Tuesday, 22 November 2011

King Is Right And In The Crowd

PhD student and poet Henry King has written an intelligent comment on his blog about the Swift-Bonney fracas of late.  He makes an extremely important point about my trying to keep a space open for poetries, poetics, and styles, that resist the full demands of one kind of late modernist avant-gardism, practiced by a small group of mainly British Marxist poets.  Almost any other sort of broad-minded person would recognise my work as falling, on the broad spectrum, closer to Donald Allen than Allen Tate - my recent book launch was supported by a third gen New York School Poet, David Lehman, and arguably the UK's leading British avant-garde poet, Denise Riley, my friend and mentor.

My own work combines an interest in the disrupted lyric and abstract lyricism.  In America, I have edited a section for New American Writing, and also been published several times in Jacket.  In short, I am hardly a "mainstream" poet in the sense that, say, Sean O'Brien is. Indeed, my anthologies are also radical - one was anti-war; one was pro-performance poetry; one was about future poetics; and, as a final example, one was a marxist-feminist record of Northern Irish poets, in the late 80s.

So, as King notes, it is rather chilling to have my broad, imaginative, informed, engaged, and, rather questing, approach to poetry, summed up all-too-neatly as "anodyne".  It begs a question, really - who is Bonney, and more widely, who are these Super-Innovators, to throw all the babies out with the bathwater.  Bonney, according to his blog (which by the way advertises links to purchasing his own books) is a big fan of Fanon.  Fanon was arguably a fanatic, whose approach to colonialism was to say that violence was the only way to turn the native into a "free man".  His thesis-antithesis position meant he brooked no dialogue, no consensus, and no "liberal intellectual" peace treaties.

I gather Bonney has adopted this approach to the us-them world of poetics he imagines exists.  But this is far too aggressive and radical a model for the history of contemporary poetry.  Firstly, who are the natives in this story of poetics?  Who the colonisers?  And where is the ontological violence that must be undone with antithetical violence?  Putting someone's name into a prose poem does not save them from libel laws in the UK - just as I cannot write a fictional story about "Sean Bonney" wherein he does and says terrible things.  What is striking is how fearful these fearless types are - when does Bonney ever name or shame real actors of power in British literary culture?  It is rather easy to take potshots at an expat like myself, who is actually relatively marginalised.
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