Friday, June 17, 2005

The Aesthetic

In a recent post on (or against) poetry reviews, poet Tim Yu notes, "This is why every poetry review in a "major" journal sounds like an ax-grinding: it has to do enormous work just to position itself within the highly contested field of contemporary poetry, if it's going to have any credibility with poetry readers. Yet such gestures make poetry reviews increasingly useless, both to non-poetry readers and to poetry readers who don't share the reviewer's aesthetic."

This particular post has nothing to do with poetry reviews, so I'm going off-topic, or rather, in a different direction here. Rather, this post focuses on the idea of poets and poetry reviewers having "an" aesthetic.

I'm going to propose here that that is a mistake. I think that having "an" aesthetic is like eating the same meal or wearing the same socks and/or underwear everyday. After a while, at least from the perspective of outsiders looking in, it can become a tad repulsive.

And I realize that I've been eating Asian American peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday with this blog, so viewing this blog in isolation, I'm the one who should be doing laundry, that is, pointing the abstractly pointed finger of the previous paragraph at myself. (In my defense, hey, I'm just an ordinary hunk in blue suspenders. I know there's African American poetry, narrative poetry, Buddhist poetry, etc. But I can't do it all!)

Seriously, though, I don't limit, or believe in limiting, myself to Asian American poetry, and I think that this might be where the difference lies. I think it's perfectly fine to have "schools of poetry" or aesthetic values, but to limit oneself to a particular aesthetic or school seems rather boring, arbitrary, and more than an ounce snobbishly elitist to me. It parallels racism or sexism in the sense of believing that one group is superior to another, only it is not about race or sex per se but about poetry.

Furthermore, such a limiting frame of reference, IMHO, has a detrimental effect on poetry itself, that is, if one believes that poetry should strive for individuality and originality. It is essentially the triumph of reproduction over originality. If one cannot read beyond "an" aesthetic, to fully appreciate other aesthetics, then one will more likely than not be repeating over and over again the same patterns of likes/dislikes in poetry and never grow as a reader, critic, editor, publisher, or poet.


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