[Editor's Note: In this series, the PACK applies the query What's at stake? to disciplines outside verse (e.g.,'business' as category), or metapoetics, in order to further limn poetry's major contemporary issues. Why a question of 'stake?' It has currency across multiple fields; its metaphorical construct speaks directly to the concerns of poetry; and, most importantly, it provokes an assessment of cause, of meaning. It throws cruciality into high relief; it calls the crux to our attention, and against that all else can be measured. It gets to the bottom of things.
As always, what's assumed in this series is the inherent significance of poetics in the experience of being.]
Stephanie Adams-Santos and I recently concluded that strands connecting every bit of especially bad verse—take nearly all the poems of Kim Addonizio published on the Internet, or Matthew Dickman, or Michael Dickman, or Tony Hoagland—can be drawn back to a version of confessionalism. Not a version truly close to Plath, Sexton, or Lowell, but married, nonetheless, to the a centrality of self that seems to dominate any attempt of the Poetic to make its way from space to page.
Let’s be fair. Plath would have been mortified by the work of Addonizio, so rarely does it attempt to put any craft-based constraints on its vacuous ‘reflections.’ Check “Manners” for a pointed example of Addonizio’s exceedingly slim stylings; you may feel as though you’ve chanced on the diary of an angsty teenage Goth, save for the fact that such an individual would have more sense than to advertise his or her maunderings (and might likely hold the poets he or she has read in too high a regard to label such maunderings ‘poetry’).
Quite shortly, the characteristics of this type of aesthetic appear to be:
(i) Staunch imposition of the I, at the expense of any real ‘setting’;
(ii) A phrasing that smacks of the academy, specifically ‘theory-speak’;
(iii) Implicit or explicit attacks on the academy, status quo, or powers-that-be;
(iv) General politicizing and identity poetics;
(v) Vulgarity and expletives, usually posed to appear ironic or clever; and
(vi) Interest in the body’s more base mechanics.
The question is not why this specific bent is in high profile—considering the dearth of deep thought these days, the answer is obvious—but what makes an individual with an interest in Poetry revel in such uninspiring observations, observations that are generally shallow, purely explanatory, and move nowhere, except to disseminate bad odor. I suppose it is possible that the call to Poetry still feels like a ‘rare’ call; it might speak to those individuals searching for a way to be truly ‘different’ without a call to difference, save for their own dissatisfaction.
But if the gift of channeling the Poetic is there, why so regularly turn it into simple treading of water? Why not move? The boundaries of the self cannot really seem so stolid.
Is it simply a matter, then, of a group of writers who no longer believe that a poet is called to something different than a diarist, cartoonist, satirist, or muckraker? Called to wisdom?
More to come.