Sunday, February 20, 2005

notes towards a renovative innovative

End of January I posted a reply to Waldman's short inquiry "Oppositional Poetics." I made the argument for an oppositional poetics grounded in a renovative verse function. I wrote, "Poetry has a unique relationship to specific landscapes--geography influences the poet's thought, landscape versifies geography (like poetry versifies prose,) language shapes thought--and through that unique relationship a topography for doing poetry develops, maintains, influences, constructs, and renovates." My goalwas to privilege renovation over innovation, not devalue innovation altogether. By the end of this post, I will arrive more or less at the following claim:

Useful and present Innovation is proper and present Renovation.

Innovation is the driving force behind "develops, maintains, influences, constructs." I add "and renovates" as a mechanism that circumferences innovative forces within poetics. Renovation, in my opinion, literally grounds innovation. Places innovative work within a landscape that must be nurtured. This is not a linear narrative that plots a place and time for poets and their work, begging both to fit within a given tradition. Quite the contrary, this geogrpahic location offers contemporaneity, a cross-section of here and now moments. Individual poems and poetics concresce and become more or less luminous communities in the greater cultural landscape.

Jake York, during the week of 2/6-2/13 and even in his latest post on the mainstream, helps flesh out as well as critiques my distinction between for and with in that earlier response. Josh Corey picked up on it as well here. (Kevin Elliott, Laurel Snyder, Mike Snider, J Mayhew are all writing about this; and KSM posted something engaging about value, yesterday.) The distinction is significant. Doing poetry with rather than for allows me to be like Baudelaire's flaneur. Whereas Baudelaire is needy, he is able to claim he accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish. Should the critic wish to place his work within a tradition for a reason that serves the critique or critical community, the work itself is always there in spite of the critique. Work completed for a community, for a cause, for a class, for a tradition always depends on an author's skill to accrue within the poetic object what is determined to be at-that-time--which is always at least one moment old--both significant and formal. This skill is never quite innovative enough to be anything other than creative (showing imagination) and is always a directive that points to something else that has not been nor ever can be fully achieved. Working for is to submit to a failure to achieve. Working for relies on time-tested structures to be re-enhanced--not revised--in order to achieve a sense of cultural identity through tradition. This is at best alienating, at worst basely submissive. Working with, on the other hand, allows one to use what is ready at hand as a tool for innovative labor. Working with permits one to construct and to revise what has been constructed. Working with allows for singular efforts within diverse communities.

I suppose this is a bit Deleuzean. I don't mind.

The problem with our market economy in relation to our poetry is that while the market flourishes when it is autonomous, when it allows for a freedom to experiment, and when it allow for diversity, our culture at every instant attempts to single out formal definitions and methods for The Autonomous, The Experimental, and The Diverse. This is the problem with the many and the one. Because the market is insensitive to our shared values and public interests, it moves through a proliferation of private exchanges without the ability to see or recollect; what is recorded is always the in-addition-plus-one, and plus-one, and plus-one. Capital is, after all, self-valorizing.

For a poem to develop, maintain, influence, construct, and renovate, a poet must work in the middle of things and remain in the middle of things regardless of what happens to the poetry that accumulates in the wake of the finished poems (products.) We should be able to say, Do with this what you will, I am finished with it and still care. In other words, an innovative poem always innovates. For what purpose? Towards what end? Certainly poetry is a project. We might not embody or wish for an end, but we depend upon a common means to do poetry. A means is an attempt--an attempt with, not for. Who are we doing for anyway?

For a poem to innovate while it renovates, a poet must engaged a community from which he or she cannot be isolated from. A writer might seek solitude in seclusion or isolation, but then what is written is always with(out) a community. The requirements for poetry to adhere to a look or to function as a gaze conceal its revelatory potential to shape social character and habit. A poem might not have the renovative power to actually change the occurrence of an event, or shape how it is interpreted; however, a poem produced with(in) everyday life and left there to be with it embodies a power to renovate that moment, in that it is a knowledge of that moment. Thus, a poetic object (and a poet) can alter the landscape by leaving behind remnants of behavior in congress or opposition to daily events. Poets compose a myriad my life.

The argument--the debate--concerns what should be valued in poetry. The current arguments for a mainstream poetry and against difficult poetry are a good sign. Who's kidding who, though? The argument against difficult poetry does nothing to address poetry as it is or potentially can be in society if only because it is a self-directed complaint aimed at a small portion of poets. It is self-directed because the majority of Americans (for example) simply do not read at all. Nevermind poetry. People are not reading. The complaint only properly addresses a small group of poets because only a small group of writers set out to write a difficult piece that readers will find hard to understand. The poets often listed as purposefully difficult write verse that is immanently meaningful; I have yet to read an engaging poem I haven't found accessible. The complaint about difficulty is strictly a complaint about form and value. It is simply wrong-headed and exclusive: wrong-headed, because the complaint does not actually handle what is at issue and offers, instead, a monolithic definition for meaning and comprehensibility that serves as a convenient straw man for burning; exclusive, because the complaint is not concerned with readers who aren't poets. In fact, it is an elitist argument, quite the snobbish and priggish position, because it supports the notion that only certain poets know and understand Poetry and Poetics, and as stand-ins for all the rest of us, they will make argument for the cause. Which is itself limited to ease of comprehension.

What is good poetry? Who cares? This is why few people read poetry anymore: they feel unqualified. Whether it is good or not, that poem you wrote is a poem. And whether your poetry is good or not, you are a poet when you're writing poems. (Ted Berrigan influence here.)

What does poetry do? We all better care. I might add that if it were possible to write a poem that had no meaning whatsoever, even the meaningless poem would do something. And I do believe that the complaints about difficulty are often made by readers who have no interest to examine meaning beyond the pragmatic and immediately relevant explicatures and implicatures in and around a line.

Maybe it is good enough to say that poetry should leave something behind to return to. This is its mark: a point of return, a place to begin: in this way a thing to develop, to maintain, to influence, to construct, and to renovate. The innovation is to assert my in-my-own-manner with you, or as Waldman claims, to go against the grain.

...If the grain is a fashionable attachment to simplicity, then we had better consider writing more difficult poems. Simplicity is, after all, a material condition of existence; quite the bourgeois condition. When I consider how I know what I know, and I attempt to consider my nature, I am tossed violently back three to five centuries. I find a balance, a too-comfortable mediation for experience and self-knowledge in Descartes. But when I begin to tune into these frequencies that we are all tuned in to, whether consciously or not, then I must consider the material conditions of my existence in a market that produces, amplifies, distributes, and broadcasts these frequencies as commodities.

I begin to compare how I value things, events, people, places. I begin to learn there are processes I am involved with that work without consideration of my feelings and my understanding of Spirit. I begin to comprehend that these processes take place within a system that is not populated with peoples, places, and things, because it is an ideological system not an ecosystem. And I finally begin to understand that I need to complicate the system, fuck with it at every opportunity, tweek it, simply to remind myself that I do have the ability to function without it.

Now I see why I am for and with focused. I am not going to implement a for directed attitude when working with others. For what? I have no reason to do anything for anyone. I do have every reason to work with others--to promote opposition to forces that promote indifference. Once indifferent, I can do for. Grade for. Purchase for. Critique for. Eat for. Sleep for. Work for. Walk for. Talk for. In opposition, I perform with, which as Jake mentions, is a turning towards. And when I turn towards, then I meet, and once met, we move with each other towards another turning. Working in this manner allows an involved opposition to daily routine in the market while it develops a (in)dependence--an ability to remain intellectually aloof enough to see what is coming. It is an attempt at presence, at least, an aspect of the moment. It is a purposive resistance of a continued (basely habitual) glancing backwards at some time and place that never was or will be because it exists only in the archive.

I suppose, this logic, has led me to equate the innovative to the renovative. But I need a break. (I really hope I am making some sense.)


Jake Adam York said...

Ah, refreshment AND renovation.

A few quick points and questions as a prelude to a more thoughtful response.

You write that "this geogrpahic location offers contemporaneity, a cross-section of here and now moments" --- and tempt my geographical sense. But you say as well, in the same turn that "this is not a linear narrative that plots..." leading me to ask: must the contemporaneity, the simultaneity a geography, a place, a space offers necessarily exclusive of a linear narrative? Must it NOT include a line? Must it preclude a line?

If it must, I worry that we may be substituting our own understanding of the way we come to produce a poem for the work the poem itself (not as an adjunct of ourselves or our own work) must do.

I take your point that a certain argument for the mainstream "supports the notion that only certain poets know and understand Poetry and Poetics": by turning away from poetics, one may suggest that it is for a few, thus insulting the potential of one's readers, whoever and however many they may be. However, I don't think it's at all a given that a producer's knowledge of an art necessarily gives rise to a producer's pleasure, as I've discovered in many of my children's workshops (and even in adult workshops for non-poets): people can know a great deal about the process by which a poem, or any writing, comes into being and still not wish to think through that process --- not because they're afraid of it or because they refuse to become involved with 'more serious issues' or 'more useful poetics' but because they value the pleasures of reading as a subject, as someone on whom the text acts.

And for those people, should there only be difficult poetry? Should there not be poetry that recognizes them as they recognize themselves? Poetry that represents them to themselves in a way that can promote, through a vision of them as subjects to the text, a version of their reading as connected to the larger community you envision as being accessed primarily through joint production?

I guess I might as well ask, for I think I've snuck myself up to this, if the reader can only become part of the working with by more or less becoming a writer or becoming with the writer?

(I might ask the same question of Josh in response to his November comment (yes, I'm quoting that again) that poetry turns readers into poets in some fashion.)

I might ask this, for I could not more completely disagree with your assertions here:

----Work completed for a community, for a cause, for a class, for a tradition always depends on an author's skill to accrue within the poetic object what is determined to be at-that-time--which is always at least one moment old--both significant and formal. This skill is never quite innovative enough to be anything other than creative (showing imagination) and is always a directive that points to something else that has not been nor ever can be fully achieved.-----

This argument has some merit if one considers "writing for" as something equivalent to writing under hire. But when the writing for, the gesturing back to those whom one envisions and requires as readers in some sense, takes place within one's own community and is governed by some ethical obligations, whatever their source, I think the work is already capable, through its relations with the community, to do more than accrue current determination to the work. Insofar as the relationship is not simply a linear or even a logarithmic feed into the work or into the author but is always interactive (with the work interacting through the author with the community that motivates and receives the work), the writer and work do more than accrue: they also project. In a sense, the work puts before the demanding community not simply a vision of the community as if it commissioned the work as a portrait, but rather a vision that requires the receiving community to answer back to the work, to become or withdraw from the work's vision. In a sense, the work accrues not only determinations and accrues not only to itself, but rather sediments its response as determination and as projection into the landscape of the community, perhaps through a narrative, but in a way that the work becomes part of this contemporaneity of which you write.

I can see why the vision you promote would be exciting inasmuch as it would suggest that the best citizen is an activist citizen, but I also worry that such visions, while they ask us all to take on the best we can know, also ask us to all become more like one another. Difficulty may be the means, but I don't think this vision has yet promoted much difference of telos, which may yet be an ultimate erasure of difficulty.

I've more to say on this --- especially as I'm beginning to understand my own ethics of writing in opposition to your formulations --- but will amplify after your riposte.

Gary Norris said...

Points taken, Jake. I will respond at greater length shortly; for now, I feel the need to urge that I am not arguing for an either/or: either difficult or mainstream poetics. I can are less whether a poem is mainstream, difficult, good, or bad. All are poems. At best, a poem should instruct the reader to read it as a poem and then to some extent teaches the reader poetry--good or bad, it is poetry.

Jake Adam York said...

Apropos of your response to my for/e:

I just don't see that such "radicalizing of discourse" really does "prevent at every opportunity the necessary aristocrat": on the one hand, the leveling out the discourse would seem to prevent such inequality of wealth as a mass or lack thereof, but at the same time it seems to reduce the forms of potential action, through language or other signification, making aristocrats of those who are masters of the proposed civic discourse, which is why I have a problem with the writing with vision you promote: it's too claustrophobic and to my mind detrimental to potential democratic action. I'd rather have a spread so that writing is not so much writing with in a way that drafts others into my discourse but a writing while that both tunes itself against the tones of others and creates harmonics that complexify the general music of work about.

Whitman's sexual congress is attractive but it, too, tends toward an erasure of difference, less satisfying to me than the I/you dialectic of the very earliest Whitman, something that more consistently recognizes difference as a point of balance that's necessary for the health of the democratic state. Of course, Whitman would have us attracted and repellent at once --- it's part of general vision of LEAVES before 1860, but it's hard to recapture that sense of balance everything suggests was most important to him.

For my part, I like to feel a kind of independence that borders on outcast-ness, and I need to feel it in my idiom. I need to feel that I'm not tied to the same root as a central discourse, that I can root out in another direction. Not leaves from a dendritic system, but leaves from a rhizome, that is not A root, not A radix, but always roots --- connected in system, yes, that always averages out strength so there's no overpowering or starving, but not so that the drives of all are reduced to proportions of the central tap.