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Old 10-29-2017, 05:55 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Default Review of Book on New Formalism

The LA Times Review of Books has run a review of William Baer's "A Negative Freedom"--a book of interviews with thirteen New Formalists: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/...-formal-verse/

What do you think?
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Old 10-29-2017, 06:02 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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An ecumenical review of what sounds like an ecumenical book. Very boring.

But then again, pretty much everything non-ecumenical written about the free vs. formal verse debate is outrageously stupid. Some of the stuff in The Poetics of the New American Poetry is okay, but only because it's in response to outrageous things said by the formalist rearguard of the time. And if you drop this excuse and simply take it at face value, what the poets in that book say about form in poetry is... outrageously stupid.

So, boring or stupid—those seem to be the choices, if we insist on having this debate.
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Old 10-29-2017, 09:40 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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I suspected Spherians might be uncomfortable talking about this book and review. Is it just me, or does the book (along with the review) come off as retrospective? Even before the collapse of the West Chester conference, I had wondered what had become of the New Formalist movement. Is New Formalism dead?

If so, some post-defeat analysis is in order.

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 10-29-2017 at 09:44 PM.
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Old 10-30-2017, 03:10 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Post-defeat analysis! I've had many of those discussions. Usually different folks explain their (bad) decision-making process, people try to pinpoint what went wrong, there's a bit of finger-pointing and mea culpa (mea maxima culpa), and others say what are we going to do different next time around. Mood is a big factor; defeat creates that. But defeat implies a good deal, starting with an adversary. On the field, your adversary has volition.
Generally there is a next time, unless it's the end of the tournament (or war). Sometimes though it's hard to say there really was a combat, and defeat becomes amorphous as well. Yoko Ono made an all-white chessboard on which players played until they could no longer tell who had which pieces.

Cheers,
John
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Old 10-30-2017, 03:55 AM
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Quincy Lehr Quincy Lehr is offline
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Well, I wrote THIS PIECE when the West Chester Conference (which has proven perhaps more resilient than some would have it) was under original management. I'd probably move some things around a bit were I to re-write the thing, and jeez, that last paragraph has to go. It's not nearly bombastic or sectarian enough. (If you think I'm joking--think again.)

But from what I can tell, Baer essentially bundled some interviews he did over the years. It's Baer, so it skews male and white and... along the lines of what he published in The Formalist. Big whup.
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Old 10-30-2017, 06:35 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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The second article is probably less dull than the first, which does seem rather insipid. Quincy, I like your discussion of The Canon Poem, and your conclusion in particular, calling for "a larger proportion of work from outside the United States and its incessant and tedious Poetry Wars".

Cheers,
John
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Old 10-30-2017, 08:13 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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We’re not still fighting ‘poetry wars’, are we? Isn’t this like the people who dress up in knickers and ascots and fire blanks from muskets on the 4th of July? I can't help but find it a bit comical.
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Old 10-30-2017, 09:39 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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To frame the discussion some, I will present these books as "bookends" to the movement:

The Rebel Angels anthology (1996):https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebel_..._New_Formalism

Baer's "A Negative Freedom" (2017).

I lost faith in the movement in the aughts when Dana Gioia had what was basically his own press write a laudatory critical assessment of his own work and then had a free copy of this propaganda book handed out to everyone at the West Chester conference. Gee, thanks! How generous! All praise Chairman Mao! Just like Donald Trump having his own news network.

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 10-30-2017 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 10-30-2017, 11:57 AM
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The question of "New Formalism" seems to me to divide into two parts:

1. An aesthetic justification and active practice of metrical/rhymed verse without necessarily being a C.H.U.D. about it. Mission accomplished. If "New Formalism" had its share of missteps, turkeys, etc., and a whole, whole lot of mediocre verse, well, so have lots of movements. The point is, there is a far greater acknowledgment in the U.S. that one can viably do metrical verse that is contemporary and not forced than, say, twenty-five years ago, or even when I started submitting around a dozen years ago.

2. Academic politics. Here's where it matters. In which direction does the MFA program at Ivy League State want to go? Do they want another "experimental" poet? A "formalist"? And so on. It becomes a matter of branding, as well as a matter of cheap polemic to define one's continued relevance. Kick around the UPenn poetry web site to see what I mean. Langpo is old enough to drive, vote, drink, and have a receding hair line, but it still needs to periodically justify the "avant-garde" reputation it has accrued. So there will be periodic attacks on the form crowd, who may more may not hit back. Does any of this help American poetry? Not especially. Does it keep a few careers going? Certainly.
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Old 10-30-2017, 12:14 PM
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R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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I have the book on order. It is a collection of interviews Baer did over the years. I'm sure I said some perfectly stupid things in mine, as does almost everyone. I'd never heard of the reviewer, who lives in Houston and has a blog. It's kind of late in the day for manifestos, isn't it?
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