The final essay in the David Rivard Sarah Lawrence class packet is an introduction to the book Helpful Hints, Notes on Writing Poetry by Jon Anderson. Coincidentally, the next essay in the Suzanne Gardinier essay class is also an introduction (in some cases, these are really good essays) to the book The Postmoderns, The New American Poetry Revised edited by Donald Allen and George F. Butterick.
Anderson’s tips are from his days teaching and he cautions us that all his tips are “not applicable to everyone’s writing, that, in fact, their opposites might be useful.”
He states he wanted the tips to be brief, not prescriptive. Our teacher, David Rivard, must have considered these useful tips as well. When reading any list of tips, there are always plenty of things you like and don’t like. Everyone’s experience is so different as writers. I won’t focus on the tips I disagreed with. But I can tell by my notes from the 1990s in the margins that any advice to try imitate another poet’s voice or style struck me as scary and dangerous. I must have been afraid of losing myself.
Oh as if.
Here are my favorite tips:
- Remember the world of ghosts & small gestures.
- “I” “we” “you” usually give a poem location & implied reality.
- "When you feel yourself getting 'carried away' with emotion, undercut it."
[I think that’s good advise although my experiment right now is to move closer to emotion. My note from the mid-90s says: “undermine yourself.”]
- "Read: whole books, not just anthologies."
- "Write too much, then cut."
- "Say the toughest thing."
- "Follow the path a poem takes, not your preconception."
- "Don’t stick to the truth."
- "Prose poems can change your rhythms & subject matter, relieve compulsive personal esthetics."
- "Put something of interest in every line or sentence."
- "Cultivate that part of yourself that is most unsure, tentative, delicate, self-dangerous, & expect to pay the price."
- "Don’t be coy."
[Ugh! But that’s my bag!]
The editors date postmodern poetry to begin at the end of World War II. “Modernism came to an end with the detonation of the Bomb in 1945."
The preface doesn’t remark on Theodor Adorno's famous quote post-Auschwitz that ''after Auschwitz, to write a poem is barbaric'' (1949) . Most definitely this influenced post-modernisms experimentations too.
Postmodernims is characterized as “experimental” and the editors list poets' influences as “Emerson, Whitman, Pound and Williams," egregiously ignoring ALL the womenfolk: Gertrude Stein, H.D. and Emily Dickinson whose influence was just as powerful.
This “underground” was first formed in “schools” like The New York School, the Beat poets and the San Francisco renaissance poets and the Black Mountain Poets, and all the other avant-garde of the 1950s.
Their poems didn't gain respect in the 1960s and 1970s.
Conceptual inspirations were: imagism, French symbolism.
Topics include: the limits of industrialization and high tech, spiritual advancement, communal energies, American individualism.
They were writing against: academic formalism.
They consider themselves: revolutionaries.
“Their most common bond is a spontaneous utilization of subject and technique, a prevailing “instantissm” that nevertheless does not preclude discursive ponderings and large-canvased reflections. They are boldly positioned and deft, freely maneuvering among the inherited traditions, time-honored lore, and proven practices, adopting what they need for their own wholeness and journeying.”
Yes, that’s how this preface talks. :-(
Because the photocopied prefeace is from a later-day reissue of the anthology (1994), the editors briefly sketch out which poets were added since the original volume came out 20 years prior.
List of mentioned poets: Charles, Olson, William Everson, Robert Duncan, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Barbara Guest, Jack Karouac, Jackson Mac Low, Denise Levertov, James Shuyler, Philip Whalen, Robin Blaser, Kenneth Koch, Jack Spicer, Paul Blackburn, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Lew Welch, John Ashbery, Larry Eigner, Edward Dorn, Jonathan Williams, Gregory Corso, Joel Oppenheimer, Gary Snyder, Jerome Rothenberg, Michael McClure, Diane Di Prima, Anselm Holo, Amiri Baraka, Joann Kyger, John Weiners, Robert Kelly, James Koller, Ron Loweinsohn, David Meltzer, Edward Sanders, and Anne Waldman.
That's 38 poets of which 5 are women. Just sayin’ they could have done better. The editors tried and failed to organize poets by geographical boundaries. They ran out of room for theoretical writings and poet statements.
Charles Olson’s essay “Projected Verse” starts things off, as Olson they say was the first to use the term “postmodern.”
The most interesting part of the preface for me was the comparison of how each writer conceptualized the idea of postmodernism:
- Charles Olson: “an instant-by-instant engagement with reality”
- Robert Creeley: “”form is never more than an extension of content”
- Frank O’Hara: “going on your nerve”
- Allen Ginsberg: “Hebraic-Melvillean bardie breath”
- Robert Duncan: “open universe” in which the poem “has only this immediate event in which to be realized”
- Gary Snyder: “primitive,” “the decentralized” but communal
- Amiri Baraka: “poem as bullet for revolutionary change”
- The editors: “Primarily, it is a stance that does not shrink from confrontation with previously held convictions and proprieties, while seeking a restoration of some very ancient ones.”
They see postmodernism as “bold” and “heroic” which seems a bit over-the-top.
But there are some other adjectives that apply to the definition more specifically and helpfully: “idiosyncratic, “flexibility,” resilient and advantageous syntax,” exploration of language as a system,” “a different disposition of self,” a “quick willingness to take advantage of all that had gone before.”
Although the postmoderns are too "of their time" to comment on their own culpability in leading us where we are today, they are distant enough from their elders to criticize the moderns for similar liabilities. As they constrast postmodern from modern, the editors say “…if it’s true that the attitudes and commitments of modernism helplessly produced the Bomb and other forms of species alteration.”
We all helplessly produce untintended consequences.
This paragraph is a good definition what postmodernism is:
"These poets have taken advantage of the gains of imagism and surrealism, the chief accomplishments of poetic modernism. They are the grand and multifarious [not so multifarious if your read the table of contents] fulfillment of the vers libre of the early 1900s. Many demand a reorientation of values, a reexamination of the very premises of Western civilization. Most seek for the individual, a new relation toward his or her world, a new 'stance toward reality,' where each poem’s line, whether long-breathed or tightly controlled, is open to its own possibility, where the syntax responds with vital immediacy to the moment’s pulse. They are revolutionary, characterized by a willingness to seize the romantic imperative, to seek alternatives to the ‘static’ quo.”