Thursday, April 20, 2006

Evolution of the Poetry Wars

Remember the poetry wars of old? Those were the days of "the raw and the cooked." The academic poets I described previously as "the old academicism," along with others, somewhat less academic, but still fairly refined in their aesthetics--poets like Robert Lowell, Hayden Carruth, maybe Elizabeth Bishop, and others--were set at odds with the Beats, mostly, but to some extent also the early New York School and the Black Mountain poets in a poetry war commonly referred to as "the raw and the cooked." That was the old, bullshit dividing line: poetry that mostly resisted traditional form and poetry that toyed with it, that conserved it. Never mind that some of the supposedly "raw" poets were also writing in form, just different kinds, and that the supposedly "cooked" poets also wrote in loose free verse. Form was just the most mentionable of differences. This was about other cultural divides: refined East Coasters, Bostonians, post Robert Frosters and T.S. Eliotites versus shaggy west coasters and Greenwich Village cruisers and outcasts; Whitman lovers versus Dickinson lovers; Surrealist afficionados versus neo-symbolists; would-be rock star, neo-populist romantics versus involute, Victorian romantics; dope smokers versus scotch drinkers. It was easy to see the difference, and critics like Lionel Trilling and M.L. Rosenthal reinforced the divide (predictably, they sided with "the cooked").

It's a different poetry war today, Snarkophiles. Today it’s not the raw and the cooked but the smart and the sincere. Nobody is "raw" anymore. We're all sophisticates now. And almost nobody is uninfected with the academia bug--we're all mostly nursing off the same tit (there are exceptions on both sides of course--Silliman, for example, and, until recently, our new poet Laureate, Sir Kooser). But some of us would still be known more for our brains, and some of us for our hearts. It's the scarecrows versus the tin men (the cowardly lions are both camps when they put on their "poetry reviewer" hats). The scarecrows have a little more money and a few more readers, and the tin men have more academic critics on their side and a growing insurgent youth group as allies. Geographically, the fight is decentered--with both sides scattered--though there are recognized schools of the smart (Brown, SUNY Buffalo) and of the sincere (Stanford, Wisconsin, Nebraska). Iowa, a former bunker for scarecrows has become diversified with the inclusion of Swenson (an uber-tin woman) and Dean Young (a fence sitter or throw back to the "raw" school). And what is the war over? The role of theory (or lack thereof), the role of lyricism (or the lack thereof), subject matter (or lack thereof), the role of allusion (what audience should "get it"?), poetic lineages (Whitman for the sincere and Dickinson for the smart; Frost and Williams for the sincere, Stein, Pound, and Oppen for the smart).

What a stinking load this war amounts to. Silliman likes to call the scarecrows the "School of Quietism." Gag me with a Marxist spoon--as if he and his ilk really made a damn bit of difference in the real world with their "politics." The scarecrows, in turn, have become anti-intellectual dipshits and intellectual/cultural isolationists. Can we get over it already? Why choose between thought and lived experience, lyricism and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E? You call this a war? I got a war for you Scarecrows and Tin Men: Poetry Snark versus all of your lame asses.

[Reposted from May '05--because I'm lazy and I felt like it]


Anonymous Lukecubed said...

I recently got an email from the Academy of American Poets or some shit. Whatever it is that Kooser shills for now. They were asking for my money, so I could get a membership. I don't know how they got my address, presumably from some magazine that has rejected me. I'm too bad to publish, but evidently mediocrity isn't a bar from being a financial donor. Needless to say, I'll need to make some extra cash secret shopping. Lame asses indeed.

5:46 PM, May 26, 2006  
Anonymous chrisocook said...

Great post, but remember that Poetry Wars are usually forced onto groups of contemporaries by later generations, so our lime-green Force Shades may all be pretty surprised by what people decide our "War" was about 100 years from now. Just look at how we talk about the Raw/Cooked fracas: you used the term "neo-Romantic" for the Raws, but one could make a damn sound argument that Lowell was infinitely more neo-Romantic than O'Hara.

5:43 PM, July 28, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

Well hey there Chris Cook. Is this your first post here? Nice to see you around. How's Chicago?

9:49 PM, July 30, 2006  

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