Odd to think that Stephen Craneâ€™d be a mere four years older than Robert Frost. That spare pre-imagist verseâ€”Crane callâ€™d himself an â€œimpressionistâ€â€”of Black Riders publishâ€™d at age twenty-four. Louise Boganâ€”in a little book callâ€™d Achievement in Ameican Poetry (1951), something I demobâ€™d out of the cellar paperbacks yesterday, looking for Robbe-Grilletâ€”Bogan calls Craneâ€™s talent â€œnatural and instinctive,â€ pointing to a combo of â€œinitial awkwardnessâ€ and â€œearly brilliance,â€ and hints that he â€œhardly developed.â€ (Whichâ€™d be about all oneâ€™d claim for any writer dead at twenty-eight.) I try to think of Crane, say, post-Pound, or amidst the The Masses cohort, or among the â€œproletarianâ€ â€™thirties writers, or writing about WWII. Itâ€™s good to try to jump off the tracks of the thundering locomotive that is the innate historical (time) provincialism of the century, and the country, something â€œenormously and increasingly unavoidableâ€ as one (oneself) participates (too) in the unending quotidian documentation of everything, so caught up in the vamping processional of now that one begins to assume a kind of pedigree regarding all oneâ€™s doings, one that scorns anything prior. So: itâ€™s of some interest to note how Bogan, in a chapter callâ€™d â€œPoetry at the Half-Century, 1939-1950,â€ rehearses the same marks of anxiety that apparently persist another half-century later. Her complaint: after the â€œrichness and varietyâ€ of work that â€œexploded into being after 1912,â€ the epigones, the latecomers, â€œthough generally far more informed and better equipped than their elders, found themselves functioning in a period of absorption, rather than in one of energetic projection.â€ She notes â€œa diminution of creative vitality,â€ â€œa stiffening of method,â€ â€œa drying out of emotion,â€ â€œa growth of self-consciousness,â€ â€œa return of skepticism and relative timidity,â€ a â€œtendency toward expertness and control,â€ and â€œa complete exhaustion of experimentalism.â€ The last, Bogan notes, â€œfollows a natural sequence,â€ and proceeds to quote Eliot regarding the limits to any â€œextreme awareness and concern for language,â€ it being â€œsomething which must ultimately break down, owing to an increasing strain against which the human mind and nerves will rebel.â€ (A funny thing for a writer to say, even a nervous Nellie like the Possum.)It is not fashionable to admit, but I came up as a poet during the heyday of the Confessional poets of mid-20th century & their academic fellow-travelers. But in there too were the Beats, especially Ginsberg & Kerouac. When I was writing my first poems, I had the elder Modernists in my mind, Eliot especially, but also Auden, along with Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton & John Berryman, Theodore Roethke (I went to college in the Northwest), and then, after a class in Romanticism, I spent a lot of time on William Blake as a kind of founding father. Ronald Johnson taught me how to read William Carlos Williams, deeply liberating. (Johnson was fantastically important to me for a few months in the mid-1970s when he had a short-term teaching gig at the UW, but I don't pretend to have more than a superficial sense of what he was doing in how own work.) ll through this period of my late teens & early twenties the soundtrack was the Beatles, the Stones, & Bob Dylan. I listened closely enough to eventually feel the need to dig out some of their source material -- not such an easy thing in in the 1970s & 1980s. There was a period in there when I read quite a few of the Eastern European poets then being translated, those translated voices in turn becoming the basis of a generic workshop tone that one still hears in a lot of poetry. And I certainly participated in that. (And then there was a long & disastrous love-affair with James Wright, from which I am still not fully recovered.) I still pull out Milosz & Herbert & still find in them models of imagination worthy of imitation. But there is a sense in which they don't count because I read them in translation. I've read less poetry in the last decade that previously -- I think this is the normal arc of a poet's life -- but the poet I return to repeatedly is Hayden Carruth, in whom I find a deep formality coupled with a moral vision of the world, neither of which is fashionable these days. Carruth's roots in jazz & blues gives his work a groove I hear going back through all the poetries I love, right back to the Childe Ballads & their American descendants & beyond. As for experimental poetries, I know what they look like, I think & I know (I think) that they seek to put language under stress in certain ways. And that reference is less important than play. But experimentalism has never appealed to me as a way of composing poems, seeming too premeditated & formalist, in the sense of formulaic. Philosophically, I have an empirical streak & a strong Pragmatist orientation. I agree with Dewey that next to the miracle human communication, the miracle of transubstantiation fades into triviality. I've recently been reading Jack Spicer, who is sometimes claimed by the experimentalists, but what I hear is a groove -- something I do not hear, for all their intellectual playfulness -- in poets like Charles Bernstein or Ron Silliman. Both smart guys but I can't dance to them.
Latta is always worth reading, but the post that begins with this pair of paragraphs puts a whole run of literary history into high relief: