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to be the most innovative in the history of the art form. Of course, this is such an impossibly huge question, and one is always limited to a certain degree by which languages besides one's birth tongue one can truly read for nuance and subtlety (poetry translation is the original Bed of Procrustes) and how many thousands of books one has time to consume. And then does one technically consider those writing at the dawn of poetic language innovators simply because they are entering uncharted waters with the first metaphors, the first myths, the first narratives...basically the first lyric poetry? I just wanted to flesh out my particular view of things, which will most likely not match up wholly with yours. But I would be interested in hearing where we match and where we diverge. I was trying to focus here on poets I thought changed the poem itself, or somehow changed our conception of the nature of poetry. This differs from my list of poets I feel were the most important poets, or the greatest poets who ever lived. There's some overlap, but some of these poets I see more as innovators who were more important for opening doors than for what they actually wrote (Simias or even Khlebnikov, say, arguably could fall into this category). I consider Wallace Stevens one of the twentieth century's greatest poets, for example, but don't feel he merits inclusion on this list of innovators of form or innovators of what is "permissible" in poetry. Anyway, if you'd like to comment feel free. I'd love to hear your input...but please give at least a hint of a reason for your particular additions or subtractions. :-) Here's my list, and yes I realize how Eurocentric this is. Give me some of the great Asian and Indian writers I missed. Yes, the Mahabharata, that longitudinally constructed masterpiece, obviously...but what or who else? I read the list of Nobelist poets and couldn't justify a single one as an innovator of form (and please don't say Tagore! yuck! lol).... I have added a number after each author, ranging from one to three: one indicates innovation with moderate impact formalistically, NOT overall cultural or crosscultural impact, obviously. This speaks purely to how much future writers recognizably use this author's modifications to the poem itself; two indicates broad impact formalistically, significantly increased influence on future writers; three indicates an author who revolutionized form and whose influence is pervasive. Yes, this is a whim. It amused me to do so. Let's play. No particular order here.... 1. Simias of Rhodes/Theocritus of Syracuse...for being two of the earliest identifiable innovators in concrete poetry. Not exactly the most influential change in the art form, but a substantial move in the direction of how submissive the medium could be, and a strange sort of reverse-abstraction process. (1) 2. Shakespeare. The Sonnets are just one facet of a mind that exploited every rhetorical device in the book, and then invented others that the masters of antiquity had not conceived. Minting the English language anew as he went, he is of course a titan and yes I Eurocentrically place him here. (1) Should I place Racine here? I haven't read enough of the French Shakespeare to speak confidently of his place. Sue me.
3. Mallarme. "Un Coup de Des" by itself would earn him a place here. An open field poem that embodies self-referentiality to that degree would earn him a place as a prophet of twentieth century poetics. (2) 4. Rimbaud. The revolution was not televised. Besides perfecting the prose poem form, the postmodern sensibility was from its mother's womb untimely ripped with this young visionary. The "Lettres du Voyant," "Les Stupra," poems that sampled everything from alchemy to the names of shopkeepers on a Paris street, a visionary synaesthetic poem about "Vowels." The infinitude of possibilities for poetry opened up instantly and permanently, like a terrible, mesmerizing battlefield wound. And yet it wasn't enough to keep this man interested. The ultimate crowning touch to a Job-like life. (3) 5. Rilke. The degree to which Rilke formed a new atheist spirituality is stunning. Existentialism needed a great poet who could embody the way the world's thinking was fundamentally changing, and book after book disclosed to us how far we were wandering from the fostering thought of millenia. The Duino Elegies should hold up nicely as empires crumble. (3) 6. Khlebnikov. The father of zaum, sound poetry. The man who was a poetmathematician and tried to divine universal laws of history and time in number itself, which could then be transformed into poetic language. This is why many of his poems are based almost cabalistically on mystical meanings imparted to numbers, from the single number which he believed governed historical cycles of change, to the number of heartbeats he counted in his chest to be synched up to a poem. (2) 7. Kruchenykh. Surely the father of visual poetry, asemic poetry and so many other variations of what Bob Grumman calls vizlature (visual literature). If not the true father, the pimp daddy. And that's who we care about. We always care about the pimp daddy. (2) 8. Fernando Pessoa (or choose a heteronym). The idea of voice smashed to bits on the floor. Thank Gods. And we are free to move through all the dreams of language suddenly, to be anyone and act out Publius Naso's Metamorphoses within our single body. Vive la schizophrenie! Okay, that's not what schizophrenia is, but you know what I mean. (1) 9. Whitman. Free verse personified. What can be said or confessed fast-forwarded a century or so. The ability to warp language so perfectly that "I sing the body electric" sounds like perfectly fine English, and not even stilted. He came back to us some time later in the disguise of Mr. Ginsberg, of course. The almost pantheist embrace of life is a tad nineteenth century mystic, but the grasp of America as a phenomenon that was to become the future for more than just one nation was more than simply astute. It was visionary. (2) 10. Tristan Tzara. Dada was many things though it didn't want to really be anything but a demonstration of its own stylish nihilism, but the elevation of chance and the emergence of poets who were actors and magicians abusing politics on a political stage was something very new. What emerged as a scourge for World War I became something of a philosopher's aspirin for the art. Every poet falls under its spell at least once in his or her life. (3) 11. Gertrude Stein. I don't think Stein. The limits and the liminal this came out of her studies with Wittgenstein and Stein go hand in feels great to read her until you anyone on this list changed language more than are her province. And it's very logical that William James and her scientific training. hand, of course. And perhaps throw in Godel. It realize how insubstantial the structure whereof
one is composed really is. It changes one permanently. (3). 12. Paul Celan. If any poet was Job in the 20th century, I would think it was Celan. And he warned God, in an infamous poem. When one reads the biography, one cannot blame him. His genius at reinventing the language of the murderers staved off the inevitable implosion for a few decades. Celan's morphological reductionism is still a staggering achievement. A poet reads him once and cannot help but be changed. (3) 13. Ponge. Ponge flirted with embodying the phenomenological project in poetry. He had wildly varying degrees of success in this project. In following the precept "Zu den Sachen" ("to the things") he moved poetry in a surprisingly forward direction by seeming to step backwards. (1) 14. Kitasono Katue. This Japanese master created some vizlature that was concrete sculpture, three dimensional poems, such as paper sculptures in the shapes of suspended crescent moons with poems on them, to cite one example. I don't know enough about the larger movement of which he was part to competently cite other creators on this cusp with him. Any suggestions about this Japanese school? And I will not name an Oulipan, although I feel remiss in not including someone from that school on this list. Suggestions? (1) 15. William Carlos Williams. Who has not encountered a poem by the man which redefined poetry for you in one reading? There are too many examples to cite, as the man's gifts were forgetive. He invented much, often by reducing. Patterson is impressive collage and prefigures L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry more than other celebrated disjunctive epics, I believe. (2) 16. Robert Creeley. He grows right out of W.C.W.'s breast (poems like "The Term" by W.C.W. are "pure Creeley" long before Creeley). But Creeley takes the poetics embodied in several early W.C.W. poems and elaborates it into an entire body of work. There are many different Creeleys in his body of work. His statesmanship and constant gift for friendship and patronage with regard to other poets is seemingly what shaped his protean soul. He wanted poetry to serve multiple functions clearly, from the spiritual to the political (are they really different?). And he wasn't afraid of writing utilitarian poems. Creeley turns the focus onto the Wittgensteinian scotomas and misassumptions about what language is, or can do, and moves it very strongly in the direction of the labworks to follow in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school. (2) 17. Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. The phenomenological project resumes in language with this fascinating poet. Nature is the only philosopher and bracketing and reduction are recurrent modi operandi in this poet's work. Sui generis and yet very influential among contemporary poets. (2) 18. Rae Armantrout. 21st century poetics. A strange confluence of Creeley and Niedecker, seemingly. I wanted to include at least one L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet, since it was the most influential avant-garde in the past twenty years, and this one seems to be clearly stepping off from the pack at this point in terms of universal appreciation. I would argue Lyn Hejinian would be an equally good example as a poet with a very impressive body of work that has had a cosmopolitan influence, but I see Armantrout's influence more in contemporary poetry. (1) (1) Should I have included Zufkofsky, Olson, Oppen, Niedecker? Why did I slight the Objectivists in general? Certainly they are more innovators than say Eliot or Pound, who both looked backwards as much as they looked forward, if not more so. I guess who ever mastered the disjunctive, recontextualizing line first should be
on here. Apollinaire? A Russian Futurist? And where does Marinetti belong? On this list? Okay, I admit it. This was like a game show. All that was missing were the blinking lights going around in a big rectangle. And all I needed was Gene Raeburn's long skinny microphone and a velveteen emcee suit with REALLY big lapels, but it was fun for a half hour or so. And I did want to see who I really thought were the big movers in my own mind, as I hadn't really formulated it as a list. Yeah, I know lists suck, lists were what they used to make concentration camps, gulags, yadda yadda. I repeat....Sue me. Refer all litigation to my attorneys "Fuchyou, Fuchyou & Igivashitz." :-) copyright W.B. Keckler 2007. You may freely reproduce as long as you credit me.
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