Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Here is the third question from the series given for the Poetry & Empire retreat:
How do the structures of poetic communities resist or reinforce existing categories of power and influence?
the social organization of contemporary poetry occurs in two primary structures: the network and the scene. The scene is specific to a place. A network, by definition, is transgeographic. Neither mode ever exists in a pure form. Networks typically involve scene subgroupings, while many scenes (although not all) build toward network formations. Individuals may, and often do, belong to more than one of these informal organizations at a time. Both types are essentially fluid and fragile. . . .
Critical to the distinction between these structures are the methods of communication available to their members. . . . Because capital, of which there is so little in poetry, is necessary for the elements of network formation, competition exists between networks and scenes. Underneath lies a hidden assumption of the hierarchical ordering of these groups, and the idea that one can be the dominant or hegemonic formation according to some definition, at least for a period of time. Definitions vary, but major components include monetary rewards, prestige (often called influence), and the capacity to have one’s work permanently in print and being taught.
In the 22
years since I first published those words simultaneously in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E & Open Letter, I have never had occasion
to doubt the broader strokes of that very general description. One could take a
look at a wide range of literary social phenomena under these terms. The New
Brutalists, for example, could be viewed as a scene (younger post-avant poets
in the Bay Area) with some network connections, especially to writers in
Massachusetts, although I suppose one could take a much narrower genealogical
view (former writing students from Mills) as well. Flarf, on the other hand,
seems primarily a network phenomenon. As does poetry blogging. [Does poetry
blogging have scene implications? It seems quite prevalent among younger
writers in the Bay Area,
person who is certain to write & ask if the advent of the Internet has
transformed or eliminated the need for capital as a prerequisite for a network,
the answer is “only partly.” The number of the world’s people who have access
to the web on a daily basis is still something like three percent. More common
than the flarfer working a day job in a marketing
The question posed above for the retreat, however, isn’t one of how are communities structured, but rather one of how the structure of communities “resist or reinforce existing categories of power and influence.” And here I think the answer is obvious: structures don’t, but people might. The implication of the question is that possibly certain scenes have different rules of composition, but I frankly don’t see the evidence for this. The organizational structure of Official Verse Culture may have a lot of institutional resources, for example, but it is a network much like any other. They might as well write flarf (actually, they do, for the most part, but just don’t know it). The structure of the community itself is not what determines behavior, but rather how the individuals involved seek to obtain & use power. Power is something that people almost universally seek to obtain – it is as valuable as oxygen & for many of the same reasons. & yet power, as anyone who reads Foucault with a practical mind must realize, fulfills its potential only when you give it away.
does see a difference between communities – some hoard power, while others
don’t – but not necessarily between the internal structures of community as
such. I’m not going reiterate here what has been documented repeatedly in Jed Rasula’s American
Poetry Wax Museum, in Hank Lazar’s Opposing Poetries, elsewhere in my own
writing & in that of
* I know the folks responsible for a somewhat larger percentage of the non-poetry blogs listed, such as Michael Goldhaber who was writing about technology back when I edited the Socialist Review. His newsletter format then has transformed into a blog today.
Labels: Poetry and Empire