Anyway, my point is this: I feel, within my poetic soul, a great conflict between the knowledge that poetry must change and grow and adapt over time, and my feeling that the path(s) poetry has taken have served only as roads away from the public. And, given where poetry is (still a burning question, I’d think, though I’ll take this “debate” between Flarf and conceptual poetry as a starting point), I am unsure as to how (if at all) the two (theat is, the continued evolution of poetry & the public consciousness) can be reconciled.
Some do so in terms that enable them to reach broader audiences, but others don’t avail themselves of that choice, taking what I might call the Stein / Zukofsky / Beckett / Joyce / Watten road instead. The idea that one road (the Creeley / Grahn et al road) is morally superior to the Stein et al road is, I think, defensible only – and I do mean only – if you think that the population of the US, and the other English-speaking countries, is so deeply, even permanently damaged that a truly literate art of language can never fully exist. That’s a possibility, but I’m much more of an optimist than that.
One is reminded of an old tree that was struck by lightening in the distant past. One side is somewhat scant of growth with few branches, the other is much bushier but seems to have a lot of dead branches.
There has, and one hopes there will always continue to be a popular poetry, designed and for the most written for the masses. I need not detail its bastardisation in western culture, it's usurpation by the mass media, etc.
Its existence I believe is predicated more on entertainment than education,--education being a by-product rather than a primary facet for its existence. It has, only recently diverged into the more esoteric path which we are now obliged to confront. My own inclination would put the separation at the Elizabethan period, or the Renaissance in other parts of Europe. Mr. Silliman pushes it back somewhat to the Troubadours. One might even make a case for the Romans and the Greeks having such a dichotomy between the popular & the elitist. (hate that word, indicates an exclusionary element, which is not an accurate representation of the reach of the Art).
Predicating that separation then upon the entertainment value on the one hand, and the investigation of the great ideas on the other, Mr. Silliman refers to a " truly literate art of language" it seems evident to me that the latter could never aspire to a mass audience given a narrower and narrower beam of focus; although the tree opens to more and more branches; the area of expertise and interest shrinks. It is as Matthew hopes above, an evolutionary specialisation exclusionary only in that its practitioners become smaller in number. In that sense, there is no "True Path", no right way, no Truth, outside of Plato's which we may aspire to yet never apprehend. Even Physics assures us that there is always a further point in the universe; how then can we hope for a conjunction between thought and language?
As to greater access and broader audiences, the advent of the Web may, indeed, must increase the questors; yet on the other hand the very precarious state of civilisation itselfs precludes any false hope from arising. A more fitting subject I suppose for another investigation.