It’s the only thing on my wall help. Andrew Duncan can’t fuck up – it’s his tailpipe – but I’m having trouble with his Chicago Review map, its disingenuity being (uncontroversially) aargh shit die.
It’s nowhere actually labeled “map” or “diagram” or anything like that, so I’m electing to treat it as a picture of why it’s a very bad idea to try to represent Styles of British Poetry 1945-2000 on a two-dimensional matrix.
Or, OK, it is a map, and it does relate styles pretty accurately, but a “style” is not what we thought – a “style” is something a bit OMG Gid Prom-esque and degenerate, some grave reductive error of which we are now suitably warned.
Or, OK, it is a map, but a cartographic reductio of the spatial metaphors controlling the kind of misleading formal stipulations of festal enz-in-deyselves endemic to “survey” criticism (Piers Hugill’s Epistle to the Italians, perhaps, or Sam Ladkin and Robin Purves’s intro to the Chicago Review itself, or even parts of John Wilkinson’s impassioned but wayward essay on Andrea Brady’s Embrace).
And if I were Geraldine Monk I’d pinch his cheek right off, so there’s that (Geraldine holding a cheek).
Whatever else it is, it is clearly also a gag, which makes me consider what aftermaths could spoil it.
Its gaggy core consists in funs poked at a notional serious plan – perhaps impracticable in its seriousness – for the visual or plastic representation of anything important in or of contemporary British poetry. This is as upfront as I get that I am perturbed and somewhat weirdly hurt to find myself written out of the ranks of the other Jungian-Mythologists such as Elizabeth Bletsoe. Actually making these serious plans could atomize the gag in an unease beam (cf. a “nun” gag treated as a cue for an anecdote about my auntie who is a nun: implicitly disavowing the laws constituting nunness in the gag language game).
So first thing is, draw up some protocols which crystallise elements for implicit exclusion or for admission and situation in the array: draw up what you could crudely call the ontology of poetry.
Ontology might focus on writing (practice, peer polity, influence – see note) or on reading (rhetoric, listening, reception, interpretation). The former focus might produce a schema showing ‘where poetry’s going,’ & the latter, a schema helpful for ‘finding your way around the scene’ (i.e. more swiftly get to grips with some poet encountered for the first time).
Dissemenation / community – presses, reading series, etc. – could also found an ontology. Dissemination generally originates and frequently continues in a spirit of inclusiveness and hybridisation. (I’m thinking in particular of London stuff – Crossing the Line, The Blue Bus, Openned, 14 Hour and La Langoustine Est Mort – perhaps the mix motive is less prevalent elsewhere). To a somewhat lesser degree, any minimally-grim faction or poet takes pains to bargain influence from throughout the contemporary landscape. It is often precisely to assure herself that she is reading and writing eclectically that she proposes and recognises genre boundaries.
So from the inside, any standard-issue atom of poetry is catholic and category-defying (see note 1). From the outside, they are all sectarian and pigeon-holed with an ease which makes the ecumenical impulse so pervasive in the first place. Eh . . ? . . wha? . . .
Everything collaborates to form the divisions and the margins that everything ignores. To thoroughly spaff Duncan’s gag, we’d also want to want an ontology, or a set of practical substitutes, that could cope with this dynamic.
Note 1: Cf. Duncan: “THE UNDERGROUND: [...] Tom Raworth and Allen Fisher constitute a whole universe of discourse, building an equivalent of the whole cosmos within poetry [...]”
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