2.23.2009

Recap : response to JD

Joseph Duemer, in his post just previous, outlines his own sense of the Plumbline cadre. My view of what we're doing chimes pretty closely with his. & I too am eager to have newcomers join our project.

The term "school", in poetryland, has two different meanings, corresponding roughly to theory and practice. First, there is school in the sense of a site of learning, for offering knowledge & useful resources. Second, school can mean a practical collaboration of poets who share traditions, literary models, style, technique, worldview.

Often there's also a latent third meaning (or sceptical characterization) - a product of the in-house poetry wars : school as clique, as marketing brand, as exclusive cabal for mutual support & self-advancement.

My own wish for the Plumbline School is for a project which balances the first two of these meanings. First, it would be an open symposium for poets, coming with different backgrounds, interests, and experience, who have an abiding curiosity about the mysteries of poetry-making. Second, because these poets share an allegiance to the basic, orienting principles of the "plumbline" (that is, in a nutshell, an awareness of a distinction between style/substance, medium/representation, and a resulting desire to bring them into some kind of harmonic balance), they would, eventually, become a school in the practical sense - as a nexus for shared practice and stylistic affinities.

This would hopefully be an improvisational, transparent process, and as such, prove to be a little different from some of the other schools with which we are familiar. It's probably an unfair simplification, but the movements of the past often seem to combine the second and third meanings of the term as outlined above. That is, they unite practical collaboration with cliquish exclusivity. Schools develop in a natural, ad hoc way, a matter of personal friendships & connections rather than clear principles. The outcome is an atmosphere not so much divided along the lines outlined by Ron Silliman - between "quietude" and experiment - but divided between "professional" poets and "amateur" movements. The professionals for the most part abjure explicit statements of poetics, and work as individuals to advance their careers through teaching and publication. The movements work through "unofficial" (yet often nevertheless academic) dissemination, word-of-mouth, internet polemics, and self-publicity. One result of this curiously binary situation is a somewhat fragmentary discursive environment, with many of the most prestigious and established poets remaining essentially silent on open matters of contemporary poetics, while the "movements" are a constant, febrile, ever-revolving merry-go-round of theoretical and pseudo-theoretical jostling.

So, by forming an open "talk-symposium", we might, with the Plumbline School, discover a happy medium between those two ("professional" & "amateur") extremes.

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