Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Magisterium of Poetry

Saturday night talking with poet friends about a conference they just attended in Orono, Maine about the poetry of the 1970's I began to think about the magisterium of poetry. There is in poetry a group of poets who define meaning because they have time to do so. The tell us what to believe and in many ways they function like the Magisterium in Rome.

I have felt for a long time that poetry has been moving away from art and toward a kind of conciliar structure. This of course has always been true in art and poetry but it seems poetry in many ways has become that in spades. Poetry is a rarified world that is not open to market forces or to popular forces. In the past poetry and writing in general was a marginal exercise. Poets were either bon vivants or prophetic figures and they looked for an audience- not just an audience of friends and colleagues.

I remember once in an 19th and 20th century philosophy class I asked this question "Professor after all this Philosophy and all these great thinkers the Germans supported Hitler wasn't all this for naught?" The ideas did not matter that came out of the philosopher's mouths but they had absolutely no effect on the society. All the great philosophy had no impact because power mattered and ideas were crushed.

I often feel this way about poetry.

It is true that in America poetry does not have a strong prophetic history. But I cannot help but ask the question what has Language Poetry or Flarf brought to the essential dialogues? In talking to these friends one thing that comes out is the sense that Langpo with its Marxist roots is a closed system- kind of like a birdcage that the canaries know. My question is does this system do anything more than it pretends to do?

I have always been attracted to poets who want to do big things. Poets who define culture and who walk on a big stage. There are many poets whose work creates a world that is larger than the parameters of the Buffalo list or Barrett Watten's living room. Many of these poets are what would be termed Avant Garde- at least at their times but they are concerned with something more. It is not fashionable to talk about big things but if poetry does not strive for this what are we doing wasting our time?

I realize that in some way I am a heretic.

There is a poetic magisterium which defines-- but perhaps poetry in the American idiom needs to think about a bigger stage? The Flarfists have done some interesting things- but I don't see any of them going to jail for their poetic challenge. The Language Poets are allot like Conservatives- they are harkening back I almost feel like the current langpo progenitors would be really comfortable hanging out with the late William F Buckley.

I think about poets of my generation- Jennifer Moxley, Chris Glomski, Garin Cycholl, Lisa Jarnot, Catherine Daly and others and I get the sense that they are truly post modern in the sense that they conglomerate Langpo with older forms and deep reading to make something new. But I also wonder if something new is possible? Is prophetic possible?

Maybe the sing songy poetry of Charles Bernstein's Girly Man is all we have left? My New York Times keeps shrinking- Chicago might be a NO newspaper town- and books are to be digitized. So maybe poetry is a farce? But then I think about great poetic prophets like Celan, Robert Duncan or Osip Mandelstahm and I am satiated a little bit.

Most conferences are attended by people who dont work for a living in the non-poetry world. Ron Silliman mused about these conferences and cannot attend them since he like many of us lives in the non-poetry world. I think in the end that we can do allot of navel gazing but that poetry should be prophetic- the way St Francis was prophetic- and all too often this is snickered about; but if poetry does not have a prophetic role then what role does it have?

No one reads poetry for entertainment.


Ron said...

I don't live in the "non-poetry world," Ray, just the non-academic one. There is a BIG difference.


Providence said...

How could an aesthetic system do more than it pretends to do? Your own pretense is "prophecy," though the fact that it is a pretense does not mean it has no material ramifications. It merely means that those ramifications, if they are felt, are felt to be more or less motivated.

I think it is a serious misunderstanding of the generalizable tenets of language writing to imagine that it can be combined with the work of prophecy. The nearest predecessor would be Hannah Weiner, though it's also warping things historically to say she was doing one or the other in any strict sense.

Raymond Bianchi said...

Ron- thanks for the clarification I think you are correct and it is what I meant.


tmorange said...

ray, which do you think is more magisterial: a conference or an anthology? -- tom

Raymond Bianchi said...

Anthology- having edited two I think that is it

tmorange said...

okay, therefore you count yourself among the "group of poets who define meaning because they have time to do so [and] tell us what to believe," right? -- tom

Jeremiah Douglas said...

Hum. What is a poem? Can it be a "poetry" and NOT be "prophetic"? I, like you, value the prophetic role of poetry, but I'm glad that the art is big enough to include many other roles. I'd bet, for example, that you read poetry sometimes for "entertainment". And, besides, "no one" listens to the prophets.