On Sentinel Poetry (Online) #39 — Readers’ Comments


You ask the big questions, as always.  This month you mull on Language poetry. This brings a memory.  As a student at high school, often I would feel excluded and utterly confused by poetry; my reaction to this was sometimes inferiority, sometimes boredom and sometimes anger.  When it comes to certain kinds of poetry, I surprise myself by echoing these reactions today.  Language poetry is one of those areas that often brings

me out in boredom and righteous anger.


And this is where I stop myself.  It's no use repeating emotive reactions, especially if they stop from you growing.  So I have set myself the challenge of not reacting to Language poetry as I have in the past.  Where has this brought me?  To the mature realization that I truly dislike and find exhausted and depleting much of what I find under this label.  Language poets often conceive of themselves as on the margins of poetic conventions,but I find some of the poetry of this tradition technicist and cold, and some of its practitioners contemptuous of other modes of poetry, and their readers.  I've been present when famous Language poets have declared their disdain for their even more famous, lyrical colleagues, and I've been one of an audience of three people.  But.But this is not the full picture.  Reading Language poetry at its most subtle and intriguing has also brought me to a new comprehension of the materiality, the tangibility of language.  Such poetry has built the solidity, the pauses and hesitations of language into its lines and given a subtle new taste to words on the tongue. 


Of course, this is not the sole preserve of Language poetry, in fact, it may be said to be a layer present in good poetry anyway.  Yusef Komunyakaa's subtle evocation of music in his poetry conveys the shape and urgency of an instrument without simplistically conjuring it.  Recreating and illuminating its aching presence in his poems, Komunyakaa has nonetheless pointed out, 'I am not a horn'.


In the end, what we are not creates a distance across which we look with our old human desire and in good poetry, this drives us to explore the capacity and mystery of language.  Poetry that simply insists on its clanging presence is not, for me, often worth reading.  But the language in Language poetry has its own desires.  At its most subtle and delicate, it can be beautiful and forever memorable, entering the cells, just like other modes of poetry.


Thank you for making me think about this, Ama.  Since I am not very familiar with the poetic scene you describe, I look forward to hearing the debate from more informed people.


Gabeba Baderoon

USA www.gabeba.com




What struck me about the editorial is the connection between the latest craze for poetic, read artistic, idiosyncrasy in the West (with its implication for communication) and the current break in social communication (and thus communion, even communal interaction) in that region of the world. This is ironic because this is also in an era when technology is driving connections and communication across hitherto impossible boundaries. Are we doing more talking and less listening and thus achieving less communication or what you (or Chinweizu called ‘public conversation’)?


Nonetheless, I find curious the dichotomy between poetry and art in the last paragraph of the editorial. How can a work be beautiful art, but not poetry? I guess I should have responded to your past reviews on the nature of poetry. I meant to say that most of what you appeared to be consigning to poetry apply to all of the art, indeed in some instances, intellectual endeavours in general. I guess it is this high premium which you placed on poetry as a unique set that has led to the distinction between art and poetry as noted in the latest editorial. It is also in this regard that I feel queasy at your use of the term ‘poetics’ which seems to be limited in the various editorials, which reduces it to poetry alone. I thought that word refers generally to the phenomenon of aesthetics!


I have written more poems than any other genre (although I am making slow progress at liberating myself). I respect that genre. But increasingly, the renaissance idea of the poet being a star gazer, the prose writer being an horizon gazer, and the playwright being an earth gazer can no longer be sustained. All forms of artistic expression can be elevated, pedestrian, deployed to idealistic uses or otherwise. So when it is good art, it can hardly be bad poetry, I suppose.


Or do I mix up something in your editorials?


Deji Toye 



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Sentinel Poetry (Online) #40


ISSN 1479-425X     March 2006