Poets enter the fray swinging . . .


I posted this on my Facebook Page recently:

Irritated by Russell Smith's recent article on Canadian intellectual poetry (linked above). As if that's all there is. Or, that's all that's worthy. Never mind Crozier's carrots fucking the earth--nature poetry is out! Gwen McEwan is out-dated too, as is the best of Ondaatje's oeuvre. Does this mean I can never can never confess anything in a poem but my intellect? no love no sex no rage no (goddess forbid) joy?

What followed was my most commented-upon FB thread ever, with many people weighing in on Canadian poetics and Russell Smith giving us all a lesson in FB etiquette. It was a very lively discussion, and mirrored the discussion I had with members of the Toronto Women's Writers Salon and with a few women poets, to whom I sent this query:

is Can poetry excelling, or becoming increasingly incomprehensible?

I know this is many conversations about many poetries, not just a quick article about Can Poetry—and I know those conversations are well-detailed and various at Lemon Hound, and Influency, and other places.

I am impressed that Russell thinks poetry is competing w/ major news and pop media . ..  Is he deluded, or does he have a point? Is this article just another example of the boys club expanding, crossing genres? Note that he didn’t mention a single woman: no Chrystakos, no Queyras, no Zolf, no Zed. Well, he did mention Lady Gaga, but I’m not sure if she counts when it comes to Can poetry.

But I also find it interesting that he characterizes all the ‘past’ of Can poetry as weepy and folksy and nature-y. As if even the dynamic new world of poetry doesn’t come from a tradition. And as if intellectual poetry cannot address the natural world. Must it be one thing or the other? Is more intellectual poetry REALLY more highbrow and international? Someone will need to tell Don McKay and Bringhurst that nature poetry is definitely ‘out’.

And what to do with this manuscript of confessional/political/landscape poetry?

BC poet and lit prof Nancy Holmes had this, tongue in cheek, to say about the article:

What a strange article.  Yes, the all male cast, as usual.  And weirdly, what makes poems popular is you can “vote” on them like American Idol!  Whooppee – and read poems while you surf for Lady Gaga and horrors in the middle east—isn’t it great that poetry is right up there with great stuff like that- real entertainment!  THAT’s the kind of poetry experience I’ve always dreamed of!  In fact, a good dose of a barely grammatical conglomeration of words makes me long for a good stiff Lady Gaga video. 

And there is the question of what this young fellow actually used to read in his youth.  Prize-winning poems back then were supposedly about the aurora borealis  and great noble pioneer sorrows  My goodness, did he read his grandmother’s “Poesy to Warm the Heart?” volumes?  The poor deprived fellow.  And I got to read that weepy Margaret Atwood, that folksy Michael Ondaatje.   And that grandmotherly Lorna Crozier writing those quaint odes to the penis and clitoris, and that poor old geezer Rober Kroetsch revolutionizing in his folksy, quaint little way that sweet little Canadian prairie long poem.  Thank god we have stern, impatient editors to flay us into a creolized, vibrant and intricate stream of media garble and purge us with that long manly single hand (or dare I say finger)  of Carmine Starnino.

And this from Margaret Chrystakos, Canadian poet and educator:

russell did run one of the most active poetry series in toronto for several years at the idler pub. It was in the 90s and many of us read there. he was well aware of the scene back then. I don't imagine he's been very conected to it over the last 10 years, i have no idea why he chose to shape his column toward valorizing carmine. carmine's facebook post extended the notion that very particular editors have powerfully imprinted this move toward a now mostly british commonwealth intellectualism that mashes heterogeneous dictive fields together. russell was writing a column that tried to be attentive to poetry gaining audience but it was so poorly argued that only sleazy implications came through.

And Sina Queyras, of Lemonhound website, just retweeted her tweet about the Globe and Mail columnist who discovered Canadian poetry. A real Christopher Columbus! Maybe next week he'll discover women!

Russell and I had an email exchange as well, in which he agreed with some of the Salonistas, that these discussions couldn't always be about gender. Just as certain discussions shouldn't always be about race. But I countered: we can never get away from gender and race, particularly when we are talking about any kind of media representation or lack thereof. See CWILA (Canadian women in the Literary Arts) and Lemonhound, for excellent analyses of how poorly represented women's books are in the reviewing and critical culture, and you know that gender is still a big issue, even for 'the educated people' and I use that term loosely . . .

Karen ConnellyComment