Poet Tony Hoagland, seen here looking eerily like actor Matt Frewer when he guested on Star Trek, released a book of essays last year called Real Sofistikashun which I thought was wonderful. Perhaps my favourite essay in the book was one called "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment" which mirrored a lot of my current thoughts and concerns with recent fashions in contemporary North American poetry.
That essay is available, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation, to be read online. Here is a sample:
You can read the entire essay here.
In the last ten years American poetry has seen a surge in associative and “experimental” poetries, in a wild variety of forms and orientations. Some of this work has been influenced by theories of literary criticism and epistemology, some by the old Dionysian imperative to jazz things up. The energetic cadres of MFA grads have certainly contributed to this milieu, founding magazines, presses, and aesthetic clusters which encourage and influence each other’s experiments. Generally speaking, this time could be characterized as one of great invention and playfulness. Simultaneously, it is also a moment of great aesthetic self-consciousness and emotional removal.
Systematic development is out; obliquity, fracture, and discontinuity are in. Especially among young poets, there is a widespread mistrust of narrative forms and, in fact, a pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative. Under the label of “narrative,” all kinds of poetry currently get lumped misleadingly together: not just story but discursion, argument, even descriptive lyrics. They might better be called the “Poetries of Continuity.”
You can order the book here.