Josh Corey on the Post-Mainstream

This is the smartest thing I've read about the cultural politics of American poetry in a long time. Maybe ever.
So the notion of the post-avant as a "third way" is indeed subject to the same criticism that the political Third Way is open to: that it's really just the "first way" (i.e., hegemony) with an updated sales pitch, Quietude with a human face. Yet from my perspective, the crisis we're a part of now has less to do with the disappearance of the outside than it does with the disappearance of the inside. That is, literary culture (not just poetry!) no longer has a meaningful relation with our culture-in-general, which in itself no longer seems to serve the function of legitimizing political power that it used to do (but it may still have a role in legitimizing markets). Put another way and more locally, many poets associated with the "post-avant" now have tenure track academic jobs; but I would argue such positions no longer constitute a meaningful "inside" because neither American culture nor American poetry center on academia any more, and haven't for quite some time. An endowed chair at Harvard or Penn just ain't what it used to be: the cultural capital accruing to a Bob Perelman or a Jorie Graham is microscopic in comparison with the capital enjoyed by previous generations of poets and profs from Mark Van Doren to Lionel Trilling, or even to Perelman (still "outside") and Graham (very much "inside") as recently as the 1980s. The flip side of this is a tremendous democratization: it's harder than ever to write a book of poems that will make any sort of splash in the larger culture, but it's easier than ever for talented poets, academic and non-academic, to find an audience (if not the audience) via chapbooks, small presses, and the Web. // So it seems to me that poets of every aesthetic stripe save perhaps the most conservative (the ones approved of by Adam Kirsch, say, or the ranks of the poets-laureate) are best described as post-mainstream, because the center of the cultural margin is still the margin. Almost any sort of poetry writing or poetry life counts as countercultural in a manifestly postliterate society.
Later: I had wanted to make a note of the above because, reading it, an intellectual & aesthetic space opened before me. The point of criticism ought to be the opening of possibilities for thought (for both writer & reader) rather than closing them down & compartmentalizing various sorts of style in order to nominalize & reify them.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “Josh Corey on the Post-Mainstream”

  1. This posting of yours has launched me into some thought. I’ll collect it all and post it later. Looks like it might be too late to post about it on Corey.

    I’ve deliberately put myself on the margin of academia my entire adult life. (One time over twenty years ago Hayden Carruth puffing on his pipe talked with me about writing outside academia, looking at the world outside academia. He mentioned a painting in a certain Greek restaurant on a shopping boulevard as a subject for a poem.) I’ve basically built my perspective out of the idea of looking at the extra academic world for sources. And this evolved for me into blending with the internet, internet related experience. (In one experience, beyond relationships I was randomly interviewed for a film, Synthetic Pleasures, while I was tapping on the keyboard of cafe internet terminal in the early 90s, which turned out to be a cult hit.) Now these on the margins ideas and experiences extend to the blogs…

  2. You talked with Carruth?! I’m jealous. He is my intellectual & poetic hero. I can’t think of anyone I would rather emulate, despite the fact that I teach college for a living.

  3. First read Corey’s “Post-Mainstream” last night,
    and it and the comments about it have my mind
    working on a response to it. Whatever one’s
    reaction to essays by him, he definitely has a
    diamond mind.

    This is my first time here. I am retired, but
    have been more involved with poets and poetry
    the past 12 months than at any time since 1972,
    the year my days in official academia ended.

    You probably know Loren has recently been
    reading and writing about poems by
    Hayden Carruth.

    Thank you.

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