Here's an article by one of our roving VRB reporters. From the South Jersey Desk a report on the state of ultramodern poetry:
A Vrzhu Research Bureau Report - Techno-Lyrical Backlash
(filed 30 Mar 08)
Mount Holly, New Jersey - Here in Burlington County the techno-lyrical poetry season has just come to a close. Orphic Fusion, that exuberant annual showcase that brings cutting-edge poets to the county seat of Mount Holly to muse on the state of contemporary poetonomy and show off their latest tricks, ended a month ago. Lingua Avantguardia, its less well-known Medford Lakes counterpart, wrapped up on March 14. The program for each was pretty much what I've come to expect. In Mount Holly, Ian Delancy cooked up a fine sestina using irrational numbers as end words, and scribbled lines in white ink across white paper and called it "In Memory of My Ironic Winter." In Medford Lakes, Martin Robinson talked about something called "synergistic de-elaboration."
And so, I’m asking: Is everybody tired of this stuff by now, or what?
Nearly two years ago, Adrian Ferrino started a revolution with his journal Rien et/o Nada? that thoroughly transformed modern poetry here, not only propelling Burlington county poets to the pinnacle of southern New Jersey literary acclaim (displacing Gloucester county in the process), but spreading a manifesto of high-impact, scientifically informed Sur-Objectivism around the 7 counties of south Jersey. Villanelles "spherified" with hydrocolloids until they looked like the gelatinous eyes of giant squid, haiku frozen with liquid nitrogen until they form ingot-shaped "stanzas," Petrarchan sonnets on shredded magnetic tape and spun into a beehive “hairdos,” and everything from binary pantoums to sprung rhythm acrostics exploded into free floating phonemes—it's all part of a poetry style that places a premium on material innovation. At its best, this version of "molecular poetonomy" stokes the emotions and shocks the senses.
But, from the beginning, some critics have scorned a mode of writing that relies, in their opinion, too heavily on technology (as if typewriters, computers, and even pens, aren’t machines) and often chooses “foam” over substance. In a recent e-mail, Harold Stefanos, an expert on innovative poetry in the southeastern part of the Garden State, wrote, "I am getting a little weary of Burlington-driven techno-composition. Many of these 'experiments' would be better off if they didn't show up anywhere but at AWP conferences, preferably at about 2 AM. Really, they should have a stall at Pennsauken Mart, if it were still around." His words sum up recent critical attacks: It’s all getting your eye poked out until someone starts having fun. I'd like some real poems now, may I please?
So, is it over? It is true that Adrian and his fellow poets are no longer as avant-garde as they once were. In food, you know your haute cuisine is no longer haute when you see it on the Applebee’s menu. In poetry, there are different indignities, from indifference to (shudder!) acceptance.
The rest of the poetry universe has officially caught up to the Burlington revolutionaries: Ian’s journal has been replaced by a blog, and is no longer the source of the new new new thing. But poetry movements often survive in the valley of their PR long after the American Poetry Review has lost interest. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E craze passed years ago, but interest in the structures and codes of language, the application of process, and the recognition that language is political have become staples of our poetry praxis; new formalism is tragically unhip, but I still find quatorzains and end rhymes in poetry journals. And though often used as a derogatory term, the confessional poets of the 50’s and 60’s altered the landscape of American poetry and broadened the horizon for poems to traffick in intimate and unflattering information, poems about illness, sexuality and depression.
All these movements eventually show some signs of stagnation—clichéd tropes, academic analysis, overexposure, and critics standing by to gleefully rejoice in the demise in whatever movement is in their sights.
But the poems themselves never really go away. The techniques are still there, in every de-stabilized persona that daubs a fragmented lyric, in every line made colorful by hard surrealism. We may laugh at the excesses of poetry manifestos, but we read them all the time.
The same is true of Burlingtonistas. It’s not the emblematic forms they use (or, as they say, “foams”) but their vigorous, often insouciant, search for the new. In an art where individual products take a hundred years or more to prove their staying power, every movement of the last 50 years is still very young indeed.
In the meantime, Ian is has been working on using nanosyllables to achieve more precise line measurement and, in collaboration with his father’s waste disposal business, Adrian is developing a poetry medium made from compressed inorganics. Adrian says: "Hey, there are guys who say, 'it’s over, let's put it behind us,' but that's just marketing BS. I can tell you from my own experience that there is more research going on, more energy, than ever before. At least on the weekends."
And there it is. Poetry keeps changing even as it remains the same. Some techniques will perhaps, mercifully, not withstand the test of time. And Ian has the third degree burns to prove it. But others, whether it’s the ghazal or the new sentence, will seep into the poetry vernacular, enhancing the range of possibilities poets have at their disposal. It’s all part of the crazy candy-colored carousel that is Poetry.