé is probably the least read and least translated. That’s partly down to the genuine difficulty of his writing, but then the language of Baudelaire or Rimbaud is hardly of the most transparent either; the real difference may be that their lives have spun off an aura of myth that helps guide the reader through or past the enigmatic character of their verse.