Every once in awhile, I come
across a magazine or website that just reeks of the poetry of the future – it’s
like accidentally opening the door to a furnace you hadn’t realized was there.
The heat given off is palpable & feels more than a little dangerous. At the
same time, you now have a sense of just how much energy lies behind that door.
A particularly excellent example of this is tripwire 6,
edited by Yedda Morrison & David Buuck out of San Francisco. Subtitled almost too narrowly a journal of poetics, tripwire
6 is all about community, defined large.
The ways tripwire confronts this issue are
several. What drew me into the issue at first was an essay by Heriberto Yepez.
Yepez is a Mexican poet whose work I didn’t know until Jonathan Mayhew made me aware of
Yepez’ superlative blog, The
Tijuana Bible of Poetics! (T-BOP) T-BOP is one of the finest weblogs
related to poetry & poetics, and offers the considerable value of
approaching these issues from perspectives that are, for me, completely new
& fresh. After becoming a complete T-BOP addict, I also discovered a series
of fascinating sign
poems in both English & Spanish up on Joel Kuszai’s Factory School website.
Yepez’ piece in tripwire, “What About the Mexican Poetry
Scene?” describes post-Paz Mexican poetics in terms completely accessible to
readers who, in fact, are clueless on the writing to our South. Yepez does this
through a series of quite savvy comparisons with the poetry scene we do know –
our own U.S. hodge-podge. Thus:
<![endif]>With the death
of Octavio Paz, Mexican poetry lost its center; U.S. poetry has no ascertainable center.
<![endif]>“In Mexico, writers have . . . real power and use it up front.”
“In Mexico, Charles Bernstein and Rae Armantrout would have to
(even be pressed to) periodically speak on current issues on the Mexican
equivalent of NBC’s evening news or Nightline.”
power “makes it impossible for even a radical poet to stay for too long” in Mexico.
orientation toward innovation & experimentalism “resembles the
self-understanding of black innovative tradition,” balancing progressive
impulses with conventional forms.*
<![endif]>There is “no
hard mainstream in Latin
America . . . simply
because in Latin America the avant-garde won.” Yet, paradoxically, “Octavio
Paz established the idea that after surrealism no avant-garde could be possible
performance have been protagonists of American counterpoetics from the Harlem
Renaissance and the Beats to today’s San Francisco and New York poetry scenes. In Mexico, this is not the case. We are wed to a text-based
difference is that current American poets are more domestic than we are. They
can feed each other. In Mexico, for example, there is now a growing discussion on
using English and getting in touch with contemporary American poetics
(experimental and mainstream).
major concern of Yepez centers on speculation as to the future of Mexican
poetry, post-Paz. Will a new center form to monopolize the whole of literature?
Will it evolve into something similar to the two traditions that have waged
cultural war in the United States since at least the 1840s? Or will it devolve into
something much more fragmented & chaotic, the way
the post-avant U.S. scene seems to many observers today? Yepez notes the emergence of new
modes of writing that have, as yet, to be incorporated into the broader Mexican
cultural fabric – bilingual Indian poets & vizpo,
as resistant to the historic frames & constraints of Mexican writing as
this transnational counter-tradition appears to be in almost every other
accurate is Yepez’ characterization of the Mexican scene? I can’t say & I’m
naturally wary – I can recall James Breslin’s depiction of the U.S. scene in the early 1970s as a series of peaceful
suburbs with no urban center (the approximate role that Paz plays in Yepez’
model) against which to be defined. Yet Breslin taught in the same department
as Robert Grenier, David Henderson, Richard Tillinghast & Denise Levertov
when he penned those words, a department that was abandoned by Louis Simpson
only a few years earlier with a public outcry that there was no room for his
kind of poetry in the Bay Area literary scene in the wake of the Berkeley
Poetry Conference of 1965.** Because Yepez’ depiction of the U.S. scene is
generally reasonable & accurate – more so than any I’ve read by Ms.
Vendler, let alone Breslin – I’m inclined to accept his portrayal of Mexican
poetry. But even more than this, Yepez’ article makes me realize how much I
need to buy Across the Line / Al Otro Lado, Harry Polkinhorn & Mark Weiss’ anthology of the poetry of
Baja California, and how much I need Jen Hofer’s forthcoming anthology of
poetry by Mexican women, Sin puertas visibles, due in
April from the University of Pittsburgh Press. .
* But but but
what about Robert Creeley, Bernadette Mayer, Lee Ann Brown? All three could be
described in exactly such terms. A poet such as Helen Adams, or Edwin Denby,
could hardly be described otherwise.
** Breslin was a classic example of the well-intended poetry
critic who never attended a reading that was not sponsored by his own English
department – a travesty in the context of the San Francisco Bay Area, as indeed
it would be in any region, even Wyoming.
Labels: Heriberto Yepez, Mexican Poetry, tripwire