Let’s be frank: the ‘edgy’ in poetry is a called-for characteristic of the most nebulous sort. Yet a cursory look at the submission pages of many small press periodicals and webzines finds the edgy (or its brother, the ‘fresh’) of supreme import, even when very few editors can locate, with any specificity, what makes a piece they publish ‘fresh.’ Its continued desirability, thus, is quizzical.
Perhaps not. What is more comforting, to editor or artist, than such vague and vacuous calls? For the editor, all the mountebank airs are available: he simply ‘knows it when he sees it,’ and can slough off calls to accountability from any quarter; the artist flash-educates herself on contemporary currents and turns volume to 99. A demonstration:
mother took me to
three miles away my
with the FUCK&FEUD
of Chastity, still
on our thrift shop
Relatable, isn’t it? I might submit it under pseudonym and be a Tumblr sensation in weeks. Call me cynical, but I believe we find all the requisite ‘edgy’ tropes here: formal games like darling enjambment, ‘unusual’ capitalization, indentation; verbal and thematic games like punning, irony, workshop-style high/low dyads (an absolute favorite of the ‘fresh’), and mix of the familial and carnal (admit it, you both loathed and immediately recognized the ‘twin//bed’ move).
Competition to be named ‘the new’ has produced second-rate art since Picasso and Matisse dueled in collage; as I’ve said about Marcel Duchamp and Dada previously, ‘Fountain‘s ‘question’ spawned a half-generation of yes-men, and a half-generation of ready-made junk with marginal (if any) artistic merit; one looks to Duchamp’s Apropos of Little Sister (1911) or Nude Descending a Staircase no. 2 (1913) for Duchamp’s artistic achievements.’ In verse, the spectre of the new includes a long (and continuing) line of identity poetries, Flarf, and histrionic performance work.
My suggestion is that art without investment (investment) and gnostic content serves nothing outside self-interest, the continuance of I repeated ad nauseum to an audience of bobbing heads. I have yet to read a good poem about a uterus, a one-night stand, a bounced rent check, or eating a hamburger, ‘edgy’ though these topics remain; I have yet to read a compelling e-mail pastiche.
The abiding question for editor, poet, and thinker remains, then: Is it of consequence?