Friday, 7 August 2009

Can There Ever Be Another High Modernism?

This post is developed from a comment I left on Adam Fieled’s blog Stoning the Devil, in relation to his 'Flarf Time' post which was his response to Nana Gordon’s 'Flarf: Memorable? Novel?' post on her blog. The exchange between Adam and Nada revolved around poetic value and cultural significance: Adam arguing that poetry should ideally be able to encompass these concepts, and Nada arguing (if I understand her position correctly) that such concerns were not necessarily applicable in evaluating poetry’s “worth”.

My own view is a position held between these two opposites. Whilst I accept that ultimately a poem’s emotional value cannot be objectively estimated outside of its personal significance to individual readers, I believe that each poem has within it a potential for historical significance by either moving poetic language forward or, as in the case of Ginsberg’s Howl, having a cultural impact largely independent of linguistic concerns. As is probably the case, very few poems written since the appearance of Howl have achieved anything near a national or international cultural significance.

But having said this, Flarf’s “frivolity” of approach is (if albeit depressing) perhaps apt for our times, as is its estimation of poetic “value”. Perhaps poetry should not be taken very seriously, at least not that which has been written during the past 50 years, or so. However, many poetic schools seem to take themselves very seriously. Perhaps, this is why such schools form in the first place. It is certainly a fact that, historically, many poets have written a particular style of poetry as a way of being accepted by one of these schools, if only to potentiate their publishing opportunities—poetic schools are more marketable than desperado poets are

Of course, alongside this state of affairs there arise the inevitable rivalries and poetic factions. Perhaps, I am mistaken, but the only exception to this seemed to be the relationship between the Beats, the New York School and the Black Mountain School. They seem to have got on very well together—at least from what I have gathered from reading biographies of Ginsberg and Kerouac.

As we know, poetry is not read much now. Consequently, poetry has become culturally insignificant. I read somewhere that if all the poets now writing vanished from the earth, their absence would not affect the culture one jot. I am afraid this may be true. This cannot be accurately said for practitioners of the other arts such as music, painting and film. They seem to now do for us what poetry used to do.

Of course, a similar state to that which is present regarding poetry now was present before High Modernism, as can be seen in the poetry anthologies of the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Nevertheless, I do not see an equivalent to High Modernism on the current poetic horizon—or at least not that which doesn’t involve a multi-media approach, which I think would not really count as a multi-media’s affects would rely more than on words alone. Although, I accept that a poetic sensibility can be expressed in most art forms to some extent, I think that what we have come to know as poetry—i.e. that which is read on the page or heard being spoken—would be lost in a multi-media approach.