From Iceland — Left, Right And Centre

Left, Right And Centre

Published May 14, 2010

A self-righteous rant

A self-righteous rant

One of the greatest conservative projects in poetry is called New Formalism. In short, it supports the return to rhymed metrical verse and classical themes. It’s a let’s-write-like-Keats kinda movement, originally associated with the yuppie culture of the 1980s, with that perverted type of pseudo-sophistication that makes most modern day readers think of Patrick Bateman and his cronies—or Gordon Gekko. Lubricious slickers with a peculiar need to associate themselves with a bygone golden age while simultaneously proclaiming themselves as “the true new” of poetry (‘hey, look at me, I’m neo-Keats!’). This is poetry for a Roman master race; this is the right wing of poetry; this is literature for those who seek a moral centre and a sense in poetry, and find both in nostalgic form and subject matter.

Can you tell that I don’t care for it much?

Well, alright, I’ll admit I do get some pleasure out of it. My problem is more with the philosophy behind it than the parlour-game of pentameter per se. I’m no enemy of form or rigorous sportsmanship in poetry—both form and rigour are key traits of most experimental poetry, which is the part of the park I prefer to play in. But New Formalism’s spite towards modernism in particular, and modernity in general—not to mention its teeth-grinding spite towards experimental poetry—is so violently geriatric in its appeal that it verges on necrophilia.

Now, as in the real world, progressive left wing poetry’s problem tends to be dogmatism on the one hand and maddening factionalism on the other. Everyone has their own precisely constructed theory on what constitutes great post-avant poetry and the rest, however slightly they differ from the party line in question, are a bunch of revisionist nutters—interesting, perhaps, but eventually of no importance (“we must break you”). It’s poetry that praises community but (often) has little sense of community—and most of its communities are comprised of tiny revolutionary factions of mini-Lenins, each of whom can’t wait to drop the others so that they may lead the revolution on their own (“at best, you get to be a Verlaine to my Rimbaud, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go”).

(Can you tell I’m trying to be equally cruel towards my own, as I was towards the evil fascists of New Formalism above, in a perverted democratic tradition?)

Last but not least, oh woe to ye of putrid intentions, is the centre International Free Verse. Like its political representative in real life, the poetic centre is mostly without vision and has no discernible wish for poetry to be one thing or the other. It is a despicable mish-mash of nothing whose primary goal is to have a nice desk-job in the Poetic Institution—preferably a well-paid official position with a respectable title.

Its philosophy is that no news is good news. While nothing happens, you don’t have to be afraid that perhaps it’s the wrong thing happening. The poetic centre came out of the twentieth century through the indiscriminate bombings of Marinetti, the degenerate hippie logic of Allen Ginsberg and the rabid intellectualism of Language Poetry and feeling like it needed a break, at the very least. It deplores ideology, method, form, discernible content and conversation while idolizing all that which is vague: inspiration, harmless abstractions, cliché-ridden symbolism, simple juxtaposition and simultaneously deals in the perception that not asserting anything is in itself a form of supreme modesty.

Sometimes all of this seems too much for a poor soul—we still haven’t even begun discussing the rampant paranoia and petty hatreds that permeate poetic circles left, right and centre—and I feel this prompts serious questions about my career choice. Questions to which I’ve sadly still not found a satisfactory answer. But it’s totally fucked up, right?

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