reading revival: a poetry book blog

reading revival is devoted to promoting australian poetry books and related discussion through reading one book - firstly, duty by geraldine mckenzie. i will choose a new book roughly every 3 months

Monday, June 12, 2006

one aspect of the laziness of the attribution 'experimental' is that whatever challenges or experiments are being made are not looked at specifically. though rhythm, language, typography, syntax, semantics, diction may all be up for grabs - it is often a number of these things being challenged - but not all. convention takes a route through all poetry. but today im not interested in what convention gets overlooked but in the challenges. think of language poetry, for example. because of its name, the main arena of challenge is considered to be - & often is - language itself, also syntax, semantics, & poetic form get guernseys. its greatest challenge is perhaps to the cliche - & this is related to image. pound defined the image as "that which presents an intellectual & emotional complex in an instant of time" (quoted in charles hartman's 'free verse'). he evolves this def. over time into what kenner (bid) descibes as 'an imitation of an action'. ill disregard the time bit. poets like bruce andrews, lyn hejinian, susan howe, clark coolidge and charles bernstein have affected what an image is / can be. as have people like cage & maclow. ok i wont totally disregard the time factor: the disregarding of time within a poem affects how a poem is read, how images are read as being connected, related - or not - to each other. this is not peculiar to language poetry - it comes out of any poetry influenced by collage. (hejinian's 'my life' is interesting in this context because though her images do not appear to be sequential in time - & they recur throughout the book - the concept she is working through is time-based: ie the years of her life.)

consider these images from mckenzie's 'iconoclasty'p 81-3: 'It was music. It had no father.' 'This is the rock. Thwart or grounding'. 'Blood as conversation.' or '30. Slick idol, I ken your parts and pronto.' from 'After Ritsos'. langpo by way of gig ryan? from the same poem: '26. Hard slog down trodden more up ahead.': rhythmic, ambiguous, evocative - not obscure it seems to me tho lacking referent. the absence of punctuation provides music. punctuation would pin it down, but would only enforce its abstraction i think. if, by way of beckett & barthes, any thought can be an image, cant we think anything in language? whether its 'I ken your parts' or 'Hard slog down trodden more up ahead'.

obscurity .. the very word suggests imagery: an obscure phrase or line must be hiding the image it refers to..? language poetry attempts to establish language as an image in itself. i think this is its great legacy, (that & the demonstration that 'it hasnt all been written before' - that on the level of language at least- its easy to avoid cliche - not that this doesnt create more problems - cliches of tone - new cliches of word arrangement & affect -). that poets who reacted against langpo in favour of a more flexible & popular form still benefit from what langpo did for the image ..

this is not to deny the work of concrete poets who established language as an image also - but in the visual sense. what langpo does is take back ground for poetry as written & sounded .. ok im getting stuck as i always remember that concrete or visual poetry often employs the sound of words too .. but there is a distinction to be made: between visual form & poetic form. either could demonstrate pounds definition - tho of course the 'intellectual & emotional' elements are problematic, supplementary .. perhaps concrete poems could be said to be an image, however large & complex, whereas a language poem - like the mainstream of poems - is made up of images ..

im getting out now while i can


At 11:14 AM, Blogger nyanda said...

Hi Michael
The duty to find the book ended up one of pleasure: finding it was easy (onya new edition)....I guess my main interest in what she is doing is how she manages to meld (european) history/myth/story (mythstory?) with an active sense of the current/personal - I guess mostly by the sense of her corporeality. The connection doesn't feel strained, or political either...

At 6:01 AM, Blogger michaelf said...

it does seem political to me tho in a kind of epic or oracular way. the famous poem in this context is plaths 'daddy' & tho mckenzie seems miles from plath i can read a connection there - theres definitely another parent involved tho - ted hughes? that brings in the corporeality.


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