What poetry can learn from Obama

I have been blogging for several years now. I have been reading other blogs, and despite my real discomfort with commenting, I have forced myself to do so on other blogs: BookNinja, That Shakespearian Rag, and CanCult here in Canada, Harriet, the massive blog of the Poetry Foundation, in the US. Without doing an official tally of all my comments, I would bet that many of them are in defense of “other poetries,” other voices, other approaches to art, to thinking, to discussing issues in general. That has been what has driven me in any case. That and an insistence on a female voice in a largely male conversation a/ on Poetry Foundation and b/ publicly in the poetry world. I’m not saying my posts have been great, I’m sure they haven’t: to comment is to risk tonal misreading, to over and/or under state, to react hotly, and so on. I’m simply clarifying my intention.

One thing I’ve noticed about the blog world though, is the sameness of voices in it. I always hope for opening up conversations and hearing from new people, but it seems to come back to the same people again and again. Perhaps the format is simply fraught? The other thing I’ve noticed is the tone of the comments. It’s often quite hostile and/or indignant, and likely some of my replies have fallen prey to this as well, but again, not always inviting. Comments are sometimes wrapped in a gesture of satire or humour, but the tone is often unstable leaving readers with a sense of unease, and certainly making it difficult to jump into the discussion for fear of being scolded. That happens. There is often a sense of rallying too. One poet makes a statement and fairly predictably his–and usually it is a he–his posse gathers around him, in support of his opinion, often calling for more of the same! It’s a little like watching a school yard brawl in which the bully has only one intention: clear the sandbox of the offending opinion. Sound like a place you want to be? You want poetry to be?

Sometimes actual discussions occur, but not often enough. I can’t think of any memorable or favorable ones to include as evidence, sadly, though perhaps someone out there will (there was the avant lyric discussion of later December now that I think of it, and the quietly insistent diplomacy of Reginald Sheperd, greatly missed.). But the point of all this isn’t really to critique but to ask what we are doing here? What do we want from this format? Is it serving us? Why do we bother reading and/or commenting? These are some of the questions I have been mulling over for some months now. Take a look at what is described as fresh air over at Poetry Foundation, for example. This post and comments come after months and months of back and forth about the avant garde vs. lyric. What do people mean when they say “a breath of fresh air”? I always think of that as adding something new to otherwise droll notes, not Someone speaking my language, thank god.

And though I have been wondering what the use of these discussions is, that exchange really clarified for me the stuckness of so many poetry conversations. After all these weeks, and months, and posts we still seem to arguing why lyric is better than avant garde, or vice versa. One might ask are those posting and replying over at Harriet truly interested in the poetry at the core of these disputes, or are they simply defending their position and view of the poetry world?

All of this has clarified something for me though, and for that I’m thankful. I am, as I said in my response, not interested in more of the same swing and defend mode of discussing poetry. Nor am I interested in continued debates about this poetry versus that poetry. Why is there a versus? I just don’t accept that premise. And if I have in any way helped to create that divide, my apologies. I don’t want to entrench that thinking in any way. And because I won’t be going back and commenting on Harriet any time soon I want to be very clear about the fact that my silence isn’t cowering. Not by a long shot. It’s simply me deciding that I want a different kind of conversation. And if I don’t find that some place else, I’ll make my own conversation.

For the moment that is here, on this blog I suppose, though I am also questioning whether or not blogging is even useful. I don’t simply want to make my own soapbox. But as I was reminded while listening to Obama yesterday, one can walk away from conversations that don’t seem productive. One can move on from the voices that don’t make one feel as though they are moving forward in postive ways. It isn’t that one needs to be or hear positive all the time, it’s that one needs at the core of a given exchange, a respect and a sense of being heard, even if what one is saying isn’t what one wants or thinks they need to hear. One can make the conversations one wants.

So I’m going back to that until I figure out what next. There are many poets on both sides of the border with books that aren’t being reviewed or discussed. There are so many more voices we never seem to hear from. Here’s a short list in no particular order, of the poets I would love to hear from, or more from, and about, or more about, here or other places:

M. Nourbese Philip, Dennis Lee, David O’Meara, Don Coles, Kevin Connolly, Karen Solie, Ken Babstock, Sonnet L’Abbe, Erin Moure, Lisa Robertson, Rachel Levitsky, Joan Retallack, Bernadette Myer, CA Conrad, Tim Bowling, Steven Price, Marcella Durand, Carol Mirakove, Shawna Lemay, Mary Dalton, Tim Lilburn, and some new poets with first and second books I would like to see introduced and discussed, Gabe Fried, Alessandro Porco, Asher Ghaffer, Dotty Lasky, Gillian Sze, Angela Carr, Sachiko Murakami, Kyle Buckley, Stan Apps, Jason Camlot, Chrisopher Patton, Julie Sheehan, Daisy Fried, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jason Christie, Rob Winger, Dawn Lundy Martin, Evie Shockley…and I’ll add more to this list as the days wear on. Not to mention the discussion of conceptual poetry, sound poetry, visual poetry, nature poetry, contemporary syllabic poetry, poetry with meter…not from a defensive position but because really, I would like to hear people interact with this work and open it up for new audiences. So more about Heavy Industries, and what about these guys who sent me an incredible CD last week, or this upstart press by some Concordia students who are out there making books?

And then can we move around the world, and back through time? I would love to read different poets discussing The Prelude, or Keats, or Hölderlin, or Rilke, Sappho, Catullus, engaging, as Caroline Bergvall does, with Chaucer, and as K Silem Mohammad is doing, with Shakespeare, discuss recent translations of Virgil, and Homer, and on and on and on and on and on….okay, I am getting a little excited here, but you get my meaning, right? We can simply move forward. Or not.

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