This is a hybrid like the Toyota Prius is a hybrid. All of your hip, socially-conscious friends are driving them. You feel vaguely good about yourself, like you’re doing your part for the planet and like you’re in with a good crowd. At the same, you’re in physical discomfort, you secretly fear that your girlfriend will leap out at the next red light, into the passenger seat of a Vette or Porsche – and you wouldn’t blame her.
I bought this book with high hopes, having just read two new collections bearing the fruit of some serious cross-pollination: All-Night Lingo Tango by Barbara Hamby and Ka-Ching! by Denise Duhamel. The former is filled with utterly un-stodgy formal poems. Hamby is playful with form the same way Kenneth Koch and some of the Oulipo writers could be. All-Night Lingo Tango reads like an intelligent, exuberant stylistic melding of Expansive Poetry (itself a melding of New Narrative and New Formalism) and the Whitmanian Ultra-talk poetics that Hamby has helped champion. Ka-Ching! gives the lie to the notion that experimental poems must be obscure. Duhamel’s poetry is highly experimental. She is a mad scientist, but a fun, accessible one. In addition to formal, playful poems similar to Hamby’s, Duhamel has cross-pollinated Russell Edson and Robert Lowell in some of the best confessional prose poems I’ve come across.
In American Hybrid, Cole Swenson and David St. John oversimplify the current poetic landscape, just as Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey once did with Naked Poetry and Elliot Weinberger did with Outsiders and Innovators: American Poetry Since 1950. Rather than the old Raw versus Cooked or Outsiders versus Insiders, now it’s Post-Avant versus School of Quietude or Elliptical versus Mainstream, but it’s still the false binary choice of a two party system that divides the world between two entities and sells everyone else out. The editors pretend to consolidate differences between two warring factions and pat themselves on the backs for being so inclusive, but there’s a lot more poetry out there than is dreamt of in their philosophies.