What if the Unabomber was right?

Some plagiarized and bastardized thoughts after reading tech writer Kevin Kelly's The Unabomber Was Right:

  1. Personal aesthetics are constrained by poetic movements.

  2. The more that poetic movements control an aesthetic the less freedom the individual poet possesses.

  3. Poetic movements destroy a poet's natural tendencies, which strengthens the poetic movement further.

  4. This ratchet of a movement's self-amplification is stronger when backed by a canon.

  5. Any attempt to use poetry or establish a canon to tame or change the poetic system only strengthens the poetic system.

  6. Therefore poetic movements and the canon must be destroyed, rather than reformed.

  7. Since poetic movements cannot be destroyed by poetry or a canon itself, poets must push poetry towards its inevitable end of self-collapse.

  8. Then pounce on poetry when it is down and kill it before it rises again.

So, the question is, is poetry worth saving?

Our consumer culture says no. Flarf, as a reaction to and/or embrace of consumer culture, says no.

I'm still mulling this over. It's a fragment of a thought, ill-formed, stillborn.


Henry Gould said...

It's funny, I was thinking exactly 180 degrees contrarily this evening... after reading through the latest issue if Poetry Magazine, which is full of very clear, direct, efficient, stylish poems, I thought : are we shadow-boxing here at the Plumbline? Are we battling a blogospheric straw man - Flarf, Postmodernism, obscurity, mannerism - all of which has very little actual influence, presence, importance or impact, with regard to contemporary literature, anyway? Have all these theoretical problems been resolved by working poets, in their own ways (as exhibited in such magazines as Poetry)?

Well, the doubts assailed me... but I came to the conclusion that there is still a value in the Plumbline approach. We are not forming a movement or a school, here. We are exploring, re-thinking very basic issues in poetics/aesthetics/art/poetry... and we are enunciating our own ideals & preferences... the conversation allows for difference as well as agreement. I hope.

Joseph Duemer said...

It may be that the poetry blogosphere distorts our perceptions of social relations within the poetry world -- all the big online players are Language, flarf, etc. -- but I'm not so sure I'm willing to endorse the official verse culture of Poetry magazine either. I haven't looked at the newest issue of Poetry, but my recent efforts in that direction haven't turned up much that interests me for more than a passing moment.

So what poetic virtues beyond Henry's "clear, direct, efficient, stylish poems" in Poetry Magazine might a group of Plumbline poets develop and promote? That would be a question for me.

Note: My resentments look both ways. I come to this project as much from dissatisfaction with official verse culture as I do with any perceived threats from the poetic "left." Question: Would the current Poetry Magazine now publish the work of Hayden Carruth, one of its former editors?

Henry Gould said...

"So what poetic virtues beyond Henry's "clear, direct, efficient, stylish poems" in Poetry Magazine might a group of Plumbline poets develop and promote?"

I agree that's the question, Joseph. & I think there are many more issues to explore on the level of aesthetics - why & how we like what we like. We've only just started to raise some of them.

On the other hand, I think we should try not to let our resentments or frustrations cloud judgement, or inhibit enjoyment. What I like about some of the recent Poetry issues' poems is a combination of precision and originality. The poems come at their subject from unusual angles. What I often find missing, on the other hand, is a certain emotional depth. They seem too facile sometimes, tinny & glib. (I find this in the "left" end of the spectrum too. Maybe it's just me.)

Maybe one dangerous area of poetic values we can advance - dangerous, because so seemingly counter to the pert flashiness of contemporary style - is a kind of seriousness, gravitas... the clarity that comes with a sense of history & (sometimes tragic) drama. This also relates to irony (real irony, not just snarkiness). & simplicity of style. & on the other side of irony & seriousness might be a different kind of clear-eyed humor...

But I guess as usual I'm rambling on in a very vague, too vague & general way...

Joseph Duemer said...

I added that sentence about my "resentments" at the last minute, Henry. As a kind of self-deprecating joke. One of the things I have liked so far about our discussions is that we have been mostly descriptive rather than polemical.

I agree with you about seriousness and gravitas -- it's one reason I brought up Carruth, who had what I think of as an exemplary awkwardness that gives his work a human and humane quality that, for me, sets it apart from the great mass of contemporary work--the stuff you describe as "glib," etc. (Now, having said that, there are plenty of folks writing now--some of whom may even publish in Poetry--who I think exhibit this particular virtue of awkwardness.)

I'll try to work up some of these notions into a full post for the blog later today.

Curtis Faville said...

Maybe these rules are like bad philosophy. I recited them to myself and they all sounded right, except for the last two. Writers will keep writing, even when the subject of their writing is the decay and death of the writing itself. It's the story of the story.

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

If you are reading them as rule, you are reading them wrong. They are not rules, but steps in an argument, an argument, that is, that I find quite incorrect. However, it seems to be an argument that flarfists and post-avants are toying with quite openly--except for the last assertion, of course. No, flarfists and other post-avants don't want to kill poetry, but make it over in their image. Perhaps it should be "re-invent" instead of "kill."

Jeff Brennan said...

Cannon's also strengthen poetic movements (which is how I originally read number 4).

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

Show me a poetic movement which can afford a cannon, and I'll show you propaganda.