Politics and poetry: a tip from Richard
Richard occasionally supplies his friends with reading tips, but they tend to involve volumes which have been out of print for a formidably long time, and which can apparently only be acquired through the offices of a certain Panmure bookdealer.
Recently, though, Richard sent me a plug for a new and - I hope - more easily accessible book. I've reproduced his message, and added a few hyperlinks:
I am reading and enjoying a book called American Poets in the 21st Century, edited by Claudia Rankine and Lisa Sewell.
All of the writers in the book are interesting in different ways, but Mark Nowak would intrigue you the most, I think. Nowak seems to have really got to grips with a dialectical method of writing poetry, and the result is something political.
Nowak takes some of the postmodern, abstract method of the Language poets, and elements of something more traditional. He quotes from working class history, discusses factory closures, the hardships of the unemployed and so on, then comments on the etymology of the words he uses in a manner reminiscent of some of the Language poets. In his poems postmodernism has found a 'use': it works with 'realism' in an interesting way, allowing political statement yet getting around the problem of 'lecturing' and the danger of transparent or sentimental poetry. Nowak sees economic theory and political 'philosophy' and the statements of right wing (or left wing) politicians and theorists as stuff which is analysable as poetry.
Nowak is an active trade unionist, so he doesn't write from a vacuum.
Some of the other writers in Rankine and Sewell's collection are worth your while. There's a black sound poet who comes out of the hip hop scene called Tracy Morris. She won Poetry Slams at the Nuyorican, a working class New York cafe, in the early 1990s, at around the time I was in the city.
The Nuyorican is, or was, a forum of sorts: there were Europeans, Afro-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic groups represented there, and different approaches to poetry were also featured. There was some 'conflict' between the more serious Language poets like Bernadette Mayer and the Lower East Side 'school', which was made up of more direct, lyrical poets.
Perhaps to some extent there is now a kind of merging between these different approaches to poetry, as if a dialectic is working, thesis and antithesis leading to a synthesis...
I recently read your book on Thompson, with its chapter about the quest for a poetry which was political but not crudely propagandistic. Perhaps Mark Nowak has the kind of 'mix' that Thompson was seeking.
And perhaps not only Thompson was seeking to blend politics with poetry. Was it in your book that I read about Marx basing The Communist Manifesto on Faust? And about Marx jumping up in London pubs and drunkenly shouting, in German of course, long passages from Goethe's play? Ha!
[Posted by Maps]