Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Angry Young Men

Jon Paul Fiorentino has an article in the new Word magazine addressing a trend of criticism that seems to be coming from a thirty-something writer's clique that have nothing nice to say about poetry written by their contemporaries that don't pay a kind of homage to the canonized tradition. It's a good article and funny, and makes a very good point about how a writer's own desire for prestige can lead to uniformed and selfish criticism.

I was talking to some of the contributors of the recently released and stunning collection Shift and Switch about a review that I suspect is one of the many in JPF's sights. This particular review was dismissed for the same reasons: the criticism seemed resentful with respect to a "type" of writing that the reviewer felt was being represented by the collection and also, due to its lack of real engagement with the Shift and Switch poetry, implied that the reviewer did not actually crack the spine of the book.

I believe that resorts to established, canonized forms have a lot to do with power and a feeling of "correctness". Sheltering in the vast shadow of Ezra Pound, to grab a name out of the air, lends one an illusion of respectability: Pound is considered a great poet so if my work is like Pound's then I'm a great poet and I can shit on anyone who dares try anything new. People are generally afraid of things they don't understand, and the particularly insecure become doubly afraid and resentful of those who would dare to experiment without the comforting shelter of conformity. The issue for the insecure lies in their own fear of the unknown, and a corresponding resentment of those who are not similarly afraid. Let's not forget that one of the great attractions of belonging to an "artistic" or "intellectual" community is the illusion of exclusivity, discerning judgement, and sensitivity to mystery that such membership appears to offer.

I've been very grateful that, for the most part, my contemporaries in the Calgary scene don't seem to be voraciously hungry for fame and prestige. But still, cliques exist in the Calgary writing world, and they don't always get along. JPF's article is a good reminder to anyone who finds themselves with an audience about the damage that can be wrought in the name of one's own insecurity. We don't need the kind of bitter resentment and jealously that have poisoned other cities' writing communities.

3 Comments:

Blogger jason christie said...

i love you!!! thx for the tarot read!

10:58 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Good thoughts, good thoughts...

There certainly ARE cliques of writing in Calgary-- the "avant-garde," the spoken worders and the um crusties (more on that later) but I really respect people who try to bridge the gaps when they can. This is a simple matter of respecting other forms and trying to ignore the fact that the a-v crowd doesn't tend to go out to hear the sp-w crowd or the crusties, and vice-vice-versa, and that where and when we do overlap, we be kind. And not taking pot shots, the kind of thing JPF is taking about.

So, I came across this in the McNally-Robinson pdf events listing, advertising an upcoming reading:

Not only is formalism alive, it is also, once again, fashionable, filling the perceived emptiness of the avant-garde with poetic depth.

Ok, so I call that crusty. That kind of thing makes me irritated, and if author X is trying to alienate me, he's done it. But I'll tell you a secret- he alienated me years ago when his students mercilessly picked on me in an honours seminar because I was a student of Fred Wah's. They accused me of being a language poet! *gasp*

So, sure, let's try to turn the other cheek as much as possible, but I have to wonder why the crusties are so deperately trying to convince us all that they are "fashionable" and relevant. Pah, I say!

12:29 PM  
Blogger asthma_boy said...

thank you, sir! you know you've made it on the internet when the Northender blogs about you!

12:47 PM  

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