Tony Hoagland on the "Strange" Influence of the New York School

by on Aug.19, 2011

I got the new issue of The Writers’ Chronicle yesterday and was not surprised to see Tony Hoagland once again get on the bully pit denouncing the insubstantiality of “youngish” writers (his term, not mine) in the essay “Blame it On Rio: The Strange Legacy of New York School Poetics: An Evolutionary Story of Delight and Dissipation.”

This article adds to his attack by creating a *lineage” for the current state of affairs, and that lineage begins with The New York School, and in particular Frank O’Hara. I think Hoagland is actually kind of perceptive when he points out that O’Hara might be the most influential poet right now because of his “sociability, associative speed, a love of perceptual and social detail, the affection of scatterbraineness, an intimate voice of self-deprecation and badinage, dazzling offhand abstract asides…”

So far, fine enough, though his interpretation already bears the imprint of Hoagland’s typical condescension and need to stabilize through reductive taxonomies of legacy, and his incredibly repetition of his own unpopularity (Language poets and NY Schools are the most dominant schools, I’m an outsider rebel even though I hold an incredibly influential role in institutions of American poetry). Then he starts talking about influence:

Yet influence is a funny thing; like DDT, or Prozac, molecules get into the water supply, and you don’t know where or how they are going to turn up again.

I read this and I was like: Whoa! Tony Hoagland sounds like Montevidayo! But then comes this turn:

And here’s the bad news: the aesthetic traits O’Hara passed down to us have not been universally beneficial in their absorption. One of the less healthful has been a poetics style of distractedness. Another is the manner of hapless unself-importance.

In other words, influence-poison has caused birth-defects in the young. At this point the strange subtitle of his essay becomes clear: “dissipation” has hit American poetry. We’re in a state of decadence and degeneracy. We’re unhealthy. We’ve got ADD. O’Hara’s poisons have caused aesthetic defects. We can also see that the “strange” of the title is not good (as I assumed!) but bad. Strange is bad. Strange is degenerate. One expects Hoagland to organize an exhibition of degenerate poetry any day now.

Who’s to blame for this poisoning of the young?

Ted Berrigan of course with his “dissheveled poetics” of “unpretentiousness” (which he paradoxically brought to a “new height”). Their take on O’Hara’s I-do-this-I-do-that mode was “flavored with a druggy pop surrealism and some Olsen-inspired projective versification” in their fleeting “cultural moment.” Here we have the hallmarks of Hoagland’s anti-kitsch opinionating: surrealism, pop, versification, fleeting “moment.” To sum things up: “They are ruled by the muse of defiant triviality: Disheveled Lite.” In the process, what was lost was O’Hara’s “romantic heroism” and “sincere[ity].” What was “lost” was “seriousness of Art with a big A.”

And this lead Hoagland to discuss “contemporary mannerisms,” which are “coy mannersim of distractedness. His example is of course from Fence though notably he doesn’t include the name of the poet. The message seems to be: these poems are part of the indistinct heap of contemporary poetry; they are not “major” figures; they are symptoms, not agents of writing.

However, Hoagland does name the antidote: Matthew Zapruder, “one of the best younger poets now writing” and “one of the most talented grandchildren of the New York legacy.” That is to say: He’s quality, not the nameless bumblers. He’s got a healthy inheritance, not the poison of the degenerate Berrigan genetic disease. And the way he shows this is by his “determined struggle to overcome the self-enclosure of its contemporary practice.” He is an “adult” while the others are “children”; he is “human” and “natural”, while the rest are, I suppose, unnatural and inhuman. And the reason he is human etc is “Zapruder’s ability, at pivotal moments, to move into the foreground of his poems and speak clearly, with directness and vulnerability.” This “distinguishes him from most of his peers.” Ie he’s distinguished and because he’s distinguished he’s got a name, he’s not one of the nameless “peers.” He speaks “clearly”: his poetry and his position becomes merged as so often in these kinds of arguments.

And as always in these kinds of critiques, it comes back to this: poetry has to be separate from our general culture with its excessiveness. As I noted in my last post, this prevalent idea in American poetry suggests poetry must provide an alternative space that is slowed down, pared down, more refined than the rest of culture: “Our present environment is already speeded up, superficial, bright, distracted, sensation-filled… what our present moment in culture needs from poetry right now is a counter-position; something with weight and existential gravity, asserting counter-values…. The result is a shortage of the visionary…”

*

Now, I don’t entirely disagree with Hoagland. I obviously believe in capital A Art. We write about “visionary” art all the time on this blog. Obviously we do love some poets and not others. But we obviously have lots of differences, and I think this whole anti-kitsch framework is ridiculous, suggesting a need to police poetry (see Danielle’s post, Ryan Smith’s comment).

And most importantly, if there’s a “visionary” poet writing in the US right now, it surely must be Alice Notley, a poet Hoagland blames for the loss of the visionary!

Another visionary poet of contemporary US poetry, Joyelle McSweeney wrote an awesome article about Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” as a parable about visionary art and submitted it to Writers’ Chronicle, which summarily rejected it. It might be because Joyelle’s idea of visionary art reveals Hoagland’s poetics of the “visionary” as not visionary at all, but just a defensive person trying to limit the damage of the poisonous influences of Art.

I’ll tell Joyelle to post it if she can find it.

23 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    One thing I should say I do appreciate about Hoagland is that he does include examples of the stuff he doesn’t like (even though he only names them in the footnotes). One of the things I hate the most in poetry discussions is when people say this poet is great unlike “most poets” who does xyz and then don’t include a name or example of them.

    Johannes

  2. Johannes Göransson

    Can I also add: That I didn’t mean this to be an attack on Zapruder. It’s an attack on the way Hoagland uses/portrays him.

    And: Yes, technically Notley is not writing “in” the US, as she lives in Paris. THis is of course a complex issue that perhaps we can pick up in a separate thread.

    Thanks for the back-channel comments.

    /Johannes

  3. James Pate

    Fascinating post…

    I haven’t read the essay but from the way you describe it it seems like he falls back on the overly-simplified distinction of “raw vs. cooked” which seems to be a constant thread in these discussion in the past decades. The disheveled, the childish, the lack of clarity (which usually means lack of purpose in this context)…all suggest a poetry that is undercooked, under-developed, that has not reached a higher stage of conscious deliberation…

    As I argued in a post a few months back, I think the “raw vs. the cooked” leads to all sorts of distortions and simplifications…and the notion of the cooked usually comes down to a very conservative idea of the self, a self that does not decide to become a work of art (like the stoics, the dandys, and Foucault’s arguments about the self) but rather a self searching for its lyrical truth…no masks, just the “natural” and “human”…the “quotidian” (that all-too frequently used term)…

    The Elizabethans with their masks and personas and elaborately constructed narratives had a much more nuanced view of these issues…

  4. Gene Tanta

    An interesting text but I would have liked for the text to say outright what is good about kitsch, disheveled poetics, and excess and what is wrong with Zapruder’s speaking with clarity and sincerity.

    I have my ideas much in line with what James suggests above regarding the everyday choice we have to either make our lives into pieces of art or to make idols of pieces of art (see Burt, Bloom, etc).

    Art must be a practice or else it becomes a theoretical response to what would have been its potential. To be sure, both are kinds of living in time but the aesthetic life is just a better way to spend one’s mortality when compared to the possibility of spending it as a censor to other people’s visions (vision is always-already an excess of the body as it stands).

    Two binaries walks into a bar …

  5. Johannes

    Hi Gene,
    I didn’t say one was better than the other. I took note of Hoagland’s anti-kitsch rhetoric. But I’m not using “kitsch” in any kind of stable way. Anybody can accuse anybody else of being kitsch. Of being inauthentic essentially. Of being degenerate. Of not getting the influence “correctly.” And of saying that the stuff you like is clearer, more sincere (without having to think about those terms). This is all part of a very central dynamic of modern american poetry, so that you see Ron Silliman doing the same thing, and in fact a lot of “experimental” poets engage in this kind of rhetoric. In many ways in this post I basically point out how Hoagland is a case for observations I’ve made in other posts.

    Johannes

  6. Gene Tanta

    It should read “walk” not “walks” … thanks, Gene

  7. adam strauss

    At “the end of the day,” most discussions of influence seem to actually be cases of identification, not influence: I’m not at-all sure the author of a poem can name their influences (this is basically H Bloom; kisses Harold!) I’d like to believe Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul celan and George Herbert are influences “on” me—-but probably it’s Cowper and Neruda and L. Gluck! Maybe this does tie into influence as nepenthe: self-diagnosis can be difficult.

    A personal example: I showed D Revell a poem that in my mind is/was totally crawling out of W Stevens, and yet DR’s take was Alan Dugan! Now of course it’s very possible that’s a wonky diagnosis—but maybe not! At any rate, I like the notion of influences being a vernacular for a third–or forth, or fifth or eleventh–party. And, to go back to influence as infection, another tie may be it doesn’t make much sense to have an identification be an infection–generally speaking, one does not choose an infection, so why should one choose an influence as really isn’t that antonym to influence itself?

  8. Henry Gould

    Just 2 thoughts…

    When a style goes from something new & closely-bound up with the artist – says F. O’Hara’s jumpy (“trivial”) urgency, with its undertone of anxiety, angst, maybe some fright – to something younger writers can pick up and imitate as a technique, there is always the danger of its becoming overly artificial, “mannered”…

    2nd… it does strike me that there might be some validity to Hoagland’s complaint… because it seems like it might be especially difficult, within a colloquial, pop-culture style in poetry, not to simply amplify, reiterate, and echo “phenomena” – in other words to simply celebrate confusion, chaos, noise & triviality. Of course there are occasions and situations which call for just such celebration – but on the other hand I wonder : can a literary culture which simply mimics & amplifies existing mass culture actually BE art, BE culture? Isn’t it just part of the amorphous noise? Because I think to reach the zone of art there does have to be a dimension – maybe implicit – of judgement, of criticism – of stepping aside from the amorphousness and MAKING something definitive : representing some definitive organization of fact, emotion, perception. An art work is a made thing in this sense of critical representation. But the temptation to mimic successful and charming works of the past (say O’Hara) is great, and this activity is something different from the original work of making new art.

  9. Lucas

    I suppose I like translation in part because it allows me to be derivative first, original second.

  10. Kyle

    Please post it, Joyelle!

  11. jeffery bahr

    I find Hoagland’s opinions reasonably consistent (from article to article). It’s his choice of poets to prove his point that I find puzzling. I mean, really, what do Dean Young, Matthew Dickman, and Matthew Zapruder have in common?

  12. John Gallaher

    This is a very similar appraoch that he took a few years ago in support of Dean Young. And it’s fine and all to say “Here’s the example of something done well, and here are the versions not done well, in my estimation.” But Hoagland’s thinking is reductive and constraining. In the end, he likes these writers (I also like Zapruder’s work, so I’m not arguing against it, just Hoagland’s approach) because they can be read conservatively (See, they aren’t so crazy! They’re still mostly like us!). It’s setting Zapruder up for the kind of readings Dan Chiasson does in The New Yorker, of Rae Armantrout, etc.

  13. Johannes

    Yes, exactly, and in keeping with most anti-kitsch rhetoric, the one is done well, while the many nameless ones are degenerate copies, perversions of the real thing (perversions here represented by Fence). But yes, I read that article about Dean Young as well, Think I may have mentioned it on the blog as well. It’s a fundamental approach to not just lineage and influence but literary history. /Johannes

  14. Kent Johnson

    In fact, there is a long-ish, rhyming poem in three parts by the Rejection Group that’s directly inspired by Hoagland’s APR piece on Young and his School of Youngers. It came out a few weeks ago in the New Haven/London journal Hot Gun! (a special issue on Ed Dorn, which material is must see, particularly newly uncovered work by Dorn). I’ll go ahead and copy it here, though the formatting of the couplets gets screwed up, it appears. The piece makes a bit of a satirical case contra the pompous and patronizing rhetoric Hoagland seems to favor, and which Johannes nicely describes:

    Coronita de Rimas, Or: The A-Effect

    I.

    Our Poet is the living avatar of avant-garde
    Populism in American poetry. A bonny bard

    Who gratifies the expectations of both dark, surreal art
    And cheery comedy. His Amerikanski patter, slangy and tart,

    Tethers his lyric to the central phallic poleski
    Of the general literati. Speed there is, ironic paroleski,

    Dissemblement, parody, romantic insouciance. Such fine motors
    Of rhetorick highlight, by contrast, the fartings of his emulators,

    Stalled in worship workshops and position-staking imitation.
    What blows your fucking mind is how much packed propulsion

    Is packed like Semtex and glass into each cubic inch. Now, the light
    Of day is almost all due to the sun. But far away in the world it is night.

    Mr. Ahmad, picking up his own arm, sees the torso of his son, Rashad,
    Suddenly over there, silly clear across the square. Go, Mr. Ahmad,

    Go! But anyway, to return to our poetic theme: The strange world
    Of Our Poet’s poems is an unstable, violent place, an incurled

    Changing texture, ever ripping itself apart
    Into new or antique shapes of populist avant-garde art:

    The theme is wonder; the matter is wonderful.
    His little fans root at his nipples like poor puppies.

    II.

    In Our Poet’s poems, the thematic core often
    Vanishes in a dust storm, then reappears, coughing

    Blood. It is this fraught reappearance of theme within the poem
    That marks him from Ashbery, who’s by now a kind of coin

    For the cognoscenti, from Milan, to Brussels, to Boulder Junction.
    Constant mobility for Our Poet paradoxically serves to function

    As a sort of gyroscope balance. The drunken wise-guy banter
    Turns out to be a Sufi dance, the quasi-archaic inverted grammar

    Not only connotes formality, but also pushes multiple meanings
    Forward. Here grammar has two yearnings, two inwreathed feelings:

    What blows your fucking mind is that ambidextrous affluence,
    The Cirque du Soleil facility for acrobatic magnificence

    That has made Our Poet one of the most widely published, praised,
    And influential presences on the scene today. Now, unfazed

    By betters, oblivious to keener ears, sometimes we sing just to show
    We are brighter than other people. When we do, we can’t really know

    What we are singing, and everyone is very glad when we stop!
    Think: Do the birds sing to show they are brighter? No, they do not.

    The fireworks begin again like Wow: Ms. Rana is immolated
    And for no apparent good reason. The edited, pixilated

    Al-Jazeera thing on CNN spares us from getting cartoon-
    Ish with surfeit of liberal indignation, though the crazy loon-

    Ish cries of her family hint at something rotting in Palestine.
    But anyway, to return to our poetic theme: Any poet who’s spent time

    Reading manuscripts for competitions, or screened submissions
    For prizes, grants, fellowships, or graduate program admissions,

    Can recognize like a tattoo or a piercing, the stigmata of Our Poet’s young,
    Standard devotee. There are legions of little imitators out there! They come,

    Advancing on the capitol like flying radioactive squirrels.

    III.

    Our Poet appeals to, and serves, at least two distinct camps:
    The Amped-Up-Theory-Fans camp, and the Dimmer-Lamps-

    Hot-Dog-Beer-Swilling-Baseball-Fans camp of poetry. Broadly campy,
    He has enough regular Greek-guyness to appeal to the Sorority/

    Fraternity crowd in hot Davis, and enough meta-textual reference
    To be accredited as a postmodernist dubious of scenic-mode innocence.

    One really awesome way that Our Poet straddles them is through Surrealism.
    The non-sexed beloved symbolizes mystery, a contradictory eroticism.

    Female MFAs or male LPNs, the negligee is always the cape of the muse;
    The boudoir is the chamber of mystery. There is nothing naïve or obtuse

    In the proffering: Verily, Eros in the academic neo-Surrealist economy
    Is no mere horniness, but an opening of primal tubes into complex phrenology,

    An investigation, actually, of the Author’s head-shot in American Poetry
    Review, P&W, Jacket, Etc. What blows your fucking mind is how poetry,

    Even while mediated by institutions, becomes a snaking tributary
    That channels cosmic visions, transcending mere sex, form, and prosody.

    Now, the noise of a gun is due to an explosion, the sudden expansion of a gas
    As it escapes from the space in which it was confined, latent in a mass

    Of powder. In a pop-gun, on the other hand, the gas that is compressed
    And then expands is really air, which already exists as air, though repressed.

    Many fall to the ground when a Surrealist fires randomly into a crowd of students.
    Also, Mr. Hassan, bridegroom, vaporizes in his car, along with his bride. Prudence

    Keeps us from mentioning her name. But the puff of smoke on the Predator’s cam
    Can clearly be traced, along with our mistake (damn!), to Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

    Anyway, to return to our poetic theme: Even if the wacky moves of Our Poet’s style
    Can be simulated, the coherent under-discourse is unrepeatable, like bright tile

    Shattering in a mosque. The professions of mystery by Our Poet in his poems
    Are converted into testimonies of compensation, sprung from his ironick loins.

    Yes, his imitators are little things, like errant bats who have lost their sonar,
    and they fly themselves with a terrible force against each others’ bodies.

  15. Bob Grumman

    The problem with both Hoagland’s essay and this response to it is the obliviousness of both essays’ authors to how much is going on in contemporary poetry besides the work of the group Hoagland dismisses and the ever-so-slightly different work of the group he applauds. Both are a small part of what I call “Wilshberia,” the segment of the continuum of contemporary American poetry where nothing of consequence is happening that was not widely happening fifty or more years ago. Wilbur through Ashbury, and including the better known “language poets,” most of whom are just jump-cut poets like Ashbery and Jorie Graham (and T. S. Eliot in his younger days). What is being excluded? Just genuine language poetry, visual poetry, sound poetry, mathematical poetry, cyber poetry, cryptographic poetry, performance poetry–and others, I’m sure.

    Hoagland and Johannes are trivially concerned with poetic attitudes rather than poetic practice.

    –Bob Grumman

  16. Johannes

    Bob
    its intetesting that your post replicates hoaglands rhetoric. Its the same accusations of ignorance couterfeit poetics which is set up to validate the authentic outsider. Its a sad rhetoric that feels as out of touch when used by hoaglands as by supposed experimentalists. I dont applaud anyone in this post except aluce notley and if you think shes the same as hoagland youre a lousy reader. I did write a follow up to this post where i talk about hoagland and poets that i like. Though most pf them are not even american. Johannes

  17. James Pate

    Hi Bob,

    You’re relying on a simplistic notion of authentic experimentation here. “Genuine” language poetry? In 2011? This kind of rhetoric reveals the depths of nostalgia that is out there for some sort of absolutist, foundationalist notion of the so-called “genuine.”

    And this binary you create between “poetic attitudes” and “poetic practice” is way too easy also… You mention performance poetry. Let’s say that Marina Abramovic’s work is a kind of performance poetry (why not?). When she carries out her startlingly brave works, she’s not simply carrying out a type of “practice.” She is also raising issues about freedom, power, the self, the limits of aesthetic expression, etc.

    Her works are philosophical in the best sense: they are not some pure expression of “form.” There is no such thing as a pure expression of form.

    And “genuine” language poets are somehow free of poetic attitudes? Practice implies an attitude, or multiple attitudes. Attitude implies a manner practice.

    As both Johannes and myself have argued at different points on this blog, this nostalgia for a “genuine” experimental practice is how the Cartesian ego is allowed to still flourish in the experimental arts. I-am-this-I-am-not-that.

    As opposed to Rimbaud’s “I-is-another.” Or Nietzsche’s argument that the first person is a grammatical mistake…Or Hume’s argument that we are only bundles of perceptions, intensities…

    The cult of the genuine…nothing porous, nothing masked, nothing fake…the cult of presence, the really real, remains safely established…

    I would be more interested in fake language poetry…

    James

  18. Bob Grumman

    Johannes, Notley is not the same as Hoagland. But there is no significant difference between the kind of poetry they do since neither does anything as a poet that wasn’t widely done by poets fifty or more years ago. You and Hoagland strike me like two mathematicians arguing with each other, one denouncing the other’s followers for doing nothing but subtraction, the other protesting that his followers also do addition, neither aware of multiplication and long division, much less algebra and higher math.

    –Bob

  19. Johannes

    Bob we’ve been through these simplistic arguments before. See my post on isn’t poetry dead for example. Youre just repeating the same argument since Eliot and greenberg. Johannes

  20. James Pate

    Hi Bob,

    That’s about the very definition of a bad argument-by-analogy…

    I also find it ironic you are making the case that “genuine” language poetry, etc., is analogous to “higher Math” while making such a simplistic argument here…

    1) You clearly are thinking in linear terms: poets fifty years ago are lesser compared to the “higher math” poets. All you need is a drumbeat to remind us of the great teleological progress of History. (It might be interesting to read some Foucault, or some Nietzsche, for a very different notion of history).

    2) You have made no case at all about why processual poets are akin to “higher math.” Because they have a more complicated take on reality? But using a computer program to write a poem is not theoretically complicated in and of itself (though on the practical level it can be “difficult”). The same would be true for a sound poems. Duchamp was creating his “ready-mades” almost a century ago. I love Duchamp, but to think of conceptual and processual aesthetics as “our real Real” or as “higher math” is ridiculous.

    3) “Math” has been used for centuries to cultivate a cult of the genuine. All you have to do is read the Meno to see how arguments involving the rhetoric of “math” make all sorts of fanciful truth-claims about the world outside math.

    4) Truth claims, as Foucault and Nietzsche both argued, have as much to do with power as anything else. To create a poor argument-by-analogy around math is the attempt to rhetorically say processual poets are “objectively” better.

    5) Therefore, your argument is a bad one logically, but also a “problematic” one rhetorically. Why this nostalgia for an absolutist certitude?

    6) The shallowness of your arguments have little in common with most contemporary philosophy, most of which goes against just these sort of redundant truth-claims. Your arguments are not anti-foudationalist, which is where most of the energy in philosophy in the past fifty years has come from; rather, your arguments yearn for the certitudes of the logical-positivists, and that was a very long time ago…Some of us have moved past them….

    James

    I

  21. Johnny

    I think in this article and elsewhere Hoagland takes formal means to be formal ends. He sees conveying a sense of the speaker’s interruptedness as the goal of formal interruption, when it more than likely is not. It’s sort of like when people read Hejinian’s rejection of closure, and comment on the writing style: “It’s like she’s afraid to come out and say something”

    Again, as with the Dean Young article, his choice of examples of “what’s wrong” are suspect. Why are we reading two random poems from Fence? And worse, how does using an Edmund Berrigan poem to see the influence of Ted Berrigan work when you don’t acknowledge their relationship? Not quite as bad as ripping apart poems of your students in APR, but still, “no good.”

    If Hoagland wants to really comment on “what’s happening” maybe it would be helpful if he read a little more. Why does he choose Ben Lerner and Rusty Morrison for that Poetry Foundation Tribes nonsense, because Lerner was up for the NBA and Rusty Morrison won the Academy’s second book thing. (I’m not trying to diss those books or say they aren’t important, just that Hoagland only reads things which win contests.)

    here’s what he thinks:

    1. “Small presses are for books that aren’t ready yet.”
    2. “Forklift, Ohio is THE magazine of the avante-garde.”

    Read a little more, buddy.

  22. Johannes

    Exactly. I think his big problem is not with any one style so much as a literary culture in which the small presses has wrecked (or nearly wrecked) the hierarchies. I don’t know what he does and doesn’t read, but he wants poetry to be that which wins contests. What he really doesn’t like is what Joyelle called “the plague ground,” where there aren’t easy binaries (accessible vs difficult poetries say). / Johannes

  23. Johnny

    You’re right. But I also think he got used to seeing himself as an outsider. You know he was nearly 50 when that Donkey Gospel book came out and he started to blow up as a figure. And so these “what’s wrong with what’s happening” articles are an attempt to be an outsider again. But it’s like Barnes & Noble claiming outsider status by criticizing Woodland Pattern and St. Marks. And the logic falls apart, like when you realize “reverse” racism” is contradictory. (I almost wrote “wink” here.)