Sunday, September 19, 2010

sincere vs. disoriented: which side are you on?

I listened to the current Poetry Magazine podcast - a monthly show hosted by Don Share and Christian Wiman, editors of Poetry. They feature readings from and discussions of poems, reviews and essays appearing in that month's issue. Tony Hoagland talks with them by phone about his essay ("Recognition, Vertigo, and Passionate Worldliness") dividing contemporary poetry into two tribes or camps, one (in short) sincere and the other (in short) disoriented. The very terms I find misleading and troubling. Have a listen to the podcast (you can also find it on iTunes). And see, below, my exchange with Don Share on Facebook.

The web site for the magazine offers this "discussion guide" on the Hoagland piece:

The September issue of Poetry includes an essay on poetics by Tony Hoagland, who considers two kinds of poetic meaning. Hoagland, a poet and professor at the University of Houston, distinguishes between poems that familiarize and those that confuse, “the gong of recognition versus the bong of disorientation.” His piece focuses on the latter sort, the “poetry of derangement.” Hoagland suggests that vertigo (which he defines as “a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated with looking down from a great height . . . dizziness”) “is the preeminent topic of contemporary poetry” and “may be the dominant stylistic inclination as well.”

Hoagland points to various techniques of imitating and inducing vertigo: non sequitur, fragmentation, disassociation, truncation. (For further reading on this general topic, see his 2006 Poetry essay “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment” and Stephen Burt’s 1998 Boston Review exposition on Elliptical poetry.) Do you agree with him that vertigo helps define contemporary poetry? If so, does it play other roles than the ones Hoagland discusses? Further, why would a poet employ such a tactic in the first place?

If you want me to post a response, please email me at afilreis[at]gmail[dot]com.