“Too hip for the squares and too square for the hips is a category of oblivion which increasingly threatens any artist who dares to take his own way, regardless of mass public and journalistic approval. And how could it be otherwise in a supremely tribal civilization like ours, where even artists feel compelled to band together in marauding packs, where the loyalty-oath mentality has pervaded other Bohemia, and where Grove Press subway posters invite the lumpenproletariat to join the underground generation as though this were as simple a matter as joining the Pepsi Generation which it probably is.” (from Obituary essay for Frank O’ Hara by John Ashbery)
I write mainstream poetry. So did Frank O’ Hara. So does John Ashbery. So did Allen Ginsberg. And Diane di Prima.
All my heroes are mainstream poets.
They are writing squarely in their time (this is sometimes mistakenly called AHEAD OF THEIR TIME)
They are/were at the centre of contemporary life.
NY School poetry is sometimes called neo-avant garde. Or non-oppositional avant garde.
The branding of avant garde, bohemian, underground, alternative etc. has increased since the 1960’s. In music. In clothing (see Brick Lane in East London). And yes, in poetry, even though it is barely a blip on the radar of contemporary British culture.
On the other side, the so called mainstream, maybe 80% of the so called mainstream British poetry is stuck in the 19th century. The other 20% is just plain boring!
But that might be slowly changing as people might be reading poetry after Eliot. Outside of academies (And A levels and whatever levels).
There is not much interesting British poetry in the later half of the 20th century so maybe that’s why so many poets are still attempting to write like the British Romantics. Or very narrow confined identity driven poetry. YAWN!
But an in-between is happening here. See Nathan Hamilton’s anthology Dear World & Everyone In It.
It has potential. It might become interesting.
The anthology got criticised for not being true to the avant garde tradition in British poetry. For not being true to mainstream British poetry. For mixing shit up. It was doing something different. Playing a different game!
NY School poetry was playing a different game too!
Of course, there were problems with the anthology in terms of decontextualizing the communities of poets. Community is vital to the arts! Always has been!
But . . .
It seemed a move in an interesting direction!
Frank O’ Hara, and all the poetry I look to, moves beyond the narrow confines of this or that category. This or that branding. They try to take in everything in their poetry. Contemporary life. The world. EXPANSIVE POETRY.
Most British poetry is narrow, small self identity driven and pastoral etc.
But most of all IT IS DAMN BORING! Unfortunately a lot of North American poetry is getting more and more boring too (via professionalization competency driven creative writing programs and professional organisations and the contest/award culture).
But maybe that is the way it has been for a very long time. Most poetry is YAWN despite the hundred of thousands of books of English language poetry published every year. WE JUST HAVE EVEN MORE SHIT NOW THEN EVER. ALL THE GOOD SHIT COMES FROM IN-BETWEEN JUST LOOK AT THE SANDWICH. POETRY IS NOT BREAD IT’S JAM! JAM MORE POETRY!
Leave a Reply