On Amy De’Ath, Anne Boyer, artlessness and ‘failure’.

Earlier this week I wrote something about Amy De’Ath which was then quoted at length by the Harriet blog on the Poetry Foundation site which has done wonders for this week’s traffic but also posed a question about artlessness and a possible connection to the ‘aesthetics of failure. Being a diligent sort of blogger, I followed the link through to the Jennifer Moore article on Jacket2 and read it.

This was going to be a considered and point by point riposte of Moore’s argument but I’ve decided that I don’t actually understand it as in I don’t follow the logic of what she’s saying. I’ve now decided to point out that there isn’t any connection between the artlessness that I referred to and whatever Moore might mean.

I do need to have a quick moan about Jacket2 which seems determined to dig its own complacent and deeply uninteresting rut. I haven’t looked at it since December because it was making me increasingly cross without having any material of interest. I experience this as a loss because the original Jacket did keep my attention even though I disagreed with most of it.

The other observation that I need to make is the amount of unthought out writing that there seems to be around at the moment, I don’t want to single Moore out because she does seem to be part of this trend towards vagueness which is less than helpful. This is in sharp contrast to the Cambridge school of over-written obfuscation which stands in stark contrast to the recent critical writings of one J H Prynne. I’m not trying to sing my own praises, bebrowed is filled with idle speculation and poorly thought through gestures but I do try to be clear as to where these might come from.

I do need to confess to an interest in failure and especially the stuttering faction within that broad front / trend / school / aesthetic. It can be argued that all poems expect to fail and that they carry this expectation with them as they make their way. It can also be argued that this has always been the case and is unlikely to change in the future. The variable comes in when this essential aspect is given emphasis be practitioners and critics. The last time that this occurred was in the late fifties in the writing and thinking of Becket, Blanchot and Celan all of whom have been massively influential ever since.

This historically recurring aesthetic is irrefutable and informs some of the finest work of the last twenty years (late Prynne, Hill’s ‘The Triumph of Love’, Sutherland’s ‘Stress Position’ etc) and has nothing to do with what Moore seems to be writing about which sounds like a kind of disenchantment with all things New York.

Moore also mentions something called the New Sincerity which is very easy for cynics like me to write off as yet another argument against the teaching of (sigh) creative writing. However, I realise that I’ve spent most of the last two years arguing strongly for a poetics that is based on honesty which I now realise isn’t a million miles from the s word. As with failure, I don’t think there’s anything new about poetic sentiment and sincerity but it is useful to run this benchmark over some of our most hallowed poets (Larkin, Lowell) if only to notice the obvious deficit in this department.

I’ve given some further thought as to what the artlessness in De’Ath’s work might be about. The ever-prescient Jonty Tiplady has described her work as ‘fading in and out of technique’ which captures most of what’s going on but there’s also an elegant / considered kind of shrug in the direction of the artful which is really quite special. I suppose that the UK’s equivalent of the Language school might be all things Cambridge or the more hardcore aspects of the late modernist vein – an analogy about place in the cultural landscape rather than manner of expression. I don’t detect any kind of grappling with the exhaustion of these two trends in this material althought this might be evident amongst other younger poets.

I’d now like to contrast Moore’s essay with Lauren Levin’s remarkable review of work by Anne Boyer and Stephanie Young in Lana Turner. I don’t have access to Young’s work but I have downloaded Boyer’s ‘My Common Heart’ which is the kind of engaged, intelligent and deeply human work that we should all celebrate. Levin talks about this stuff in the context of the Occupy movement which continues to unfold around us and communicates in a direct and atheoretical way how this material might usefully inform our politics. Whilst I don’t share some of Boyer’s politics, I do think that her work begins to sketch out how poetry and the poetic might function within this new kind of politics.

I can see the point of Occupy much more clearly than the recent UK protests at student fees, I like the fact that Occupy refuses to play the accepted political game, has one tactic (“bring tent”) and doesn’t try and promote a particular remedy. I also like the fact that the forces of reaction don’t know how best to react- the City of London is currently attempting to evict the UK group on the very tenuous grounds that you can’t erect a tent in an urban/public area whilst some American cities appear to be sticking with the old fashioned brutality approach.

To return to ‘My Common Heart’, this is much more direct than the stuff that I normally read but it is accomplished / technically efficient, contains a fair amount of repetition and says some very perceptive things about the nature of the crowd and crowding and how the practice of poetry might be related / connected to the practice of protest- a connection that many poets overlook in their eagerness to be ‘correct’.

Levin ends her review with failing but a different kind of failing, one that knows and accepts failure but continues nevertheless. As we should (must).

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