Twanging the Plumbline

As noted in a couple of previous posts, I have been participating in a discussion of poetics initiated by Henry Gould at a new blog, The Plumbline School, cross-posting a few of my comments here as well when they seemed detachable from their Plumbline context. There are, at last count, four participants in the project, which has generated a good deal of useful discussion in a short time, I think, though necessarily much of the talk at this point is range-finding and terminological in nature. The original idea, which has been undergoing a few modifications, was to initiate a discussion that would seek to find a new kind of center for poetic practice, and for the poem in this historical moment. (Or perhaps the intention was / is to rediscover an old center now obscured.) The Plumbline was pulled out of the old tool box, frankly, in reaction to a number of current trends that seem out of kilter, so there is an element of the polemical in our discussions, though they are secondary to our main purposes. Henry has explicitly named Flarf as one thing he's reacting against; my own frustration with current practice stems from the cultural configuration that sponsors an all-or-nothing divide between the so called "School of Quietude" and the so called "Post Avant."  I'm already on record as preferring something like Seth Abramson's ecology as a starting point. On of the things that attracts me to this effort, as I've said, is that the polemical intent is subordinated to an exploratory, tentative approach to poetic practice and theorizing about poetry - our own as well as that of others. Speaking for myself, I am more interested in charting my own practice, which has grown stale, than in convincing others to join a movement. Thus, the Plumbline: An attempt to chart what is actually going on in current poetry and to develop a terminology more descriptive than the one we have got with which to discuss the cultural landscape and the poetic practice located in that landscape. And, yes, an attempt to promote a particular sort of poetry, or poetry based on a particular set of (broadly defined) principles that orbit around the idea of the middle voice. A still point, an unwobbling pivot, amidst the static and random noises of current American literary culture. Or that's how I read -- and continue to read -- the intentions of the Plumbline. If there are poets out there who would like to join the conversation, email me or follow the How to Join link at the Plumbline blog.

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 “Twanging the Plumbline”

  1. Running to stand still here, but I shall follow up my invitation to participate in this valuable and long-needed project just as soon as I can clear desk space. In the meantime, I enjoin all poets who read here to check out Plumbline immediately!

  2. Thanks, Dick! I look forward to hearing your views. We’ll go ahead and list you on the Plumbline page. (For those who don’t know him, I’ll just note that Dick had a lot more time before he retired!)

  3. joseph, today’s blog at htpp://
    has this interesting bit abt geo moore’s 3 vols HAIL AND FAREWELL memoir/novel(?) that in 1935 hemingway included in a list of mustreads to a minnesotan youth who’d hitched down to key west
    and i’ll patch it in here:


    in which the editor of ZYZZYVA, a journal of west coast writers & artists, describes the struggle day by day
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009
    The Post-avant George Moore
    I knew a bit about George Moore—his portrait by Manet, that he worked with Yeats to revive the Irish language and to found a national theater—but I had never read him and did not suspect that he might be Post-avant.

    I came upon him last week while rummaging through By-Line: Ernest Hemingway.

    A young man from Minnesota had hitchhiked down to Key West in 1935 to ask such questions as, “Well, what books are necessary?”

    Hemingway replied with a list that included a book I’d never heard of: Moore’s Hail and Farewell.

    I was the first to take the three volumes of this forgotten memoir/novel from the USF Library in 51 years; many of the pages, starting in Vol. II, were still uncut. (It was only fun to slash them apart for a while.)

    H&F is an endless Proustian dither, salted with an occasional gem.

    For example, I had associated the anthem “no ideas but in things” with William Carlos Williams, but here’s Moore:

    Yeats said that the ancient writers wrote about things, and that the softness, the weakness, the effeminacy of modern literature could be attributed to ideas. “There are no ideas in ancient literature, only things….”

    Then there was the problem of Moore and Yeats writing a play together and the proper language to use (since Moore had no Irish). Yeats suggested Moore write in French:

    “Lady Gregory will translate your text into English. Taidgh O’Donoghue will translate the English text into Irish, and Lady Gregory will translate the Irish text back into English.”

    Moore wasn’t that hip, so he refused to play along, although he did offer (at least to us, his readers) a few pages of a script in a rather simplified French.

    posted by Howard Junker at 6:00 AM 0 comments links to this post

    anyway, i thought you and your poetrybuddybuds might know about this and be amused because i with my younger contemporaries –or many of them–never read such either.


Comments are closed.