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Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Poetry is aversion of conformity' - Charles Bernstein

Poetry is aversion of conformity in pursuit of new forms, or can be. By form I mean ways of putting things together, or stripping them apart, I mean ways of accounting for what weighs upon any one of us, or that poetry tosses up into an imaginary air like so many swans flying out of a magician’s depthless black hat so that suddenly, like when the sky all at once turns white or purple or day-glo blue, we breathe more deeply. By form I mean how any one of us interprets what’s swirling so often incomprehensibly about us, or the stutter with which he stutter, the warbling tone in which she sing off and on key. If form averts conformity, then it swings wide of this culture’s insatiable desire for, yet hatred of, assimilation — a manic-depressive cycle of go along, go away that is a crucial catalyst in the stiflingly effective process of cultural self-regulation and self-censorship.

It is particularly amusing that those who protest loudest about the fraudulence or aridness or sameness of contemporary poetry that insists on being contemporary, dissident, different, and who profess, in contrast, the primacy of the individual voice, fanned by a gentile inspiration, produce work largely indistinguishable from dozens of their peers and, moreover, tend to recognize the value only of poetry that fits into the narrow horizon of their particular style and subject matter. As if poetry were a craft that there is a right way or wrong way to do: in which case, I prefer the wrong way — anything better than the well-wrought epiphany of predictable measure — for at least the cracks and flaws show signs of life.

Charles Bernstein
,‘State of the Art’, A Poetics, Harvard University Press, 1992

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