Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Academisation of Avant-Garde Poetry

Jake Berry’s essay, 'Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion)' deals with the issue of certain types of avant-garde poetry as not yet having found favour within the Academy, or with poetry publishers of academically “sanctioned” avant-garde poetry. The damaging aspects of this exclusion, and the concept of an “approved” versus an “unapproved” avant-garde poetry, are also examined in the essay. And these things could well be described as “the academisation of avant-garde poetry”.

Academic poetic output is operating to a healthy extent in the US, where university creative writing departments are flourishing. The University of Pennsylvania has its Kelly Writers House programme, its PennSound website and its Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, all sympathetic to academic avant-garde poetry. The University of Pennsylvania also edits Jacket2, an influential online poetics website, which was formerly called Jacket, and which was edited by the independent John Tranter before he passed it over to the university. And similar things are happening in the UK, with various institutions such as the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre at Birkbeck University, and the Poetry and Poetics Research Group at the University of Edge Hill, both promoting academic avant-garde poetry.

Consequently, one could say that the term "avant-garde" has now, essentially, been appropriated by the Academy, and, as such, has become associated with the sort of poetic writing practices that could be fairly said to represent “establishment” poetry, to the extent that the historical resonances of the term “avant-garde” have become meaningless. In contrast, Bob Grumman’s term, “otherstream”, which Berry uses in his essay to describe poetry that is marginalised by the Academy, can be seen as a more apt replacement for the term “avant-garde”, which has now become obsolete as an appropriate description for poetry that isn’t anecdotal, descriptive or prose-like.

This Argotist Online feature presents Berry’s essay, the responses to it from poets and academics it was first shown to, and an interview with Berry where he addresses some of the criticisms voiced in these responses. Many poets and academics (including those most famously associated with Language Poetry) were approached for their responses but declined. Other poets and academics that had initially agreed to respond ultimately declined. I mention this not as criticism but merely to explain the absence of people who one would normally expect to have responded and taken part in such a discussion.

The feature can be found here: