I like poems that intimately refuse the grammar and syntax of their particular era: poems like Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets, where obstreperous echoes of virile men and Shakespearean form are disruptively heard through paper-thin tenement walls; poems like the miniature cosmologies of Joseph Ceravolo’s Spring in this World of Poor Mutts; more than almost anything, ‘The Sonnet of Lost Hope’ by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, which I whisper over my breath when I fall out of step with the rate of the city.
In our own ‘particular era,’ the attention economy poses both a political challenge and an insidious linguistic revolution that poetic form can help us make visible. To produce value, this new language is tasked with ‘keeping us there’ for as long as humanly possible, siphoning off our self-attendance. Poets/works who can act as tutelary precursors faced with this challenge might be: Vicente Huidobro in his epic of modernity’s dimensional shifts, Altazor; or the militant ecstasies of Anna Mendelssohn’s Implacable Art; or George Oppen’s poem-objects of the ‘30s (see, ‘Closed car…’), singing a deeper scarcity in the lexicon of the new commodity.
For academic work, I like tracing poems that coalesce around an element that withdraws from understanding, refusing to be ‘naturalised’—to invoke Veronica Forrest-Thompson (another favourite)—in the world outside of its reading. But I have learnt the hard way that a poem constructed with that withdrawal as its basic modus operandi usually tends towards unwelcoming hermeticism. Reading John Ashbery (The Tennis Court Oath and everything else), whose elusive logic is always somehow essential, keeps me questioning whether mine is and (on good days) why it is. Emma Mackilligin’s formally ingenious poetry (see, https://partisanhotel.co.uk/Emma-Mackilligin) reminds me that life, too, is lived with focussed abandon. ‘A Lot of People Bathing in a Stream,’ by Wallace Stevens, has, for some time, been the poem I return to when I have truly lost my way.
I see poetry as a repertoire of hopeful acts that produce counter-spaces for seriously thinking and seriously larking about. I retain two editions on my person at all times to ensure that I am faithful to this charmed lifestyle: WS Graham’s Collected and Perseo Vencido, by Gilberto Owen.