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Posted by : coppoc on Sunday, January 09, 2005 - 10:02 AM
Chicago Poetry Archives: Click Headlines .
OK CJ, let me take one of the first shots...

RE; Poetry War is Declared," not to mention your ongoing battle with all things "Postmodern"

The problem with Postmodernism is that it has no endpoint.

Draw a timeline on a sheet of paper. Label one end “The Beginning of Time.” Label the other end “The Apocalypse.” Label the middle “Now.” Now start plotting poetry movements. Classicism had a beginning and an end. The Renaissance too. Troubadour Poetry, Beat Poetry, even Modernism started and stopped somewhere. Now plot Postmodernism. It has its beginning--right there on your timeline just after the New Critics got too old to fight it. You can plot Postmodernism's rise right along with the Disco era. You can make footnotes about all the skirmishes and civil disobediences the postmoderns involved themselves in while fighting the hegemony of the Dead White Male Canon. But try to plot the other endpoint anywhere between Now and The Apocalypse. You can't do it. You can't do it because Postmodernism's very name gives it the temporal authority to occupy all of existence after the Moderns quit writing. Nominally, Posmodernism is not its own era; it is whatever follows the Modern era. On your timeline, Postmodernism is not a segment, it is a ray.

So Postmodernism is a false name, and a pernicious one at that. By its infinite vastness, it crowds out or envelops all other movements. Multiculturalism has become postmodern. The New York School is postmodern. You and I are, nominally, postmodern. The Norton anthology, "Postmodern American Poetry," edited by Chicago's own Paul Hoover, has claimed poets as varied and seemingly random as John Cage, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashberry, Gary Snyder, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, Diane Wakowski, Miguel Algarin, Andrei Codrescu, Charles Bernstein, Jimmy Santiago, and many more. Performance poets lie on this anthology's pages next to Beats next to Deep Imagists next to anyone else Hoover managed to get copyright permission from. And the startling truth of the matter is that Hoover was right to do so. Technically “Howl” is just as postmodern as anything Jackson Mac Low ever wrote, which is just as postmodern as anything that hits the Slam stage at the Green Mill on Sunday nights.

The only way to exorcise a demon is to call it out by name, so the demons that last guard their “true names” with all their power. So it is with Postmodernism. This temporal descriptor that stands in place of a true name is what makes Postmodernism last. With every movement Postmodernism envelopes or crowds out (and don't think it can't or won't happen to Millennialism or any other sort of Fusion poetry) it becomes larger and harder to grasp. So here's my solution: let the beast grow if that's what it wants, but make it toothless. Take away its power. The only true power Postmodernism has is its ability to label, so start rejecting labels. I am not just riffing off of one of your favorite themes, CJ, when I say that labels hurt poetry. I am also paraphrasing words I've heard come directly from the lips of so many of Hoover's Heroes. For that matter, deconstructing labels is a central tenet of Postmodernism itself.

I, personally, like good poetry. I like poetry that means something. I like poetry that tells me what it has to say in a voice that clearly has the authority to say it. For that matter, I like to be carried away. Here is one of Paul Hoover's own poems, as appears in his Postmodern Anthology, that says exactly what I mean.

"Poems We Can Understand"

If a monkey drives a car
down a colonnade facing the sea
and the palm trees to the left are tin
we don't understand it

We want poems we can understand.
We want a god to lead us,
renaming the flowers and trees,
color-coding the scene,

doing bird calls for guests.
We want poems we can understand,
no sullen drunks making passes
next to an armadillo, no complex nothingness

amounting to a song,
no running in and out of walls
on the dry tongue of a mouse,
no bludgeoness, no girl, no sea that moves

with all deliberate speed, beside itself
and blue as water, inside itself and still,
no lizards on the table becoming absolute hands.
We want poetry we can understand,

the fingerprints on mother's dress
pain of martyrs, scientists.
Please, no rabbit taking a rabbit
out of a yellow hat, no tattooed back

facing miles of desert, no wind.
We don't understand it.

Hoover knows, I know, and you certainly know what good poetry is. Why would we need to label it?

Jim Coppoc

P.S.-For those of you reading this who don't know me, maybe a little bio would help. I am a frequent and fervent Slammer, a regular guest at CJ's events, and a crusty academic who publishes long, boring papers on poetry and pedagogy in academic journals and teaches at a major university. I subscribe to Poetry Magazine, I'm a member of Poetry Slam, Inc., and I contribute to Letter eX. Label that!

**We hope you found the information on this page useful. ChicagoPoetry.com needs your help. We are holding a fundraising drive in order to stay online. There are two ways that you can help: Click here to offer a financial gift or click here to order the new book by ChicagoPoetry.com Press.

Note: Academic slam poet Jim Coppoc takes a swipe at postmodernism. Click the above headline to read the letters; join the debate by posting a comment.

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