Tuesday, September 8, 2009

American Hybrid

So I started reading American Hybrid, which is a Norton anthology of contemporary poems that combine elements of formal and experimental poetry edited by David St. John and Cole Swensen and, and I have to say, it put me in a foul mood. I mean, I'm all for playing with language, but I get irritated when the experiment is not at all accessible. I don't need a narrative arc, but I do appreciate the suggestion of meaning, or a hint of sense. Some reason to read other than to exercise my decoding skills.

There were a few exceptions. Mark McMorris's work struck me a particularly readable and rhythmic:

Everything falls, to pieces, to the victor, to someone's lot
falls like a girl falls or a blossom, falls head over heels
like a city or water and like darkness falls, a dynast
a government can fall, or an apple, a cadence, the side of a hill... (p. 272)

This continues for 16 more lines, the accumulation of colloquialisms and new thoughts about what it means to fall create a layering that spins the reader's sense of the usual in a provocative way. McMorris works in sound and poetry performance, and when I read this piece, I could almost hear the lines speaking themselves off the page. I really loved it.

On the back of the book, Matthew Zapruder, editor of Wave Books, says, "Next time anyone asks you if American poetry is still relevant, necessary, or alive, hand them this book and walk away." I just think that's silly. First of all, it's closing down a conversation where one could otherwise blossom. I like the hand them this book part, but the walking away is so arrogant. It's like quoting a passage at the end of a paragraph in a literary essay and expecting readers to just "get it."

This anthology is difficult, and perhaps it is not a bad thing to be knocked off my rocker a little, so I'll not give up yet. I'm curious to know what others who may have read this are thinking. I've handed you this book. Now I'm standing here waiting for an answer.

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