tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology

Postmodern American Poetry by Paul Hoover
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry

How long did it take me to read this?! Uh, let's see, there was that friendly brontosaurus that flipped the pages for me after the T-Rex injured my hand (close call) - it's been awhile. 106 poets w/ a few poems from each, an ending section of "poetics" essays.. & I'm going to try to write a capsule review?! Fool.

I've never read an entire Norton Anthology before (that I recall). I mainly associate them w/ being a type of massive 'definitiveness' that's acceptable to academia. The Norton Poetry Anthologies having been college texts of sorts for decades. I can see why. Serious effort was put into making this substantial & comprehensive but, of course, it's far from the latter. What exactly IS "Postmodern"? "American"? "Poetry"?

In the introduction, Charles Olson is credited w/ using "postmodern' in a letter on October 20, 1951. For the purposes of this bk, ""postmodern" means the historical period following World War II. [..] Postmodernist poetry is the avant-garde poetry of our time." The editor, Paul Hoover, is certainly a scholar & I'm sure he thought long & hard about who to include here. I'm sure he reads alotof poetry & alotof poetry criticism.

I'm also sure he only reads w/in his particular academic ghetto. For "avant-garde poetry of our time" there sure is alot missing! Essentially, there's NO concrete or visual poetry. Right there, the editor's (or Norton's) bias against such things is pretty obvious.

Each poet's section begins w/ a brief bio. These are little more than CVs. I learned things from them but.. who wrote them? The poets? The editor? They're so cut & dry, they reek of lack of imagination. Whenever I'm asked for a bio for some publication I try to have fun w/ it, these bios are like something written by poets applying for jobs in the pantheon of the canonized. At least I learned that Ron Silliman is a prison activist. Too much of the bios are about where these people went to school. Occassionally, someone's more 'street-wise' existence shines thru. Thank GAWD! This is a compilation mostly by academics & for academics. There's good writing in here (whatever that means) but it's mostly 'good' academic writing - meaning there's a whole world out there that's conspicuously absent.

& what the fuck DOES "postmodern" mean, anyway? Here, it's an umbrella term. But it's an umbrella term that's acceptable for a Norton Anthology b/c it has the appearance of being scholarly. You're probably not going to hear the garbage pick-up folks talking about their new postmodern garbage truck, right? I mean if the garbage collectors get a new truck, it's a new truck, if (pseudo-)scholars get a new umbrella term it's "postmodern". So, postmodern keeps it all in the right class.

I remember when I 1st came across the term, maybe in the late 1970s, maybe the early 1980s, I was annoyed by the desperate new low that (pseudo-)theorists had come to. AT least "neoism" has a sense of humor: it's a prefix & a suffix w/ nothing in between. I mean, isn't/wasn't "modernism" just intended to mean "contemporary" &, therefore, just a cultural form responding to present conditions rather than being rooted in possibly outmoded traditions? W/ that in mind, the term post-modernism CD be pretty funny; it cd be, like neo-ism, yet-another term that plays off futurism & modernism - Postmodernism is Modernism's Future TODAY! Buy now, get yesterday for free. Whatever.

Many of the writers here are 'language poets' & that's partially why I decided to read this whole thing. But, lardy, reading it makes me realize how much of this theory I'd written off as specious by the time I was in my twenties. Bob Perelman's bio includes: "Quoting the linguist Noam Chomsky, Perelman writes, "Question: How do you tell a language from a dialect? Answer: A language is a dialect that has an army and a navy." Does 'language poetry' have an army & a navy? Maybe after being in a Norton Anthology it will.

At least a few of the poets are anarchists: John Cage, Jackson MacLow. Barrett Watten's intro includes: "Thus the purpose of a work of art is not self-expression, but rather an "anarchy of production" that makes for more democratic relations between author and reader." It's this 'democratizing' of reader/writer relations that always seemed central to 'language writing' discussion. I'm not sure I 'believe' in it. IE: I'm not sure that I think that the various strategies taken to generate a more active reading, a less dominated one, are anything other than wishful thinking - including my own wishful thinking.

Anyway, I enjoyed some of the writing. Frank O'Hara seems like he wd've been fun to get drunk w/. A Bernadette Mayer poem gave me a hard-on (always wanted to meet her - I liked her bk about fasting). Some of Silliman & Andrews had a playfulness that I wasn't expecting. But then I got to the "Poetics" section. This reminded me bigtime of why, when I was writing my 1st bk, I decided that my 'philosophy' was that "I had a philosophy once" & why I've (more or less) never written a manifesto.

So many people have written so many things about the why & how & what they're trying to accomplish. I like reading it but it all seems so ridiculous sometimes. Charles Olson's very influencial proclamations about breath & line & so forth & so on are neither here nor there to me. Or maybe they're THERE & I want them to stay THEIR. Even Cage, whose music I deeply appreciate, annoys me w/ his platitudes about nonintention & Suzuki & the Hindu perception of the purpose of the seasons & whatnot.

30 yrs ago I tormented myself to great & elaborate lengths trying to decide whether I shd be moral or immoral or amoral; trying to decide what philosophy I shd create to use as a guideline to push me into the most intense creativity. After I'd had enuf of that is when I decided that "I had a philosophy once" - meaning that I didn't have a philosophy & didn't need one. Of course, that's not exactly 'true', it's a way of evading pinning myself down, I certainly have a political philosophy, I certainly have creative preferences, blah, blah..

In the "Poetics" section here, it seems like most of the writers DO have a philosophy. It all seems so dead-end to me, even Cage. EXCEPT for Jerome Rothenberg. So much of what he had to say seemed to cut thru the bullshit. Maybe b/c it was more about the state of the world & an attempt to create a post-imperialist society. He didn't express it quite that way. Still, though, who am I to criticize?! This bk is a massive achievement. I wdn't recommend it over "America a Prophesy" & quite a few other ambitious poetry collections but it has its place.

What I wonder is, though, what I wondered when I used to read "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E" magazine: Is its place just in academia where people delude themselves that they're being revolutionaries while poor people still go to prison for bullshit reasons & professors still lead totally privileged lives?
1 like · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Postmodern American Poetry.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

March 1, 2008 – Shelved
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: poetry
Started Reading
April 19, 2008 – Finished Reading

No comments have been added yet.