Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-06-10 - 5:40 p.m.

After a brief respite – and period of lethargy – the pace has resumed from the client and I have three working days to knock out the final paper for phase 1 by the end of Tuesday. Its warm and like lots of people around and about I have the desire to take things easy. There’s a judgement in the I Ching to the effect that you are favoured if you have a destination. Other bits of life stand out because the destination keeps changing.

I have read some articles about the current shape of US poetry – there is more informed comment on this topic than there is on the question of where UK poetry is at the moment. In the US there is concern about the over production of poets by the HE system at the same time that the audience is contracting. There is concern about fragmentation of the poetic universe but this is less marked than in the UK.

A number of observers think that post-modernism started early in poetry – for example I have seen it proposed that W H Auden is the first post-modernist poet. And there is a general tendency for anyone born after the WW2 to be categorised in this way. The two big categories that we can recognised are the “poets of identity” which means feminism, gay, lesbianism and various ethnicities and the confessional poets. We have heard of the latter and we can see the former in the British landscape. Apparently there is now “post-confessional” poetry in the US.

The US has a large scale block of experimentalists – and they have had an influence on the high avant garde in the UK. In many ways they are the most appealing because it includes Beats, the New York School, the Black Mountain poets and John Cage even gets a mention in some accounts. Opposite them are the cardre that tend towards neo-conservatism and the revival of neglected forms and structures.

I read a good article about whether lyric poetry had survived. If part of the post modern landscape is the fragmentation of identity then lyric poetry can’t really be expected to survive unscathed. Celebrity as a phenomenon turns authentic emoting into a commodity – think of Princess Di for example. And so poets cant be expected to emote alongside the cultural mainstream but using (really) elite devices and channels. It just looks silly and invites parody. There is in fact a risk that this is the cultural space that ND could be banished to – the cultured museum of the lately authentic lyric. We can go into this air-conditioned space and exercise our connoisseurship away from all that brazen Posh and Becks stuff, coming out again refreshed.

I have stumbled across a Perloff quote:

“the attempt to hold onto some measure of unique and natural voice – the phallacy of the heroic stance – with its mascullinist allegory of language as the stride of a man and its idealization as the voice of authority – is increasingly giving way to a poetry that emphasizes its medium as being constructed, rule governed, everywhere circumscribed by grammar and syntax, chosen vocabulary: designed, manipulated, picked, programmed, organised – artifice, artefact – monadic, solipsistic, homemade, manufactured, mechanised, formulaic, wilful.”

Antoine Caze who pulls this quote out goes on to refer to “hyper-individuality” where there is a pervasive sense of the identity’s own constructedness in the work. Caze thinks there is a new lyric in this space. Interesting claim.

This looks like a tempting premise for a ND account. We can all see that these songs are hyper-constructed – replete with devices and techniques whirring away so smoothly that you can hardly see them working the listener over to over-determine the aesthetic coherence of the work.

The voice has its own delusive signature of identity – the breath and the overtones etc. And there is an enormous literary competence in the texts themselves – grammatical and articulate when they want to be and not when they don’t eg “for to fly” or “Know”. One could even toss in the “toe/tow” debate. This is the language of the hyper-individual whose essence is in the fissile intensity of an overconstructed sense of temporary being. Thus Place to Be is sung from a locale which both is and isn’t what it says “on the tin” – you have to be somewhere to sing it after all.

So do we/the contemporary audience like them because they are the first major cultural emanation of the hyper-individual lyric? Possibly a set of such lyrics which embrace the (by now) traditional confessional lyric and its associated narratives of exploration and hubris (Fly) with the added possibility of the Plathian terminal calm (From the Morning) ? Is this the new way of celebrating meta-identity - exploring whether the randomness of emotion consolidates or erodes?

In their hyper-individuality might they even span the current fad for (outer/out) identity-lyric for example in Tony Reif’s extraordinary careful reading of Strange Meeting?

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