Wednesday, February 02, 2005


It's taken me a while to get back to the discussion of Organic vs. Non-organic poetics, which has been passed like a ball from one blog to another over the last couple of months. There is a Chinese proverb that says in effect, "Want a thing long enough, and you don't." Since I last talked about it, Xmas, some very heavy family issues, work, excellent reading that came my way, as well as revision and creation have made me disinclined to put in the hours to read over the arguments and refine some of my drafted points. In the meantime, as I was saying, other bloggers have put in their seven cents worth, stealing at least some of my thunder (boom, boom). I was beginning to think that if I waited long enough, somebody would be bound to say more or less what I intended to say, reason enough to stay silent on the issue for good… but I still find, despite myself, I have things to express on the ol' dichotomy, if only to further explore and articulate where I stand in relation to it. In this post, I'll be focussing on the contributions of others to the discussion over the last month and a half, with insertions of a few parenthetical snipes and assorted pop-gun fire, just because... well, I find the temptation irresistable. Put it down as a quirky idiocyncracy. I am still trying to define myself, "find my voice" (although why emerging poets are always described as having a pronounced case of laryngitis is beyond me...)

In a later post (I keep promising this, I know... but I will get around to it, eventually), I'll weigh in more heavily with my own take, particularly on some of Josh's peculiar attitudes to "organic" poetry… even if Josh is no longer Josh, but somebody else.

Josh, in a post on January 11, points out that there is clearly a spectrum between the extremes of so-called "organic" and "inorganic" approaches. Where one stands on the spectrum is a reflection of attitude, pure and simple.

To recap, the argument here stems from my reading of Peter Bürger's book Theory of the Avant-Garde, from which I derived the notions of the organic artwork or poem as that in which all of its parts are subordinated to the whole-to the poem's poemness-while in the nonorganic poem the parts are not so subordinated-the whole, goal, or telos of the poem is exterior to it, located in "reality." From there I suggested that all poems can be located on a scale, Kinsey-style, with 1 being entirely organic and 6 being entirely nonorganic. Not surprisingly, nowadays most poems produced by younger poets fall somewhere in the middle, and you could make a game out of assigning a "Kinsey" number to various magazines and publishing houses (Fence 3, New England Review 2, Aufgabe 4, The New Yorker 1, Syllogism 5, and so on). Pure 6's are very rare, more the domain of individual poets, while 1's are still quite common. Nonorganicism in poetry generally takes the form of a greater or lesser degree of parataxis or montage (often formalized into constructs like the ideogram, the New Sentence, etc.). Its original goal was to put ordinary means of language, and the ideological structures they support, into question; nowadays most people who introduce a nonorganic dimension into their work are after a particular aesthetic effect, but the possibilties for political critique still attract many writers. That slippage from radical attack on poetry-as-given to a style is why Bürger suggests that the nonorganic mode is no longer to be preferred to the organic, which means both can coexist as styles precisely because both are equally inadequate for re-imagining a world that, to paraphrase Richard Hugo, is inadequate as given and will not do.

He goes on to say that while he can't help but feel that there is "still something valid, even heroic, about the modernist project of presenting the usual hierarchical means of meaning-production with a sufficiently complex NO." At the same time, he also admits to being "a bit of a classicist at heart, addicted to my own aesthetic responses, and that's why I think my own poetry rarely rises above a 4 on the organic-nonorganic scale."

An attitude (like pretty well any such personal stance) to which he is perfectly well entitled. (As for me, depending on the day, I'm a 2.3 repeater, a 1, or when my tiresome perfectionism keeps me from writing at all, a 0… )

to be continued...

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