Friday, September 16, 2005

The thing I found most interesting about the Coach House do Wednesday night was how frequently conflict was alluded to. It arose throughout the survey in various guises: from mentions of being scared of another writer to a story of a colleague so overcome by tension that they yell "I hate you" repeatedly at a potted plant. It was somehow reassuring to have it confirmed that friction has always been part of the deal in this lit scene. Not particularly surprising, just reassuring.

This calls to mind a passage from Bill Kennedy's current Word essay, "Choose Your Nostalgia," the latter of which I'm now convinced (and not just because it opens with an excerpt of a poem of mine) is nearly universal in its potential application:
[Poetry communities] collect loosely upon lines of a shared aesthetic, though it doesn't take long to realize that the sense of commonality in any given poetry community is largely only presumed (anyone who's ever sat on a jury has found out how quickly those presumptions of commonality dissolve). This sense of like-mindedness is as chimerical as the notion of a general reading public for poetry, but it is a useful illusion: it provides a critical mass for poetry activity and an opportunity for poets to share ideas outside of their own micro-concerns. In the end, community is useful because it creates an intimate kinship between poets that has, and will, sustain poetry long after the fickle public has moved on to other distractions.
Throw into the mix the fact that people are passionate about their poetics, and you've got a recipe for discord. But, yes, the heartening element of all of this is that people do manage to stick together despite their differences (not saying that the manner in which we deal with our differences can't be improved upon; just saying).

So hey, I'm curious about the mechanisms that sustain this cohesion, that support the illusion of like-mindedness. Is the function of the idea of experimental or innovative literature similar to that of a nation? My first impulse is to think so. I guess the big difference is that the norm is to enter into this community by some degree of choice. What role do institutions like Coach House and Lexiconjury play? Alternatively, is the structure of the community a concatenation of overlapping interests without a centre? If so, is the illusion of like-mindedness a result of this configuration, or an imposition upon it, and not a constitutive feature?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, group identity formation, one of my great fascinations. Hope I can scrape up some time over the weekend to post thoughts on this. Would just note quickly that adherence to the idea of a nation actually contains a very large element of choice, is in fact one of the most obviously constructed of the major group identities. Which has relevance for the discussion in that it is often the most "optional" forms of identity that are most passionately defended (the defense being necessary to constitute the existence and boundaries of the identity).

More later I hope.

-- maggie

10:43 PM  

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