Thursday, January 1, 2009

Signoff--and a New Literary Movement

So much of life is arbitrary, there can’t be any harm in taking a cue from the calendar and using this day to announce the conclusion of this blog. It sounds exaggerated, but writing it does take a lot of time. I’ve done so off and on for nearly a year now, have discharged my publicity duties to the University of Michigan Press, and have sent something like a letter to the world as a kind of self-introduction. Although it’s clear that the blog has had thousands of browsers, only a fraction of those reading it have left comments. Of course I’m aware that not every reader likes the electronic glare of public exposure. Still, blogs thrive on comment and debate; without it, some of the energy needed for writing one wanes. Meanwhile, if you want to get in touch with me directly, here’s the address: Just remember I get a lot of email and may not answer immediately.

Who knows, I may take up the blogger’s pen again some day, but I think I should spend these last six weeks in London getting some real work done, and I hope this doesn’t seem abrupt.

Next: I’ll also use this occasion to announce a *n*e*w* *m*o*v*e*m*e*n*t* in poetry. And high time we had one. Postmodernism has held the stage for more than thirty years, which is an almost unheard-of longevity in the history of artistic trends. Meanwhile, the various “-isms” we’ve seen over the past century have begun to seem a little tired and contrived, so the new movement is simply called “The Current.” (Compare with “The Movement” of the 1950s.)

And what exactly is The Current? First, it’s not so exact as all that. It recognizes that earlier movements were an umbrella sheltering many different kinds of talents. For example, Surrealism included writers as varied as the founder Breton, Desnos, Eluard, and several English followers like David Gascoyne and George Barker. The Current is a loose-fitting garment. It isn’t doctrinaire and welcomes individual difference as well as concurrence in style and approach.

In general, The Current favors speech-based style in writing, the tradition that includes Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, Dryden, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Browning, Whitman, Yeats, Eliot, Williams, Lowell, Bishop, Berryman, Gunn, Plath, and Larkin. The names of living practitioners of this style will immediately spring to mind but The Current doesn’t enroll members without their consent. (Journalists named Thom Gunn as a member of The Movement in the 1950s before he knew of its existence.)

The Current likes poems using meter or rhyme or verseform but also likes unmetered and unrhymed poems. Chances are, though, that it isn’t possible to write good unmetered poems until the older practice has been learned thoroughly.

The Current accepts that difficulty is inevitable in poetry, but only welcomes difficulty when it is sincere, that is, not concocted just for the sake of difficulty or as a stratagem for being taken seriously. Acknowledging that paraphrases of poems are always inferior (as texts pleasurable to read) to good poems, nevertheless, the Current likes poems that allow for such paraphrases, regarding them as a step toward full engagement with a poem. A poem should not only “be”; it should also “mean.” On the other hand, the Current loses interest in poets who jot down a few lines that yield up their entire content in a single reading.

The Current wants to be a voice in the discourse of our time and welcomes poems that offer fresh insight into contemporary society, domestic and international; also, for a threatened global environment. Just as much it welcomes poems that are purely personal, recalling that “the personal is political.” The Current is non-sectarian yet is more than willing to espouse poems with religious content, no matter the religion, just as it is interested in poems written from an atheist perspective. In neither case, though, should the poem in question be overbearing. Overall, poems must not only deal with valid and credible subjects but also at the same time embody the quality of art.

The Current has at heart the value of freedom, and it is interested in the responsibilities that adhere to freedom.

The Current likes poems containing sensory detail—light, color, sound, touch, scent, taste—both for the indirect pleasure these offer and for the implied connection between the individual mind and the surrounding context.

The Current likes the tradition as much as the individual talent. It knows that originality is only one virtue among other possible virtues in the making of art. Also, that the avant-garde tradition begins as early as 1870 and perhaps even as early as Pindar. For that we reason, we should deny that the avant garde’s main recommendation to us is its newness. No one doubts that the population of poets in future eras will comprise some using the avant-garde tradition, but there will also be just as many using more immediate and natural approaches to communication. Worries, though, about what poetry is going to be in the future should not be a central preoccupation for contemporary poets. Instead, the Current devotes its energy to the poetry being written in the present.

The Current encourages rich, carefully considered language in poetic composition, but finds over-elaboration, cleverness carried to enormous lengths, clutter, and paraphernalia tedious or ridiculous. Humor is welcome, along with irony so long as these don’t make experience seem shallow or empty. The Current dislikes sentimentality just as it dislikes cold-fish poetry and sneering. It likes the “touch of nature that makes the whole world kin,” and it likes the sense of an art pursued and developed under the sign of experience and skill, the product of conscious as well as unconscious directives.

The Current's aim is not to become formulaic. It wants to participate in the flux of life and change. It expects to develop and alter through time under the shaping influence of its members. It has no Pope. It is a democratic movement, a free association of equals who respect each other and each other’s differences. Racism, machismo, class prejudice, religious prejudice, or homophobia have no place in it. Its stance is open, positive, welcoming, tolerant. It wants to avoid the boredom of highbrow official culture and the mindlessness of pop clichés. It believes that the free exercise of intelligence and feeling in art is among the most intense and most pleasurable pursuits we can experience.

The Current also knows when to shut up and hand the microphone to others.


Jack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack said...


upinVermont said...

It's too bad you're signing off, your blog having just been recommended. It looks as though there were a good many discussions I would have liked.

But do me a favor, take a look at my blog. Maybe, in some small way, I'll pick up where you left off.


knott said...

sorry to see you cease this—

you were certainly the most distinguished USA poet to be actively blogging—

Kim said...

I know I'm a bit behind but I wanted to comment that it's good to hear that the English language is still evolving. I was worried.

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