Wednesday, January 28, 2009

AIEE! (American Internal Emigre-Emigre) Poetry

Too tired from late night not to blather. Pouring white stuff outside. So here goes...

What, you might ask, can be AIEE! Poetry? Well, it's a homemade branding moniker for my poetry, obviously...

Do I need such a thing? No, probably not. Is it upstanding & ethical or even intelligent to muck & mudgeon about with such things? No, I suppose not. I've been slumming for 15 years now (since the dawn, for me, of internet poetry conversation - Buffalo Poetics List) - verbally wrassling with my sub-subcultural compeers over Important Topics in Poetry & Related Topics... while the fine upstanding & successful poets shuffled along their diurnal rounds - publishing in magazines, books, winning awards, "placing" themselves in colleges, & such like... I could have started doing that myself Forty Years Ago if I'd had any sense... instead I became successively Jesus Freak, Music Bum, Hobo, Food Coop Manager, VISTA Volunteer, Junior Politico, Mandelstam Disciple, Family Man, Divorced Family Man... you name it, I've been there. Ranch Hand. Professional Resume Writer. Wholesale Produce Delivery Person. What the heck. (mostly, Sub-Sub-Librarian.)

So, getting back to the Subject... what is AIEE! Poetry, then?

AIEE! Poetry is the poetry of an "internal emigre". This was the Soviet Writers' Union label for a social-professional outcast - basically, a criminalized person under Stalinism - those who survived to milder times to become "dissidents" later - personae non grata, those who (to use the Greek word, lanthanein) (successfully or not) "escape notice"...

& how does one become an AIEE Poet?

There are many paths (& many internalized motives) to this exalted status. I choose to focus only on that aspect of this dilemma which most directly challenges the cultural structure which arranges my placement there (ie. I'm ignoring perhaps even more important, inner, moral or psychological motives). The aspect I'm referring to is the strictly literary or artistic orientation of said emigre.

There are two primary paths in American poetry today which the AIEE! Poet has chosen not to take:

1) The Path of the Professional Poet (PPP). The Professional Poet is the poet who is capable of correlating his or her craft - which may be of a very high calibre - with the established social rewards currently offered (teaching jobs, tours, books, awards & so on). The PP is an upstanding adult member of the World As We Know It - the Institutions & Organs of same. Poetry here is Part of Our World. & a very good Part of Our World it is.

2) The Path of the Oppositional Poet (POP). The Oppositional Poet is the poet who is capable of assimilating his or her craft to an ideology of Revolt of one sort or another. (The really deft OPs combine a Revolting Worldview with the constellation of said established social rewards (see #1 above) - but this is a side issue.) In fact entire large critical-parasitical counter-constellations have arisen, which habitate (in symbiotic survival mode) with the Institutions and Organs of the World As We Know It.

& so where do I, Henry H. Gould, scribbler of long standing, fit in here? Let's ignore the first path for the time being. For 15 years or so I have engaged in dubious battle with by-night armies of the POP variety. & wherefore? Well, there may be all sorts of competitive & aspirational (vain) motives in play... But again, I will emphasize what I think is the critical difference - the disagreements over the nature of poetry & poetic style.

Let me zero in on what I believe to be the crux of the matter. It's this crux of debate which initially arose when I began piping up on the Buffalo Poetics List these many odd eons ago; and I think it has mildly resurfaced again (hence this screed of mine) in the tiffs over Flarf.

The POP trend - originating, perhaps, with the divagations of John Ashbery in Tennis Court Oath, if not before - & leading into the playful ellipses of NY School, & the not-so-playful strictures of the Language School - developed initially in opposition, not only to the Old New-Critical establishment of the 40s & 50s, but also to the simultaneous personalization & informalization (direct colloquial talk) of American poetry of the 60s & 70s, led by Robert Lowell & John Berryman.

POP arose as an effort to differentiate poetry from the undifferentiated flood of prose & prosaic free-verse - & POP tried to do this by way of formalization, abstraction & de-personalization. Hence we have the contemporary anti-dialects of postmodern poetry : the "verbal-material systems" & "procedures" we know so well.

Well, let me tell you, the AIEE! Poet rejects POP in its entirety.

Let's look at the example of Henry H. Gould, for example. How does this particular AIEE! Poet actualize an approach which differs from both #1 & 2 above?

Gould's poetry is founded on two very basic orientations or principles. Firstly, (1) he thinks of poetry as a distinct medium or mode or form of artistic expression, which by means of its roots in past & very ancient practice, maintains a kind of autonomous & healthy - one might say perennial - presence in the cultural-intellectual life of humanity. This distinct and autonomous mode operates as a kind of translating or transfiguring process : absorbing the events & discourses of real history & experience, & reconfiguring or transmuting them into its own distinct idiom. & here is the key corollary : this process of transfigurement is the radical activity of poetry per se, which brackets or supercedes both the ideological (political) and stylistic (aesthetic) dynamics of stylistic change.

Secondly,(2) - with (1) clearly in mind as a basis - Gould's poetry is rooted, along with all authentic poetry, in an inner telos or drive toward clarity, wholeness, and recapitulation (of experience). Poetry, in other words, aspires to simplicity-in-complexity : to the making of a clear & compelling mirror (the simple) of a differentiated and substantial reality (the complex). & this aspiration in turn is grounded in the sense of firm ontological ground itself : an Aristotelian-Aquinian-Maxi-musical notion of a holistic Cosmos consisting of Real, Integral Particulars (Individuals). Things are Real, and unmistakably Themselves (ie. they are not simply identifiable with, or reducible to, their various Descriptions or Labels). History is an Actual Record of the Real Process of the Change & Development of Things through Time. & Poetry is the Distinctive Expression of the Real Individual's Intellectual-Aesthetic Synthesis of the Real Actualities So Described. Personhood & Individuality are substantial and irreducible. So, also, are Intellectual Universals & the Process of History - the relation between the Individual & the Social-Historical (Common, Universal) Actuality.

Poetry, in other words, has a substantial intellectual grounding in Truth. But this grounding is not simply a given : it is the result of the Poet's own effort to discover & synthesize more General Truths. It is the grafting process of the unique & playful act of artistic making with its own wider contexts. Thus Great & True Poetry upholds this crown of artistic endeavor - this grafting process with the intellectual & experiential currents of the Real & Actual Larger World of Time, Space & History - as the real fruit - the ultimate aim & original source - of its own Traditions.

Gould's multifarious extended poetic Projects - all the long & short poems - can thus be viewed as forms of poetic Orientation toward a Larger World. Through the mode of art, poetry invests Experience with formulae of intellectual-emotional Meaning : the underlying structure or holistic arrangement of these discovered Meanings reveals a distinct Viewpoint, which simultaneously expresses Individual Personhood and World-Historical Reality. It becomes a "Henry" World, in other words : "Henry" cannot be exiled from his own verbal model of Truth.

So Henry's status as AIEE! Poet - or Internal Emigre - is like the reversible many-colored coat of that (subjective, artistic) World where Henry is always "at home". & the lights are on.

This orientation - in which Particulars & Individuals are both (1) real & Substantial & Inalienable in Themselves, and (2) part of a Real & Actual World-Historical Process or Drama which is inherently more than the sum of its Descriptions or Verbal Models - is clearly at odds with the POP trend. The POP trend, as a mode of Postmodernism, (1) denies the substantial Reality of said Realities, and (2) replaces them with a variety of Explanatory Overlays : these are the ideological-intellectual Discourses or Filters which POP has adapted to the mode of Poetry. In the process of such they must also Deny the Existence of Poetic Tradition (the mode of perennial Transfigurement I sketched out above). You might fairly ask : how does such Transfigurement differ from the Postmodern Overlay-Description? It differs in that Transfigurement bears witness to an allegiance to Realism or Truth. What Postmodernism (& the POP) denies, the AIEE Poet celebrates.

& It Has Yet to Be Noticed (lanthanein) (in the World As We Know It) that the Drama (a comedy of sorts) of the Internal Emigre-Emigre Poet - the irreducible inalienable Henry of American Poetry - is returning, is returning, is returning home again...



This is a deep, complex topic which I doubt I will be able to manage in the space of a few furtive key-taps at work. Let's recall, first of all, that the "I" initiates the phrase "Internal Emigre-Emigre", which suggests that the "I" inhabits a condition of (perhaps internal, inner) exile, and that the "subject", therefore, is always "on the move", traveling.

The best analysis of the self and the ambiguity of otherness, in relation to the grounding principles of AIEE! Poetry, can be found in Elena Corrigan's 2000 monograph, Mandelshtam's poetics : a challenge to postmodernism (SUNY Press). Corrigan argues that M's poetry & poetics cannot be subsumed under contemporary theories of postmodernism. For Mandelstam, according to Corrigan, the self is neither simple, essential and unitary, nor illusory and effaced by otherness. Writing is a distinctive process which synthesizes both estrangement and growth. The self, the textual "subject", grows and changes through a process of affinity or "kinship" with other textual voices (see esp. M's essay "Conversation About Dante"). AIEE! Poetry, in turn, as a kind of American offshoot of Russian-Mandelstamian Acmeism, shares and endorses the orientation outlined in Corrigan's study. We can see the outlines of this position in the very lexical and phonic attributes of "AIEE!" itself. The "I" of AIEE! is necessary, distinct and inalienable : but it is meaningless without reference to its place in the sound & spelling of the word "AIEE!" as a whole. Thus the microcosmic wholeness of the "I" is echoed in the structural wholeness of the natural forms in which it has its being (the word "AIEE!").

What must be repeatedly emphasized, however, is that the word "AIEE!", in turn, while integral and multivalent as a word-in-itself, is deracinated from its primary meaning unless we recall the first principle of AIEE! poetics itself : that is, the notion that poets, through their compositional labors, participate in a unique and distinct mode of verbal expression, whose perennial and substantial qualities - the process of "transfigurement" sketched out in the initial AIEE! Manifesto - bracket and subsume more temporary and local and timebound forms of stylistic change, within an overarching system of (worldwide, with variations) tradition. Thus the articulation of AIEE! Poetics is itself, also, merely an epiphenomenon (of self-awareness) within the larger schema or milieu of poetic transfigurement.

Many also ask : is I the "I" in "AIEE!" really just... Henry? The answer is : this depends on your definition of "Henry". Obviously my own view (as a Henry) might be blurred by proximity - however, I can state with some confidence that the "Henry" delimited by AIEE! Poetry is only a symbolic model for the distinct, inalienable quiddity of every single poetic subject and object. Thus univeral Henrification is simply an abstract index of the mysterious actuality & architecture of created & creative Nature. It might be appropriate to characterize AIEE! Poetry as not exactly "Henryesque", but rather "henotic" - ie., "harmonizing, irenic" - deriving from the Greek work for "one" (Hen).


J.H. Stotts said...

i wonder if you'll be able to read this--'я так же беден, как природа,/и так же прост, как небеса,/и призрачна моя свобода,/как птиц полночных голоса.'

it is, i think one of the perfect expressions of your I in AIEE!, and you probably recognize it as mandelstam.

(paraphrased: 'i am as poor as nature, and simple as the skies, and my freedom--transparent as the nightbirds' [silent] cries').

also, henry, since you're always giving me food for thought (always, that is, the few months i've known of you), i thought you deserved to know your name came up in a conversation i had w/myself last night. the conversation is summarized in my latest b-log entry here ( thanks.


Henry Gould said...

Thanks so much, James. It's good to know there are fellow "Mandelshtamians" out there.