Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Beyond Avant Garde/Mainstream and Back Again
Based partly on the discussions about third-way and hybrid poetics that we had on this blog some weeks back, Michael Theune have been playing around with some ideas for conversing at more length in a public forum on the issues involved. Perhaps a panel at AWP or other conference, perhaps a one-day or even weekend conference if we could find a location and the resources.
Below are the ideas we have at this point for a potential event of this kind. Both of us would appreciate hearing any thoughts you may have. Additions, questions, problems, annoyances, accusations of heedless arrogance or willful ideological bias are all encouraged.
Recent years in poetry and poetics have seem numerous attempts to break out of, blur, or undermine distinctions between ideas of “mainstream” and “avant garde” poetics, a distinction that from the 1950s well into the 90s often dominated discussions about new directions in contemporary poetry. Yet after as much as fifteen years of attempts to move beyond this often unnecessarily limited distinction, it’s important also to move beyond assertions that the distinction has collapsed or is irrelevant. Instead, it now seems time to evaluate the specific attempts that writers and anthologists have made to create a hybrid poetics. Are we really living in an era when the mainstream/avant garde distinction no longer has value and significant common ground has been found among poetic approaches long considered opposites? Or has this new era simply adjusted, replaced, or perhaps only re-named this older boundary? Do the terms “avant garde” and “mainstream” still have any contemporary value or have they become the marks of a bygone age? If, as Hegel suggested, any synthesis of earlier ideas is always followed by a new antithesis that challenges it, what future poetic ideas will challenge any common ground that actually has been achieved or has been claimed as achieved?
This panel will feature diverse answers to these and related questions that have intrigued writers, editors, and anthologists involved in the issue. Are boundary-crossing, hybrid aesthetics a moderate, moderating force that smooths distinctions in a homogenizing and perhaps bland way, or one that allows for radical conjunctions not dreamed of in earlier generations of the “poetry wars”? Have anthologies promoting the collapse of the mainstream/avant garde distinction created genuine bridges across aesthetics or simply new poetic coteries? Do we now have no camps, new camps, more camps than ever? Have a variety of aesthetics really been included in the hybrid approach or have they instead been offered only token inclusion? Is the attempt to eliminate or downplay coterie inevitably a good idea, or is the often intense argument and difference between coteries a crucial source of vitality in new directions for poetry? What fringes and margins remain, if any? To what extent has the debate been framed too often as simply a problem within American poetry and thus remains wedded to a nationalist vision? What role do poetries in different languages, multiple languages, and translation play in complicating the notions of what it means to cross boundaries, whether aesthetic, linguistic, or cultural? What roles do race, class, or gender issues play in this new environment? When if ever are there reasons to assert the importance of maintaining or recognizing boundaries? What aesthetic, cultural, or ideological boundaries remain most relevant?