Contemporary American Poetry discussion

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Taste and Aesthetic

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message 1: by Gerry (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
Let's talk about what's going on in contemporary poetry--there's so much diversity, yet so much leaves me cold (and not in the Emily Dickinson way, in which no fire can warm me up). Still, I'm fired up by poetry all the time. I'm excited by, for instance, Debrau Landau's work and am looking forward to teaching her latest book with my students. She doesn't write a poem I could write, but her intense lyricism is fantastic...


message 2: by Gerry (last edited Nov 16, 2011 07:24PM) (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
In his recent article in the Writers Chronicle, Tony Hoagland suggests that Frank O'Hara has become a greater influence in contemporary American poetry than people such as Richard Hugo, Galway Kinnell, Adrienne Rich, James Wright, Anne Sexton and other luminaries of the middle twentieth century. He also suggests that the influence of O'Hara seems to make for a poem with little depth. What do you think is happening in poetry today? what are you reading? what trends are you seeing?


message 3: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Campbell (goodreadscomnickthegreek11) I think Bill Berkson is a fine comtemporary poet. He's in his '70s now, but he was considered a wunderkind when a young man, and he has lived up to that promise. I especially like the element of 'surprise' in his poetry, one element that makes good poetry beautiful.


message 4: by stevenallenmay (new)

stevenallenmay | 1 comments I met Berkson in 2002, in Philadelphia at Kelly Writers House on UPenn campus. Nice bloke.


message 5: by Gerry (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
Elaine, would you post a few of Berkson's poems???


message 6: by Robert (new)

Robert | 5 comments Gerry, Hoagland's essay in the Chronicle hit some nails on the head. Dead on. There's a snarky, pretentious, hyper-ironic, inside jokester trend going on right now; Hoagland is objective about it, perhaps, but frankly, O'Hara's poems are a lot more engaging than some of what I'm seeing in journals these days, because at least you can understand it. That said--contemporary poetry is far too big and wild of a tree now to get hung up on any branch. If one's pissing you off, be a good monkey and hop over to another branch and you'll find your neo-formalist, your post-avante-gaurdians, your extended metaphorical lyricists, etc. There's a branch for every one. I very much enjoyed the intro to the anthology "American Hybrid," which discusses how far and wide and hybridized it all is now, rather than a bunch of clubs and cliques. (Though those still exist, I think....) With my poetry students I always compare it to a huge garden...there are many places to stroll, many berries to pick, and some spiky thorns here and there. But it's ALL GOOD.


message 7: by Gerry (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
Robert, I wish it were all good. So much of it just seems vapid. Or else maybe it's all good in the way donut holes are good. I like 'em. I like 'em a lot. But they're not dinner.

And, of course, I realize I sound like an elitist asshole at the moment, and I'm not. That's why part of this discussion heading is taste. I get some people like Miller Lite. I don't think of that stuff as beer...

Robert, I'm curious though, who are you reading? Who are you liking?


message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert | 5 comments Gerry, "ALL GOOD" only in the sense that it's a full-shelf and that there's something for everyone. I share your feeling though that a lot of it is vapid, and what bothers me the most is that it adds fuel to that general criticism of poetry: that it is out of touch, pretentious, elitist, etc. So I write--and read publicly--against that current.

Well, my favorite book of the last few years was Ross Gay's first book, "Against Which." That's the last time I've truly shuddered reading poems. I like Nezhukumatathil's work (her first book most). David Hernandez's "Always Danger" (a few years old, but good...) The book I read last week was Traci Brimhall's "Rookery," which, though slightly overly-monochromatic was devastatingly beautiful lyricism in much of it. Dorianne Laux's "Book of Men" is fucking awesome. I've read it twice and want to read it again. John Rybicki's last book and his forthcoming book--that grapple head-on with losing his wife to cancer. I'm looking forward to my friend Matthew Olzmann's book "Mezzanines" on Alice James. Hmmmm...well that's a smattering. I know there is a bunch I'm not thinking of. And there are several books I'm looking forward to reading....
How about you???


message 9: by Gerry (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
Robert, I knew what you meant! I was being--or so I hoped--funny! I don't mind the fractal poetic/post lyric stuff so much when it's accessible; it seems a way--when done right--to engage the emotional center by not looking at it straight on. Kind of like Perseus vs the Medusa. Once, though, it becomes an intellectual game rather than emotional stance, then it loses me.

The thing that bothers me (particularly as a teacher) is the poetry of hip irony--it looks easy, and students tend to like it because they can write a poem like those people that kind of sounds similar, and therefore seems "successful." Unfortunately--and this is at the crux of the Hoagland article--such poems often lack any sort of duende.

I'm all about the duende.

As for my reading: I like Kim Addonizio's latest. the new Christopher Buckley WHITE SHIRT is interesting. I (of course) enjoyed Dennis Hinrichsen's latest RIP TOOTH. We just read Deborah Landau's THE LAST USABLE HOUR in my advanced class and my students are still shaking their heads at its loveliness.

I'm going on sabbatical in the Spring, and I've been pulling books from the shelves to re-read: Kinnell, Sexton, Crane, Rich, Levis, Lorca...


message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert | 5 comments Gerry, this sounds like a terrific list. I'm going to explore a few of these titles I haven't heard of. And I feel you about the duende. A poem's got to have some fire in its belly, no matter what it's doing on the page. And hopefully it singes me.


message 11: by Gerry (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
I just had an essay taken by the National Poetry Review on this idea I have about secrets and "character" in contemporary poetry and how the spirit of revelation is at the heart of lyricism--that whole idea of Frost's Nothing new for the writer, nothing new for the reader. I think this is part of where the duende lies.

We should put a small poetry book group up here....


message 12: by Robert (new)

Robert | 5 comments I look forward to your essay--that is a terrific idea about revelation. I'd be down for a book group...though I have a hard time keeping up with any of my own reading/writing during school (probably all the more reason to do it...)


message 13: by Gerry (new)

Gerry LaFemina | 64 comments Mod
Exactly! It would motivate me to get at least one book read regularly.... I would like to see a few more people in this group, too. Please pass the word on.


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