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Who Are the Modernists' Heirs?
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 mind’s delight
in poets’ play of contradictions, in those who can write
and not simply play a culture game—why, 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
I’ll compose (god help us) “gray area” text so abstract and morose
You’ll 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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