Our series on the self-abolition of poets has, perhaps, long passed its expiration date. In the interest of finding our way to another line of inquiry, we’d like to turn to the obverse of the phenomenon we’ve been describing. While we will certainly hold fast to the argument that much of the most interesting poetry of the last century has been animated by a desire to destroy poetry, to eradicate it, disfigure it, render it inoperable – this is almost a definition of the avant-garde – negationist impulses of this sort have always existed in tension with an opposed and sometimes complementary drive to realize poetry, to generalize and universalize it.
The Abbotsford Convent is located just above the banks of the excitable brown river that pulses alongside the Collingwood Children’s Farm, a few kilometres from the city of Melbourne. The Wurundjeri people, who lived in the area prior to white settlement, called the river Birrarung or River of Mists. Once a month, market-goers flip a two-dollar coin donation into a bucket so their children can ogle exotic fur-footed chickens, haggle with geese, pat pigs the size of bicycles and stumble into pails full of the thorniest roses this side of a country and western song. A bike path zippers the farm to the rejuvenated convent beyond and elderly women in black tops and skirts can occasionally be seen tugging at the weeds that grow along its fence, urging the scent of licorice into the river-laden air.
I found no immediate way in to Coolidge's work with the first book of his I obtained in the late 1990s, Solution Passage: Poems 1978-1981. Instead, the way in came through the essay on Coolidge and Robert Smithson in Barrett Watten’s Total Syntax. Watten offered analysis of Coolidge’s early works, which I had never before seen in print; finally, here were excerpts from the “early Coolidge” I had heard about so routinely but never actually read! Here was a passage I highlighted in Watten's book, from Coolidge’s Polaroid (1974):
Earlier today, we clicked through to Eric Bennett’s “How Iowa Flattened Literature.” Three people had emailed us the link by the time we got to our email. They knew that we have for some time been attempting to understand US literary nationalism and the role of literature in US soft diplomacy. Bennett too has been studying, as he puts it, “the relationship between creative writing and the Cold War.” Bennett’s addition is focused on Paul Engle, the second director of the writing program at the U of Iowa: “For two decades after World War II, Iowa prospered on donations from conservative businessmen persuaded by Engle that the program fortified democratic values at home and abroad: It fought Communism. The workshop thrived on checks from places like the Rockefeller Foundation, which gave Iowa $40,000 between 1953 and 1956—good money at the time. As the years went by, it also attracted support from the Asia Foundation (another channel for CIA money) and the State Department.”