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Yours, sincerely.

November 16, 2011 \am\30 11:07 am

I live and work in an educational institution that does not highly prize the contemporary, nor is particularly forward-thinking, and so there have to be other outlets. Right now there is a pretty excellent group of grad students who asked me to ramble about contemporary poetry to them and it is fast becoming one of my favourite weekly activities.

So one of these guys, after a delightful week reading Nate Pritts, Frank O’Hara (not contemporary but always awesome) and I think also Ada Limon and Gina Myers, stated that the best thing about what was going on in these poems was their sincerity.

None of this English crap insisting on irony, or running away from actual life and actual feelings with a pair of binoculars and some mystic bullshit about ‘nature’, real ‘I love yous’ and real ‘fuck mes’.

I guess this isn’t something that would have identified alone, but it may be one of the most significant reasons I prefer American contemporary poetry to the UK scene. Maybe you read that interview with Gregory Sherl over at HTMLgiant? He says this:

Why do you think there’s not enough fucking in poetry?

Because I never got off enough.

That makes sense. In general, why do you think poets are not putting fucking in the poetry?

Because there are too many birds to talk about?

Snow is more interesting?

I’m not sure. Maybe the poets just express it differently. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe they’re fucking so much that when they sit down to write a poem, they don’t want to write about something they did all day. I hope that’s it, I hope they just overfucked themselves.

Or maybe there’s a lot of fucking in poetry but it’s clouded in metaphors that I just don’t understand because I never got my MFA.

And of course you cab fuck without sincerity. And I don’t think we always need honesty. But the fearlessness of saying these things so close to cliché, or (gasp!) the reality of everyday life can be truly surprising in a poem, which is always a thing of artifice.

Also, back to O’Hara, I reread Personism recently, and his assertion (even if it is parody, whatever) of communication:

I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages

If there is a new sincerity (or maybe the old one is just less unfashionable?) then I like it. It makes me think of this poem of Heather Christle’s from THE TREES THE TREES, ‘TRYING TO RETURN TO THE SUN’, up at The Awl, that ends like this:

                            what distinguishes my face
from a tree                        is the total lack of
commentary         as in that tree loves you
honestly loves you          I’m the noisy one
who has to say it

I think it’s pretty damn important to make noise.

[Unless you are in a three hour class on Ezra Pound]

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2 Comments
  1. November 16, 2011 \pm\30 4:00 pm 4:00 pm

    A quick scan of amateur blogs and Twitter will net you plenty of sincerity, not to mention sex poetry. Maybe some of the gatekeepers are growing more amenable to letting it through?

    I think there is discomfort associated with the blurring of the line between writer and speaker. It isn’t a new phenomenon, but the old guard may still be prejudiced against it. The line exists for a reason, right?

    Maybe a good comparison is that some people enjoy an actor’s work, but don’t feel the need to follow his life on TMZ or whatever.

  2. November 16, 2011 \pm\30 7:09 pm 7:09 pm

    ‘new sincerity’ makes me think of steve and stephen (roggenbuck and dierks)

    i want to talk to you about british reserve vs. american earnestness some time. i feel this is all somehow related to that, i also feel that that (the vs.) is at the heart of so many things i can’t type now due to this pesky need for rest

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