Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Poetry Eating Itself

The last Other Room was a really terrific night - to think that it's already got to three years is quite stupendous. Derek Henderson live-streamed from Utah was one of the highlights, as was seeing the poet and editor Carrie Etter reading from her Shearsman book, Divining for Starters. Ken Edwards was also good, as was Alec Finlay. It was an interesting evening that brought up some issues.

I really liked Derek Henderson's reading, for instance, which was a conceptual piece based around taking out every repeating word or phrase from Ted Berrigan's Sonnets. I enjoyed this because I'm aware of, and have probably been influenced by, that very seminal book; but it also brought up a question. Not the obvious one about 'ownership' of Berrigan's words; but of the very fact that I knew the derivation of these poems; but not everyone who might read Derek Henderson's book would have read the original. So it seems that's it's essentially art talking to art again.

Which is all very well and interesting to those of us who are artists; but does it not seem a rather solipsistic game to those who are not so well-versed in the arts as we are? It is a very enjoyable game to play with other writings in this way; but how much does the reader need to know before he or she can take part in the game?

It's not simply a question of elitism; none of the people I've met are at heart in the least bit elitist. If asked, I'm sure they could all explain in relatively simple terms what they're about. It would be in part a distortion, because about art there is always an unspokenness, a silence around the concept that can't be put into words. But it would be a start.

However, I find myself worrying when poetry just feeds off other poetry in this way. I liked the result of it; and this is not a criticism of Derek Henderson's poems. But if this were all that poetry was, I'd wonder if it hadn't become rather clinical and distant, and maybe a little decadent.

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