Vocal Stylings

Ryan James Wilson posted a comment to my manifesto of days past, and one of his responses was that non-WHeMa poets could be considered voiceless, but that folks like Pound, in the Cantos, give voice to the dead, the voiceless. It's an interesting point. But I think my gut response is that Pound is actually committing violence instead of benevolence. He is, after all (in my mind), one of the biggest WHeMas ever, and in this instance his "giving voice" is actually sort of akin to him placing his fingers in the skull of the past, making its jaw flap and filling in the rest. Ventriloquism again.

Ryan also wonders if I'm really talking about Keats's notion of negative capability. I don't think so. My understanding of negative capability (which is shaky at best) is, as Ryan describes, having the ability to nearly BE another person via the poem. But I think I'm looking for ways in which multiple selves may coexist, but which discreetly occupy the same person. For instance, I have a poem in which the narrator spontaneously—and fairly inexplicably—switches genders. Multiple times. But the culmination of those gender migrations is a self in which gender coexists in balance, not as a social dichotomy. If I'm mistaken on the Keats theory, please correct me before I embarrass myself in public.

Are we neo-Confessionals or nouveau Confessionals? I still hate the word Confessional, so loaded with Catholic baggage and courtroom dramas. But "Professional" may cause us to be mistaken for hookers. Anyone have probs with that? Maybe it's a way to make poetry pay.

Ryan's thoughtful comments are enlivened by a beautiful example of work in his blog. Please check it out. Jesus, bicycles, dolls & taxidermists, Barcelona...you will be enthralled.

Tomorrow: "You're Not Queer, But My Boyfriend Is: The Queer 'You' in American Poetry."


  1. Charles,
    Thank you for the kind words. My point on negative capability is that in allowing one's self to take multiple forms, one is acknowledging the contingency of being. As Whitman "contain[ed] multitudes," he suggested that he existed in multiple forms, just as Keats' idea would allow. I don't think Keats fully realized negative capability; however, poems like "Ode on a Greciean Urn" certainly allow that the speaker of a poem can make use of multiple voices: ie, those of the figures on the urn are Keats talking to Keats.
    As for Pound, yes indeed he was uber-WHeMa. And I love your description of him "placing his fingers in the skull of the past." But I think that the voice of poems like "Cino" and the implications of poems like "Histrion" are extremely similar to the idea you are presenting as "Neo-Confessionalism."
    That said, I was not suggesting that your idea is the same, per se, as the those manifested in Keats or Pound. I was simply allowing that it seems to be derivative. However, I think it equally, if not more, derivative of Ashbery: in which the poem's speaker is often referred to in third person, second person, and first person. Of course, Ashbery is working out of a Whitmanic model, but he is doing such in an accelerated mode.
    Ultimately, I think what you're getting at is the existence of identity in things. Love is in the blanket where love has been made. Peace is in the woods where peace has been found. Therefore, the self is in constant flux, as it adapts to its surroundings. The poems should then reflect the evolution of the psyche as it attempts to reach cognition, or to avoid cognition, of the speaker's surroundings.
    The poems I've been working on possess a similar ideology. They are lyric poems in which there is an "I" versus "you" dichotomy. The "you" in the poems is very similar to the Greek mythological god Proteus: the god who could take on any shape. The poems then find God, find Proteus, to be lurking behind whatever multifarious forms (people, ideas, things, etc) happen to be addressed in the poem. Yet, the things themselves are unchanged, retain their "thingness." The poems are an unmasking of things, revealing the unity of things, despite their variety, at the crux of conversion. If things are constantly at risk of becoming more than physical, of becoming metaphysical or metaphoric, then this point of conversion is a commonality. Does this make sense?
    It seems to me that "Neo-Confessionalism" is then an inversion of what I've been doing. Rather than allowing the "you" of poems to shift, revealing a metaphysical unity, "Neo-Confessionalist" poems would allow the "I" to shift, allowing for a converse effect. Things do not have the possibility of transcendence: we transcend the things as we strive to find meaning through transferent communion with our surroundings.
    Consequently, what I was trying to do in my poem, "ID," was to create a maximum transferent flux. The "I" is constantly shifting, and the "you" is also constantly shifting. Equally, the both of them swap gender, power position, relevance, identity, and existence. (Time then is simply a creation of the empowered voice.)If you notice the introduction is a sort of traditional WHeMa type invocation of God, then the rest of the poem is God's non-WHeMatic transference. God and religion take maleable form, proportionate to the pliant nature of the characters, thereby enabling the evolutionary aspects of the poem to gain prominence.
    This to me seems the mode (at this early state). Personally, I have never felt that I have a "self." I have always been chameleon. I think this is best represented by the evolution of ideology, power, etc, that appears to be at the core of what you're saying. If people constantly change, their belief systems also change, creating several alternative worlds (and thereto several alternative forms of God/god, people/gods, things/metaphors). Am I totally off-base?
    I apologize for the length of this (the idea is too new for me to be extremeley concise). Best, Ryan

  2. Ok, I posted a huge response to both of your comments, and blogger ate it again. I gonna take this personally soon.