Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Myles & Bukowski

Cole Swensen and David St. John, American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2009)

Today’s hybrid poem might engage such conventional approaches as narrative that presumes a stable first person, yet complicate it by disrupting the linear temporal path or by scrambling the normal syntactical sequence. Or it might foreground recognizably experimental modes such as illogicality or fragmentation, yet follow the strict formal rules of a sonnet or a villanelle. . . . Hybrid poems often honor the avant-garde mandate to renew the forms and expand the boundaries of poetry—thereby increasing the expressive potential of language itself—while also remaining committed to the emotional spectra of lived experience.

Marjorie Perloff, 'Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric', Boston Review, May 18 (2012)

Well-meaning as such statements are, they don’t quite carry conviction. For, by definition, an “avant-garde mandate” is one that defies the status quo and hence cannot incorporate it. Indeed, the implication of rapprochement is that poetic choice is arbitrary, that it has nothing to do with the historical moment or the cultural context, much less one’s own philosophical perspective. The commitment “to the emotional spectra of lived experience,” for example—the commitment of poets such as Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg—goes hand in hand with the refusal of the sonnet’s or villanelle’s restrictions on open form, even as, conversely, Yeats declared that the collage mode of the Cantos made it impossible for Pound to get “all the wine into the bowl.” From the perspective of Yeats and most Modernist readers, these seemingly unstructured poems were no more than beautiful “fragments.”

[An] example of the power of other people’s words to generate profound emotion—maybe the most sustained example—is Susan Howe’s That This (2010). The book is her tripartite elegy for her husband Peter Hare, who was found to have died in his sleep suddenly and without known cause one night in January 2008. Howe would not call herself a Conceptualist poet, and she regularly combines cited material with her own prose and verse. Still, she has always avoided the free-verse lyric paradigm (observation—triggering memory—insight) ubiquitous in the Dove anthology in which, incidentally, she is not included.

Eileen Myles, 'Painted Clear, Painted Black', Evening will come: A monthly journal of poetics, 29 (May, 2013)

Poetry’s where men get to feel like women always feel. Cause we’re really just not there. I agree with Marjorie that what gets rewarded is mostly pretty damn boring. But that’s because there is no scene. No excess. It just doesn’t get any public ink. And this denial seems to be the empire moment. And it’s why it doesn’t matter to me how many poets there are. The most visible poets, the most rewarded poets are literally the ones who aren’t.

I think Marjorie’s naming of my own transparency has to do with sort of an easy reading of what I do and even missing that it’s multiple pronged not single so that I don’t clock you with my devices. I surround you and use them. My work has a chameleon quality in which it feels the room and changes. I write to hold the music of the room. If the poet wanders in her studio and that is the text then one can pause while the siren outside blares or even incorporate it into the poem. One of the most important things I know about poetry is that the words don’t need to be heard. They aren’t ever. Not all of them. And I think of that as an emotional truth. Poems are not made out of words. They’re made out of emotional absences, rips and tears. That’s the incomplete true fabric of the text.

The need for feeling in poetry is of utmost importance to Perloff, but what I come away with is that it’s the quality of the feelers (meaning whose) that’s the thing most important and true. Which is very postmodern, incredibly elitist and certainly transparent to boot.

Peter Blegvad, reading 'The Man with the Beautiful Eyes':