Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Real Sofistikated

It's been a while since I've raved about a particular book, but Tony Hoagland's essay collection Real Sofistikashun deserves a few cheers. In it he does an exceptionally good job representing a centrist perspective on poetry, keenly assessing contemporary trends while modestly advocating for poems that resonate with human experience. His essay "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment" contains one of the most insightful and balanced explanations for the tendency of contemporary poets to reject meaning and narrative that I've read yet -- as well as a persuasive argument for poets to be cautious in following that impulse:
"One can understand how disassociative poetry has become fashionable, celebrated, taught, and learned--it is a poetry equal, in its velocity, to the speed and disruptions of contemporary culture. It responds to the postmodern situation with a joyful crookedness. And one can also see why poetics that assert sensible order (which, admittedly, can be predictable and reductive) have fallen a bit from fashion: after all, the pretense of order is, in some way, laughable. Art has to play, it has to break rules, to turn against its obligations, to be irresponsible, to recast convention. Some wildness is essential to its freedom. Yet every style has its shadowy limitation, its blind eye, its narcissistic cul-de-sac. There is a moment when a charming enactment of disorientation becomes an homage to dissociation. And there is a moment when the poetic pleasure of elusiveness, inadvertently, commits itself to triviality."
Hear, hear! If you're looking for a smart, humble exploration of American poetry today, check out this book.

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