This article is part of Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.
M.P. is right: much free verse exists to give a pass
to naïfs who only learned of poems from a glass:
They mine themselves. Whether it sparkles or not,
contains a memorable metaphor, or revels in the perfect mot
is beside the point. What it's like to be X in America
reduces questions of style to Times v. Helvetica.
But M.P. must know this stuff has an audience.
A mirror-seeking one. It ever was, and will be hence.
So mainstream is a red herring. Her real stakes are:
Who are the heirs of the Modernists? This high bar
seems to include Stein, Zukofsky but not Auden, Frost
or Yeats (it seems Irish, English, and Scots are lost
in the discussion). The sensate minds delight
in poets play of contradictions, in those who can write
and not simply play a culture gamewhy, that enterprise
is one that Crane, Moore, Eliot, et al. would recognize.
The chiasmus that girds Elizabethan wit undoes
the charmless binaries our good editors propose
(experimental/conservative), and which Beelzebub
handing out his everlasting syllabub
for the infernal class on contem. po. that awaits us,
might use to put marbles in our mouths, while he baits us
with fragment upon toneless fragment
mocking, That is not what I meant at all; that is not what I meant. . . .
And mock this doggerel though you will, if it does not amuse
Ill compose (god help us) gray area text so abstract and morose
Youll beg for the alternative: transcription, word for word,
of a New York Times article on modern motherhood,
thus marrying our two most stimulating poetic trends.
And may the Muse forgive me if this exercise offends!
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Ange Mlinko, recipient of the Randall Jarrell Award in Poetry Criticism from the Poetry Foundation, teaches creative writing at the University of Houston. Her most recent book of poems is Shoulder Season.
Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.