Over on the ever-thoughtful Cahiers de Corey, Joshua Corey considers his new book of poems and how it fits into the current contemporary poetics schemata. Montevidayo guest stars, and the sincerity discussion further ravels/unravels:
The drama of the book from a poetics standpoint comes in seeking alternatives to what Jennifer Moore has called “the aesthetics of failure” that she associates with poets like Matt Hart and Tao Lin, which others have begun to refer to as “the new sincerity” (itself hardly a new term or idea). For these poets, Moore claims, “this deliberate embrace of failure is worked out through an explicit departure from an allegedly exhausted aesthetic and a movement toward a renewed emphasis on emotion.”
Meanwhile from another direction you have the conceptualists pursuing, as Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman have put it,“strategies of failure” (Place tries to one-up Beckett in this interview: “fail again, fail worse”). And then in one of the liveliest quarters of the post-post-avant you have the aesthetic of the Montevidayans with their devotion to the political grotesque, to body-centered excess that pursues not “failure,” exactly, but an aggressive interrogation of the political-social structures that undergird the very notion of “success,” embracing poetry specifically (along with video nasties and other modes of marginalized spectacle) precisely for its weakness, its oddity, its place as a kind of malfunctioning prosthetic that calls attention to a profound and irremediable lack.
These three major aesthetics of failure, so predominant in poetry now, are just the latest reactions to (Joyelle McSweeney would say a zombie version of) a barred Romanticism, which I will simply and probably ahistorically define as a stance that assumes the mutual dependence of self and world, or if you prefer, freedom and determination. To continue to speak broadly and crudely, for a long time in American postwar poetry the self bestrode the world like a colossus, in sincere or grotesque manifestations (sincerely grotesque in the case of a Confessionalist like Sylvia Plath). Then as the tide of French theory began to slop against these shores we saw a new predominance of the world in the most interesting poetry, though “the world” appears in different guises: as heavily theorized social text for the Language poets, as gossip and theater for the New York School and its epigones. Now I would say that the self has been fully and completely invaded by the world/the other (on a DNA level, as a prism for the Spectacle, etc.), having been systematically deranged not by and for poetry but by the mediation of systems whose surfaces have never been more accessible (thanks to the Internet) even as their levers (who the boss?) and nodal points (the “tubes” of the real) have never been more obscure. The self wants to make a comeback, but it can only do so through some mode of abjection and surrender. What concerns me, for poetry, is that what’s being surrendered in at least the first two versions of failure before us is poetry itself, or more specifically, two of its three major dimensions.
He also says of Montevidayans poetry: “I think theirs remains a primarily image-based poetics.” I wonder if this is so. Two thoughts (in which I get oddly troubled by what image means): 1. I’m currently writing a mess of a feminist poetics piece for Evening Will Come. A femimess, where I consider speech as a sense/sensory organ (Embassytown!). Is an image rendered in what we most obviously regard as language a visual element? 2. Corey suggests a preoccupation with the visual image (or image apprehended via the eye first, ear second re: film?). I tend to think of my own work as affect-based, but do I rely primarily on image to produce it? Does the political grotesque demand this? What about Joyelle, whose musicality and soundscape Corey appreciates? Or Johannes, with his pageantry structures? Lara? Carina? Borzutzky? Mary? Lucas? Ji Yoon? Sarah? Dan? Etc.?
I’m also tempted to say that the self can only, could only ever manifest via abjection and surrender, but that’s rather absolute, and probably a formulation I’m drawn to for reasons more macabre than well-considered. I’ll get back to us on this one. Meanwhile, a field of plastic savannah animals are yelling at me can we hide from the street cleaner?!, so in this daycare-free zone, Montevidayans, I can only get the conversation started. Jump off wherever you like!