At moments the response to our tenure here at Jacket2 has surprised us; it certainly came with more drama than we expected. One occasion was our insistence on a “we” that some feel served to obscure, to aggregate power, and to evade individual responsibility. For some it seemed like a spectre of collectivity worrisome enough that the language of Stalinism had to be trotted out. Such worries over this seemed to fade over the winter. Maybe it just took some getting used to; maybe it just took the form of annoyed resignation from those who were annoyed. It’s true that we didn’t even think about this so much at first and were perhaps a bit haphazard in our mixing-up of pronouns and points of view; after all, we have gone to jail for each other and bailed each other out and done each other’s jobs and collaborated on many writings before and argued a lot with each too and then changed our minds as a result, and so it seemed to us pretty sensible. Sometimes the “I” feels fraudulent also.
As we’ve been writing about our thinking over the last few years, we’ve been attempting to understand what sorts of forces shape poetry. We have often turned to political economy to attempt to understand the impact of late 1970s precarity on the genre. At other moments we have attempted to understand the poetry institutions — its conferences and its foundations and its not for profits and its publishing houses and its creative writing programs in higher education and its distribution modes and also its DIY tendencies.
A good example of the future that poetry once imagined for itself can be found in the first act (sometimes prologue) of Brecht’s great play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Brecht is an outstanding lyric poet, but his most poignant reflections on poetry and poetics might be found within the plays, which famously employ lyric elements to disrupt the mimetic anesthesia of conventional theater. In the framing prologue to TCCC , a government official, an “expert” (or in some translations, “delegate”), possessor of a certain technical and scientific knowledge, mediates a dispute between two Soviet agricultural collectives who want to use the same valley.
We often find ourselves discussing, often in rooms with other poets, often in schoolish settings, what it means to say that something is poetic. It is for the most part clear enough in reference to other literature, suggesting a higher-than-average degree of patterning the sonic and visual aspects of language. Or to put matters in another register, “poetic” suggests that some relatively larger portion of the communication is borne by things other than denotation and connotation, by measures to be found beyond the dictionary and thesaurus.
But when something beyond language is identified as poetic, problems arise.
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.