I hadn’t planned for this commentary to coincide with the Sussex Poetry Festival, the chief criterion in my dashed-off email to Jessica nearly a year ago being that I put it off until later. But here we are talking about irritation, and anyone who’s been involved in planning a poetry festival knows about that.
Begun in 1966 by Clayton Eshleman as a series of chapbooks by writers such as Jackson MacLow, David Antin, and Louis Zukofsky, Caterpillar Books became Caterpillar: A Gathering of the Tribes (though the subtitle was quickly dropped) in October 1967 when Eshleman realized he “could cover more ground with a literary journal than with undistributable chapboo
“The fatal problem with poetry: poems,” says Ben Lerner (32). What he means by this is that each actually existing poem stands a monument to the unrealizability of the utopian hope that we call “poetry.”
Lerner has some interesting things to say about poetry and its relationship to work, the desire and the worry that writing poetry not be work. Poetry is utopian insofar as it seems to offer an alternative to “getting and spending,” an order of work that is also seamlessly a way of leaning and loafing at one’s ease; hence the defenses. That very utopian possibility also seems a monstrous indifference to the brutalities of being constrained to sell one’s labor in order to live; hence the denunciations.