'Maximus' through Flarf - Page 2

Updated Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry updates updates updates


"In order for this book to not be 13,000 pages, I had to make some hard decisions, about who was not to be included, and who needed to go. It wasn't so much a matter of redefining what is 'post-modern' or even what's 'American,' although maybe those things have also changed. But so much has happened — the Internet, social media, September 11, the expansion of global capitalism, mass media, and multinational corporations. I don't think there's been such a fundamental change that we've moved out of this thing called 'postmodernism' into something completely different or new. But poetry reflects these changes with constant innovations of its own. There's a lyricism completely of the time in the best of these poems, but also completely outside of it."

So what are some of the innovations? Besides the hyperreal grotesqueness of Flarf poets like Sullivan, Sharon Mesmer, and K. Silem Mohammed, there is its nemesis — at least in a poetry beef possibly ginned up for attention — Conceptualism. Whereas Flarf adrenalizes visceral response within a poem's span, conceptualism often makes the poem into nothing but the static result of grand idea: the best example of this is Kenneth Goldsmith's epic "Day," in which he reconstructed the entire September 1, 2000 issue of the New York Times into a 900-page book (excerpted in the anthology).

In between lie practices like Proceduralism (Christian Bök's strangely affecting "Vowels" made out of words that contain the same letters as the title, and which ends "wolves evolve"), Google sculpting and cybernetics (Muhammed's hilarious "Sonnagrams," in which he puts Shakespeare's sonnets through an online anagram generator, then "sculpts" the results in Microsoft Word, dragging the words around to form a new sonnet). There is also the deliberately "girly" "Gurlesque" poetry of Catherine Wagner, and the eerie and complex "ambient" poetics of Tan Lin, which is just a beautiful drift of words across a page, a "gossip of the mind." And much, much more in this fascinating and necessary volume.

Funny, infuriating, dangerously familiar, hauntingly strange, way too intellectual, true despite itself: poetry is the same as it ever was. The next edition, in 2034, ought to be a real corker.

POSTMODERN AMERICAN POETRY READING CELEBRATION with Paul Hoover and 16 more poets: Fri/3, 6:30pm, free. Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF. 


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