(sections 4-20 via "Read More" below)
This is the text and accompanying images of a presentation I gave last night at the RSC meetings in Quebec City. -- FD
1. In my recent biography of Canadian poet and lay psychotherapist bpNichol I outlined the arguments he developed around 1964 for writing visual poems. Unaware of the international concrete poem movement, he was calling his proposed new poems “ideopomes.”
2. These “ideopomes” would help him, he believed, avoid didacticism and self-pitying emotional expression, which he saw as the main weaknesses of his conventional poetry. He also believed that self-pity and narcissism were serious limits on the Freudian psychotherapy he was undergoing, and limits to the success of any psychoanalysis.
3. He would later call his visual poetry a means of resisting “arrogance.” In these arguments one can perceive the shadow of high modernist arguments against Victorian moralism and sentimentality, and in favor of imagism and impersonality; collage and “objective correlative” in early Eliot, and of Pound’s “ideogrammic method.”
(sections 4-20 via "Read More" below)
The Darkness of the Present: Poetics, Anachronism, and the Anomaly by Steve McCaffery. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012. 282 pp. $36.99.
I was reflecting last month that I’d seen very little mention in Canada of poet Steve McCaffery’s fifth book of essays, The Darkness of the Present, even though it’s now been almost two years since it was released. I’m not sure that it has been reviewed except for a summary of its contents by Garry Thomas Morse last March in his Talonbooks blog. Perhaps the University of Alabama Press doesn’t send review copies to Canada – I’m still waiting for one of a more recent title.
Or possibly McCaffery’s essays on the avant-garde in Europe and the US fall outside the coverage of Canadian reviewers – not sufficiently about Canadian writing for a Canadian Literature journal and not sufficiently scholarly for a journal focused on scholarship by Canadians. Or possibly, even though McCaffery has published almost twenty books in Canada, has had a selected poems published in the Wilfrid Laurier UP series, and is identified by Wikipedia as a “Canadian poet,” his Canadian credentials are in question. He was born in Yorkshire in 1947, came to Canada in 1968, and has taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo for the past decade. In this new collection he describes Canada as his “former home” (181) – something which could trouble the Canadian presses who still publish most of his poetry despite its writer appearing to imagine his readers and literary context to be in the US. Globalization has so far made only very large English-language book markets truly ‘global.’
The main focus of this collection is the history of the Euro-American avant-garde and McCaffery’s contentions that it has been wrongly conceived as linear when its actual history has been discontinuous, often blind, and often unknowingly repetitious. Thus the title, in which the ‘present,’ according to McCaffery, exists in a darkness about the past, much the way the medieval ‘dark ages’ have often been presumed to have existed in darkness about the knowledges of Greece and Rome. He repeatedly here brings to notice much earlier texts which he suggests anticipate
The idea that poetry is communal practice, in which poets work with and re-work forms and concepts that have accumulated through the writing of their colleagues and predecessors, concepts which are available to the use – or non-use – of all, has been circulating in Canada at least since Robert Duncan lectured in Vancouver in 1961, and paraphrased from an essay he was writing,“As Testimony,” that he welcomed “the end of masterpieces, the beginning of testimony.” It is with Duncan’s assertion in his H.D. Book that “the goods of the intellect are communal” and his claim that to be creatively “derivative” should be each poet’s goal, that Stephen Voyce concludes his study of what he argues have been four “poetic communities”: the Black Mountain College community in North Carolina in the 1950s, the Caribbean Artists Movement in London, UK, in the 1960s, the Women’s liberation movement (largely understood by Voyce to have occurred in the U.S., and to be different from the theory field known as ‘feminism’) in the 1970s, and the Toronto Research Group in the 1970s and 80s. He titles his book – newly published by the University of Toronto Press, Poetic Community: Avant Garde Activism and Cold War Culture.
Invocations of the Cold War as a partly determinative context for literature have been increasingly frequent in U.S. literary studies, as in Edward Brunner’s Cold War Poetry: The Social Text in the Fifties Poem (2001) and Michael Davidson’s Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics (2004). Voyce finds the Cold War directly relevant to all but the Toronto Research Group section, where it seems to be present only implicitly in his discussions of Steve McCaffery’s Marxism and his translation of the Communist Manifesto into Yorkshirese, and in his views of intellectual property. “The TRG’s experiments in multi-authorship, I argue, constitute a poetic activism challenging proprietary definitions of authorship” (206); “TRG’s ‘Kommunism’ sought to advance the principles of an egalitarian economic model with open, model with open, local, and playful experiments in artistic collective life” (207). The Yorkshireise “Kommunism” (Wot we wukkers want), though, was not published as a TRG work but on audiocassette as a solo performance by McCaffery. Overall, however, this is a very good book for those who would like to consider further the issues of collaboration and literary ‘property.’ Voyce handles the various poets’ declarations about community,
FRANK DAVEY: Poet, former Coach House Press editor, co-founder of TISH newsletter in 1961, co-founder of e-mag Swift Current in 1984, editor of poetics journal Open Letter, 'author' of Bardy Google in 2010 (Talonbooks), author of the tell-much biography of bpNichol, aka bpNichol in 2012 (ECW), and author of the recently published poetry collection Poems Suitable to Current Material Conditions (Mansfield). He has two other websites: a personal one at FrankDavey.net and one (co-managed with David Rosenberg) focused on poet bpNichol at akabpNichol.net -- have a look!