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Essay Reviews Towards a New American Poetics. By Ekbert Faas. (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1978. 296 pages, $6.00.) A substantial number of contemporary poets have enough in common to justify a name, and they have been around long enough to invite study. Among the names suggested are “naked poetry” and “open form” poetry. In genera], the shared belief is that form results from cultural indoctrina­ tion and has become a self-perpetuating illusion. The literary historian who undertakes a study of this new poetry faces the usual problems. Artists are original and thus different from one another or else they are not artists. No name seems accurate to more than a few of the several who should be included. And any name that becomes accepted — as we know from study­ ing Romantics, naturalists, and so on — takes on a personality and becomes ambitious. In addition, efforts to understand the new poetry are complicated by the fact that too much of modem culture seems relevant: Black Moun­ tain poetry, the Beats, a number of poets not usually associated with any group or school (Robert Bly, James Wright, Adrienne Rich, W. D. Snod­ grass, Louis Simpson, Carroll Arnett, Louis Zukofsky), a trace in the his­ tory of modem American poetry from Walt Whitman (cf, the “barbaric yawp”) to William Carlos Williams (cf, the “red wheel barrow”) to Wal­ lace Stevens (cf, the “supreme fiction”), philosophical and critical move­ ments from phenomenology and existentialism to structuralism, an enor­ mous amount of fiction (Robbe-Grillet, John Barth) and drama (Ionesco, Edward Albee), and — in all its blinding riches— the Orient. When so much seems relevant, literary historians may lose confidence in their judg­ ment, concluding that an inability to select means a failure to understand. It may be a good time to put all academic notes in the waste basket and return to the reading of some one single poem. Still, there are the recurrent and almost obsessive attacks on T. S. Eliot and the New Criticism, an assault on traditional forms which has gone on 166 Western American Literature well beyond the customary assault which characterizes the birthing of any new movement, widespread attacks on reason which are so extreme that readers may be left wondering what is left to attack with or to read with, and — perhaps most pervasive of all — a sympathetic but merciless por­ trayal of human consciousness as a farcical illusion which believes itself capable of objective perception but which is, in fact, a victim of reason’s tyranny. The rational consciousness, according to the new poetry, is merely one more object at loose in the world of objects which the consciousness arrogantly presumes to analyze. Towards a New American Poetics is an important study of six poets who should be read as individuals but who are nonetheless relevant to this overwhelming context. Editor Ekbert Faas has written an introduction and an essay on Charles Olson, there is an interview with Robert Duncan, and then both an essay on and interviews with Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley , Robert Bly, and Allen Ginsberg. Faas is a good scholar, and thus he is not looking for a thesis to ride, but all six of the poets selected believe that poetry should be birthed from the primal self. Quoting D. H. Lawrence’s advocacy of “the old pagan process of rotary image-thought,” Faas analyzes Olson’s search “for man’s original language, uncorrupted by our Judaeo-Christian and Greek ways of thinking.” Language, Olson believed, had become intellectualized and allegorized into scientific and teleological ways of abstracted pseudo-thought. “Field composition” is the means and “Projective Verse” the key essay marking Olson’s efforts as poet, critic, and Rector of Black Mountain Col­ lege to bring poetry back from the sterility of T. S. Eliot to a language of things bom in the primal and physical breath of the poet. The interview with Duncan features the personal and perhaps not very valuable judgments of the poet (his comments on C. G. Jung’s sup­ posed subjectivism, for example, are grossly inaccurate), but the interest­ ing thing is that Duncan intelligently indicates the broad-ranging relevance of Black Mountain poetry. Provocative...


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pp. 165-170
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