Second thoughts : Hayden Carruth's anthology

I'm still getting started with Voice That Is Great Within Us. & wanted again to express gratitude to Joseph D. for drawing attention to this anthology. Now I think my rather tetchy comments of previous post revealed the typical defensiveness of a somewhat self-educated poet, faced with a Great Voice...

First of all, the Bantam edition is not so hard to read! (& anyway, the nearest library probably owns a hardback version.) More importantly, the poems are nourishing, in a way not suggested by my initial, judgemental remarks.

It was quite astute of JD to juxtapose this anthology to the factional perspective of Ron Silliman & his cohorts. There is a distinction to be made between objectivity and mere abstraction, between impersonality and de-personalization. & in this regard maybe there is more to be said about the Poetry-Industrial Complex as it has developed over the last century. The valorizing of Innovation in the arts seems closely tied to the 19th-century March of Progress, mechanized industrialization, the rise of technocracy. The social revolution idealized by the supposedly activist poetics of the "experimental" wing always requires an antagonist/partner in the struggle : thus poets are shuttled like flocks of geese into various tendencies & movements, and these groupings then provide more grist for the intellectual mills...

Meanwhile - as a result of so much bustle of cognitive & verbal activity - the distinctive, the personal, the subjective, the psychic, the basically artistic, the substantially poetic - along with, ironically, the shared, the ordinary, the everyday, the common, the universal - all these tend to get lost in the shuffle, or slotted into some ideological program or other.

I realize these remarks will sound reactionary in some quarters. A-political. An echo of "Fugitive" anachronism. My answer to that is twofold. First, read Carruth's anthology. It's neither a-political nor reactionary (though it is, understandably, a reflection of its time). One of the things poetry - like science - does, is to bend so lovingly & attentively over its own proper materials (language, ordinary speech, the world of song... the world itself, as an expression of beauty) that a kind of independent objectivity (ie., freedom) arises naturally out of such devotion. This is how poetry attains to something like architecture or sculpture : to the wholeness, quiddity & disinterestedness of natural objects (a measure of Keatsian "negative capability", freed from "irritable reaching"). Stone, sunlight.

Second, I would like to point toward the inevitable subjectivity of human experience. My sensibility is not the same as yours; my background & consciousness & personality & character & fate are my own. This essential difference is something we all share in common, alongside all the general human traits & genetic inheritance & history. & what is poetry, & what is a poet to us? As I see it, a poet is someone who steps forward & makes a song, speaks artfully, out of the depths of both private & shared experience. This takes a certain gift & a certain (brave, vain?) willingness - to stand up & represent reality through words, to evoke & articulate one's individual sensibility & understanding. Because in a way every poem is an end in itself : every poem, in its very practical uselessness, is a summing-up of life. A formulation. So the poet stands at the end of the line, as a summation (every poem says "the buck stops here"). & this aspect of "the end", it seems to me, militates against the submerging of the individual talent into general ideas of historical development, artistic movements, & so on. Every poem is an act of individuation : & I include in this Homer, Shakespeare, Langland, Rilke... all of them, every artist.

Along with this, I would add that I respect Ron Silliman, & believe I understand, somewhat, his impulse to celebrate the energized, the contrary, the unofficial streams in American poetry, as opposed to the staid & the conventional. What I am suggesting is that the idea of the artist at the forefront of history & social change is itself a shackling cliche, because it subordinates the individual mind, heart & spirit of the poet to some kind of program. Very valid & wise endeavors for human improvement lead the way : they are an necessary element of survival & humane civilization : but the artist, qua artist, must approach them on his or her terms. & that involves something distinctly primordial & sui generis - the process of art-making itself - which cannot be managed or harnessed or even explained completely (hard & carefully as Aristotle tried) from the bleachers.

OK, I have rambled on more than I thought I would...

Charles Burchfield - Starlings in the Rain, Wellesville, Ohio 1920


John Latta said...

Burchfield! Another oddball Buffaloan. I put him in the same camp as Samuel Palmer.


Henry Gould said...

I'd like to see that show in NYC (DC Moore Gallery).

Mairi said...

"Fugitive" anachronism isn't so bad. There are worse things to echo. And you could consider their secret ballot system for compiling the Plumbline Anthology. I was wondering how a group of editors ever manage to come to any kind of agreement on choices, given, as you say, the subjectivity of the whole enterprise. On your say so I've paid out my $1.99 plus shipping for a copy of The Voice that is Great. It's getting expensive trying to keep up with you guys.

Henry Gould said...

Mairi, as far as the Voice (etc.) anthology - there was no group of editors - just Hayden Carruth.

I'll be interested to see what you think of it.

Steven Fama said...

Your sortta off-hand assertion that the nearest library has a hardback copy of the anthology includes an assumption:

that there was such an edition.

I don't think there was.

Some libraries may have had the softcover polymered or whatever the heck is done to paperbacks by libraries, or I guess put into a library binding, but I do believe the book was a paperback original.