Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pound's 'Make it New' and what he should have said...


Pound’s Make it New! could be the explicit statement of the most damaging trend in the history of 20th Century poetry.  Like children who never bother to learn how to use the toys they have, but ditch them for the next new toy, the century has lurched from one set of “experiments’ and “new movements” in poetry to another. The attitude “make it new”,  has underwritten the blurb writer’s rhetoric of ‘originality” and “innovation” and justified so much unreadable or instantly forgettable print.

A critic like Marjorie Perloff may hold forth against the workshop poem or the first person lyric, might praise a book consisting of the transcripts of traffic reports (Kenneth Goldsmith’s ‘traffic’), but at the end of the day the innovative and the experimental is just as formulaic and dull as the worst first person lyric. Genuinely “original” work is still rare as rocking horse droppings and can’t be copied or repeated or reduced to a formula and taught.

Make it New side steps the question of quality by establishing a criteria that the writer of Ecclesiastes could have told EP was invalid.

What EP should have said was: Make it good!  

Don’t justify the poem by appealing to movements or fashions.  Don’t bore the reader with your overt conceptualizing:  A dead rat with two bunt sticks up its arse is not a searing indictment of late capitalist heteronormative patriarchal discourse. It’s a dead rat with two burnt sticks up its arse.
Follow Willie Yeats or BB’s examples,  EP should continue: Make it good, make it something that stands on its own (metaphorical) legs without the justification of your name or your allegiance, your party credentials or your ability to trot out the proscribed slogans. (But then he’d be sounding like Robert Graves and later Bunting).

Make something that will walk abroad in the daylight and give readers something to value.  Otherwise keep your experiments where they belong, in the file marked “experiments” close to the bin marked ‘rubbish’.  And while we’re at it, ban all blurb writers and critics from using the words innovative, original, daring etc or from claiming the poet extends, refines or purifies language,  unless critic or blurb writer can demonstrate, conclusively, how the poet does this.

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