Plumbline Affinities

John Latta, in his blog post of today (3.5.09), offers some sharp observations, which might be useful in relation to our own concept of a "plumbline". The values reflected in the poetry of Niedecker, Reznikoff, Bunting (via Eliot Weinberger, Latta himself & others) - some of the tendencies of the "Objectivist" movement, toward a balance between style and mimesis - would be worth our while exploring, if we want to avoid re-inventing the wheel (with rustier tools than they possessed)... In fact I think some of Zukofsky's critical writings - his way of conceptualizing poetry - could be aligned, to a degree anyway, with what we are attempting to outline here.

Robert Archambeau has also written in various places about documentary, "investigative poetics" of the 90s(?) (Kristen Prevallet, & others) - a trend in poetry that also shows some affinities...

On the other hand, I don't want to identify what we're just starting to do here, with any particular tradition or stream. I'm well aware that many of my own initial February posts on this blog come across as incredibly abstract, pedantic, turgid... but in my own defense, I'd say that we are trying to establish very basic foundations for new ways of reading poetry (our own & others').

The "plumbline" represents a jumble of building blocks, corresponding to elementary structural aspects of poems - functions which are often displaced in the ongoing discourse of reviews, polemics, chit-chat & so on. When you start to distinguish between these elements - when you mediate between them, analytically, with something like a plumbline - you set them in play : you make it possible to recognize balances & relations, discords & concords, in the making/reception of different works. It becomes possible to see how a poem can be both an integral work of art, and a reflection or re-invention of experience (the non-literary).

Here's Zukofsky, from his 1931 statement on Objectivism -

"An Objective: (Optics)—The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. (Military use)—That which is aimed at. (Use extended to poetry)—Desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars."


Joseph Duemer said...

I'll have more to say on this in a bit, Henry, but just wanted to note that "the Objectivists" were mostly a group of poetry pals with very different ways of approaching their work, brought together by Pound and Hariet Monroe for a special issue of Poetry magazine. to me, there seems so much distance between Reznikoff and Zukofsky that you could drive a couple of trucks through the space. And again, a huge distance between WCW and Rez & Zuk. Which is why I can trace my own practice easily back to WCW and Rez while someone like Silliman can identify Zuk as a foundational figure.

Death and distance smooth out differences, as do the needs of the living to find anchor points. There was, of course, something called Objectivism, objectively speaking -- Michael Heller's Conviction's Net of Branches provides a detailed look at their poetics and does find some underlying relationships. But how we the living catch onto these past poets and their practices makes all the difference.

Henry Gould said...

Exactly, Joseph - thanks for adding some nuance.

I do think it's important how poets describe what they think they're up to, even if it may seem wrong-headed or mistaken from the reader's viewpoint. What seems clear about several of the Objectivists is that during a time of great political storm & stress, they (along with most of the good poets of the era, in & outside of their group) tried to find a balance between art & ethics, poetry & life - & it was a challenge (ie. they saw a difference between poetry & entertainment, and between poetry & propaganda).

Joseph Duemer said...

Yes, finding that balance. Agreed.

Joseph Duemer said...

It seems as if what we're trying to think about is twofold: 1) the sociological position of different poetries and poetic practices and poets, and 2) the aesthetic differences. Of course the two fold back into each other, but virtually every post on this blog so far looks at one of the other.