A few years ago, I began to feel like the more contemporary poetry I read, the more I saw a pattern of predictability in poets of my generation. The poems each had very different things to say, but they said their bit in oddly similar ways. Best I could articulate, I felt like each poet’s goal was to one-up other poets with the most surprising metaphors or the most personal revelations.
And then I read Marjorie Perloff’s “Poetry on the Brink.” I’m not the only one who feels this way. Perloff describes a trend toward “a certain kind of prize-winning, “well-crafted” poem—a poem that the New Yorker would see fit to print and that would help its author get one of the “good jobs” advertised by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs—has produced an extraordinary uniformity.” She goes on to articulate what I couldn’t – the formula that so many of these poems follow:
1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”;
2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”);
3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.
I know that I am guilty of thinking about late capitalism in relation to my poems, but that’s just another way of saying that my poems are contemporary. Continuing the theme of poems from industrial landscapes, my latest publication, “Woodland Grain Terminal,” fits in with other outward looking poems in the latest issue of Fourteen Hills. Fourteen Hills has a reputation for publishing experimental poetry and other work that is difficult to categorize. It’s no surprise, then, that this issue has plenty of poems that defy the popular present-stimulus/memory/epiphany formula that Perloff thinks is deadening the lyric.
After a night of powerful readings at the release party in a converted historic fire station, I have enjoyed reading through the issue. Particularly good are Dan Alter’s labor poems and GC Waldrep’s “Testament.” The short story “Second Coming,” by Bryan Furuness, looks at future humanity in a storytelling style reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.
As soon as the current issue page says 20.2 and you see the cover art from Joshua Dudley Greer’s Point Pleasant collection, then you can order a copy online. Or, there are several local bookstores that carry Fourteen Hills.
Durham friends, you can find Fourteen Hills at The Regulator on Ninth Street. In Atlanta, A Cappella Books (208 Haralson Ave. NE) carries copies. In DC, Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Ave NW) will have issue 20.2 very soon. Too many NYC locations to list; email if you want help finding a copy.