Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Save each other, not the world!

Allow me to beat a dead horse. Actually, I like the space that Aaron is opening up in his last entry and I think it might gives us a space to describe in positive terms what our poetry is and can do. What Eric and I have been railing against in Collins’ work has nothing to do with the high culture / low culture divide – mainly b/c one such divide no longer exists. That debate is utterly useless b/c the distinction btw the two has been collapsed – for example, the ballet is now more democratic than professional football, what with luxury seats and all. With poetry, I don’t think that is even the issue – a high and a low. What is more interesting to consider, in my mind, is how a poet like Billy Collins can occupy a place in the national consciousness and not, to use Aaron’s example, Jackson Mac Low.

Aaron asks: “if you got your way and our countrymen started spending their aesthetic free time and dollars on art and poetry that mattered, if high schoolers could appreciate a poem by Jackson Mac Low, if we were NPR's darling poet white boys, would the world be any different?” I would say a resounding “yes”! If that were the case, if highschoolers read Rbt. Creeley and Fanny Howe and Jackson MacLow and a whole host of other poets, then I think this world would be a very much a different place and one for the better. This is not a utopian argument. If this sort of poetry occupied a place in America, it might serve as an example of the myriad ways that one can be a human being – rather than the singular and insipid way the Billy Collins’s of the world argue and present to a readership that takes it at face value. By seeing there are “ways” of being human and present in the world might key people into the ways we construct our world and ourselves and that these things are subject to change, etc. I don’t mean to call this a revolution, but all of us poets live in ways that are very much different b/c of the poetry we read, and I’d say for the better. Poetry can’t save the world, but at least it can make individuals more aware of where they are and who they are with.



Blogger Al Cohen said...

I can't argue with that, well put, but maybe we should spend our time reviewing and writing about the kind of poets and poetry we love, rather than the kind of poetry which negatively defines us.

Start a writing process that doesn't stop, that can build what's left of the polis.

5:57 PM  
Blogger House Press said...

Yes, let's! I'm trying to put up all the books we've recently put out - but for some reason can't load the images. Keep checking, they'll be there soon!

6:52 PM  
Blogger Tawrin said...

Well, I'm all for an understanding of "different ways of being human" (and I mean empathic as well as intellectual), but for me that doesn't hit the core of why Billy Collins' poetry sucks horseshit. Why it does is because there is a complete, complete lack of critical awareness in Billy's poems (of language, emotion, politics, science, history, you name it), and yet the it masquerades as having such. That, to me, is why it is disgusting to read. There isn't that search, yet it presents itself as such (especially bc of the self-deprecation trope). It's a sham, and if only Billy had a bit more emotional courage he might realize it. Or maybe he's like any other pop star, happily submitting to his role as placeholder in the cultural apparatus.

To get people to read beyond Billy Collins (and he's an easy fellow to encircle) people have to develop a greater critical awareness themselves. That's a big project. Any ideas? ('critical awareness' is a crude phrase, actually, but it comes closest to what I'm trying to get at; a better sense might be to take, as an emotional stance, the opposite of complacency, and combine it with the a moral give-a-fuck to develop the intellectual tools necessary to investigate the world in an honest way; I don't know that that's much better - I'm tired).

9:58 PM  
Blogger John Sakkis said...

hello house pressers,

let me direct you to kasey mohammad's blog where a similair conversation took place a few weeks back regarding a poem (and the work of in general) of mary oliver's...'ll have to scroll down a bit...

j. sakkis

10:02 AM  

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