I thought the points brought up re: a Montevidayan image-based affect in the Joshua Corey discussion were interesting because I really like looking at things, I love paintings and images and movies and coloring books and clothing and attractive humans etc., and I have always thought that the best poems are the ones that function the same way paintings do. In undergrad I took this two-semester class on Modern and Contemporary Poetry in which we read the entire Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry while sitting on couch-cushions on the floor of a little salon, usually drinking tea or massive diet cokes out of puff-painted cups. We read Frank O’Hara’s poem “Why I Am Not A Painter” and it had an enormous impact on me for a lot of reasons, the first of which is my secret lifelong ambition to be a Great Painter as well as a Great Poet and the second, probably, having to do with the way text and color bleed into their opposite mediums – orange into O’Hara’s poems, “SARDINES” into Goldberg’s painting – and the way the visual becomes not merely a component of the work in question, but the initial point of readability; it names.
What has always appealed to me about painting is that there is no question of materiality – a painting = paint + surface. No one is going to question whether or not tempera or gouache is sincere; it is what it is.
Not so with poems; hence the sincerity argument, right? The problem with text-as-medium is that it is always to some extent a transitory medium rather than something that can be splashed upon a surface in its own right; it’s always questionable, always becoming-something. Because we cannot confine it to one body (lavender heavy-bodied acrylic, the substance, is always going to mean lavender heavy-bodied acrylic, the substance, whereas that particular sequence of letters need not conjure an image of a pot of lavender heavy-bodied acrylic paint), we question its sincerity, or perhaps more accurately, its authenticity.
The moves of an image-driven poem are not unlike the moves of an abstract expressionist painting; the goal is to layer transparencies, colors, weights, to take a line from nature that becomes a building that becomes a face.
We can see it in this bit from The Tennis Court Oath: “undeniably an oboe now the young/were there there was candy/to decide the sharp edge of the garment” – like a De Kooning, mixing on top of slashed-up mixed pigments until “emotion felt it sink into peace.” This is the same kind of work that Minnis does, although she’s perhaps closer to Miró in that the abstraction is not a matter of deconstructing the familiar, putting it in a blender, taking it out, and making new forms from the mess as it is the careful placing of flat monochromes on the same foreground.
I think in a lot of these conversations we’re using the term “sincerity” as a catchall for everything that seems pleasing or displeasing, depending on which side you’re on, to a given person or group of people in Poetry; it’s what no one wants to acknowledge. The arguments themselves are not lacking in passion or conviction, but the topic has become a kind of absolute surface, a pigment or texturizing agent used to embellish the already-established canvas/aesthetic with which those arguing were already working.
Interestingly enough, this doesn’t invalidate sincerity – it makes it more sincere. “Sincerity” becomes a text that is an empty body, or a total body (depending on how you want to read D&G), a medium that, like paint, we can layer and drip and manipulate to serve our ultimate purpose of art-making.