Saturday, September 18, 2010

...And the Survey Says

For its 100th Anniversary, the Poetry Society of America sent out a questionnaire to 300 contemporary American poets on what it means to be an American poet. All of these unknown to me poets said roughly the same thing: America is a ruthless machine of erasure through homogenization of the authenticities of gender, race and sexual preference, and its poets from Leslie Marmon Silko on have used the polyvocal utterances of the other to bravely challenge that hegemony, with poems that wear jeans, buy each other beer and often have sex.

Yours truly was not included in this survey, but because I believe in democracy and the American way I thought I’d post my responses here.


In what ways might you consider yourself an American poet?

In that I’m alarmingly ignorant of the rest of the world, specifically the range and history of world poetries, and in that I’ve never let that slow me down in any way.

Do you believe there is anything specifically American about American poetry past and present?

I can’t speak for the past - I wasn’t there – but present-day America is unique among countries in having let the Rothschild banking interests who control the foundations, universities, media, corporations and political system destroy poetry along with whatever residual force it once had in larger society by luring poets into academia as a condition of publication/recognition/money.

Is there American poetry in the sense that there is said to be American painting or American film?

American poetry is like American bobsledding, a convenient label for tribal frenzies of exclusion.

What role do historical and geographical factors play in American poetry and in your work specifically?

This is a fancy way of asking if the fact I am alive and not dead plays a role in my poetry. I don't honestly have an answer. All I know is that when I write about, say, 14th century China, it can only be for me about 21st century America.

What other aspects of your life (for instance: gender, sexual preference, class, ethnicity, religious beliefs) relate to your sense of being a poet in America?

Part of being a poet is not necessarily knowing what my gender, sexual preference, class, ethnicity, religious beliefs, etc. actually are, but I see I am in a minority of one on that score, which may be why I wasn’t included in this inclusive survey.

Is there something formally distinctive about American poetry?

American poetry has been, from Whitman on, stubbornly free verse, at least relative to the rest of the world. This has been a great strength, in my opinion, and helped spread the influence of American poetry throughout the world, even England. Apparently this is a great insight, for it appears most of the respondents on the survey thought the only form distinctively American was to drop “y’all’s” or “yins” into poems.

What significance does popular culture possess in your sense of American poetry?

Writing poetry is the way I cope with popular culture, in that it helps me to ignore it long enough for it to go away.

When you consider your own "tradition," do you think of American poets, non-American poets?

My own “tradition” is a country of poets, from all over, living and dead. This is in contrast to the country I actually live in, which is by and large poetry free.

Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating distinctly American poetics?

Distinctly American poetics? You just won’t quit with this vapor, will you? I suppose there’s a certain joie de vivre, a bilderstürmerei, a full of beans gormlessness in American poetry that comes from a combination of corn, Protestant triumphalism, wholesale extermination of the native populations, lack of moats (ie “rugged individualism”), amber waves of grain, African-American "blue" scales, tolerance born of shallow roots, cultural standards determined by the lowest common denominator, an unquenchable thirst for blood, a total inability to see that there is an unquenchable thirst for blood, and good old Yankee ingenuity. The embodiment of all of this, of course, is Poe. Aren’t you pleased with yourself, now?

What are your predictions for American poetry in the next century?

It will continue to not be read except by other poets, usually with that particular jaundiced perspective of the aggrieved.

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