Friday, February 29, 2008

The Rebirth of the Journey Book

In the great tradition of journey books. Genesis, Exodus, Confessions of St Augustine, and Dante's Divine Comedy .

In American literature we have Moby Dick, The Seven Storey Mountain, On the Road, The Grapes of Wrath. Books like these are not written much today.

Whether these books are novels or memoirs there was a time when people were genuinely interested in the various metanoias of great poets or writers. There was a desire to understand what made a poet and moved them toward their art.

In recent years irony and detachment have become central to the Post Avant garde. We now do not reveal anything from our interior lives. This movement is best encapsulated by the kind of Avant Garde- Hipster poetic that began with Language/Charles Bernstein and continues today in so much of contemporary poetic practice. There are a slew of fine poets whose interior lives and texture is kept out of the work intentionally so that we are left only with the poetic and we do not get a chance to understand where they are coming from poetically or personally.

All one has to do is read poets like; Jena Osman, Juliana Spahr, Catherine Daly, Jennifer Scappettone, Joshua Corey, Peter O'Leary, Joshua Clover and many others to to see this divide. There is an opaque wall between the inards of the poet, what makes them tick, and "the work". It makes for interesting poetry but it also makes one wonder and leaves us unfilled at times.

Two new books of poetry/memoir have come out in the past six months that counter this trend and in fact revive the tradition of the journey book- be it interior journey or exterior or both. I for one hope this begins a trend toward more "there" and substance in poetry and a move toward more texture and glimpses into the interiors of the poets.

Jennifer Moxley's, The Middle Room, is a seminal work for our time I think. It is a calm memoir about the journey of a person toward poetry. I have written allot about Moxley's book here on the blog. But my enthusiasm remains strong. Moxley's poetry and her memoir is a great antidote to the depth of opaqueness that we are forced so often to endure in poetry. Her work opens up an old way. Her work is also a harbinger of a different future. It was said in the 1950's three books were harbingers of the future- On the Road, The Seven Storey Mountain, and HOWL. These three books set up in the 1950's the debate for the next years, Journeys, Tradition leading to radicalism. I think Moxley's book is important because it stands as a response to the depersonalization of our age. That is the trend that Moxley's work stands against and this makes it important.

Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook is also seminal. Gudding has reclaimed Maleness from the fascists. Most male poets writing today are consciously neutered. Gudding makes a claim on the journey book by putting all the banalities into collage and parataxis. His work opens up a reflective quality that we do not see in poetry today. Poetry today is more apt to be filled with obscurity and not interior quality. Gudding changes all of this and makes us listen to the questing of a poet whose strengths lay in the variety of his experience.

I am not saying that the ironic hipster poetry is finished. But perhaps vapidity is finished?
I hope that those poets who wish to expose themselves the way that so many have in the past and want to open up the journey to their readers will spend time with Moxley and Gudding and learn from the mastery of these works.

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