Friday, December 03, 2004

Shades of Bakhtin...

While I wait for you, Maggie, to post part 2...

Well, we agree. But I do want to post a disclaimer. The trouble with my making pronouncements is that 1) they sound like everyone else’s pronouncements; 2) the number of qualifications start multiplying before the ink on the period’s dry. Especially if I’ve just used the word “entertainment” in connection to poetry. We have all seen poems that strive to entertain in a manner not consistent with what poetry can do, but what stand-up can do, or what short stories can do, and it isn’t satisfying. But what Midwinter Day did was equidistant, I think, from what Sedaris does and what, say, (and here I pause: “Stay out of trouble, Ange, and pick on a poet you love”) Flow Chart does, if what we mean by Flow Chart is a non-narrative experimental epic-length poem that is somehow about the thinking of such a poem into being, hermetically sealed behind the forehead. Both Mayer and Ashbery are writing a long poem that mimes the passage of time. Mayer happens to include, rather than leave out, the actual specifics of a woman named Bernadette Mayer living on December 22, 1978 with a husband named Lewis and children named Marie and Sophia. The pleasure of being let inside, not only someone’s head, but (perhaps more transgressively?) the hermetic world of someone’s private family makes it a whole lot of other things besides intelligent: it makes it human or (dread word) humanistic; it makes it entertaining and it makes it gift-like: we are getting a gift we would love, as opposed to many many avant-garde poets who give us what they perceive (in light of Hegelian-historical-dialectic-ness ‘n all) we need. Mayer is the least Puritanical of all intellectual poets (after O'Hara). This is not to say she isn’t flawed. But she is what I mean by “entertaining” in the best sense.

The best defense of Flow Chart is to be found in Ashbery’s own defense of Stanzas in Meditation, which kicks off Selected Prose. My point is not that such works should not be attempted, but that poems should not be valorized in inverse proportion to their human appeal.

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