Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Are You a Poetry Ideologue?


Because of some comments about a month ago on Johannes Görannson’s blog, in which Johannes was accused of being an “ideologue,” I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to be a poetry ideologue and to what extent I and other people I know are or are not poetry ideologues.

I would define a poetry ideologue as someone who can only like poems if those poems express ideas (whether in theme or aesthetics) that the person approves of or agrees with. The true ideologue cannot like any literature that does not fit with what the ideologue believes literature should do. Pure ideologues would think that the literature they don’t like is so harmful that in fact it shouldn’t exist.

So now it’s time to explore whether I’m a poetry ideologue.

Someone who has no standards or set of values at all regarding literature would not be particularly interesting to me, and of course anyone who says they “like everything” probably just isn’t being honest with themselves. The most interesting critical takes on literature always have some sort of defined perspective. It doesn’t have to be rigid or narrow but it has to exist. So key questions for me are both how one defines what one values and whether or not one can like work that does not fit those values.

I must be at least partly an ideologue (if to say “partly” here is not already inherently a contradiction). I have strong ideas about what I like and what I don’t and why. I don’t think that literature I don’t like shouldn’t exist though, although I can think of the work of a few poets that, if it did not exist, wouldn’t bother me much.

Still, here’s a partial list of some poets from about 1800 until now whose writing I really like and who don’t fit well with my usual ideas of what I think makes for the most worthwhile poetry or whose ideologies or aesthetics are very much different or even opposed to mine.

Ai
John Berryman
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
H.D.
Ezra Pound
Robert Frost (North of Boston only; the rest, yuck)
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Laura Riding
Algernon Swinburne
James Wright

The list is actually pretty short, isn’t it? That may be partly because my ideology regarding poetry is fairly broad-minded, while I clearly prefer risk-taking aesthetics and poetry not afraid to explore social and political problems. I don’t feel like I have to choose my interests too narrowly (none of this “Language poetry is great! New York School sucks!” for me, as just one for instance) and so there are probably a fair number of writers who wouldn’t like each other’s work while I like both just fine. Nor am I putting writers like Audre Lorde or Nazim Hikmet on the list: as a writer I have nothing much in common with their social or political struggles or aesthetics, but I love their ideas as well as their work. And I suppose the list would be longer too if I was including poets whose aesthetic I don’t really feel much commonality with and whose work I like well enough without deeply liking—Plath or Sexton or the Life Studies/Union Dead-era Lowell, for instance, or earlier figures such as Yeats and Stevens. Similarly there are many poets whose poetry and aesthetics I really love while not entirely agreeing with their poetics. For instance I could probably quibble with almost everything Steve McCaffery or Ron Silliman has ever said about poetry while at the same time I think their writing is fantastic and it has been crucially influential on how I think and write. And needless to say perhaps, there’s a very long list of writers whose ideas I don’t like and whose poems I don’t like either. As one example, I’ve read a few Robert Pinsky poems that I like well enough, but the rest strike me as so much Dead Text.

Just as an aside, Silliman, whose sometimes murky yet still useful School of Quietude notion sends so many people into bemusement or teeth-grinding anger, and who is perhaps more often accused of being an ideologue than anyone else in contemporary poetry, in fact writes frequently and admiringly on his blog about poets whose aesthetics he does not share. I sometimes wonder if many of the people who accuse him of ideological narrowness actually consider how much narrower their own aesthetic range is.

Anyway. It turns out to be true that I find it difficult to really love poetry that goes against my own ideas about poetry. But my guess is that I’m not alone in that problem. My guess is that there are more Poetry Ideologues out there than there are people who will acknowledge that they too don’t like much poetry that isn’t in accordance with what they want out of literature. Frankly, I think Poetry Ideologues are much less of a problem than people whose preferences are guided by ideologies that they have never tested or become conscious of having.

17 comments:

Amish Trivedi said...

I kind of wonder how it would even be possible to be "into" poetry without being an ideologue of some kind. What I mean is, if you're just kind of willy nilly about the whole thing, why bother?

I'm with you in general that I'm not really a diverse reader, even if I should be. I've tried hard to read lots of different things, but there's something that causes me to not enjoy *everything*. I think that's only natural, of course.

brian (baj) salchert said...

Sometimes I feel I am a perpetual beginner, and the twenty years I was essentially away from making poems and from other poets didn't help. I am a religious ideologue and a political ideologue, though both in my own manner. I can say all my poems are conversations with myself, but that some are also conversations with other humans and/or non-humans. And, yes, the poems and poets I like are a mixed lot though there are small groups of poets with similar styles among them.

Art Durkee said...

I realized I was under attack by poetry ideologues the day a neo-formalist accused one of my prose-poems wasn't a poem at all. Never mind that in every way expect enjambment it was a poem.

I realized I was not a poetry ideologue the day I read and liked a poem by a poet who ideas I think are bunk but whose poem got through to me anyway.

I don't think you can be a poetry ideologue if the poem comes first, for you. If the poem works for you, no matter what style or content it has, then that's paying attention to the aesthetic product itself rather than the ideology that produced it.

Scott Owens said...

As a reader and critic, I find the judgment involved in labels such as post avante, confessional, etc. useful, interesting, fun, and sometimes annoying. As a writer, I resist the labels entirely, often intentionally writing against any defining characteristics levied "against" me. As a teacher, I encourage my students to do the same rather than allow a label to become proscriptive rather than descriptive in their own explorations of subject matter and style. Unfortunately, it seems the oversimplified dichotomous nature of contemporary politics often rears its ugly head even in such pluralistic arenas as poetry.

Hür Hilmi Pîr neş'eyle said...

As a culture&literature student, how I perceive what the poem stands and works for determine my approach to any particular genre, or writer. I assume this is a process of self-discovery, which (re)shapens my 'poet ideologue', day by day, and the idea that ı am always a beginner and my ideology on poetry will perpetually change in a vicious circle, which won't free me from any ideology. After all, we'll remain sort of poet ideologue.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark. Your list of poets you like but who don't fit in well with your "usual ideas" intrigues me. What might be more intriguing, and risky, would be a list of poets who do fit your usual ideas but whose work you don't like.

I "should" like Pound and Duncan more than I do, but I don't.

Care to walk that plank?

Paul Naylor

Anonymous said...

Mark:

Don't walk that plank, whatever you do. But if you do, eat some Nooty Noogets for sustenance, before you embark. I once said to a mutual friend of ours, "F. Nouns", before you and I, actually, read together, at The Overpriced Private College, I said, "F., I'm worried that you're in the audience tonight -- because you're a rad poet I've got the word 'aglitter' in one of my poems", and I wasn't being a smartass, I meant it. And you know him, man, he just smiled and nodded his head, and said, "We're all poets here -- it's all good, I like the word aglitter" or something like that. And F. would be first to say that there are terrible terrible poets out there (Mark Rudman reading once at Georgetown?) and quotes that doth cause the Cheetoh in us to rear and spattoon, but that little moment taught me a bit about the silliness of divisions (and hence, of idea-ologies). (F. and I are different poets -- but we can find enough common ground). Oh, I realize that divisions are important in certain contexts, and I don't argue with what you're saying here, in fact, I think maybe we'd agree. There is a world of the living and a world of the dead, to quote Thornton Wilder -- and them's the two worlds I thinks of, when it comes to poetry. You can pretty much tell what's dead from what's living easily enough, without having to classify too much otherwise. I don't apologize for liking all kinds of poets all at once. Berrigan's On the level every day lectures seem to support some flexibility, for instance, in aesthetic, and I think he's right. During the mad crush in D.C. around Obama's inauguration, I heard someone at a coffee place say something like, "Oh my god, when am I going to find time for my radical politics?" I mean, now THAT is idea-ology. ---------BA

mark wallace said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

Art and Scott, nothing personal, but the approach you both suggest is actually one that I think I'm trying to criticize in this post. If the idea of "the poem comes first" is the idea that you can approach a poem on its own terms without your own preconceptions coming into play, I just don't think that's possible, although some people push more in that direction than others. Usually the person who claims to have no preconceptions just doesn't want to acknowledge how their preconceptions shape their readings of poems. I don't know either of you, of course, so I can't say anything about your preconceptions, but it's usually true that the reader who claims to have no preconceptions is often harboring a fairly conventional set of expectations. And while there are ways to "resist the labels" that are very important, I think it's likely that a resistance to the usual labels comes along with creating for oneself an alternate set of identifications, even if those identifications aren't labels as such.

Paul, thanks for your question. To me the fact of liking the work of poets whose ideas are unlike my own is more intriguing than finding poets who share my ideas and whose work I don't like. And that's because there are a lot of writers who share some ideas in common with me whose work I'm not all that interested in--simply because having an idea about what poems might do isn't at all sufficient to the creation of poems that are interesting, at least to me. There are a lot of writers who bore me but whose ideas I don't significantly disagree with. So oddly enough I guess I don't feel like the question is all that risky, at least for me. It just asks me to identify more or less mediocre writers (to my mind) who nonetheless have good intentions (to my mind).

By the way, Duncan didn't make my list because I feel lukewarm both about his poems and his ideas. I like him well enough I guess without ever quite understanding how other people can become so passionately devoted to his writing.

Anonymous said...

It's refreshing to hear you say that Duncan, for instance, doesn't work for you. Again, not perfectly what this post is about but -- sometimes I feel like one has to recite the "pledge of allegiance" -- to certain poets -- just to hang around with certain poets. They say, you like [so and so] don't you? -- but it's not so much a question as it is an order. Being an idealogue -- to some -- must mean "adherence" rather than a critical and crucial search for innovation / principle. If that makes sense. I mean, it's not ridiculous for me, at any time, to like Paul Celan. But it would be ridiculous for me to push all Jewish poets writing about the Holocaust; and to challenge anyone -- who wanted to "hang around" -- to like them as well. We all know that this ritual applies to academia and academic hiring, but it also applies to various smaller scale scenes as well. If there were a national election for poet laureate, what would you see then? A candidate winning on hope and change? What real hope and change would that person bring? I love that Gwendolyn Brooks poem "We Real Cool" but these days, it should read "We Ain't All That Cool No More" or: The Poets / Seven at the Coffee House (with their lattes). Eh? ---------------------------------------------BA

Ross Brighton said...

Just a thought - Re Silliman and McCaffery, Though they are both working outside the "mainstream" or wahtever you want to call it, i dont think you could have picked two more different theorists. Silliman is all about binaries and railing agains the "school of quietute", making unthinking statements (women, gays, minorities "favour narrative" and
that hetrosexual white men are free to experiment formally - cf. your post on stein, just for a start...) - If you compare "The New Sentence" to "Prior To Meaning" there's no contest. McCaffery just gets on with it, writes fantastic poetry and theory, is one of the most astute critics (along with Jed Rasula and Jerome McGann) working today.

mark wallace said...

Thanks for these further comments, everyone, and Ross--welcome.

By putting them together, I didn't mean to imply that the quibbles I would have with Ron and Steve were the same quibbles, any more than I put Hikmet and Lorde together because their concerns as writers were identical. Both pairs of writers share something in common but a lot makes them different.

Steve has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, and yet from the very beginning of reading him I've often found myself questioning his ideas even while finding them powerfully generative. Notiosn of closed and open economies of meaning, ideas about how meaning is recuperated or lost, the notion of the subject in poetry, reference to psychoanalytical criticism: I share an interest with him in many of the questions that frame Steve's theoretical writing (his early theoretical writing especially) while often taking small exception to a lot of his conclusions. That's about as much detail as I can get into here, except that say that while they do it in different ways entirely, I often feel that Ron and Steve have been guilty of overreaching--which isn't by any means always a negative.

Kill yr. idols--

Art Durkee said...

It's an interesting discussion. Your comments deserve some thought in reply.

"Art and Scott, nothing personal, but the approach you both suggest is actually one that I think I'm trying to criticize in this post. If the idea of "the poem comes first" is the idea that you can approach a poem on its own terms without your own preconceptions coming into play, I just don't think that's possible, although some people push more in that direction than others."

I think you're making several presumptions here. Fair enough: they may seem logical to make. (And you're right: you don't know me.) It may indeed be true that one cannot approach a poem without one's preconceptions coming into play—I won't argue the point—yet that doesn't have to be an impediment, it can be illuminating.

Furthermore, merely trading one set of preconceptions for another (which is what one Theory critiquing another Theory essentially is about) is no solution (as Theory merely replaces Theory till the next cycle of fashion comes around). How are you not doing that here, for example, in your criticism of the "poem comes first" approach? Are you providing an approach more sound than the "poem comes first" approach? Just to be clear, I don't insist that you do (or that anyone else does, either). I merely raise the question.

I took your original question as seeking a pragmatic answer, not a philosophical (new theory) response. In practice, working as I have in many writer's critique group settings, offline as well as online, in practice, looking at the poem as though it stood or failed on its own internal merits can of course also be labeled as a preconception brought to the reading. Yet most of the alternatives I've seen presented—which usually fall into the camps of "only personal taste matters" (a cop-out INMHO) or of "theory determines praxis" (usually a recipe for mediocre writing)—don't particularly hold water. After trying several different approaches, I use come back to the poem itself, because that's all we're left with. Do I need to know what the poet had for breakfast, or what literary/political theory was in their minds when the wrote the poem? Usually, no; not because it never matters, but because it doesn't matter MUCH.

Certainly individual preconceptions come into play. But you seem to assume that these are inherently problematic, unavoidable, and tainted. In fact, a preconception I bring to reading a new poem by a poet whose work I've liked before is that I'll probably like the new work, too. That doesn't mean I'll give them a free pass if I think the new work is lesser than the old work; I might still like it, but I won't give it a free pass based on any outside criteria. If the poem didn't work for me, it didn't, period. (And I usually give it several readings before I decide.)

How is your criticism any different from any other taste-based approach? Again, to be clear, that's just a question; and one which continues to be raised for me in these comments, as I see you being very honest about what poetry you like and why. You're talking about taste a lot here. That sort of critical honesty is a very good thing, because it's rather rare. I appreciate it. But how is taste-based reading not a preconception when "the poem comes first" isn't? I rather think they're of the same category, as approaches.

So, if preconceptions do matter when reading a poem, then perhaps the best thing one can do for oneself, and the poem, is know what one's own preconceptions tend to be, and make allowances. That's why I find critics who admit to their tastes laudable, even if I completely disagree with them. (I find Harold Bloom completely distasteful precisely he tries to build a literary canon largely based on his personal taste and philosophical judgment, and then claim for it universal objectivity. If he'd said, hey, I think these are great books, maybe you will too, then I'd have no problem.)

Maximum exposure to a lot of different kinds of poetry is likely to improve one's own ability to "step back" and regard them poem relatively objectively. Nothing broadens the critical perspective like lots and lots of reading. Never perfectly, but more so than when driven purely by one's taste. Which is why I said before, and I was being honest, that I can recognize a well-written poem in a style or with a subject matter that I generally find unattractive. That is, separate my own taste from my critical assessment. Never perfectly, but relatively more.

So I know, for instance, that my tastes in poetry generally do not lean towards LangPo or Silliman's post-avant; I read it anyway, and I learn from it, and I learn what I like and don't, what I think works and what doesn't, etc. But I do read it.

"Usually the person who claims to have no preconceptions just doesn't want to acknowledge how their preconceptions shape their readings of poems. I don't know either of you, of course, so I can't say anything about your preconceptions, but it's usually true that the reader who claims to have no preconceptions is often harboring a fairly conventional set of expectations."

I don't think that's at all true. I think it's pretty much a rhetorical straw-man; although perhaps it does apply to Harold Bloom. LOL Anyway, it's not been true in my own experience. With the writer's groups I've been involved with, my experience has been that the writers I've worked with have been very honest about what they liked and what they didn't, yet were also clear that that when they thought a poem worked, even when they didn't personally like it, they said so. How else does one learn than by doing so?

"And while there are ways to "resist the labels" that are very important, I think it's likely that a resistance to the usual labels comes along with creating for oneself an alternate set of identifications, even if those identifications aren't labels as such."

I'm having difficulty understanding how, in this context, "identifications" and "labels" are not the same exact thing. For that matter, "category" and "type" and, for that matter, "noun." If we identify something as X, is that not the same thing as labeling it as X?

Again, the point is not to expunge one's preconceptions, which as you say is probably impossible; the point is to recognize what they are, where they are, when we have them, and work around them as they arise. I don't think they have to cripple us, if we are alert to them, and honest with ourselves about it.

(Verification word: wizing)

Art Durkee said...

Just a follow-up, even though this wasn't addressed to me:

"And that's because there are a lot of writers who share some ideas in common with me whose work I'm not all that interested in--simply because having an idea about what poems might do isn't at all sufficient to the creation of poems that are interesting, at least to me."

I agree with this in essence. It's what lies behind a lot of my criticism of the post-avant. I actually like and agree with a lot of the theories behind it, and have used some techniques such as indeterminacy, etc., in my own work. Where the problem lies, for me, is that the execution of the poems themselves is often uninteresting.

Did they use up all creative their juice making the theories, before they around to making the poems?

Does a cool theory de facto create a cool artwork? (Obviously not.)

These are open questions.

mark wallace said...

Thanks for your further and thoughtful replies, Art. It's true we've never met. But hey, if you're ever passing though Southern California, let me know. One way to continue thriving while living in an out-of-the-way beach village is to encourage people to come through.

Lots of things worth discussing in your comments; let me concentrate on a few.

I'm not at all opposed to some level of pragmatism. Still, pragmatism needs to be understood not as some position beyond ideology but as its own kind of ideology. Full, as it turns out, of its own ideological perspective on what constitutes value, as any good reading of say John Dewey would show. So pragmatism is another player in the field of ideology.

Still, I think pragmatism can provide some useful points of caution for other ideological perspectives; not taking something on faith but looking at its results in action is particularly important. I think one implication of my post is that it's important to take that kind of look at one's ideology, while never denying that one in fact has an ideology.

But yes, being open about what you like and why is a good way for people to understand that they always do have preconceptions when it comes to reading. I would think that honesty on that subject would lead one to the inevitable conclusion that one does have a point of view--although as you're saying, it's hopefully a point of view that you can question yourself about.

Still, I don't think that admitting one's ideological perspective is the same as returning merely to questions of taste. To a certain extent, the idea of taste is pragmatism- and consequence-free. I prefer oranges, you perhaps like apples. That's cool.

But when we're talking about ideology, we're talking also about ideas and their implications in the world, not just our own personal preferences. Take a poet I don't much like--Robert Pinsky. There are any number of reasons I don't like his writing much. Its dry tone may be a matter of merely personal taste--I suppose some people might like writers who go on and on in an even, monotonous voice. But its mandarin, somewhat lecturing tone--another part of its tone, that is--implies a level of assumed class privilege that I don't dislike as a matter of taste but as a problematic social and cultural position. Similarly, his idea that desire is best restrained by a commitment to manly work is one I feel ambivalent about--I'm not sure I believe in work as a value as such, as the salve-for-what-ails-us-in-a-world-of-pain, and I question its ties to a kind of corporate world in which Pinsky actually moves pretty well.

So when you bring up the issue that most "post-avant" work seems uninteresting to you, I come up with the following response: 1) "Post-avant" is itself a loaded and ideological term, one that I and many other people do not accept as an adequate terminology. 2) I certainly would be curious to know what writers you mean when you use that questionable term, and what it is about those particular writers that you find uninteresting.

Take Swinburne as one for instance on my end; a whiny pseudo-sadomasochism that's genuinely annoying to me, yet there's something gripping about the richness of his vocabulary and linguistic play that allows me to get beyond my sense that the narrative voice created in the poems is that of a simpering rich boy who had plenty of time to feel sorry for himself while his servants fed, clothes, and cleaned him.

As to whether a cool idea is automatically equivalent to a cool work of art, I think we're in agreement that it isn't.

One last small point: the difference between labels and identifications, I would say, is that labels tend to contain the claim that the whole significance of the object is found in the label ("post-avant," see, is mainly used as a generalized sneer, even though Silliman for instance does not think that he uses it that way), whereas identifications serve more as guideposts than complete claims about meaning. But any guidepost is always a partial claim about meaning anyway. I'm not saying that we can do without identification, but that we should be aware that any description is always connected to a concept of what counts as significant.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

AnOminous Mistake said...

Fascinating post!
I personally have trouble accepting that one has to splay out one's ideological bent in the subtext of poetry (or explicitly, for that matter).
Maybe it makes me a pushover, but I seem to shift ideology faster than I change socks. Perhaps that means I'm just not in touch with mine; and this might sound shallow, but sometimes I just feel it depends what mood I'm in.
As an ideological turn-coat, how would that kind of attitude fare on your poetry-appreciation radar?
Also, i disagree with you when it comes to taste. I think it can be intimately linked to ideology: people can be pretty shallow these days and just take the sheeple option as long as you push the right button.

Art Durkee said...

For reasons unclear, your comment moderation here forces me to post this in two blocks. Sorry about that.



I quite agree that post-avant is a loaded term, however, it's not my term nor my loading. If anything, I question the term's very usefulness, as it is based on assumptions and attitudes that I find problematic at best.

"Post-avant" in my usage comes directly from what Sillliman calls post-avant, and the poets he calls that. I don't add anything to Silliman's definitions, vague as they might be sometimes. I just use his term the way he seems to want it used—what I criticize is the term's underlying assumptions, to wit:

As a label, in practice, Silliman uses that label to posit his dichotomy between post-avant (every poetry he likes and approves of, that he regards as post-modern, etc.) vs. his School of Quietude label (every poetry he thinks is old-fashioned, dead poetry, or whatever). Obviously these are very big labels, and rather vague in actual usage. Not even all the designated LangPoets like to use that label, of course.

So if I refer to post-avant poets, one need only look at Silliman's list of favored poets, or poetries; I see no need to list specifics when that has already been done many times. Inclusive in this label, obviously, are most of the Language Poets, as well as other poetries Silliman thinks interesting and radical, such as oulipo, vispo, etc. It is essentially a label for the new and radical and experimental. (Ironically, in many circles, my own poetry is considered radical and experimental; but it is also rejected by the LangPo-influenced poets I have workshopped with because it doesn't follow the LangPo ideology of surface sheen with no underlying meaning.) The problem is that new and radical and experimental does not a priori mean good or interesting. "Experimentation" in science implies many failed attempts before discovering a solution, or a workable theory; in poetry, it seems much the same. (Or perhaps that's my biased viewpoint. I was science-trained, and am the son of a doctor who has been around medicine and biology all my life.)

To my mind, though, every single one of those categories lumped under post-avant are driven by ideology, because each of them arises out of literary conception, rather than out of somatic experience. Or so it appears to me, sitting as I do in the ignorable lower tiers of the sidelines. I've read extensively in the manifestos and opinions and theoretical writings the poets involved have produced. I have yet to see anyone in that group write something about their poetries arising from their bodies, for example; most of them begin with ideological critiques of other, older poetries. Most of them are in rebellion against other ideologies.

You see, one of the problems with this attitude is that it's "all avant-garde all the time," ignoring the historical fact that the original avant-gardes of a century ago had something to rebel against. What we have now is a situation in which poets want to continue to be considered avant-garde, so they ideologically and politically situate themselves in opposition to something (eg. the SoQ), in order to keep up the Us vs. Them rhetoric. (Silliman's rhetoric is very much Us vs. Them, and not much else.) The irony is of course that what is rebelled against is a hollow straw-man, and the poets in rebellion have themselves become the establishment, with academic posts and every other sign and symbol of authority!

And so I find "post-avant" to be rather hypocritical, in usage as well as in ideology. If I use the term, it's in the sense that Silliman means it, or at least to the best of my understanding of how he intends it to be used; and thus, in my usage, leads to its own critique.

Art Durkee said...

Part 2:

As for what I find uninteresting in the poetries that Silliman (and his followers) might place under that rubric, what I find uninteresting is precisely what they applaud: the privileging of language over expression or meaning; the intentional use of opacity and obscurantism in order to "break away" from poetic meaning and/or expression; the privileging of surface effects for their own sakes, rather than in the service of something mythopoetic and/or archetypal. I freely admit that I find surface-oriented poetry to be dull precisely because it avoids depth. I freely admit that Jung has influenced me more than semiotics or post-structuralism, or even Marxist sociopolitical theory, which remains an acknowledged element of Silliman's discourse. I freely admit therefore that poetries that care more about those things than about making me experience something via the poem, don't hold my interest very long.

To be clear, however, in no way am I rejecting the post-avant in favor of what they themselves rebelled against: the post-confessional lyric, for example. I agree with much post-modern criticism of the post-confessional lyric; the narcissistic self-indulgence; the almost sociopathic self-centeredness of Lowell's followers is something I find almost repulsive at times. I furthermore agree with the post-avant-garde program that working with broken syntax and dream-syntax can break us out of ordinary prose-thinking into something much richer. Yet I find emotion and experience and meaning in Jean Valentine's dream-syntax while finding some other poets Silliman approves of to be opaque to point of seeming onanistic. So perhaps it's a matter of degree and application. It's not that the ideologies behind the post-avant poetries recommended by Silliman are so bad; it's that whenever ideology drives creativity, you get a lot of just plain bad art. Politically-correct ideology-driven poetry is not much better, AS POETRY.

But I think the LangPo (et al.) solution of making poetry even MORE hermetic and specialist is a total dead end. I always find it hilarious when I hear some published academic poet-critic complaining about the lack of an audience for contemporary poetry, when their own poetry has done so much to alienate that audience! LOL BTW, I think Billy Collins and Ted Kooser pretty much are hacks who pander to the lowest common denominator. Pinsky I can read without much irritation; however, his work as a cheerleader for poetry's growth, and his work during his tenure as PL, are what I mostly applaud about him.

I see your point about Pragmatism as a philosophical ideology, but that wasn't my usage at all. I was referring to active, practical, i.e. pragmatic, knowledge and action, not to ideology. I was referring to this:

As for ideology vs. work, frankly, I agree with May Sarton and many other poets, and artists such Frederick Franck and others: I go out into the garden and get my hands in the dirt, after a morning of writing, and find that very beneficial. It keeps me grounded in reality, it keeps all these litcrit arguments in perspective (as in, they don't really amount to much, do they?), and it helps me remember what really matters in my own life: the people and places I care about, and am connected to. That's the essence of being practical, as opposed to ideological, it seems to me.