Wednesday 26 February 2014

Every day Another Vanguard

In a long, thoughtful overview of the contemporary American poetry, Robert Archambeau pinpoints a trend that has echoes in Canada:
But there’s something else going on in American poetry, circa 2012, something related to the emphasis on poetry-as-language and the poet-as-specialist. There is also the urge to be au courant—something quite foreign to, say, Alexander Pope, who wanted to affirm the classics as lasting verities. There’s an accelerating replacement of one movement by another, in prestige if not in actual poetic practice. Confessional poetry? Long gone, replaced by a variety of identity-politics inflected forms of writing. Language poetry? Very hip, until the post-avant and ellipticism arrived. And the dominant ellipticism is now challenged, by “the new thing,” a term coined by Stephen Burt for the poets publishing with the Cultural Society; and, more prominently, by what Marjorie Perloff has christened “the conceptual generation.” Pierre Bourdieu calls this process of premature displacement “the social aging of art,” and notes that it comes about when the rewards of making art have taken the form of specific capital. Hollywood screenwriters write for the market and are relatively unconcerned with labeling their elders out-of-date. But American poets in 2012, like French painters in the late nineteenth century, tend not to have a market, or a heteronomous principle of valuation. They seek validation of a kind specific to the poetic field, and the way to gain it quickly is to delegitimize the older, more dominant practitioners. From this follows a flurry of movements, something approaching the condition of (to steal a phrase from the critic Jed Rasula) “every day another vanguard.”

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