Saturday, December 25, 2004

Emerging Voices from the Oracle

Oracle by Richard Baxter Posted by Hello

Eduardo C. Corral posed an interesting question in his Asleep Inside an Old Guitar entry for December 21, “March Forward Christian Soldiers!” His question is sincere enough and significant enough to note here in full:

The University of Arizona is publishing an anthology of poetry by "emerging" Latino/a poets. And I've been asked to contribute. The anthology will consist of 24 poets, and each poet will have ten pages. Ten pages!! That's a lot of space to fill. I'm having a hard time picking which poems to send off to the editor. Should I just send in my greatest hits? Or should I try to form a narrative with my selection? Should I send in only those poems that touch upon "Latino" subject matter? And what the hell is Latino subject matter? Or should I close my eyes & throw a dart?

Eduardo received much wise advise from his readers. I, for one, was quite interested with his concern over “Latino subject matter”. What the hell is Latino subject matter?, he asks. I’m certain that there is no one simple answer. Only a Herculean thesis might attempt a crack at it. Of course, transposing the “Latino” with another group modifier, say “African American” or “Asian American” or “Blind American” tells even further about the purposes, noble or otherwise, about contemporary anthologies: lovely monsters of well-intention, confusion and the marketing of unfairness.

Sad, but true, that editors need such tools to bring us emerging voices from all corners of the world. Such cataloguing may be necessary assuming that Latin voices, for example, would go unheard without their accompanying and descriptive modifier. Worse, however, may be corralling a group of poets that may not deserve to be heard solely for their poetic worth, but rather for their collective vein and tag identifier. Does such group cataloguing bring forth emerging worthy voices or does it promote group mediocrity? And who is to know?

All of this may not be worth answering. A poetry anthology is a priori a failed attempt at truth by its very limitations. But what isn’t that is an anthology? The Best of This is never The Best of That. Or it may also be, however difficult, a noble effort to let us hear and know. Meantime we await the pronouncement of the Oracle.


  • I just wrote a lengthy response to you post, but blogger lost it. Argh.

    Basically I mentioned that perhaps such categorical samplings of voices (emerging or otherwise) are necessary amidst the great wash of poetic voices these days. Consider that any attempt to gather the 'best' without any sort of limitation would be a Herculean task wide open to criticism and contention along the lines of aesthetic, favoritism, etc.. Consider that BAP has the diplomatic cushion of its annual publication.

    For one attempting to wade through the impossible number of poetic voices out there, categorization may be a necessary evil for any attempt at general understanding. One can only absorb so much in the singular sense. By chunking poets together, however arbitrarily, it makes the world of poetry more psychologically accessible (though of course I believe there is a better way).

    Subsequently, I would suggest that any mediocrity is more a universal symptom and not one created or encouraged by this group mentality.

    By Blogger A. D., at 8:22 PM  

  • Evidently I am unashamedly utopian. Still, I understand “the necessary evil” that you refer to: categorization. I appreciate categorization and classification. I know so little that someone should put tags on what I don’t know so I can identify it and learn from it. I think it was Piaget that explained a similar concept in terms of child psychology. Round is a ball, square is a box. And so we learn. Fair enough.

    My concern, however, deals precisely with the question that Eduardo asked: what category is it that I belong to? Does my being Latin—whatever that is, as he asked—properly categorize me. What is it about my being Latin, to follow Eddie’s concern, that sets me apart from other poets? Is there a Latin style of poetry that needs to be identified and promoted? Is being a Neruda the same as being a Cernuda or should all that matters be names ending in vowels? My concern is that the category “Latin” fails as a poetic classification, though it may not fail as a marketing tool, to put an example. We may therefore be dealing with group dynamics—which may be socially honorable—but has little if anything to do with poetry and its possible classifications.

    Mediocrity is the core of poetry. By restricting an anthology to social group dynamics—similar to positive discrimination—you increase the continuum of mediocrity; that is, theoretically you do not choose poets based on their quality as a primary concept, but rather on their “racial” or “ethnic” quality together with, perhaps, their poetic worth. With luck—much of it—all shades of quality may merge. This, however, seems unlikely to me. I thought that Eddie might have shared this concern.

    Your point, of course, is equally valid and much appreciated.

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 11:14 PM  

  • I dig.

    By Blogger A. D., at 12:04 AM  

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