Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Jake Berry responds to my review of his work & to Bill Lavender’s response thereto:
Thanks Bill for the sending the Open Letter. My thoughts regarding the response anthology are much the same as your own. I was not surprised by The Times Picayune review, but I find it fascinating that it is the only book to get panned. Language Poetry is the avant-garde that most academies now recognize as legitimate, so anything calling itself experimental is going to acquire that label. Of course this is inaccurate and perhaps even insulting to some Language poets and no doubt some of the poets in the anthology as well. We knew this was coming.
And I am not surprised that there are Language poets that wish to distance themselves from the anthology, or at the very least discredit it as experimental, or to use your term Ron, "post-avant" ( a very useful term I think, but the "post-" is as overused as experimental (or avant-garde), and no more accurate). As much as this anthology might get labeled Language writing, it makes sense for one of the founders of that movement to say, in effect, "yes, there may be some good writing here, but it's nothing new, and much of it isn't very good." That's fine with me even though I don't agree with it, but then I wouldn't would I?
However, it is important, that an anthology calling itself southern be published by a press in south if only to inform the writers and publishers of "traditional" southern literature that many poets in the south aren't writing traditionally. You and I have talked about this Bill, and I agree that it is important to make this distinction, expecting the backlash from the start, and knowing the direction from which it would come.
Hank's notion of "kudzu textuality" works as well as any other term anyone is likely to come up with, and better than what I would imagine most anthologists could come up with. And I am sure that most all of us that are in the anthology are not comfortable with it, nor would we be comfortable with any other term. That's the nature of the beast. But it gives the reader, especially the reader of "traditional" southern literature something to hang on to going into the book. It perhaps additionally ironic that kudzu is an import to the south. All of us that grew up surrounded by the stuff find it beautiful but a little frightening because once it sets in it's almost impossible to limit its growth, at least in the South. I don't expect the work in the anthology to thrive quite so well, and it's no threat to Language poetry. Still, it is persistent, the South and the world will have to contend with it for a while yet.
I have not read much of what the MFA workshops have produced (though I have enjoyed some of what I have read), so I am not current on the critical terminology. Thinking about "as dense a cluster of overwriting & cliché" as related to Brambu Drezi though seemed to me a fair enough criticism. Compared to much of the contemporary poetry I read (under whatever label) Brambu is certainly overwritten, precisely because so much poetry seems to me underwritten (and I mean that also as being underwritten by concerns that have little if anything to do with the poetry). Brambu is indeed (sometimes) a dense cluster. And it is sometimes clichéd in a sense, but more self-aware of that than you give it credit Ron. And I may indeed need a little "driving instruction", but I seriously doubt that I would drive anywhere that you would want to go. Part of the idea of Brambu is to develop as it goes, and more recent, and yet unpublished sections, of Brambu 3 do seem, to me anyway, to be more focused, but this is probably because I am more focused in my obsessions. I think this happens to most of us as we get older. It produces a different kind of poetry, but not necessarily better. I have no idea if any of my work will be relevant in the future, nor yours or anyone else's. For instance, I like your work (in fact it is the body of work, among the poets associated with Language writing, that I like the most), and many others like your work, but a few generations down the road all our work may all be dust, utterly forgotten. Maybe I'm just a little more reckless than you are. At any rate I appreciate you taking the time to examine the anthology, and responding to it critically. It's more than most have done.
Thanks Bill for the open letter and for striving for clarity in the argument. Your intelligence is one of the primary reasons this project has been so much fun for all of us.
My best to both of you,