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Saturday, 24 May 2008

Writing A Poem In A Luxury Apartment

John Kinsella, in his Introduction to the international anthology, Vanishing Points: New Modernist Poems (Salt, 2004) writes: "Context does matter. Someone writing a poem in a luxury apartment in a great city at the centre of a military empire does create a different intentionality from the singer composing with community members, expressing the group's marginalisation, loss and defiance. The expression 'avant-garde' is military in origin."

Who is this someone in the luxury apartment in the "great" city? Paul Muldoon? Auden? James Merrill? I don't know many poets, really, who live and write poems in luxury apartments. Would that be flats over £750,000? In Chelsea? Sure, context matters - but does the poetry this anthology explores, and shares with a wider audience, take a stand on the question of this new sub-genre: Luxury Apartment Poetry?

The avant-garde is sometimes awfully self-satisfied - as if they didn't, too, use and benefit from, the services and products of the late-capitalist moment. I am pretty sure Kinsella has lived in relative luxury - all British poets live better than the majority of people on Earth who subsist on less than a dollar a day.

Can poems, should poems, be evaluated by deciding whether or not where they were written was luxurious, or impoverished? Or isn't the poem, finally, not to be judged by its best intentions, but by its style? The qualities of language? Or is poetry, in some important ways, shaped by the location of its composition? Can, in fact, a rich poet be a good poet? What of Byron? What of Hart Crane? Wallace Stevens lived in a big house.

That being said, I'd recommend the anthology (co-edited by Rod Mengham), which argues for a renewal of the lyric, seen from new perspectives (ones less "empirical" and self-interested). It seems odd to have included Ashbery, Hejinian, and Howe, but not Silliman and Bernstein - but the introductions seem a little defiant on that issue, how this is not a "Language" or "postmodern" collection - when Ashbery is perhaps the postmodern poet of the last 33 or more years.
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