Thursday, July 03, 2003

But I think the reality of the situation is different. For one thing, Lowell himself was never so hostile to the New American poetry &, after a reading series on the West Coast in 1957 introduced him to readers who placed greater demands on poetry than he was used to in Boston (or at least the Boston he knew), Lowell’s own poetry changed. Indeed, reading the reviews as they come out now, it’s always important to see where the reviewer stands with regards to the Early vs. Late Lowell question. Lowell himself never rejected the idea of “confessional poetry,” M. L. Rosenthal’s hokey attempt to link Lowell up with the writing of Ginsberg & the Beats in an attempt to render Lowell interesting by association.


Where younger writers – Bly, Merwin, Rich – brought up essentially in the same tradition as Lowell were able to form a new aesthetics once they dropped the crabbed, metered works of their youth, Lowell’s rather endless late sonnets show a poet unable to break fully free. It’s no wonder he idolized Hart Crane, the SoQ practitioner from his parents’ generation who also glimpsed the implications of modernism (& its descendants), & who similarly struggled to identify a “third way” between the School of Quietude & the broad tradition of avant writing.


The poems in Hank Lazer’s Doublespaceand especially Lazer’s later writing – demonstrate that there really is no third way. The closest thing we have to it in contemporary American poetry is ellipticism, the tendency that one might cobble together from, say, the work of Jorie Graham, C. D. Wright, Ann Lauterbach, Forrest Gander & their peers, seems more of a decision deferred than a uniting of opposites. That most of the poets who come to ellipticism do so as refugees from the broader SoQ tradition suggests further that the problem both Crane & Lowell confronted – what should an intelligent poet do when they realize that they’ve been writing within a tradition that no longer has any compelling reason to exist? – has not gone away.