This is the first part of what I'm telling my students today, on our last day of class. I can't share with you the second part, because I ridiculously consolidate the history of Modernism to the Present (by way of Baudelaire, Eliot, Loy, Stein, Williams, Mayer, Rankine, and Schomburg) into 2 paragraphs. But here is the first part:
I’m trying to find what I’d rather not know consciously / I’d like to know what kind of person I must be to be a poet.”--Mayer
I exist through the other and for the other, but without this being alienation: I am inspired.”—Levinas
I want to discuss with you the trajectory of this quarter. Lest you’ve forgotten, this class is titled Modernism to the Present. The focus is on experimental poetry from around 1890-2012, which means we’ve covered challenging ground. Part of the challenge of reading experimental poetry is that it sets forth to offer the reader something radically new, and in turn, we have to re-train ourselves to read. We need to expect the unexpected, we need to expect writing that confronts stereotypes, hierarchies, conformity. Writing that tries to de-stable standards of normalcy cannot use the syntax, the language of this very normalcy. It is a language of fracture and fragment, a language that breaks down meaning to regenerate it, to re-invigor it. A language that tries to collapse boundaries, that desires to mess with your head, to free you from constraints, to help you form NEW relationships with people, objects, places, time, and your own imagination. As Hejinian writes, it’s a language that “invites participation.” Why is experimental poetry important? Because it trains us to be open and active readers, to question information handed to us, to question authority, and to develop your own sense of agency as readers and as citizens in this world.