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Poetry and Miscellany

  • Poem

    Men say they know many things;
    But lo! they have taken wings—
    The arts and sciences,
    And a thousand appliances;
    The wind that blows
    Is all that any body knows.

    ~ Henry David Thoreau

    (in context)

Thoughts from an Irascible Poet

Posted by Matthew on June 26, 2008

Some thoughts on Silliman’s Blog and Poetic Specialization:

My questions about Language Poetry and Flarf and other movements are basically focused on the idea of the public intellectual and this dialogue. I wonder if these movements are simply an easy retreat into the academic bosom as not to be challenged by larger forces? Perhaps that is the critique? Do we retreat into our own epistemological system or do we engage with the world as poets?

Is what we are doing small or is it big? Do we exist among other artists? Or do we exist within the academy?

Read one of those sentences again: “I wonder if these movements are simply an easy retreat into the academic bosom as not to be challenged by larger forces?” And let that sink in. Then go read the whole post.

Now, I’m not sure I can say that the dichotomy presented (complicated, “academic” poetry on the one hand, and engaging with the world as poets on the other) is completely accurate. In fact, I’m almost sure it’s not. There have surely been plenty of poets who were extremely academic and complicated (think of all the big names you can, and I promise they’re all more complex than you think) who managed to engage the world; too, I imagine there have been less academic poets who were more than willing to present themselves as engaging (perhaps to cover up their academic failings?).

Perhaps a truer dichotomy, more representative of contemporary poetry (and I’m stepping way outside of my actual range of expertise, here) would be the truly innovative and perhaps slightly rougher around the edges (as mentioned by the first commenter) on the one hand, and homogenized “innovation” and academic specialization ad nauseam (and again, I’m sure there have been poets who defy that dichotomy, as well).

More generally, these questions need to be answered:

Are poets engaging the world as poets?

Are you?

Am I?

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One Response to “Thoughts from an Irascible Poet”

  1. Daniel said

    Good reaction to this issue – it is easy to lose sight of the fact that reality is far less systematically diametric than some would have us believe.

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