Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Banal Peculiarity Of Everyday Speech

Barry Schwabsky's insight into John Ashbery's affection for "found contemporary language" also goes a fair distance toward describing what, for me, makes the work of many younger Canadian poets so interesting:
What Ashbery shows is that in modern poetry—“underperforming texts,” to borrow a phrase from his poem “Far Harbor”—sincerity can only be attained by passing through the banal peculiarity of everyday speech. At the end of the introduction to his ground-breaking 1969 anthology The Poets of the New York School, John Bernard Myers recalled a drive in Amagansett with Elizabeth Bishop. As they passed a roadside dive called The Enchanted Cottage, “’Enchanted?’ she cried, ‘Enchanted?? One more word I’ll never be able to use again!’” His point, of course, was that the aesthetic—or better, maybe, to call it the ethic—of poets like Ashbery (and of successors like some of the poets associated with language writing and, in spades, those who go under the moniker of flarf) is just the opposite: When a piece of language has been degraded in this way, that’s exactly when it especially comes into the poet’s purview. In Ashbery’s poems, mock Jacobeanisms jostle slang from the screwball comedies of the forties and the latest management-speak, but mostly the shadings are harder to sort out.

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