Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

An Extraordinary Uniformity

with 3 comments

The national (or even transnational) demand for a certain kind of prize-winning, “well-crafted” poem—a poem that the New Yorker would see fit to print and that would help its author get one of the “good jobs” advertised by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs—has produced an extraordinary uniformity. Whatever the poet’s ostensible subject—and here identity politics has produced a degree of variation, so that we have Latina poetry, Asian American poetry, queer poetry, the poetry of the disabled, and so on—the poems you will read in American Poetry Review or similar publications will, with rare exceptions, exhibit the following characteristics: 1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.

What happens to poetry when everybody is a poet? Via 3quarksdaily.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

3 Responses

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  1. The claims about form certainly ring true to me, but the little culture wars shot is tellingly unnecessary, a nice way to make it seem like the literary homogeneity of an institutionalized poetry is of a piece with an imagined outbreak of tenured radicalism on campus. Little touches like “By the late ’90s, when Language poetry felt compelled to be more inclusive with respect to gender, race, and ethnic diversity,” for example; I mean, good lord, you know who else compelled poetry to be more inclusive? SOVIET RUSSIA.


    May 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    • It seems like a lot of the same issues came up during the controversy around the Rita Dove anthology.


      May 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      • OMG, *that’s* what I was thinking of. I was having the weirdest sense of deja vu…


        May 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

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