Commentaries - March 2009
The late Ted Solotaroff--one of the most important literary editors of the '60s and '70s--visited us in 2003. He had recently published his very frank memoir, First Loves. He had been an editor of Commentary and the editor of Bookweek before he founded the influential literary journal New American Review. He is the author of The Red-Hot Vacuum, A Few Good Voices in My Head, and First Loves: A Memoir. He taught at the University of Chicago, Yale, Columbia, the City College of New York, and the University of California at Berkeley. He lived in East Quogue, Long Island, and in Paris.
It was in the pages of the New American Review where I found Max Apple's amazing short fiction for the first time. Even then, as I handled the paperback-sized magazine for the first time, I had a sense of Solotaroff's editorial presence. It was strong and clear somehow.
 Solotaroff at the Writers House: LINK
 audio recording of his talk: LINK
 New York Times obit: LINK
In the introduction to The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews wrote that:
[C]onfusion about the nature of this exploration flourishes. For instance, the idea that writing should (or could) be stripped of reference is as bothersome and confusing as the assumption that the primary function of words is to refer, one-on-one, to an already constructed world of "things." Rather, reference, like the body itself [and there, again, is the body, the "plan"], is one of the horizons of language. . . . It is the multiple powers and scope of reference (denotative, connotative, associational), not writers' refusal or fear of it, that threads these essays together. It is a renewed engagement that comes from the recognition that the (various) measuring and questioning and composition of our references is the practice of our craft.
When I teach my students (in English 88) the literary-historical context for the rise of poetic modernism in the U.S., I know I don't have a lot of time and I know I don't want them to be reading more than a few poems from that pre-modern interregnum after Victorianism and before modernism. So I have them read--among a few others--some poems by William Vaughn Moody, he whose verse has tons of modern sentiment and mood but whose form is facile and traditional. Some years back I created an audio mini-lecture on this topic, in which I consider Moody's "Gloucester Moors" and its context in the final demise of Victorianism and the coming rise of the modern. It's pretty basic stuff, but some readers of this blog might enjoy it at least as a pedagogical exercise: MP3.
This is the final stanza of Moody's poem:
But thou, vast outbound ship of souls,
What harbor town for thee?
What shapes, when thy arriving tolls,
Shall crowd the banks to see?
Shall all the happy shipmates then
Stand singing brotherly?
Or shall a haggard ruthless few
Warp her over and bring her to,
While the many broken souls of men
Fester down in the slaver's pen,
And nothing to say or do?
Here's a longer excerpt from the poem.
John Timpane writes in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about translation. He wants to know why there's such a surge in translations of poetry? And he quotes me on the point. Here's a link to the article.
Here is Murat Nemet-Nejat's response to this article:
Translation has always been crucial in the development of a country's literature, in France, in England, in Germany, until recently in The United States, to name just a few, at least in the West.
I disagree with you on one point. In the last fifteen years or so, American poets, particularly those considered avant-garde have shown an amazing lack of interest in, creative involvement with the poetry of other languages. The last American examples of such a non-American focused interest would be poets of earlier generations, for instance, Rexroth's Chinese translations, Jerry Rothenberg's anthology The Technicians of the Sacred, original New York School poets's interest in French poetry and Dante, Zukofsky's interest in Catullus, etc,. and in its early years Language School poets' interest in European thinkers. The best example of the change is, in my view, Ron Silliman's blog, which, to the best of my knowledge, had never had a serious discussion of a non-American poet, without even acknowledging the lack of it.
I agree with you that in the last five or six years a change has begun to occur among younger American poets. Whether this is due to globalism or a realization of the sterility of the previous attitudes, I can not tell.