notes on lyric 8
|In recent years, there’s been talk of new lyricism, post-lyricism, and the gamut of groupings that comes with a need to reconcile past with present poeticizing.|
True. Cf. Lee Ann Brown, “My Uncruel April, My Totally Equal Unforetold April Unfolded” (in the anthology): “As with all good (real) poetry movements we splice the past.” My sense is that, as much as anything, the programmatic rejection of lyric modes in heroic language poetry (or its theory – the practice was always more complex) was seen by emergent (hate the word) poets coming after as too constraining – to that extent, recuperating or reincorporating the lyrics is no more or less than finding a way out, a way to write. One could also be more cynical and point out that, in some of its guises, this is also an academic recuperation – or, perhaps, a way for some poets to do what they really want to do to anyway with some degree of theoretical cover. This impression is very strong in the Swensen/St. John American Hybrid anthology (2009), where the editors make what might be called a neo-liberal argument that some conflicts between mainstream and counter-traditions in American poetry have been transcended. (Silliman and other have pointed this out.) This anthology and the way it’s framed, isn’t nearly as objectionable in this respect (however difficult it is to draw a bead on its actual stance on a number of points.)
There has been a sense of the meta-textual, but this is not necessarily a new thing. Thomas Stanley, “Lesser Caroline” poet, was a great translator. Most of his own compositions still show traces of those poets he translated. He brought Italian, French, and Greek conventions to play within his strictly formal English verse. He replayed popular conceits in new frameworks. He was an intellect: he was a meta-textual poet.
I don’t know anything about Thomas Stanley, and the argument made doesn’t require that I search beyond this gloss; I’m more interested in what JK means by “meta-textual” The term is primarily used in translation studies: translations are said to be “meta-textual” in that they cannot be understood comprehensively without reference to a “source text” – that is, the object of translation. This is a truism, as far as a contemporary thinking about poetry in translation goes; this is one reason bilingual editions are far more common for poetry than prose fiction and non-fiction. Beyond this, how translators and readers should conceive of relationship between source text and “target text” is a matter of contention. (I’m also reading a book by Clive Scott, Translating Rimbaud’s Illuminations  that is essentially an extended defense of the author’s “experimentalist” translation practice – he produces various concrete, graphic, etc. versions of R’s prose poems that pursue various kinds responsiveness to the source texts rather than the will-o’-the-wisp of semantic or lexical equivalence.)
JK doesn’t have to take a stand on those debates, but he wants to extend “meta-texual” to cover not only translations, but poems that are informed by poetry outside of one’s own narrow linguistic tradition. Fine, and I assume that one could also extend the notion quite a bit more, to cover various kinds intra-linguistic dependency on other poems and elements of other poetic traditions (forms, measures) – from parody on down. I think the danger here is that one can easily slide into calling any poem that can be profitably read as read as responsive to other poetry – which is to say, any poem -- “meta-textual.” As he says, this is “nothing new”; this is a bit of refrain in the piece, as JK has said more or less the same thing about modernist dubiety about the autonomy of the self and the transparency of language. As in these other cases, the issue raised is what makes meta-texuality more common or more urgently foregrounded at this poetic juncture than others.
Other than the fact that JK is saying something about broad trends in contemporary poetry, I don’t see what the tighter connection of this point, or the example of Stanley is, with the concern with “lyric” and “post-lyric.” Not saying there isn’t one – it’s just that no argument presents itself without a great deal of guesswork.
He [Stanley] replayed popular conceits in new frameworks. He was an intellect: he was a meta-textual poet.
I wish we had a more concrete description of these “popular conceits.” Devices from “popular” non-English poetry? Genre conventions within English poetry? Can’t do much with this (someone more handy with the references might).
Thanks to the colon, there is no way to discern the intended relationship between being an “intellect” and a “meta-textual poet.” Are only intellects (intellectuals?) meta-textual poets? Given the breadth of practices that might be labeled meta-textual, this could only be true on an equally broad conception of who counts as an intellect. Are only meta-textual poets intellects? Seems doubtful – at least, we’d have to find some non meta-texual poetry, and make some judgments (on what grounds?) about the attainments of the poets who write it.
I don’t see what it gains JK to invoke the category of “intellect” at all, at this late point in the essay. As already noted, the connection between meta-texuality and a return to or renewal of the lyric has been suggested only by the fact that he’s mentioned both issues in the same paragraph, but perhaps the thought is that contemporary poets driven (for whatever theoretical, historical, or political reasons) to a “post-lyric” mode are necessarily reflective about preceding complications of lyric categories (without rejecting them out of hand.) This could be seen as contrasting with the anti-intellectualism implicit in JK’s earlier formulation of (M?)odernism as proceeding from perception (remember “seeing”?) rather than cognition, but since I think that conception of what modernist poets were up to is largely an unintended consequence of his words, I’d be very surprised if this were the distinction JK means to draw.