I’ve been reading James Pollock’s You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, and find his reviews and criticisms to be instructive, even (especially?) when I don’t agree with his conclusions. When I came upon this paragraph about avant garde or innovative poetry, I couldn’t resist sharing it:
Why do these poets choose to hobble themselves in these ways? Perhaps they are tempted by what seems to be an easy way to appear singular and new. Perhaps, as in the case of the sentence fragment, they pick up the bad habit by emulating other poets because they think it sounds ‘poetic.’ Perhaps it has to do with a certain ad hoc or auto-didactic rhetorical training, so that poets unaware of the vast range of possibilities (see the complete works of Shakespeare) become unhealthily enamoured of one or two techniques and simply won’t let go. Who knows? But it needs to be said that this is not ‘innovation,’ any more than it is innovation to step into a potato sack along with some other contestants and bounce up and down to a finish line. Great fun, yes; but it’s ultimately a grotesque parody of human movement, and not serious or even interesting. Far better to discipline one’s walking or running stride.
– James Pollock, from “Still out in Left Field,” in You Are Here
I feel I’m barely in the race, but it’s too delightful an image not to share.
1 thought on “James Pollock on innovative poetry”
Thanks for the kind words, Nico, and especially your interest in the book. Lest your readers get me wrong, I’d just add that my beef here isn’t with innovation per se, but with the beating to death of some single rhetorical technique. Poets of all stripes, from arch-formalist to neo-Oulipo, can be susceptible. In the preceding paragraph I call out Anne Simpson, Daryl Hine, Michael Ondaatje, Daphne Marlatt and Christian Bok on this score, among others.
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