Friday, June 12, 2009

Edgy Post Avant Poetry? You Gotta Know Where the Edge is to be Edgy

Adam Fieled, on his blog has really opened an issue I think is essential for poetry as an art form today. Can "post avant, experimental, Post Language, Flarf, Conceptualist" poetry be edgy?

In Kenneth Rexroth's Autobiographical Novel he shares with us his life . Rexroth experiences everything the IWW, the Bughouse Square Socialists, The Beats, Helping Japanese Internees, Thomas Merton's Trappists, SF Rennaissance poets, Various painters, and more. Rexroth is cutting edge because he is living on the edge without comfort. The edge is a place where he lived. The writing did not need much for that life to come out and become central to the work.

The kind of diverse formation that Rexroth had also informed other writers like Witold Gombrowitz the great Polish diarist. He lived in poverty and exile but who was committed to the work and to pushing boundaries. It did not matter to Gombrowitz that he was poor, alone and far from home he lived on the edge and it filled his work.
The reason contemporary so much of Post Avant writing is not edgy is that poets do not know where the edge is located. Poets writing today lived lives of comfort on a set formative track that I like to call the Poetry Industrial Complex.
Poets go to grad school where they make connections and they never have even seen the edge much less lived it. They write clever blogs and they are published by their friends who also were formed by the Poetry Industrial Complex. Most of these poets live very comfortable lives and anything edgy they write is mostly artifice. How could the cutting edge come from that formation? Out of the Poetry Industrial Complex and its formation some interesting Conceptual Poetry and Flarf have developed but the work is hardly edgy.
Poets who write edgy work are pushed to the margins by those formed by the Poetic Industrial Complex. he poets of the Poetry Industrial Complex prefer to exist within their sealed Tupperware world where they only breathe their own air. This air does not allow for truly edgy poetry.
All is not lost however there are many poets writing Post Avant who are edgy- they just are not as well known or many times in New York...
Here are some suggestions for edgy work ...
  • In Chicago there is a slam poet Kevin Coval whose work has the "slam" aesthetic but is also challenging and you can feel edgy truth in the writing.

  • Another is Mark Nowak whose work is both edgy and well done and actually working class which is a place most Post Avant poets have only read about in books.

  • Chicago poet (But now in Poland) Mark Tardi has all the Poetry Industrial Complex bonafides but he is a poet of hard edges without sentiment.
  • Jesse Seldess poetry is filled with the disturbing world of for example Alzheimers yet his work is not read widely yet.
  • A couple of well formed edgy poets are Harryette Mullins and Ed Roberson's whose work is well read. Maybe someone ought to send a pallet of their books to President Obama so when he picks a poet to write a poem for the inauguration he gets something stomach able.

  • Garin Cycholl whose geographic/historical poetry weds a poetry of place with a true avant garde sense in ways that have not been seen since Charles Olson's Maximus is very edgy.

  • Jen Hofer has all the Poetry Industrial Complex formation but none of the artifice pushes boundaries from a life lived on the edge. She is also a great bridge to Latin American writing.
  • Speaking of poets on the edge there are so many global poets whose work is filled with edginess- Virna Teixiera, Sergio Medeiros, and Maria Esther Maciel in Brazil, Giovanna Frene and Marco Giovenale in Italy, Haydar Ergodian in Turkey, Dunia Mikhail in Iraq, Laura Solorzano, in Mexico and many others.

Their books are all available... So go buy them and break the tupperware seal of your mind.


P.F.S. Post said...


I have to be honest with you. I like your work very much, but this post is pure bullshit. When was the last time YOU lived on $18,000 dollars a year? Anyone who thinks grad school ISN'T edgy needs to spend a year at Temple University here in Philly. I've couch surfed, I've lived on people's floors, but I have NEVER felt so much edge in my life as I have getting my PhD, and it's total presumptious crap for you to PRETEND you know what it's like. You speak from an IGNORANCE that cannot be more comfortable. Get a PhD or can it.


Ross Brighton said...

a couple of points, because I tend to agree with Adam (in principle, because though I don't know where you're writing from, people who write broadly critical swathes like this tend not to, in my opinion, know anything of the lifestyle that they are holding up as a (facetious) romantic ideal. The points are:

"anything edgy they write is mostly artifice". Anything anyone writes is artifice, by definition. Any pretence otherwise is either ignorant or wilfully deceptive.

2. What qualifications do you have to dictate what poets are "working class" or not? And what do you call "edge"? I have to say I don't really understand anything in this post except garbled jargon about some vast academic conspiracy, with no evidence, no definitions of edge or lack of it.

You argue for a lack of physical comfort without explaining how this produces good poetry. You dismiss the Flarf aesthetic off hand without giving any reason. And the same with grad school - do you know how much it costs, and how much crippling debt people take on by studying?

I'm not sure what to say. this post just confuses me. I'm sorry.

phaneronoemikon said...

Pappy Van Winkle!

Guillermo Parra said...

I have to agree w/ Ray. While I know grad school isn't easy (I have the debts & poverty to prove it), it's far from living on the edge. It is a well-trod, socially-accepted path. Getting a PhD isn't a requirement for speaking with authority on this matter.

So many in the post avant suffer from endless amounts of self regard coupled with the most provincial views of poetry. Never has an aesthetic vanguard been so boring.

Ross Brighton said...

What is living on the edge then? I'm not sure this romantic idealism helps anyone, other than the egos of those who espouse it - in their own, wounded, "endless self-regard".

As for well-trod and socially accepted, I think writing poetry of any sort leaves those qualifiers behind, at least to some degree. And the writers grouped (somewhat artificially) under the moniker of "post avant" get far less credence, and far less grant money, then their detractors would believe.

Any examples of this "provincialism" and "boredom"? I'm curious.

Marilyn said...

funny cause here i am thinking 18,00/yr makes you LOADED

i have shitons of debt from undergrad & owning my own car, but i live v. comfortably on 12,000/yr. i also manage to support a rather “healthy” blunt habit. 18,000? strapped for cash? can’t fancy that.

poverty has nothing to do with ‘edgy.’ my whole family is poor & none of ‘em are “edgy.” when i went to college it was the kids who had money who had the best taste cause they could afford to actually, yknow, access stuff. like i never had the money to buy, say, a kenneth anger DVD but those kids did. poverty is tricky. if yr real poor, you likely don’t have the time to read or write cause yr working three jobs (& if yr a woman have yr pick: child/elderly care, waitress, “admin assistant”). or you can’t write cause yr worried yr parents are sick or you are & can’t get help...but, um, what kind of poverty are we talking here? far as i’m concerned, if yr white & educated 18,000 ain’t poor.

the problem with boo-hooing about the lack of edginess in writing is that its not new. not even close. plus, ‘edginess’ has nothing to do with the mfa or phd. banal shit exists & has existed in all art forms since forever. good lit is as obvious as steven cropper vs. eric clapton. one has soul & the other simply wanks. did the mfa create clapton? amy clampitt? is there a reason we read d.h. lawrence today but not his friend & contemporary compton mackenzie? both are good but lawrence had a little more. that being said—i wouldn’t mind if poets did step it up a notch. in their writings & in their lives. the last eight poetry readings i attended were boring as fuck. like six sleepy dudes in khaki’s & tevas standing before a podium. not exactly olson at berkley, 1965.


Guillermo Parra said...

"Any examples of this "provincialism" and "boredom"? I'm curious."

Well, for one, the lack of interest among many post avant poets regarding their fellow experimental poets in Latin America, today and in the past. For instance: How many post avant poets know anything about the early 1960s Venezuelan collective El Techo de la Ballena? At least Allen Ginsberg did. We need more Ginsbergs.

It's wonderful that Bolaño has been embraced by English-language readers, but there's a whole avant garde tradition behind him and after him that many post avants (a) have no clue about and (b) couldn't care less about.

I suppose I'm speaking in pretty general terms here. And there are of course many American poets (like Jen Hofer) and institutions (like Ugly Duckling Presse) that DO look beyond the narrow confines of experimental American poetry. As for boredom, well, I'm simply bored by American self-absorption and provincialism. The Clash said it a long time ago: "I'm so bored with the U.S.A."

Ross Brighton said...

I don't particularly care about those people who can't see beyond there own borders. There is so much awesome translation, republishing and cultural exchange going on at the moment. There are too many presses (not just ugly duckling) to mention here. maybe I'm to optimistic, but I don't give much credence to complaints as they look unfounded (outside of the classroom) to me. Though I do expect people to be reading these things. Maybe they don't. I dont know. I just got one of Johannes Goransson's Aase Berg translations in the mail today. It's awesome.

Mark said...


My guess it that you're arguing for a kind of Whitman-esque rearing: "The proof of the poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he absorbs it." So writers should get our there, get their hands dirty, etc.

But with edgy work or not, that's a different question. Some work engages us; some doesn't. I suspect part of the problem you're trying to diagnose relates to so many poets knowing each other, the social posturings and preenings, which of course play a role, and may not have much to do with the quality of one's writing.

For me, what I think is productive -- "edgy" -- is a poetry that can sustain range (both individual writers, but also the wider poetic discourse). And I think we have that. The idea that poetry is so widely read in other countries -- as best as I can tell -- is a lovely delusion Americans hold.

Readers of Polish poetry are devoted & astute, but there are hardly more of them in Poland than there are in America. Our numbers are small. Maybe writers are listened to a bit more, which in part has to do with older, deeper traditions in other places.

As for Gombrowicz, yes, he was poor in Argentina. He was also landed gentry in Poland. So? I'm sure both affected his life profoundly.

And with MFAs or Ph.ds, the thing you continually ignore in your critiques is this: some people go to these programs b/c they're energized by the possibility of being around other people who share their interests, which isn't exactly devious. (If I watch a Cubs' game with my friends or a Liverpool match with supporters nobody would claim it's a sports conspiracy.) Maybe that makes for a change of position -- circumference to center -- or maybe it doesn't. But I'm certainly grateful for the people I've learned from (some of whom are academics) -- and continue to learn from.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...