Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Run Extended

Many of you wrote to me privately, expressing regret that this blog gave a goodbye wave on New Year’s Day. Others spoke to me directly, for example, the lunch guests this past Sunday at Anne-Marie Fyfe’s and Cahal Dallat’s attractive house near Turnham Green. (They were the poets Jo Shapcot, Sandeep Parmar, and James Byrne; and the new director of the Poetry Society, the bright and funny Judith Palmer.) A character failing of mine is that I don’t like to disappoint people, even when an expectation interferes with my idea of what I should be doing. So here’s a compromise: the blog goes on, OK, OK, but with much less frequency.

Like how many millions of people I was transfixed by the American Presidential Inauguration today. I’m afraid I unsuccessfully fought off the feeling of hope. None of the facts at hand quite crushed those irised wings. Dare to suppose that it is, as James Brown once sang, “a brand new day.” Or as Aretha Franklin used to sing in her cover of the Beatles’s song, “Let it be!”, and of course it won’t be unless all concerned citizens pull their oar to get the boat moving in a positive direction. That will include dealing with an injustice even older than racism—the subjugation of women in cultures all over the globe in every period of history. None of us is truly free until all are free. May Hilary Clinton realize she doesn’t have to be hawkish in order to prove she is just as strong as a man. Let her prefer diplomatic means for resolving international problems, to prove that she is as strong as a woman. Michelle Obama will set the example. Black American women have been resolving conflicts non-violently for centuries. They have the know-how. And while America is instituting all this change, why shouldn’t it give full civil rights to lesbian and gay citizens. Let it be!

Other matters: The Current (literary movement) announced in the previous blog seems to be gaining momentum. The lunch guests mentioned above were encouraging and interested. I’ll mention it again at the launch of a new magazine called The Long Poem in which I’m reading (on 28 January, 19:00, Barbican Library) and also at an evening of poetic manifestoes planned at the Tate Modern in the coming weeks. At lunch today with Fiona Sampson, who gives the movement her blessing, I said that it was partly the recently published Autumn issue of The Poetry Review that gave me the impetus to announce what I see as the most alive direction in English-language poetry today (in the U.K., in Ireland, in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and India.) It seems that Fiona and I like the same kind of excellence in poetry. And her work exemplifies those qualities as well.

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: alfredcorn1@gmail.com. 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 clich├ęs. 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.