Afam Akeh “I Returm To Okigbo” continued from previous page
It has to be said that ‘The Balcony’ is a five-part poem that actually reveals David Brooks (Walking to Point Clear, 2004) as a more accomplished and involving poet than would be evident in the part quoted above. For a real encounter with the kind of trench or underground poetry merely indicated in “The Balcony”, my education has depended on other more fully visceral sources – like a collection of phone poetry that goes by the promising name Verses that Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the Poemfone Poets (Jordan and Amy Trachtenberg, eds, St Martin’s Press, New York, 1996).
There is enough experimentation with the form of poetry to last poetry all its lifetime and beyond. In the years 1978-1981, Charles Bernstein and his close associates at the long defunct journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E unleashed a way of seeing that in more recent years have led to the uncertain poetics that informed The Best American Poetry 2004 (David Lehman, Series Editor). What is the worst nightmare of an Okigbo-loving reader of postmodern poetry? Incoherence elevated as intelligence, nonsense becoming the new sense, every kind of representation and utterance not at all needing to mean anything or be accomplished in any way, all of that becoming accepted as poetry, the more denatured the better for its claim as the new poetry. It is no longer a spelling mistake if we say it is poetry, not a learning deficiency once we have anthologised its disassociated meanings as poetry. It is no longer just enough to write prose poems, and recognise poetry in prose. It is the new reality, at least in the extended illogic of some that poetry is prose and prose also poetry. Not ‘can be’ but ‘is’. Any kind of prose, intended or rendered as such, however colourless and ineloquent the language, may in this thinking now also be accepted as poetry. No difference. The treasure is in the interpretation, the representation being now of less consequence.
This, no doubt, is a long way from Okigbo. Or Eliot. Or Neruda. Or Walcott. But
mere rage is an inadequate response to the reasoned otherness of an alienating poetics. It is more effective to engage each innovative way of seeing on its own terms, according to its chosen differentials. Rooted in Okigbo, who was not only African but also cosmopolitan in many of his aesthetic choices, what has been my response to the more extreme representations of postmodern poetry? First it was important to listen to the thought itself, to engage representative variants of its authorising poetics. There is an implied insensitivity towards questions of value and vision that is soon evident in the following much discoursed Bersteinian ‘prayer’ for the absolute freedom of form from meaning and judgement, especially in its privileging of interpretation and indeterminacy:
The poetry for which I correspond represents less a unified
alternative poetics than a series of sometimes contentiously related
tendencies, or proclivities, and, especially, shared negatives (concerted
rejections) of American official verse culture. For truly these
projects-in-language are not restrictive or exclusive; there is no limit
to those who can, or have, or will participate in this work, which is
open-ended and without prescriptions: not a matter of Proper Names but of
Works, and perhaps not even a matter of works but of how readers read them.
My Way: Speeches and Poems, 1999.
I am in favour of experimentation in poetry. I am a great admirer of the conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, whose idea of Social Sculpture is supported by the belief that there is a universal aesthetic of life, that art is present or possible and valuable in all things. For ‘Art’, I tend to read ‘Poetry’. I am interested in the possibilities for artistic collaboration in poetic representation and performance along public art lines. Clearly defined as such poetry is still identifiable, still valuable as itself. But to say that poetry or art is possible in anything is not the same thing as suggesting that anything is art or poetry. Imaginaries of the poetic, which construct indeterminacies of meaning and representation, so that judgement becomes either impossible or differently invented for each reading and each reader, edge the practice of poetry into a negativism in which all kinds of possibilities for the anti-poem exist. A radical poetics that would celebrate even the anti-poem should be vigorously interrogated especially in poetry economies with severe limitations in the public funding and appreciation of poetry. If Poetry should actually accept that it is as bereft of recognisable meaning and standard or any homogeneous or harmonising features as the more radical ‘new’ poets suggest it is, it would not only be incapable of judgement but also too deprived of its unities to even exist as an identifiable program by which to engage, explain and possibly honour the poetry and poets of postmodernism. If poetry is just anything, those who say it is can expect to receive, or be received by, just anything when they introduce themselves as poets or say that what they offer is poetry.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #42
The International Journal of Poetry & Graphics...since 2002
MAY 2006 ISSN 1479-425X Editor: Amatoritsero Ede