Monday, September 17, 2007

It's, like, ALTERNATIVE, man

This is good for a laugh.

Every time I run into an earnest little manifesto like this, I think of an episode in the Irving Layton-Robert Creeley correspondence. Over the course of a few letters Layton tries doggedly to get Creeley to explain to him just what "Projective Verse" is. Completely at a loss to explain--probably because of the fact that it isn't anything but a bandwagon with bad wheels--Creeley finally capitulates and says that PV is a "state of mind." "Oh," says Layton, "well then, I've been writing projective verse all along and never even realized it!" At least "projective verse" had the ring of something original, even if it lacked real substance. "Alternative" is just a muzzy term borrowed from 90s pop music to describe bands whose members wore plaid shirts and lived in Seattle and were otherwise not "mainstream."

Shine on, you crazy diamonds.


rob taylor said...

yeah, i scratched my head at that spiel myself...

alternative poetry is "difficult, if not impossible, to generalize about", and yet that's what the whole thing is doing!

it actually seems like an ok site, if not for the "the poetry that matters" tagline...which is, for lack of a better word, icky.

i think i'd prefer "sewer: the poetry you give a shit about".

Anonymous said...

Dear Zach:

while Creeley may not have been able to adequately articulate the ins-and-outs of "Projective Verse" to Layton (it's certainly not best summed up as a "state of mind"), the idea itself is more than a "bandwagon with bad wheels" and much larger in scope than the brief linked excerpt may otherwise suggest.

I'd also add that perhaps Creeley isn't the best person to explicate Olson's theory (despite their friendship and common association), for Creeley doesn't really compose in accordance with an Olson breath-line in mind: Creeley's often abstract voice-less verse seems to be expressing an interior thinking. What he learns from Olson is a sense of compositional imminence.

Take care,


Anonymous said...

"the poetry that matters" is a pop culture reference

Zachariah Wells said...

OOOOhhhhhh, it's "ironic"! Must not be precious then.

C'mon, Alex, if there was only one person to explicate Olson on the planet, it'd be Creeley. They were colleagues and their correspondence fills a bazillion volumes. And he did very much see himself as writing a "breath-line." He is on record as saying so; just that his breath was very different from Olson's breath. The reason: Olson was a bigger dude. (He also probably drank more which, as we all know, affects the breath a great deal...) Creeley saw PV as a Bible (and most of its adherents are about as rational in their faith as biblical literalists).

Regardless, as prosody, PV is practically useless. It's a position paper, a bombastic piece of us-n-themism, and therefore of some interest as a historical curio, but completely unilluminating as criticism, scholarship or poetic procedure. In fact, Layton's central place in Black Mountain is proof that PV's more about the camaraderie of kindred spirits than about the technical (or even the "more than technical") hows of writing poems. It adds nothing substantial to WC Williams' already vague concept of the "variable foot" (a term he invented because he didn't like the phrase "free verse") and displays a substantial, perhaps willful, misunderstanding of the history of metrics in English poetry. Ted Hughes' essays in Winter Pollen are much better resources for this. Honestly, I'm astonished that a dismissal of PV is still controversial at all. To me, it's like saying the hula hoop still has a great deal of cultural importance.

Here's a link to the full essay:

rob taylor said...

thanks, mystery responder. i'm clearly not popped enough.

but why tell me half an explanation? if you are assuming i'm not aware it's a pop culture reference, then why not actually tell me what it's a reference to?

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the publicity, much apprecitated.

You're right, this little rant is rather precious. I actually removed it from the site some time ago although it still seems to be floating around in cyberspace.

I used the term "alternative" as an umbrella for a lot of other vague terms: avant-garde, experimental, surreal - it didn't occur to me that it was connected to the Seattle music scene of the 90s. Maybe not the best choice of terms, but, as you can see from the work featured on the site, it covers a broad range.

Also, about the tag line 'the poetry that matters' - I needed a tag line when I set up the site so I made something up on the spur of the moment - it has no deeper significance than that and I didn't know that it was a pop culture reference.

While you may approach the second part of this rant with mockery and condescension, you must admit that the point made in the first half is true: that Canadian poetry receives very little respect internationally. Why is this?

I set the site up mainly to provide more international exposure for Canadian poets. When I checked Duotrope's Digest I found over 100 US sites that featured "experimental" poetry. I thought that Canada deserved one too.

thanks, J. Goodman