Monday, September 5, 2011

Ammiel Alcalay: Neither Wit Nor Gold

Ammiel Alcalay: Nither Wit Nor Gold, on The Quarterly Conversation .

The kind of review too often reserved only for long works of fiction.

I've been thinking, as I've been taking up again my 12 year 'novel' in progress... encouraged by what I find, by how it's turning out, and at the same time, longing to get back to poetry--how much I'd like to tear down that wall that's been artificially erected between poetry and every other form of imaginative writing. Not that there shouldn't be, won't be, distinctions, but that fiction might recover a degree of strangeness, the mind bending power of the best of contemporary avant poetry, and that poetry--without surrendering anything of its contempt for conventional aesthetic 'solutions' to the challenges of form and structure, & unembarrassed by narrative profluence, be received by critical readers as answering to a common challenge, a common summons of our living confluent generations, that challenge being--that creative language become poetry, BE poetry--whatever the external form it takes--as opposed to commercial-made- for-money-and-entertainment/distraction--and the reification of conventional modes of using language to 'represent' and falsify reality.

Why the division in, of all places, the most innovative critical lit blogs, between poetry & fiction--such that there is so seldom a crossover, at a time when we have works like Kim Gek Lin Short--taking just one example--that defy those distinctions and plead for critical responses prepared to deal with and acknowledge its crossover ambitions from both sides?

In the 18th century, 'poetry' was a term that might be applied to any form of written language assumed to aspire to other than expositional ends... of what we might call 'creative writing.' It's time we aspired to a criticism that set for itself a goal of reconfiguring our understanding along similar lines.  


  1. Hey, thanks for the shout-out Jacob! You are right, the term poetry used to have a less "physical" definition. And Wordsworth said "there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition." That is, poetry is not poetry b/c of its external features (e.g., white space).

  2. Have you ever read Al Alvarez? I've come across him just this year although he's an old school critic really, but I love the way he writes about poetry. I can't quite explain how he does it, but it's natural, simply woven into the fabric of the ongoing sentence, offhand, almost, but piercingly insightful. Poetry doesn't feel a breed apart when he talks about it, but just an extension of living and writing. Your post resonated with me, precisely because I've been reading him.

  3. Litlove,
    I've not read Alvarez. I'll look him up. Of old school critics... I hold Frye in high regard, his Anatomy of Criticism, and his superb work on Blake, Fearful Symmetry, before 'serious' critics took Blake seriously. And for poetry, the early work of Bloom was damn good. His book on Yeats is wonderful.