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I planned on attending Rae Armantrout and Frank Bidart’s reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library last night, but my wife’s train from Philadelphia was late and that slammed shut what was already a tight window. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the evening by having my youngest daughter hurl all over me for much of the night. What’s preferable, a toddler vomiting curdled milk on you or a pair of 60-something poets vomiting their very poetic words on you? (I demand a recount.) I do miss, however, getting lit at those post-reading wine and cheese receptions where the bookish types devour their stiltons and guzzle their merlots and run to the bathroom every third minute to avoid the imminent stilted and awkward conversation with other bookish types.
I planned to give a little report of the reading, particularly about Rae Armantrout, whose poem “Prayers” appears in the November 10, 2008, issue of the New Yorker, but now I have nothing because I really know nothing of Armantrout except that her name is usually bandied about with Lyn Hejinian and Ron Silliman and the other Language poets and I can’t speak intelligently about the Language movement or its poetics and it’s not for a lack of trying. The theoretical basis for the Language school is difficult to pin down and the poetry written by its individual practitioners vary wildly. This series of essays from 1994 either help or confuse the matter. The wikipedia entry definitely confuses the matter.
But I’ve read the poetry of some of the Language poets and while I can’t immediately identify the threads that unite them, I can appreciate their works as the challenging little individuals they are. Who knows, I could be a Language poet (unless the use of form places me on the wrong side of the velvet rope). Perhaps I’m a New Language Formalist? At the very least, I respect the Language poets for adhering to (or at least acknowledging) a central aesthetic tenet and working within that metier. The movement known as (or formally known as?) New Formalism seems to have as it’s mission statement “thou must use form,” which, frankly, is an asinine premise for the foundation of a movement. It’s like those crappy little one issue political parties that only care about furthering their single-minded agenda at all costs. Or, it’s like saying you can’t be a cubist if you use gouache as our medium; if you use gouache, forget it, you’re a gouachist regardless of what you paint. Asinine.
So this has been the long way to the place where we currently are which is the middle of nowhere.
But I will say the New Yorker has been publishing a bunch of poems on the horrors of aging and Armantrout’s poem lock-step falls into place. I really like how this poem moves, especially the second part: the association of the wonderful “blue triangles / on the rug / repeating” to the “discussion / on the uses / of torture” to the ambivalence of the life being painfully lived is terrific.