POST MODERN POETRY
conversation with Mark Wallace
Wallace is an important contemporary North American poet
who is unique not only
in his own poetic style but also in his stance on contemporary
American poetry and the shifts we observe. He teaches poetics
at George Washington University and has 4 major verse collections
to his credit. Mark's most talked about books include "Nothing
Happened, and Besides I Wasn't There", "Sonnets
of a Penny-A-Liner" and "Every Day Is Most Of
My Time". He has also featured in The Gertrude Stein
Awards In Innovative North American Poetry: 1993-94. Mark
Wallace began surfacing as a new voice in North American
poetry towards the end of the 1980's. He belongs to a generation
of poets who have written a new kind of poetry that could
be vaguely described as "post-language poetry"
(in his own words).
December 2001 and April 2002 I had a prolonged conversation
with Mark Wallace in an effort to understand and make understand
the terms "language" and "post-language"
poetry. We also discussed the state of contemporary American
poetry, the belated post-modern outlook of Indian poetry
and the problems that confront the world of poetics today.
What follows is an excerpt of our electronic dialogue.
How do you define “postlanguage poetry” ?
Like the term postmodernism, the term postlanguage poetry
implies that such poetry comes after another significant
area of literary activity, in this case language poetry.
So defining postlanguage poetry involves defining language
poetry also, and defining as well what it means to "come
after" that previous literary movement.
It's important to recognize that providing a complete definition
of any area of literary activity is impossible, since literature
is too multi-faceted, rambunctious, and iconoclastic to
fit the limits of any definition. So any definition of an
area of writing practice must either be conceived of as
limiting, or what is perhaps more useful, as a provisional
and partial way of understanding the changing complexities
of literary practice.
At best, definition should perhaps be seen as a shifting
process which enables illuminations about a shifting practice.
Broadly, then, language poetry can be defined as the work
of an associated network of writers who share in the main
a number of questions about the relation between language
and the politics of cultural production, although the directions
in which they take these questions are often significantly
Some language poets, like Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian,
Ron Silliman, and Leslie Scalapino, have become well-known;
others of equal excellence (Joan Retallack, Carla Harryman,
P. Inman, Nick Piombino, Tina Darragh, James Sherry, Tom
Mandel, Hank Lazer, many more) have not, although for some
of them this situation may be changing. Language poets tend
to see language as constructed by relations of power, and
not as either transcendent, universal, or natural.
Language poets are for the most part intensely interested
in literary theory, and thus see the theoretical issues
raised by their poetry as a central part of the poetry itself,
in contrast to more traditional literary practitioners who
think of criticism and theory as descriptive, secondary,
and in many cases irrelevant. In particular, many language
poets have noted the way in which grammar structures tend
to support the power structures of western societies.
One key concern of the language poets involves the ways
naively representational language that claims to describe
the world "as it is" remains blind to its own
encoded structural limitations. Language poets have also
pointed out how traditional European poetic genres and forms
tend to naively reflect western values. These writers consciously
identify poetry as conditioned by the ideological limitations
and power of the written word in western culture. For all
these reasons, language poets are radical revisionists on
the level of poetic form. They tend to reject traditional
forms, lyricism, narrative, subjectivity, and naively representational
writing, as well as the emphasis of their own predecessors
in American innovative poetry, the New American poets, on
poetry as dictated speech.
Many of their rejections are meant as strictly proscriptive
-- there are things many language poets believe poetry should
not do if it is to stay true to their theoretical insights.
For the most part, postlanguage poets have accepted the
notion that language structures inevitably affect, and are
affected by, the politics of cultural production. They have
also accepted that language is constructed by relations
of power, and that it cannot naively access either transcendence
or the natural world, or unproblematically represent the
way the world "actually is." Yet their relation
to literary theory is often very different from language
poets. For the language poets at the time of their emergence,
literary theory was a marginalized discourse that freed
them to ask questions about the relation between language
and cultural production that academic discourse and the
established poetry networks of that time ignored and even
For postlanguage poets, who are usually 10-30 years younger
than language poets, literary theory often seems a dominant
discourse of academic and literary power. While offering
theories about their practice was a revolutionary move for
the language poets, albeit one with a long history, postlanguage
poets often feel that theorizing their practice is a burden.
Literary theory has often seemed to them something that
the dominant power structures of the academy and their elders
in avant garde poetry have demanded that they create in
order to justify their practice as poets. Literary theory
does continue to be a central part of the practice of many
postlanguage poets, yet they tend to undertake it with an
ambivalent and often wearied eye.
postlanguage poets have tended to use genres and forms often
explicitly rejected by some language writers. Thus, while
narrative, lyric, spirituality, and a poetics of the everyday
appear often as elements that language poets think should
be rejected, postlanguage poets such as Juliana Spahr, Susan
Smith Nash, Jefferson Hansen, Liz Willis, Peter Gizzi, Chris
Stroffolino, Jennifer Moxley, Joe Ross, Lisa Jarnot, myself
and many others have been consciously using one or several
of these elements in their work, without returning to the
sort of naive justifications of those elements that continue
to be a feature of more mainstream American poetry.
The result has often been the extension of key questions
asked by the language poets into areas that the language
poets were not interested in. It's important to point out
here, also, that both language and postlanguage poets have
been very interested in what Bob Grumman has called "pluralaesthetic"
work, that is, work that uses the language arts in conjunction
with such non-word based arts as music and the visual arts.
Postlanguage poets have a much broader geographical spectrum
than do language poets, who tended in language poetry's
initial phases mainly to be urban writers living on the
coasts of the United States, particularly New York City
and San Francisco, although there were also strong groups
in Washington, D.C. and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.
The broadened geographical spectrum of postlanguage poets
attests to the success of language poetry; many more writers
have been influenced by language poetry than were initially
a part of its practice.
This geographical expansion has effects on the level of
practice, since postlanguage writers tend to be influenced
by a broader spectrum of environments than the language
writers. For instance, it's possible for postlanguage writers
to come from New Orleans or Oklahoma or Minnesota or Hawaii,
and to be influenced therefore by a different environment
than coastal urbanism. Postlanguage poets have been exploring
the links between poetries from a growing number of traditions
and these very specific regional influences, and often explicitly
use such possibilities to open boundaries. Only one of many
such examples is the work of Buck Downs, Jessica Freeman
and some other poets of southern background who are interested
in applying the disruptive elements of language writing
to southern literature and music, producing work that does
such things as cross language poetry with the Texas blues
or Cajun music and culture.
linked to this geographical diversity is the problem of
gender, and also of cultural diversity. Both language and
postlanguage poetry have a large number of female and male
practitioners, although gender problems are no more easily
resolved in experimental poetic contexts than anywhere else.
At this time, postlanguage poets are beginning to develop
a broader cultural diversity than language poets, although
there's certainly a fair amount of diversity in both groups.
But given the larger number of postlanguage poets, a greater
cultural diversity is almost inevitable. There are a growing
number of postlanguage writers who highlight problems of
identity politics from specific cultural positions, who
critique the limits of identity politics, and who intend
to cross and shatter cultural boundaries. Writers like Harryette
Mullen, Tan Lin, Susan Schultz, Rodrigo Toscano, Myung Mi
Kim, Bob Harrison and many others have explored the complex
ways that problems of cultural identity interact with poetic
while language poetry is, initially, essentially a moment
in North American poetry, albeit with a complex relation
to world poetries, its world-level success has created effects
which can be felt in many areas of world poetry. What definitions
one would want to give to these world poetries, and how
those definitions would relate to language and postlanguage
poetry in North America, probably is better left to someone
who has greater access to those world poetries than I currently
feel I have.
Taking all these possibilities for postlanguage poetry into
account, I would therefore focus on two aspects of such
work that seem to me crucial. One is hybridity: the great
emphasis in postlanguage work on mixing traditions, crossing
boundaries, and critiquing notions of form as pure or singular.
This hybridity perhaps seems most clearly different from
language poetry in the way postlanguage poets use elements
rejected by language poets -- narrative, lyric, spirituality,
and a poetics of the every day -- although by no means are
these the only elements of postlanguage hybridity. The other
is resistance to definition: many postlanguage writers refuse
to fit singular and identifiable categories, in some cases
even switching forms and influences radically from book
to book. Far from offering similar solutions to problems
of poetry, postlanguage poets tend not even to agree on
similar problems, a tendency which makes them hard to anthologize,
generalize, or even critique in more than individual cases
or small groups.
Thus, an essay of this sort, in intending to provide a general
understanding of postlanguage poetry, comes dangerously
close to being an oxymoron. In both this hybridity and resistance
to definition, postlanguage poetry also remains a consciously
critical poetry, one unwilling to accept either the norms
of the surrounding culture or of previous generations of
poets. For me, the most troubling aspect of postlanguage
poetry is the way some of its practitioners deny outright
the significance of literary theory, or reject the idea
that literary production is shaped by conditions of power.
Such writers have argued, to differing degrees, that language
can access transcendence or naively represent the world.
They have on occasion argued that literary politics is irrelevant
to their practice, that mainstream poetic forms can be accessed
unproblematically, or that there is no significant distinction
between avant garde and mainstream literary practice. Some
have suggested that fragmented or disjunctive language needs
to be rejected in favor of language that synthesizes and
unifies various strains of poetry. Such writers seem to
me to have failed to deal with the theoretical challenges
presented by a genuinely postlanguage poetry, and thus not
to be genuinely postlanguage writers. But making such a
judgement, of course, arises simply from the specifics of
my own definition of what constitutes postlanguage poetry,
and thus begs the question of the usefulness and limitations
of such definitions. Perhaps at best it defines a field
of worthwhile discussion.
Why did the language poets choose to write "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E"
? Does that suggest the birth of a new language in which
poetry could be written more effectively ?
probably want to dispense with thinking about what "the
language poets" did. Probably these writers can't be
talked about as if they are all generically doing the same
thing; many of these writers share similar questions, but
hardly similar answers. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein
published a poetics magazine they called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E;
the title is meant to highlight that language is a series
of signs rather than simply references to the world "out
I read your net article on "Uneasy collaborations:
Language and post-language poetries". I do understand
most of the variations these poets bring to Language Poetry
and especially, "hybridity". I am beginning to
read quite a few of them now, like yourself, Peter Gizzi
and Chris Stroffolino. I am beginning to notice a dissonance
in these variations in poetic style and language-concerns
that is almost as strong as the common threads they share.
So, how valid is the attempt to apply a single term (post-language)
to this kind of poetry ? Would "post-language poetry"
go to mean a particular generation or a definitive poetic
I think the question above is looking for a single defining
term, or trying to dispense with one, a little more relentlessly
than is useful. I use the term to talk about a terrain,
NOT to give a final label to any writer or group of writers.
I think my essay is very careful about its suggestion that
such terms are only a way to BEGIN a conversation. I use
the term to talk about writers who might share a certain
set of circumstances. I don't think they write in the same
way much at all.
I am reading your "Dreams of Distant Cities".
Extremely moving, must say ! I see a need in you to move
on, as if like a floating bubble, tossing, turning, lurching,
touching upon apparently unconnected thoughts, that do relate
to each other in some occult sense. The "ever-wandering
self" or the "eternally moving theme" has
been practised and perpetrated by post-modern poets worldwide.
Post-language poetry reflects that too, but there is probably
a subtle uniqueness to their approach. What is that ?
glad you like the DREAMS poems! And I like what you say
about them too. They're some poems I wrote and they need
to be considered in that specific way, not as evidence of
an attempt to develop some self-conscious group movement
I see your poems ("Dreams of Distant Cities")
constantly avoid visuals. Was it a conscious attempt ?
I'm not convinced that they DO avoid visuals constantly.
But certainly they're not trying (usually) to set a scene
and then reflect upon the implications of that scene. I
think they're pretty narrative at times anyway, though.
And I see images all over the place in them.
You have talked about the "plural-aesthetic" nature
of post-language poetry. Could you exemplify ?
Plural-aesthetic is Bob Grumman's term for more than one
media, more than one aesthetic history in play in the creation
of the art work. Concrete poetry is his most consistent
example, but hypertext poetry would serve just as well.
"Synesthesia" is a common disease of senses known
to have prevailed in many writers and artists, Vladimir
Nobokov amongst one of them, where people sense an object
with the other "sense" - like smelling a letter,
tasting the color of a red apple, listening to a green vase...etc.
Does post-language poetry try a similar sensing of the commonplace
with the "other" sense ?
Synesthesia has been present in western poetry as far back
at least as Homer, according to the Princeton Encyclopedia
on poetics. Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath use it. Synesthesia
is no more purely a feature of contemporary avant garde
poetry than it is of the poetry of any other context.
the way, Aryanil, I enjoyed looking at your recent poems,
appreciated the sort of contemporarily updated surrealism,
although I'm not always convinced that there aren't problems
with so much reliance with the strange, supposedly psychologically/spiritually/politically
revealing image--a critique of the limits of image might
be useful in some cases. I admired the energy and range
of awareness of your poems, but I wondered about some of
the grammatical inversions, which read in English as quite
Your critique is well taken. I have never attempted to be
"surreal", so I am a bit concerned that you saw
that trend in my poetry. Psychologically, I feel more at
home with American poets of your generation. My poems are
mostly English transcreations of my original Bangla poems.
Maybe, that has created a problem. Other than that, the
fact that my emotional and cultural experience is perhaps
a bit more "international" than most contemporary
American poets, might have caused my imagery to look "excessively
revealing". Modern Bangla language grew based on an
english syntax. My attempts have been to carefully alter
this syntactical algorithm. Maybe, I shouldn't try to maintain
that in my English transcreation. I understand that makes
my language sound quite "archaic" at times. On
the contrary, my original Bangla compositions, as some fellow-poets
point out, make an attempt to free up certain linguistic
constraints leading to a newer "meaning-production".
My comments about "surrealism" have to do, I think,
with what I saw as the effect in your work of the reliance
of odd juxtapositions of IMAGES--they're certainly not realist,
but the disjointedness is still imagistic, or at least it
seemed that way to some extent.
I am trying to understand the politics of American poetry
here. Every language and literature has a mainstream. I
am sure we do have one in the States too. Do you see any
noticeable transformation in the role mainstream American
poetry has played since the advent of the post-moderns ?
In a certain way, no, the mainstream hasn't transformed
at all. They've always played the role of presenting poetry
as a uncritical reflection of dominant American values.
But I suppose an important difference is this: the mainstream
of the 1950s was much more purely upper class and elitist.
Today's mainstream poetry is more likely to reflect middle
class American values. Not that there isn't plenty of upper
class elitism still around.
Who, according to you, are the major mainstream American
poets today ?
It depends of course what you mean by "major,"
a word I don't like very much since I'm not interested in
distinguishing between major and minor poets. I'd rather
mention several more mainstream poets whose work interests
me at times. I'd say then James Tate, Richard Wilbur, and
Carolyn Forche. But maybe I like Tate and particularly Forche
because of the way they call into question mainstream poetic
norms, whether of subject matter or form, while still retaining
big followings in the mainstream context, a tough trick
Well, when I said "major mainstream" I obviously
meant "popularity" as I assumed the word "mainstream"
has to do with "popularity" or that which the
press-owners love to sell. Correct me if I am wrong. While
it definitely will interest most of our readers to know
who, in your view, are the important mainstream poets, to
provide a more general backdrop it would help if you could
also name some of the "popular" poets today.
Well, according to my own understanding of "popularity,"
which might translate as major sales and a public profile,
there's simply no such thing as a popular poet in the United
States. Even the one or two poets recognized by the media,
such as Maya Angelou, are not really known for their poetry
so much as for their public profile. People know Angelou
is a poet (because she appears on television) but have never
read her work; the people who do read her work prefer her
autobiographies. Establishment poets (i.e. so-called "mainstream"
poets), who win all major prizes and have the backing of
the big publishing houses, might in intensely rare instances
sell 10,000 copies even of a prize-winning book, but half
that would be considered good sales. These poets are not
popular figures outside of the professional network in which
they operate. So in the United States, "popularity"
is an irrelevant word when it comes to poetry.
That is a statement that tempts us (Bangla poets of this
generation) to look at Bangla mainstream poetry from a radically
according to you, (if at all it exists) represent a literary
establishment that tries to control the way poetry is read
and written in this country?
The American literary establishment consists of the people
who run the well-funded poetry presses, magazines, and the
prizes that go with them. It consists of the people, writers
and others, who are asked to make decisions about those
prizes and publications. The issue revolves around who has
resources and who doesn't, simply, and how the people with
the resources use those resoures to publish poems that reflect
dominant American values. Although there are occasional
exceptions, almost everyone who publishes a book of poems
in that context is either already a member of that establishment
or in the process of becoming one.
I was reading your "Sonnets of a Penny-A-Liner".
Could you explain in brief what are you up to in these poems
? What prompted you to use a dollar value instead of a title
for each poem ? Should the reader see that as symbolic ?
A Penny-A-Liner is a term for a 19th century British freelance
journalist who survived by writing penny-a-line contributions
for newspapers and other publications. The dire financial
difficulty in which such people lived had a direct effect
on the accuracy of their reporting--accuracy rarely sells,
while sensationalism always does. For the book, I imagined
myself getting paid a penny a line for the sonnets I was
writing. I was also making my living as a freelance journalist
at the time, so the book is very consciously an exploration
of different modes of writing and self-presentation. To
simplify, I'd say that the book traces the connection between
Romantic presentations of self and presentations of self
created out of financial needs and desires. The Sonnets
present a series of shifting personas who critique the limits
of thinking of one's self as transcendent, beyond either
the history of writing or the history of money.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in a recent essay, stated that perhaps
lyrical poetry lives only in the United States today and
it is a mystery that it still lives. What would be your
reaction to that ?
Obviously, the idea that lyrical poetry lives only in the
United States is absurd. I don't know the context in which
Ferlinghettit was speaking, and without knowing that I'm
not in a position to say that his comment is definitely
xenophobic, but that's how it reads in your question here.
And of course it's a mystery that lyrical poetry still lives;
it's a mystery that it ever did live. But what would be
even more mysterious would be the idea that lyric poetry
might be dying out.
Why would the death of lyric poetry sound mysterious ? Who
writes lyric poetry today ? I know dozens who are probably
experimenting quite savagely with lyric poetry, trying to
evolve something completely new, but I thought in most parts
of Europe, Latin America and Asia, traditional lyric poetry
is quite "bygone" by now.
Perhaps you and I have completely different senses of what
is meant by the term "lyric poetry." None of the
major American lyric poets have ever written something called
"traditional lyric"--their poems have always been
challenges to tradition, whether we're talking about Poe,
Whitman, Dickinson, or more contemporary writers like Alice
Notley. "Traditional lyric" is therefore not a
phrase that has any import in my own cultural context. It
could be that some "traditional lyric" poetry
is vanishing in some contexts, but it would seem to me to
require a pretty narrow idea of lyric to suggest that such
poetry would constitute the whole range of the lyric impulse
In most world poetry anthologies published in the United
States, the Indian or Asian poetry included, often goes
five centuries back, as if poetry written in modern Asia
hardly exists. T.S.Elliot, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov,
Frank O Hara and many others have often made references
to "exotic" and rather mythological India. Strong,
complex and original urban poetry has been written in India
for more than 100 years now. The first Asian to win a Nobel
Prize for Literature is a Bangla poet , Rabindranath Tagore
(1913). A few more have followed him from the east. They
were all more urban classical modern artists than traditional.
I have grown a sense that we have more poetry readers in
India than in North American. Is it indifference then? How
would you see it?
Some people in every place read poems; many other people
don't read them. Of course, the condition of poetry is certainly
different in different countries, but concepts of the "common
man" aren't really going to help us get at that condition.
I don't know whether the condition of Indian poetry in American
anthologies is more poorly represented than the condition
of American poetry in American anthologies; I can guess
that it is. But since the representation of American poetry
in American anthologies is also a disaster, it hardly comes
as a surprise to me that contemporary Indian poetry would
be represented even more poorly here. The condition of contemporary
poetry everywhere, here, India, wherever, is poorly handled
by most poetry anthologies published in the United States.
Well, maybe, I failed to drive my point home. Most religious
and ancient Vedic texts in India were works of poetry. Almost
all hymns, incantations, mantras that exist in India today,
religious or not, represent stone-aged but rich poetry in
their use of the language and the subject. In fact , there
is little reference to a "God" in these, they
generally tend to reflect on the metaphysical nature of
the universe. So historically, poetic forms of language-writing
existed in ancient India for thousands of years. The so-called
modern Indian prose is relatively young and deeply influenced
by the western hemisphere. There has been a lot of western
influence on our poetry too in the last 100 years, but I
feel that has led to newer rebirths/innovations. The common
man, thus, is more easily attracted to the poetic form than
prose. A young Bangla poet, writing in Bangla, sells more
easily than a young novelist/short story writer. I do not
think this is quite the case in North America. Rarely do
we see a poet come on T.V. Also, I wanted to suggest, perhaps,
that if you randomly pick up people from the American streets
(who have at least been to high school) and ask them if
they knew who William Carlos Williams was or who wrote "Ariel"
how many do you think would be able to correctly answer.
I haven't met anybody in this country who went to an engineering
school and has still heard of Arthur Rimbaud. There's a
picture of Gregory Corso in my office. No one person, by
far, has identified him. We cant imagine this in Bengal
or in Bangladesh. It's a question of historical affinity.
So, there is indeed some historical validity in what I wanted
to suggest. If one prefers not be non-chalant and is curious
enough to look into the "other" world, it will
I'm glad to know that poetry has a higher public profile
in Bengal than in the United States. But I still think that
reference to the "common man" is not the best
way to go about considering this issue. Not only is the
term highly gendered (after all, is the "common woman"
not a relevant reader of poetry?), but it serves as an obfuscation,
I think, of the issues of what constitutes education, in
your cultural context or mine. From my point of view, I
would describe what you are saying as pointing out that
poetry continues to be part of general education in your
country, when it is not in mine, and that knowing poems
is considered an element of what it means to be an educated
person there, while it is not in the United States. That's
a real and important difference, no doubt about it. Of course,
what kind of education one gets in poetry is a different
matter entirely. The issue for me is not simply how widely
poetry gets taught, but how well, or more particularly,
what kind of social biases operate both in the teaching
of poetry and in what readers absorb.
I can probably guess why you think American poetry is not
well-represented in most anthologies, I think, it is probably
the same in most countries, but I would still be interested
to know what you think, leads to this mis-representation
? Is it the literary establishment ?
Yes. The U.S. literary establishment is not interested in
providing any information about poetry that does not fit
with its desire to keep itself in power. So any writer critical
of that context, explicitly or implicitly, never gets mentioned.
For instance, when non-U.S. poets do become recognized by
the U.S. literary establishment, it's usually because they
are outspoken critics of U.S. enemies. Joseph Brodsky is
a well known poet here (in certain circles only, of course)
simply because he's an Eastern European anti-communist.
But nobody in the literary establishment here would ever
promote Mayakovsky, a much better poet than Brodsky.
Got it. Isn't someone like Yevtushenko or Pasternak (for
his prose) more well known here than Mayakovsky for similar
reasons ? Grossly similar situations exist in India with
their own twists. For example, when Allen Ginsberg and Peter
Orlovsky were living in Bengal during 1962- 63, in some
poetry seminars they faced the wrath of certain leftist
protestors who mis-identified them as "CIA" agents.
Many Bangla poets had spoken for Allen and Peter then. Today
Allen is considered a hero in Bangla poetry circles for
a number of inexplicably complex reasons. But none of that
has to do with his criticism of American politics. But the
question I had here is, how could somebody like Allen, who
had always been a relentless critic of the dumb policies
his country often pursued, embrace so much fame?
Actually, Ginsberg was a genuinely popular American poet
(still is, even after his death), one whose books reach
many many people every year; he's one of the very few American
poets of the 20th century who have had a popularity which
poetry in general simply doesn't have (Robert Frost would
be another). His fame was not granted to him by the American
literary establishment (which continues to this day to dislike
his poetry) but by the many people who read his work. Still,
his relationship to the mass media is also unique, at least
partly because he came to fame at a certain time. Throughout
the 1960s, U.S. media corporations had not yet learned to
censor information as thoroughly as they have done since.
Americans were shown footage of the Vietnam war of a kind
that had never been available before, and has never been
available since. Furthermore, the media hadn't yet learned
to ignore all major proponents of radical alternatives,
and thus some people, artists and others, who were leftists
also became famous in a way that's almost unthinkable now.
The media didn't create Ginsberg's fame in the 1960s; they
just didn't ignore it to the degree that they would do today.
And in fact they contributed to his fame in the sense that
what they tried to paint as negative (his pro-peace perspective,
his homosexuality, etc) nonetheless came through the media
to other people who saw Ginsberg as a positive force for
change. I think, on the whole, he did great things as a
public figure. And I don't think one should argue (I'm not
saying you are) that, ethically, he should not have been
famous or tried to use his fame. That's equivalent to giving
over the field of fame and influence entirely to people
who don't deserve it. The problem is not that Ginsberg was
too famous but that other artists in America do not receive
the attention that their ideas deserve.
What are some of the perennial problems poets of your generation
are confronted with?
Well, that's an awfully broad question, so I'll try an awfully
broad answer. We're faced with the struggle of how to write
insightful poetry in a social environment that's blind to
the importance of poetry, and therefore we're also faced
with the struggle of how to survive as poets without sacrificing
the insight that makes poetry worthwhile. But I think that
answer wouldn't just go for poets of my generation, actually.
When I compare Bangla poets in India with American poets
by profession, I find that many American poets are engaged
in an academic profession that needs them to work on poetry
or literature or are vaguely connected to literature, while
that's quite untrue about Indian poets in general. Don’t
you think, at times, that academic drudgery shuts off a
poet from the possibility of many other experiences that
might give his work a more varied rendition?
Some American poets are engaged in the academic profession;
but most aren't. And yes, I have no doubt that academic
drudgery can shut off a poet. But so can all sorts of other
drudgery. Besides, when has a lack of drudgery automatically
made a poet more insightful?
How does poetry come to you ?
Any way it wants. And I do my best not to shut it off.