Monday, February 27, 2012

Howling All the Way to the Bank

There are few pastimes I enjoy more that poking fun at the various pretensions and sundry hypocrisies of the avant-garde artiste.  His love-hate relationship with capitalism is a particularly target-rich environment as when after pointing his venomous pen at the money men, he without flinching then passes them the bill for the effort.  And fools that so many of them are (foolish because they're rich no doubt), as often as not they quite happily fork over the cash for the singular pleasure of being insulted.  Go figure.

But not so much anymore, and especially so in the case of poetry.  Which brings us to the question we've been asking for as long as I can remember:  Why don't Americans read poetry?  Or, perhaps more to the point, why don't poets write verse that Americans read?

Professor Micah Mattix ventures a partial answer.  (By the way, he does so in such gentle and measured a fashion that the thought did cross my mind that he, like the angry poets he describes, was playing me as reader for a fool as well.)  At any rate, my favorite paragraph is one in which he describes and explains the first of two common responses these poets make to what they see as the evil of capitalism:
One of those responses has been for poets to create poems that rail against hierarchy and morality in an effort to free their audience from the shackles of the great capitalistic machine. The form of these poems is usually highly experimental, using repetition and fragmentation, along with taboo subject matter, to supposedly create a poem that both resists commodification and shocks the middle-class into seeing that property ownership, marital fidelity, proper grammar, and so forth are all constructs that restrict personal and, importantly for poets, aesthetic freedom.
"Property ownership, marital fidelity, proper grammar, and so forth..."?

I love it.


  1. I have always loved poetry- both reading and writing. Several years ago I realized I knew very little about contemporary poets or poetry. I enrolled in a class of contemporary poetry taught by LSU professors at the local public library. After a few weeks I understood that, for me, it was awful. Modern poets eschewed rhyme, rhythm, etc. in their zest for "...aesthetic freedom". However, I believe the beauty of poetry is using these techniques to enhance your expression. Nobody reads modern poetry because it is uninteresting.

  2. A formless cacophony is unpleasant almost by definition and even when it's tolerable, the average reader struggles to IMPOSE form on it and HEAR euphony in it, thereby undermining the radical poet's purpose.

    In the visual arts, I dare anyone to look for the first time at a Jackson Pollock painting and, at least for the first few seconds, NOT try to find "Waldo" in the mess.

    I, too, miss the good ole days. Sigh.

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