They published a controversial essay by Joy Katz on sentimentalism and the absurd lengths we’ve been trying to avoid it. At least that's how I took the piece. I heard through another writer-friend that Alicia Ostriker (who’s book Stealing the Language practically changed my life), was upset by how the essay used her as an example, thinking she was being criticized for sentimentalism. This is not how I interpreted the essay at all. Joy Katz really drags you through the drama of sentimental-avoidance in efforts to please current avant-guarde practitioners; and I can’t see why she would do this if not in defense of sentimentality ultimately as a choice.
Katz re-enacts the writing of a poem where a baby appears:
“A baby turns up in a poem I am writing…Oh no… A baby has turned up in a poem I am writing. Fear the world enclosing it: too easy to inhabit, too pretty, too comfy, too female, too married, too straight. A poem with a baby in it is automatically possibly all of these things, no matter what I am in my life as a person…
A baby has appeared. Fear loss of world, loss of danger, loss of trash, loss of anger, loss of war, loss of surprise, loss of mattering, loss of dirt, loss of wildness, loss of scale, loss of geologic time, loss of continents, loss of rivers, loss of knives, loss of meanness. Lost: the chance to go somewhere that scares me...I am writing a poem about. A cloud of aboutness hovers over my draft….
(True story: In Paris recently, I read several poems with my young son in them. The work evinced a range of strategies, from fragments to collage to narrative to a lyric. An editor I was talking with afterward said, about the poems, “I’m not interested in content. Do you know what I mean?”)…Fear of loss of credibility…
Can you not see the irony here? If the editor (or the avant-guard, for that matter) isn’t interested in content, what difference does content (the baby) make? It should be irrelevant; but it’s not. Here "I'm not interested in content" means "I'm interested in content."
“(Fact: When a male poet writes about a baby, he is not accused of being “overwhelmed by biology.” Fact: One of my teachers told me and a couple of other women that we should never write about our kids. I later realized he wrote about his kids.)”
Katz's essay is both aesthetic and political and yet understated, unsentimental. It dosen't draw absolute conclusions but it raises doubts. Maybe this is how it could be misconstrued.
In this APR there is also an email conversation between Gerry LaFemina and Stephen Dunn on the topic of irony that goes into length debating whether irony exists in the Tom Lux poem “Refrigerator 1957,” a debate I enjoyed very much because Lux was my “don” at Sarah Lawrence College. We all heard him read that poem about ten times while there. We even used to impersonate his performances of it just like we impersonated Marie Howe saying “the plumber I have not yet called” from her very serious poem “What the Living Do.”
Kids having fun in the 1990s.
There's also an essay by Jane Hirshfield, an amazing piece about (in defense of?) the power of lyric poetry, speaking to “the inexhaustibility of existence itself” and therefore the inexhaustibility of the lyric. She even takes on Theodor Adorno. You go, girl!
There’s also a conversation with Philip Levine. Levine was the first famous poet I ever saw in the flesh, when he arrived one night for a reading in Slonim House at Sarah Lawrence College. I’ve been starstruk since. In today’s political climate, I’m developing a deeper taste for Levine just as I am for songwriter Billy Bragg.
By the way, for some amazing out-of-the-box poetry, I would recommend the 1998 album of Wilco/Billy Bragg taking unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics from Guthrie's family archive. Two nights ago, Monsieur Big Bang and I watched the documentary on the making of the album.
I also enjoyed poems in APR by Joe Wenderoth. And of course I loved the three Stephen Dobyns poems in the issue because I always love Stephen Dobyns poems a bit shamelessly. His poem “Sincerity” was particularly good in light of our ongoing debates about lyric poetry and writing from the "self."