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"What IsAmerican About American Poetry?" [Response to a questionnaire sent out by the Poetry Society ofAmerica] 1. Our amplification of Walt Whitman's panopticon (phrenology, Egyptology, opera, Hinduism, the poet as reporter and mystic, amative and adhesive, cultured and anarchic) and his "open road": the democratization of the whole person, the liberation of impulse and instinct from involuntary servitude, a new breath line based on vernacular and natural measures. We continue to operate under Whitman's charge. 2. Our invention of historical and prehistorical otherness: for Ezra Pound: ancient China; for H. D.: classical Greece; for Charles Olson: Maya and Sumer; for Gary Snyder: ancient India and Japan; for Judy Grahn: menarchic metaforms; for me: the Upper Paleolithic. 3. Our view of translation as an integral part of the poet's work. Examples : Pound's Cathay; Louis Zukofsky's Catullus; Kenneth Rexroth's Chinese and Japanese anthologies; Paul Blackburn's El Cid and Provencal troubadors; Cid Gorman's Basho, Montale, and Char; Richard Wilbur's Moliere; Richard Howard's Baudelaire ; Rosmarie Waldrop's Jabes;Jerome Rothenberg's Lorca (and his international anthologies); my Vallejo, Cesaire, and Artaud; Bill Zavatsky's Breton; Ron Padgett's Cendrars and Apollinaire; Lyn Hejinian's Dragomoshchenko; Robert Pinsky's Dante, etc. 4. Our incorporation of multiple levels of language—the archaic, the "American idiom," the erudite, the vulgar, the scientific— along with sound texts, sublanguages, and typographical eccentricity , into the poem's textures. A sense of relentless excitement; say anything; all words can enter into play. "What IsAmericanAboutAmerican Poetry?" 263 5. Our incorporation of the nonpoetic and the popular—reportage , history, dreams, songs, visions, libretto, chant, chance event, comic books, legal transcripts, agit-prop—as part of an ongoing, international "grand collage." Everything ismaterial. 6. Our belief that poetry canbe institutionalized and funded—degree writing programs, professorships for poets, archival purchases, endowment and foundation support—and remain authentic. 7. Our commitment to a radical, investigational poetry that israw, unfinished, wayward,ineluctably in process; poetry as an intervention within culture against static forms of knowledge, against schooled conceptions and traditional formulations. 8. Our commitment to a conservative, univocal, episodic poetry employing a restricted vocabulary, grammar-book syntax, and traditional English verse forms; the world represented as it is;a poetry of "intimate, shared isolation." 9. Our vision that poetry must be political (in spite of the fact that no one in America takes the poet politically seriously), and confront racism, imperialism, ecological disaster, and war, as part of the poet's social responsibilities. 10. Our vision that the only genuine poetry is apolitical, sublime, victimized by a chronic belatedness, and thus is, at best, a revisionist palimpsest of predecessor poetry; distrust of the local and specific event; a belief that only poetry monumentally stripped of context can be great. Nearly all current, seriously written American poetry draws upon varying aspects of the polarities proposed in points 7 and 8, and 9 and 10. Writing poetry is more complexly adversarial than in the past. The Dionysian/Apollonian, traditional/experimental, personal/public oppositions that have divided poets against their peers (and against themselves ) have scattered into a kind of archipelago of sites. One reason American poets have made contact with foreign poetries and "other" societies for materials and workings is becausemany of us feel that we cannot help but write an American poetry regardless of our thematic concerns. We are so saturated by media and commodity, so drenched in what might be called an imperialistic inscape, that regardless of what we intend we are walkingpyramids packed with the impress of the daily blitz. 2 6 4 C O M P A N I O N S P I D E R To speakinternationally for a moment: poetry is alwaysgoing nowhere and on one level to hell—on another, not to hell, but to the underworld , the pre-Christian subconscious. Poetry is fundamentallypagan and polytheistic, and would create assimilative space out of depth. One might say that a perpetual direction of poetry is its way of ensouling events, of seeking the doubleness in event, and an event's hidden or contradictory meaning. Each age produces some artists who, in their quest for authenticity, achieve their own truth by creating their own view of things. Such artists are never denned by movements of schools—their work may define or become the figurehead of a school, but as such they are never of the school they might be said to have created. Individual poets are campers in the new technological wilderness...


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