Interlude: On Progressive Poetics and Unexpected Invitations

Recently I got an invitation to participate in a fascinating collective project led by H.L. Hix of the University of Wyoming. (Not often does something so lovely come unbidden, am I right?) Called Progressive Poetics, the work lives now on his blog, inquire, and describes itself as follows:

The Progressive Poetics project asks each contributor to respond, in light of something she or he has already said in print, to this question:

Poetry makes nothing happen.” (W. H. Auden, 1939)

“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” (Theodor Adorno, 1949)*

Though often cited as timeless, authoritative truths about poetry, those two pronouncements were made at particular historical moments, in particular cultural contexts, and from particular subject positions. But we (choose any “we” from those of us alive now) occupy various subject positions, live in various circumstances, and stand nearer the mid-twenty-first century than the mid-twentieth. It is not self-evident that we should (continue to) defer to Auden and Adorno, so:

What must or might be said now about poetry?

It resonated with me in many ways: because it is a collaborative undertaking; because of my interest (obsession) with questions of literature and ethics, literature of witness; because the fraught place of poetry in thepoetry_doesnt_suck_button contemporary world is something I make students talk about to excess when I teach Contemporary Poetry–(one semester we all wore this button to spread the word)– etc.  Both poets and critics are part of Hix’s project, which he hopes to eventually move from his blog to a book, though in some ways the sheer size of what the blog can hold makes it a perfect receptacle (see: my still-unwritten essay on “the capacious blog”).

What H.L. Hix sent me was a “string” with some responses he’d already gotten from others (Cherry Smyth and Cynthia Hogue**) for the project that he felt resonated with my own words. They were followed by a quotation he’d chosen from my chapter, “Introduction: Hearing Over,” in the volume that Chad Engbers and I co-edited, Poetry and Dialogism: Hearing Over (Palgrave, 2014).  Calling it a “one-question interview,” H.L. Hix asks that in 200 words a contributor respond to her own quotation and/or to the claims by Auden and Adorno on and against which he has formed the Progressive Poetics project. (200 words??? Gah.)

Here, then, is my small bit in a really large utterance.

Thank you, Harvey Hix, for your kind invitation.


* Hell yeah I linked Adorno to Wikipedia.  Don’t blame H.L. Hix for that outrage.

** Such company!  It makes one’s head woozy with pleasure.