Thursday, January 29, 2009

here and now



There’s a new anthology of Australian poetry just hit the decks. I think the official publication date was early January, but there were plenty copies in bookshops before Christmas. I bought one in one of my favourite bookshops, Kinokuniya, in Sydney, in December.

There’s some discussion about it going on Laurie Duggan’s blog, especially about the cover. I’m not so keen on the cover but others I know think that it’s fine.

And there is always going to be the usual argument about who is in and who is out, and why. I've been left out of enough anthologies and been in a few (I'm in this one, for instance), and have said my piece on that a few times too many in the past, so perhaps it's not the place to join that discussion for the moment.

I’m more interested in John Kinsella’s comment in one of his introductory essays (you can read all of this essay on the Penguin website):

“The publication or presentation of innovative verse-novels, prose poetry, hypertextual poetry, multimedia and performance poetry, installation poetry, concrete poetry and many other cross-generic forms is standard in Australia now. Experimentation is the expectation rather than the departure, but this surely leads us to question what actually constitutes the experimental, and to begin looking elsewhere for what is truly working against the status quo.”

I would question that experimentation is the expectation within the mainstream of Australian poetry. I still mainly see the free verse attachment to anecdotal ‘sincerity’ wrapped up in the unified ‘I’, a lot of overworked and over-romanticised metaphor, not a lot of formal experimentation, a fear of difficulty (rather than obscurity), and a real avoidance of anything to do with digital writing and the internet in general. Sure, there’s plenty of people doing the ‘experimental’ things, including a number of the poets I hang around with, but it isn’t the norm, and why would you expect it to be so? (I, like Kinsella, do question what ‘experimental’ now means.) And, of course, you can prove anything with examples so I can be proved wrong. It’s not my core point.

I’m really interested in the ‘elsewhere’ that Kinsella is positing, wondering where that is. And in my mind it's not a one ‘elsewhere’, but the many ‘wheres’, that are here and now. That's the beginning of a discussion it would be good to have in Australia.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The only reason you want to know where "elsewhere" is so you can be there when they decide.

Hollow poetry careerists like you make me want to shit vomit. You'll write anything if you think it will
land you a spot in the next anthology.

Do us all a favour - take up bowling- anything, but not poetry - save us from your unreadable, vacuous narcissistic, self-important experimentation.

Jill Jones said...

No, actually, whoever you are, to all you've said.

As such, 'anonymous', you know nothing about me nor my poetry. Nor 'experimentation'.

Gutless comments and generalised bile have no effect.

Speak for yourself, not 'us all'.

Anonymous said...

I know more than you think.

But yes, you are right about one thing. I know nothing about experimentation.

Only you really clever, university educated, sensitive poet types know about that - don't you.

Only clever people like yourself and your clever friends - all your clean cut clever friends- everyone else should keep their trap shut cuz -what would they know anyway.

How could an ordinary reader possibly understand something so brilliant and experimental as my epoch changing work. Huh!

Jonathan Shaw said...

Jill, you don't have to give the anonymous bile-spewer airspace. They're perfectly free to start up their own blog and delight us all with their indubitably readable, non-vacuous, altruistic and modest writing

Jeff said...

I am interested in your comments about experimental poetry, Jill. I have thought about this issue for some time. There is value, of course, in experimentation. The activity can lead to new, surprising and valuable discoveries. There is even a sense in which any writing is experimental, a venturing forth without a complete map, not knowing where one will get to or how one will get there. (One can write by formula, of course, and no doubt some poetry is written that way.) But I have worried and been sceptical for some time about the establishment of experimentation as a raison d’etre and goal for writing rather than as a means and method. In my view experiments are things one tries, and as such they can be successful or unsuccessful. It seems to me, though, that many people publish writing that is experimental without any sense of having made a judgement about the worth of the results of the experimentation. (One can be too quick to judge, of course, and judge too conventionally, but this does not mean that the absence of any judgement is the way to go.) It seems to me that most of the experimental writing that is done should never be seen, because it is inherently difficult to create good writing (again, not necessarily conventionally good), so most experiments will fail to yield worthwhile results. But as long as experiment is raised to a principle of literary or artistic value in itself, we will see works whose ONLY merit is that their creator did not know what they were doing when they created them.

Also, I would like to say that the sorts of poetry that you speak of so disparagingly - “free verse attachment to anecdotal ‘sincerity’ wrapped up in the unified ‘I’, a lot of overworked and over-romanticised metaphor” - is the sort of poetry that a lot of people, myself included, still value. To speak so disparagingly of sincerity, placing it in inverted commas, suggests that you believe that sincerity is not, or no longer, something that is either possible or to be valued. The same for talking from one’s personal experience of the world and exploring the condition and nature of the “I’ within the world and amongst others. I disagree, and think it is a sad prospect to imagine a situation in which art can no longer legitimately explore and attempt to throw light upon the human experience in these terms. I am not in the least concerned if this seems to anyone to be old fashioned, as I have no faith in progressive views of history, which as you surely know have been thoroughly discredited in recent years.

I enjoy some poetry which explores the possibilities of language in more formal and less ‘anecdotal’ ways as well. (And there is plenty of ‘anecdotal’ poetry that I think is crap, precisely because it fails in the ways you talk about – but such failure is just that, and not a necessary characteristic of this approach to writing.) I just don’t think this should be excluded, dismissed or regarded as illegitimate.

Jill Jones said...

Hi Jeff, Thank you for your comments. Oddly enough, there is some sense in which we would agree, through most likely for different reasons.

Just quickly, I was using 'experiment' in response to the comments John Kinsella made in his essay. I was questioning whether 'experimentation' is the norm. I agree that the word 'experiment' is often mis-used, that a lot of poetry labelled 'experimental', in fact, a lot of poetry with any label or no label, should not see light of day.

Interesting that you thought I was being disparaging. I was describing what I commonly saw, again in response to Kinsella's comment - and on which he and I agree to disagree. Sure, I do question the sincerity of a lot of 'sincerity' in poetry, to the point where I think it is insincere. I have no problem with exploring the 'I' in the world, especially if that exploration includes questioning the I-ness of the I. I don't resile from my comments about overblown-ness. I was reading something this morning, by a much-lauded newer poet and I kept thinking, don't try to show me how clever you are with yr metaphors, I don't believe you.

Look, a lot of what I have written uses metaphor, anecdote, seems (note, seems) to be autobiographical, etc, etc. Despite the tone of some of these comment makers, I don't just write in one manner. The evidence is there if anyone chooses to look. I, gulp, experiment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Like you, I worry about the label. But for different reasons (maybe).

I have to dash now. Maybe I can say more later.

Jeff said...

Thanks for responding, Jill. I look forward to any future reflections you might add. I do appreciate you were responding to John Kinsella's remarks, which I am afraid I have not read.

On the 'seems' part of your 'autobiographical' poems: I have read your poetry (some) and see much in it that 'appears' to be autobiographical, or that at least uses the first person perspective and pronoun. Now of course I cannot know if it is really autobiographical or fictional. I suspect it is probably a combination of both. The real aim, I think, should be to say something that is true about what it is to be a person (here, now, this or that type of person, or anytime, anyplace and any person, depending on the poem). Sometimes one can get at that truth by simply reporting the facts, sometimes one can only get at it by manipulating the facts, and sometimes one can only get at it by entering the realm of pure fiction. I don't care which it is, or what combination, and I don't think any reader should care. I think it is the quality of truth that matters (truth, not factuality).

michaelf said...

hi jeff

a brief response to the 'sincerity' point. i think the problem for me is representations of sincerity, rather than sincere poetic practice. anyone might have (everyone does) experience pain - but saying i hurt - or i have seen the hurting - is not enough.

& re experiment - its not true i think that a poet interested in experimentation doesnt know what theyre doing. of course it can become a fake style just like anything else. its interesting to think of 'knowing' in this case: in the sense of consciousness .. if someone is writing a conventional lyric, how strongly do they 'know' what theyre doing?

Jeff said...

Hello Michael.

Well, you know what they say about sincerity: If you can fake that....

I think that the difficulty of talking about pain without mawkishness or romantic sentimentality should not deter serious artists from the approaching the experience. If all one does is to say "I am/have been in pain; please fell sorry for me", then one has failed as a poet. I have read and heard plenty of such poems (and written a few, as well, I admit). One has to do something more than that, to make the reader know that pain in some way they didn't before or if they did, the poem must somehow enrich this knowledge.

I guess the more bad poems there are on a topic the harder it might be to write a good one. Or perhaps it is just that when a subject has been explored already so thoroughly it is hard to say something interesting and more than obvious that is still true.

I can see what you mean about experimentation. In sticking to a convention, one might be able to sleep-walk, remain unconscious, whereas if one is making it up as one goes one has to stay alert.

michaelf said...

(the pain thing etc..)

i think it has something to do with how you start a poem.. with a subject or theme, object, character, a feeling, an emotion, a phrase (or word), an idea, method or structure..& this list could be expanded & broken down further

does emotion become part of the synthesis.. how aware is the writer of what theyre doing..etc

Paul said...

Holey mackeral. Anonymous comments should always be disregarded. I'm hoping TINA comes up with some defintion of 'experimental' poetry which does distinguish it from the mainstream. I'm also interested in why we have to keep repeating the same experiments over and over. Maybe we could think up some new ones? Isn't every piece of writing an experiment? Perhaps we could experiment with creating a mainstream?