Joined: Jun 2008
From: George Town Tasmania Australia
NEW POETRY: and Detachment
In 1962 the poets John Berryman and Robert Lowell were placed at the head of what Australian essayist Clive James more than 30 years alter called “the pugnacious Penguin anthology The New Poetry.” English poet, writer and critic A. Alvarez wrote an introduction to that anthology in which he wrote a savage rejection of the gentility principle. The gentility principle was the view that "gentility, decency and all the other social totems will eventually help us all muddle through.” This was the view, wrote Alvarez, of the timid English poets.
As well as giving an account of what was happening to poetry in the 1950s when I was a child and adolescent, it is quite possible that Alvarez’s editing of this anthology helped to shape what happened to poetry later in the 1960s and 1970s. Three years later, the year I decided to move to the NWT in Canada as part of my contribution to the Canadian Bahá'í community. In that year, 1965, Alvarez placed it on record, in his book Under Pressure: The Writer In Society, that there were dangers, overbearing difficulties and all sorts of problems that poets who wrote a personal poetry of breakdown might conceivably run into.
When poets begin to internalize everything: nature and society, art and life, intimacy and response, the focus on the self which is the result of such internalization results in boredom for the reader. Extremism in the arts — the cultivation, the endless description, of one’s breakdown and all the diverse facets of mental disorders — ends not so much in anarchy as in a kind of internal fascism by which the artist, to relieve his own boredom, becomes both torturer and tortured.(1) –Clive James, “Al Alvarez: Big Medicine,” at CliveJames.com
I had no idea back then in ’62
when I had only just written my
first poem, moved to the next town
with my parents, helped form the 1st
spiritual assembly of the Baha’is of
Dundas, begun to experience my own
BP disorder & started my final year of
high school-that New Poetry & essays
of A. Alvarez even existed. We sat on
the edge of nuclear war in October ’62
as I studied nine matriculation subjects.
But I have come to agree with A.A.
when he wrote back in 1968 when I
was going in & out of 4 psychiatric
hospitals, clinics and wards that.....
Perhaps the basic misunderstanding encouraged by Extremist art about one’s in extremis experience is that the artist’s life on the outer edge of whatever the tolerable aspects of life are--is somehow a substitute for creativity. In fact, the opposite is true; in order to make art out of deprivation and despair the artist needs proportionately rich internal resources. Contrary to current belief, there is no short-cut to creative ability, not even through the psychiatric ward of the most progressive mental hospital. However rigidly his experience is internalized, the genuine artist does not simply project his own nervous system as a pattern for reality. He is what he is because his inner world is more substantial, variable and self-renewing than that of ordinary people, so that even in his deepest isolation he is left with something more sustaining than mere narcissism. In this, of course, the modern artist is like every other creative figure in history: he knows what he knows; he has his own vision steady within him, and every new work is an attempt to reveal a little more of it. What sets the contemporary artist apart from his predecessors is his lack of external standards by which to judge his reality. He not only has to launch his craft and control it, he also has to make his own compass.-A.Alvarez in the title essay of Beyond all this Fiddle, 1968.
Well, A.A., I’ve had some external
standards to judge life’s realities &
I’ve had some help making my own
compass as I’ve been launching and
controlling my literary-writing craft..
I would agree with Clive James that it is the distance from the tragic events of one’s life that makes us free from them. This distance could be called detachment. Detachment helps to free us from being blindly inclined to the many errors of reason and the senses or from being repelled from facing life’s truths due to our personal loves and hates, our judgmentalism, as some call our tendency to see find faults in others.
This detachment also frees us from the propensity for absorbing history into the self and being under the impression that it fits. The shock around the images of our personal tragedy is the shock of sentimental excess, James calls it. Poetry can by its nature encompass personal tragedy, but there is also material which the poet can’t encompass, can’t render personal, due to the material’s nature. The tragedy is just too intense that it can’t survive the scaling down into words on a page. Where and when the poetry of such tragedy works at all, as in the poetry of Sylvia Plath, it works because of the very pathos of the attempt. -Ron Price with thanks to Clive James, op.cit.
Thanks Clive for this essayistic
journey down my road of life
and the power of understanding:
intellect and wisdom are for sure
the two most luminous lights in
the world of existence, Clive.....
goodonyer, Clive, goodonyer....
8 December 2009