Tuesday, January 06, 2009

when language/flarf poetry is not enough

Ron Silliman's blogpost links list of Monday 5th Jan 2009http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/ contains a link to Charles Bernstein's 'Eulogy for Emma' (Emma Bee Bernstein). I cannot imagine how horrible the loss of a child could be, and for her family, Charles, Susan and Felix, my deepest sympathy at such a loss. Emma was a young woman, so brilliant and so beautiful, with prospects for a wonderful future.

I read the eulogy Charles wrote and was deeply moved by his honesty and his clarity in expressing the feelings that would be, under such circumstances, almost impossible to express - yet he did find a way to make his grief meaningful and to celebrate his love for Emma - celebrate her life. Her brother Felix, also wrote an amazing eulogy filled with that same beauty that only truth allows.

What I did notice when reading the eulogy Charles wrote was the use of quoted poetry throughout; the poets Wallace Stevens, Tennyson, Swinburne, Dickinson - all members of the western canon and possibly considered quietest, by today's post avant, flarf, and language school poets. I wondered why Charles Bernstein did not select some work from his own contemporary affiliations. His work is considered to be exceptional within the language school, and his leanings are decidedly post avant or post canon at least.

I am not writing to criticise his eulogy, or to criticise the language/flarf poetry community which I support and read, but I did think about what decides 'choice' during a time of great turmoil and in a state of deep grief, choice for him was to search out poetry which held meaning, which could be understood, which conveyed something akin to emotional connection with a/his particular state of being. That he included those quotes meant that he understood them and that they represented something to him in his time of great grief. The quoted works signified something meaningful.

I do wonder what will be available in fifty years or more of much of the language and flarf constructs of poets writing today. What will mean something to people in their times of joy or grief. What poetry will say for them when they need some expression in language to stand beside them.

Will flarf have anything to leave behind for people? Does it matter that language poetry may hold no meaning? Can poetry matter if it's only made for now and if it does not hold any understanding for anyone? What should poetry say, beyond its author construction? Does it need to say anything? And if meaning does not matter, and if it is only pattern or play, why write it and hope to have it published? Doesn't publishing poetry require readers?

What do people (poets and non poets) want when they reach for poetry - maybe not greatness, maybe not sentiment, maybe not old fashioned self indulgence - but surely they do want something which reaches them, something which they can recognise.

I do not think that poetry needs to be easily understood. I do think that many constructs within contemporary poetry hold up and will remain available to people well into the future generations. But, here's the thing, does the majority of poetry being written, blogged, published and performed today really matter to anyone? (Or matter to anyone outside of the poet's circle or school, and if it doesn't why bother with it).

I know that it is very difficult to select poetry which matters, or has qualities which matter , but it is possible to make a subjective choice for yourself or myself about the work which matters to you or to me. It is possible to care for poetry and care about the poetry you (or me) write or read.

Charles Bernstein made a choice about the work he wanted to include within his eulogy for his beautiful child, and he did not select poetry which held no meaning or was written for pattern or play, he grabbed onto work which was good contemporary poetry when it was written, and which is still good poetry today. Poetry which held meaning because the poets understood their craft. The forms are out dated now, but the poetry is as shinning and as fresh as it was then. It is good poetry, strange but open, mysterious but resonant.

It seems to me that Charles Bernstein selected work to include in his 'Eulogy for Emma' which was meaningful to him, because meaning was important. And meaning is important after all, language is important, making something far richer than play and leaving something for all to find if they want.