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Genetically modified.

A Fortnightly Review
of

American Hybrid
Edited by Cole Swensen and David St. John.

New York and London: Norton (2009). 560pp. $25.95 | £18.99

 By Peter Riley.

IT CAN BE very difficult dealing as a reviewer with a body of poetry with which you feel you have been involved. This anthology collects poets mostly active from the 1990s to the present, with a few senior figures added, in what most people would recognise as a modernist or radical tendency. The title claims they are middle-of-the-road but this is not generally so. Throughout the earlier part of this period I was involved in an annual gathering of poets in Cambridge, a rather chaotic affair, and in ten years we invited some 15 of these poets and another ten or so who might have qualified for this anthology. They were invited in a context of innovative poetry, and as such I listened to them, admired them, exchanged books, drank with them, showed them Wittgenstein’s grave (most of them wanted to see Wittgenstein’s grave), paid them inadequately, and waved them goodbye.

Some I am still in touch with. There was a sense of a rather shaky solidarity of the innovative, the only major flaw in which was an evident lack of interest on the part of these and other foreigners in the innovative British poetry with which we surrounded them. None of us ever got a reciprocal invitation. Ten to twenty years later it all feels rather different. If I now think there are problems with a lot of this poetry, am I betraying a trust or exhibiting my own faltering instability? Probably the latter. My strategy is to largely avoid talking of particular poets, but to speak instead of the ethos of the collection as confirmed by a majority of the poets presented, not that this will get me out of trouble.

But it goes further back than that, to 1960, when the anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 edited by Donald Allen1 appeared. This had a tremendous impact on British poets such as myself. It seemed to open a new gateway to a greater, and refreshed, sense of what poetry could be. The variety in it was wide – the global cultural excavation of Charles Olson, the poetical “magic” of Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, the wild oppositional populism of Ginsberg, the urbane meditations of Frank O’Hara… For some of us twentieth century British poetry was herewith abandoned (though we came back to it).

This opening extended beyond the book itself, back to William Carlos Williams and George Oppen, and we connected with other forms of Americana – abstract expressionism and free jazz. The word “open” was used a lot (“open field” was Olson’s term for his practice) for a poetry which avoided literary tropes and patterning and was free to dispose itself on the page by a new rhetoric which engaged the reader directly, a prosody that was like acts of physical movement in free play. The word “objective” was proposed as counter to the presiding subjectivity of English poetry at that time, by which most poets seemed to be knowingly offering their personal qualities to the reader through a conventionalised medium rather more than anything else, anything independently observed or thought.2 American Hybrid sees itself in its central content as in direct descent from the poetry in Allen’s anthology, which is likewise how I saw those American poets I got to know in the 1990s. Why, then do I feel uncomfortable? Because in contrast it feels like a closure. I can but rarely see any further possibilities in what these poets do, any opening to the future. Allen’s anthology is mentioned in the Introduction but quite unfairly as a collection of poems for quick one-off reading, as against the studied linguistic manipulations of hybrid poets; this is quite untrue.

ALLEN’S ANTHOLOGY CONTAINED no professors of poetry. American Hybrid seems to contain little else. The poets in Allen’s anthology had not won any prizes. The poets in American Hybrid are loaded with them. Is this perhaps a rather superficial point of comparison? Or is it a sign of what has happened to American poetry since 1960?

I FEEL THAT this anthology is constructed on a false premise. In the introductions it is taken as axiomatic and unquestionable that American poetry has for a long time been split into “two camps”. The camps are of course the traditional and the innovative, conventional and experimental, Romantic and modernist, closed and open – Robert Lowell called them “cooked and uncooked”. For convenience I’ll refer to these as the conservative and the radical, but these terms do not necessarily say anything about any of the writing, and there is specifically no political parallel. The idea of hybrid poetry is that this immense gap is narrowed or healed by poets who adopt features from both sides of the controversy, and thus for instance may show experimental language violations as much as plain-speaking address.

But really the two-camps view, which is essential to the rationale of the anthology, was created almost entirely by anthologisers and critics. Poets never allotted themselves so systematically, and there were never just two ways of writing poetry. Allen’s anthology was not a collection of extremists on the left, its poets were not “marginal” – it represented just about everything that was worth knowing about in mid-century American poetry, and within a great range of practices, some of them mutually inimical. This indeed was Allen’s intention, and it would have been clearer if he had stuck to his original scheme to include an older generation of poets: Pound, Stevens, Williams, Zukofsky, etc., which unfortunately Olson forbade, insisting that the collection represent “where we are at”.

This comprehensiveness is confirmed if you look at the “rival” or conservative anthologies of that time, such as Donald Hall’s New Poets of England and America (1957)3 in which most of the conservative American poets are now unknown names; they seem to have vanished without trace as if they never were. There never was an effective counter-balance. But the division thesis was undoubtedly successful: as in journalism generally you only have to set up a fight and you’ve got your audience, and of course it was taught in the colleges and repeated in later collections until poets themselves must have come to believe that they had to choose which camp to write from, and most of those in American Hybrid seem to have adopted the radical option. As the radical tendency became more and more institutionalised the writing within it has increasingly catered to an academic market demand. To me much of it now seems like a narrowing, at worst a betrayal, of the achievements in The New American Poetry.

 

I HAVE TO add that I find the two introductions, of which Cole Swensen’s is the more substantial, and the introductory statements to each poet (which amount to blurbs), quite depressing. The field of American poetry is understood as a set of categories. Everything is determined by pressure from depersonalised and numinous blocs, called Black Mountain, Beat, San Francisco Renaissance, New York School (those being four categories chosen by Allen to subdivide his anthology), Confessionalist, Mainstream, New Formalism, Language Poetry, Objectivism and so on and so on. There are no people in here! just collectivised results of former activity that can be shifted around in relationship to each other. Poets do get named of course, but like the groupings they tend to get identified by a singular summary tag. It is detached and clinical: there seems not to be, and never to have been, any possibility of being overwhelmed by an individual act of poetry. Rimbaud is reduced to the formula of “The Rimbaudian ‘I is another’” which poets “take on” or “extend” like picking up a piece of tubing and working on it. The New York School is about the “diurnal” and that’s that (I think O’Hara was, at his best, a metaphysical poet). There is no uncertainty in this coverage, no confusion, no disarray of the senses planned or unplanned (sorry, Rimbaud) – the whole thing is utterly wrapped up and ready for the classroom. Today we do the New Formalism. I was hoping that this way of talking about poetry had stopped.

IT IS EVEN more depressing to see an age-old American attack on British poetry repeated as dogma. We are told, quoting Paul Auster, that “most twentieth-century American poets took their cue either from the British tradition or the French” – and of course the French option is favoured. British means Romantic, pastoral, closed, conservative, “man as a natural being in a natural world, informed by intense introspection and a belief in the stability and sovereignty of the individual.” (Are these all such terrible things?) Britain means traditional lyrical forms and “no radical break from nineteenth-century poetical conventions”. It means E. A. Robinson and Robert Frost.

This is one of the oldest and most tiresome polemics in modern poetry, going back to Walt Whitman and Noah Webster if not further. And it is such nonsense. It is followed (on p.xviii of the Introduction) by a catalogue of the shiny virtues of French poetry, all of which can in fact be found in British nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetry, and the most important principle of which, a figurative freedom in poetical language which trespasses beyond social norms, has been convincingly argued (by Ford Madox Ford among others) to derive from Britain anyway, in the form of Shakespeare, whose influence on Lamartine and thus the Symboliste poets is very much to the point. And there is more to nineteenth-century poetry than nineteenth-century poetical conventions. Britain is separated from France by a small ditch, and French is still the first foreign language taught here (except Welsh for some). If anything important happened there we’d be the first to hear of it. (In talking about the impact of Allen’s anthology on me as an escape from English poetry I must seem to have contradicted what I say here, but I look upon that as reaction to a particularly narrow phase of English poetry typified by the unfortunate Larkin, and anyway I almost immediately set about rediscovering British (rather than English) poetry.) To repeat these old saws now is extraordinary. Doesn’t anybody over there read British poetry except in the old Oxford anthologies? And what is the logic of connecting various forms of poetical licence to a disabling of the individual? Why should anyone want to abandon, in poetry of all places, the work of the individual consciousness? The “English” problem was subjectivity, and individuality and subjectivity are not the same thing: indeed objectivity in poetry or elsewhere surely makes a particular demand on the individual perceptive processes, and does not at all necessarily implicate a classroom scientism which surrenders to the collective. There is in fact a lot of trouble with concepts of the self in this anthology, on the one hand foregrounded in eccentric and idiolectic language zones, at the same time suppressed by depersonalising experimentalist conventions.

In American Hybrid’s field of reference the New York School was the most blatant exponent of this anti-British polemic and associated francophilia. There is a particularly dumb version of it in the biographical note James Schuyler supplied for Allen’s anthology. This could be taken as just a typical flaneur’s pose in a context of urban competition for distinction – expensive lunches, Broadway musicals, “art”,  and French poetry –  but it more seriously needs to be connected to the relationship, the financial relationship, between Abstract Expressionism and French (Parisian) painting. I’ll return to this.

NOBODY ANY LONGER denies that contemporary American poetry is dominated by the teaching of creative writing in the universities. The fact is now overwhelming. The great majority of these poets have been through it as students and now teach it. A recent review and discussion of the book ran through two issues of The Chicago Review4 and five contributors without mentioning the poetry at all; it was all about the problems and power struggles of the creative writing courses, which are apparently in danger of swamping English studies completely, and nobody will any longer study any poetry but their teacher’s and their own. (I do not seem to have mentioned the poetry myself yet, either.)

The effect of this situation on the poetry is unfathomable. The poets do not all write in the same way, in fact there are immense differences, but one suspects a pressure, from the schools involved here anyway, towards certain poetical beliefs and practices. But first let it be said that there is one clearly valuable result of the teaching of poetry in USA, and that has been the launching of women into the field. Quite recently the gender proportion in almost all English-language poetry gatherings was dismal. In that festival I mentioned in Cambridge, which continued into the 2000s, it was something like one in twenty, and it is still thus in most British collective manifestations, including the most radical or “revolutionary” of them. In Allen’s anthology I think there might have been half a dozen women. Here there are 41 women out of 74 poets; I don’t think I’ve previously seen a neutral anthology with more women than men. For complicated reasons, both social and psychological, women were inhibited from presenting themselves as poets in a heavily male-dominated structure. It wasn’t the organisers’ or editors’ faults, the women poets were just “not there”, though there might have been some prejudice against “feminine” ways of writing. Thanks to the incorporation of poetry writing into higher education, this distortion is finished with in America. By contrast, the representation of black and hispanic writers is as bad as it has ever been – just a few token names (some half dozen, I think, in this anthology).

I CAN ONLY wonder, in my ignorance, what goes on in these poetry writing courses, what pressures are brought to bear, what is encouraged and what is discouraged, how quality is recognised and rewarded, how much the individual teacher defines the aims, how some become stars and go on to teach the subject, how some, or most, become professors of poetry. Also how different might the results be in other universities from those involved here. The subject is not touched upon in American Hybrid, but I have suspicions. If writing poetry becomes a university subject leading ultimately to a doctorate, it must be required to have intellectual status of some kind, which poets have not always necessarily claimed. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of intellectual poetry, but I think that the particular language-based (non-discursive) form the intellectuality takes is the downfall of much of this poetry.

WHAT IS A hybrid but a mixture of elements from differing sources? Isn’t all poetry hybrid in some way unless entirely derivative? Aren’t all species former hybrids? Why do the editors avoid saying “central” or “mainstream” or “middle of the road”? (because those terms are plainly inappropriate.)

The introductions claim a balance between experimental and conventional which is not shown in the anthology itself, where there is a persistent bias towards a radical practice. This preference is stated or implied in the introductions and in the terms of praise used in the individual blurbs and everywhere manifest in the poems. It may well be a preference of the writing schools, and may even be developing into an orthodoxy of all new poetry in USA. There has been talk of “those who do not take the beaten path”5 but it now looks as though this is the beaten path, or one of them. The central insistence concerns language. It says that language is self-substantial, that it is its own meaning. Or meaning is immanent and inhering in language, as opposed to Romantic transcendence (horribly British). It speak of the materiality of language, that language is “a social force in itself”. Language is both prior to and subsequent to the poem. Poetry makes “a transformative intervention upon its own medium”. In practice this means that you work with and on language rather than directly with memory and experience or any inherited sense (except very short-term) of poetical formulation. Almost all these poets devote their energies to disturbing or even eradicating language’s communicative function, sometimes violently, with broken syntax and refusal of meaning, so that you are trapped in the poem with no access to the world, and sometimes by creating a plain transmissive discourse which doesn’t make sense (Surrealism, etc.) and this too is a procedure which halts perception within language. The editors seem to think that any run of readable sentences is evidence that their poet is using techniques from the conservative camp and so establishes his/her hybridity, but almost all these poets remain transfixed within language, and this paralysis is what makes it impossible for most of them to even approach the scope and clamour of poets like Olson or Duncan or Ginsberg. It is all small-scale, meticulous. It all takes places in small corners. A lot of it is introspective in an evasive way. I think the best achievements among it all lie in a new incantatory mode of repeated verbal structures at which poets such as Peter Gizzi are adept. That is actually one point where the “linguistically innovative” demand is dropped, and the poetry immediately expands.

 ♦

LANGUAGE CARRIES MEANING. And for that it has to be loaded with it, and that places you beyond it or beside it, or within one language seeking to transfer what you have gained into another language. I’m not talking about translation here.

 

ALWAYS AN ENEMY is needed. For all the vaunting of hybridity there is a clear contempt for “the traits associated with ‘conventional’ [why the scare-quotes?] poetry, such as coherence, linearity, formal clarity, narrative, firm closure, symbolic resonance, and stable voice.” (Introduction p.xxi). After 50 years’ involvement with British or any other radical poetry and its apologists you start to long for these things like a thirsty traveller in the desert. As in many previous American polemics blame falls on the “New Criticism” of the 1930s, the worst crime of which seems to have been to insist that a poem should have “a distinct beginning and end” (frightful thought – must be a British habit). I’m not familiar with The New Criticism and view it as an educational move, though I think Tate, Ransom and Bishop are poets not to be casually dismissed. I would have thought that an insistence on close reading and claims for a certain autonomy of the text were both perfectly in accord with the aesthetics of language-based and hybrid American poetry, or any poetry. Within a theoretic supposedly promoting balance the most elementary virtues and necessities of writing itself, its very efficacy, seem to be negated, all in favour of the self-substantiality of “language”. And what do we get?

CONUNDRUMS TO WHICH THERE IS NO SOLUTION ON THIS EARTH.

THERE IS AN imbalance because it is assumed that there is an avant-garde, which there isn’t, and that there is an enemy conservative poetry of equal weight, which there isn’t either. As in 1960 the best American poets (and certainly some of them are in this book) stand on their own ground, working from a large inheritance of disparate modes. The dull poets get more prizes (not so much more these days) and will be forgotten. But nothing could be duller than some of the conformist experimentalism gathered here.

One reason for the imbalance is probably that Language Poetry is taken seriously. Ever since it first raised its ugly head I have hated Language Poetry. It is dehumanized, aggressive and opportunistic. Far from being an extremist poetry it is an abnegation of poetry itself. If this serves as one of the cardinal points of the mapping there will inevitably be some very strange contours. If it is an extreme which this poetry seeks to counter-balance, that doesn’t stop this poetry from itself being extremist, as most of it is. It was Language Poetry that cancelled the avant-garde by moving the radical referent right outside the field of viable poetry. Several poets are praised for their “understanding” of Language Poetry’s principles, but that seems to involve subscribing to them.

This extremism, founded on an orthodox mass-decision that language is basically all there is, is what threatens to make so much of this anthology into a collection of problematic discourses. Poetry transforms language, but when we are handed the transformed artefact there’s nothing we can do with it. Disruption and problematisation are terms of praise here, as if we didn’t already have enough of both of them to cope with in the world. If the only linguistic transformation you can effect is disablement, rather than exploration and enrichment of language’s burdens, you might as well keep it to yourself. And indeed they do.

SOME OF IT is an intellectual poetry, some very much so. The nature of the intellectuality is frankly unwelcoming. It is specialist and seems to demand that you take a course in it, which perhaps you could. But as long as the reader remains an outsider she is made to feel, not stupid, but precisely untrained, excluded, even foreign – not knowing the language. This is not just because of the vocabulary; it is also because an abstruse discourse is further distanced by a syntax of dislocated and dislocating figurations, symbols which don’t effect a correspondence as far as can be seen, tied up with other gestures of language-centering such as punning. The poetry of Marjorie Welish is the most prominent here (good heavens, I have mentioned a poet by name!) and by that prominence escapes much of the condemnation. I can hardly affect to criticise her poetry since I cannot follow it, and yet it is clearly a discourse. But I can say that if I believed in language punching its way though its own facility into artistic heavens I would say she is supreme at this.6 Marjorie visits Cambridge from time to time and we shall always be glad to see her. Another case of intellectuality is Susan Howe who leans heavily on Olson’s techniques. My difficulty here is that there is a whole cultural history concealed in, rather than announced by, the poetry, and I don’t think this was exactly what Olson did, who for all his hippy ravings always strove to declare himself, if in stuttered and rushed fragments. I remember a particularly moving reading she gave in Cambridge of “Morning / Sheet of Water at the edge of Woods”. Her eccentric devotion to her inquiry was overwhelming.

 ♦

IT IS OFTEN mentioned in the blurbs that a poet unites her art in some way with painting, by doing both, by collaboration, by writing about painting or whatever, and it is always said with approval, crossing frontiers and so forth. I don’t think there’s necessarily any virtue in it at all, any more than there is in my own incessant involvement with music. Abstract expressionism was held up as a screen to shield the New York School poets from all questioning. They rode it as a high tide and all the name-dropping and adoring panegyrics kept them bouncing along the pavements of New York in assured success. The realities wore through hedonistic life-styles in forms of despair and madness. The painters were engaged in a national campaign sponsored by government (I believe the C.I.A. was involved) for New York to supersede Paris as world artistic capital. It worked, and amazingly high prices obtained, and still do, for styles in painting which shortly beforehand wouldn’t have stood a chance. Suicide and madness followed variously.7 The difference between writing and painting is not a frontier, any more than the difference between cucumber and salmon is. They might sometimes go well together.

THE WHOLE QUESTION of articulation is threatened by ideas about language. These poets are certainly crammed with salutary beliefs in the fields of politics, society and gender, but within the demands of radical language the manifestation of these beliefs is purely nominal. Nobody can make a statement about anything. Poets get the nod of approval because they “address issues of family and society”, “address contemporary political situations”. But what is this “addressing” when you turn to the poems and you are likely to find an almost total refusal to say anything whatsoever, because the influence of Gertrude Stein and Language Poetry reduces the poetry to gabble? I have always thought Stein a problematic influence to which women poets are particularly liable, especially those who propose an entire separatist curriculum which excludes all male poets, so Stein is about the only founding modernist they can turn to. In this anthology her self-hypnotising flux of language, her grim and persistent refusal of the real in favour of linguistic surface, creeps everywhere, not only among women poets.

Occasionally as from Juliana Spahr, we get a quite moving catalogue of political ills, accompanied by a heavy sense of helplessness and renunciation. Elsewhere it is claimed that the poetry “enacts the violence and rupture [...] inherent to identity construction.” This is said of Laura Mullen whose statement is central to the whole claim to political sagacity among these poets: “There are politics involved in asking people not to make sense the way they’ve made sense before.”

This is a big issue affecting all radical poetics in the western world. Too big for any puny opposition from me. It seems to me that in a given socio-linguistic context there is only one way of making sense and the alternative is senselessness, and I don’t believe that senselessness is going to solve any problem of any kind anywhere in the world. If you can no longer talk about, you are silent. And some of the high jinks, the wrecked language, in this anthology is precisely an abnegation and a silence vis-à-vis the American public world. That entity is precisely not “addressed” and there is a sad sense of helplessness while you watch your country turn rotten and turn aside to indulge yourself in games with words.

ASSUMING THAT THE selection from each poet is arranged chronologically, which I think it mostly is, I notice a number of instances of an early poetry which was making good sense and even enjoying itself in its own confidence and dexterity, which got increasingly subject to attacks of “language”. James Galvin’s strong wit betrayed by modernity into inarticulacy. Rae Armantrout succumbing to meaningless puns and increasingly writing as if a command not to articulate has been issued. Others too: Ralph Angel, Mark McMorris, Stephen Ratcliffe. How does Etel Adnan get from stanzas like

The certitude of Space is brought
to me by a flight of birds. It
is grey outside and there is a trembling…

to stanzas like

altered epi/fanny. zzzz
nerves—neurves. leaves
in symmetry. for dorrmant
lady in lace. in diamond          …?

There is fortunately not too much in the anthology of this wringing the necks of words to force them to yield anything other than what they are. I can only hope that the future work of these poets will be able to recapture what they were capable of before “language” hit.

And that was often a kind of lightness, or as I said, a sense of enjoying yourself, which was perfectly confident that it held a serious grasp of experience at large. A poet who should have been included was Lisa Jarnot, who herself edited an anthology with a similar purpose in 1998,8 equally radical and equally “hybrid” (though the word was not used) but with only seven poets in common. Many of her poets show this lightness of touch, or an outrageous kind of wild dance in words, which would have enlivened the present collection.

These are perhaps some of the most dismaying of the exclusions, poets who would have imported some sense of free range and prance, and that includes Ted Berrigan and the whole of the “second New York school” as well as poets such as Catherine Wagner, Lee Ann Brown, Daniel Bouchard, Kaia Sand. The presence of Mary Jo Bang’s closely verbal wit makes up to some extent for the paucity of humour, or the reduction of it to silliness. Poets too of a more even tenor are also strangely absent, like Lisa Samuels and Alice Ostriker. The absence of Clark Coolidge is inexplicable. And these are all perfectly “hybrid” if that is what you must be. And if we must have a few older poets as sentinels at the gate, we could as far as I’m concerned have got rid of John Ashbery and substituted Ralph J.Mills Jr., a poet who calmly and innocently completely transgresses conservative and radical categories.

IN BRITAIN THERE are poets who base their work on myth-magic, folklorical mysteries, white witchcraft, alignments of stone circles and tumuli, astrology, dying provincial vocabularies, Celtic deities… They mostly live in stone cottages in the northern hills. And their poetry can be just as radical, just as intellectual and just as hybrid (sometimes just as impossible) as anything in this anthology. At least in principal, I think it has more potential than all this laboratory poetry.

I THINK I have been talking most of the time about some 60 percent of the poets in American Hybrid. I’ve ignored those whose presence makes no sense in relation to the editorial thesis, quite ordinary poets who sometimes commit a transgression, pleasant chat sliding into nonsense, or a wilful awkwardness introduced into a perfectly ordinary discourse. I am sometimes reminded of English “Martian” style poetry (of all things!) and its clever self-regarding metaphors, currently alas undergoing a small revival over here – “A handful of Alzheimered apple-trees” (Charles Wright). One of the results of the editorial interpretation of the hybridity thesis is that there is a lot more surrealism in the book than projective verse, indeed the “language” principle by insisting on constant verbal displacement does in milder cases quite automatically revert the poetry to easily recognisable surrealism in normal discursive syntax, and this is mainly the preserve of male poets.

THERE ARE SOME very fine poets here who form an exception to most of what I have said – to the judgements if not to all of the characterisation. There are some poets who were never going to be a problem, having always been exceptionally articulate among jabbering avant-gardists and carefully, thoughtfully, lyrical: Peter Gizzi, Fanny Howe, Jennifer Moxley, Nathaniel Mackey, Ann Lauterbach. The eloquence of these poets would grace any anthology about anything. So too would some poets quite difficult to characterise, principally Jorie Graham and Eleni Sikelianos, who hardly belong together except that they are both concerned to move into larger and more complex structures of narrative and selfhood. Harryette Mullen has a fine manner with roughly-rhymed hard-hitting verse which is also capable of true solemnity — “just as I am I come / knee bent and body bowed / this here’s sorrow’s home / my body’s southern song” (I feel that the editors might not really approve of that stanza; they seem to think her work attacks the English language). Martin Corless-Smith’s careful witty and elegant writing attaching a vast printed past in fragments doesn’t feel as if it is part of the American poetry problem at all. But leafing casually through this big book when it first arrived, as one does, the point at which the writing shot out of the page and forced itself on me as something entirely authentic and moving, an impression which survived and grew, was when it was by Alice Notley. Perhaps she fits the thesis, perhaps not, I don’t really care. There is a vocal urgency in it, an urgency of telling, of saying what has to be said, which rubbishes all the laboratories of silence.

Beginning in poverty as a baby there is nothing
for one but another’s food and warmth
should there ever be more
than a sort of leaning against and trust a food for
another from out of one – that would be
poverty – we’re taught not to count on
anyone, to be rich,
youthful, empowered
but now I seem to know that the name of a self is poverty
that the pronoun I means such and that starting so
poorly I can live.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx–“Lady Poverty”

This is one part of a double review:

Genetically Modified by Peter Riley.

Afterism by Anthony Howell.


Peter Riley, the poetry editor of The Fortnightly Review‘s New Series, is a former editor of Collection, and the author of fifteen books of poetry – and some of prose. His latest book is The Glacial Stairway (Carcanet, 2011). He lives in Cambridge and is the recipient of a 2012 Cholmondeley Award for poetry.

NOTES:

  1. New York, Grove Press 1960. New edition with an afterword by the editor, University of California Press 1999.
  2. The only focused anthology of this phase in English poetry is A Various Art edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville, Carcanet 1987. Concerning opposition to subjectivity see my review of The Andrew Crozier Reader in The Cambridge Literary Review, no. 6, Easter 2012.
  3. Co-edited with Robert Pack and Louis Simpson. Hall also edited The Penguin Book of American Poetry (1962).
  4. The Chicago Review, vol, 55 no.3-4 2010 and vol. 56 no.1, 2011.
  5. By Rosmarie Waldrop reviewing Lisa Jarnot’s anthology of 1998. See note 8.
  6. See John Wilkinson’s essay on her in his The Lyric Touch (2007) for an enthusiastic account. He is right to propose an “engaged and intellectually versatile public” as implied by Marjorie Welish’s work, not forgetting that intellectual and intelligent are not exactly the same thing.
  7. See How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: abstract expressionism, freedom, and the Cold War by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. University of Chicago Press 1983.
  8. An Anthology of New (American) Poetry edited by Lisa Jarnot, Leonard Schwartz and Chris Stroffolino. New York: Talisman House 1998.
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