Joshua Mehigan, in an essay entitled Make Make It New New, published in Poetry Magazine (March 2013), writes two concise, compelling pages about the hole modern poets have gotten stuck in, similar to the “skittery sky” of novelty and dissociation Tony Hoagland referred to in a previous essay on the trend in modern poetry.  A few of Mehigan’s thoughts:
“As usual everything is all about a kind of unusualness. There’s ordinary sensationalism . . . but there is also a new, relentless infatuation with whimsical discontinuity. One tactic is obscurity, which may include nonsequential thinking, ellipsis, or dreamlike imagery. Obscurity can be wild (Breton), atmospheric (Bishop), or imitative of thought (Eliot) . . . but the obscurity I’ve encountered recently is merely outlandish, and unyielding. It vibrates with the superficiality of fashion: there is nothing better for it to do but stand there being cute and empty.”
He goes on to muse that much of this modern state of affairs in poetry is perhaps the reductio ad absurdum of Modernism, having crossed the great landscape of this new literary age in a kind of Manifest Destiny of increasingly obscurist associations carried forward by the brilliant Modernists, which often leave new poets stuck on the bluff of the west coast of the mind, staring at that wide sea and sky of endless, boundless dissociations, a bit lost.
Well, Mehigan did use the Latin reference to Modernism’s current dead end—but I threw in the rest, as a West Coast poet turning back to where the sun rises in the east, thinking perhaps it is time to deepen poetry rather than scatter its increasingly unrelated atoms of fragmented language to the air (as a kind of ash memorial). There are great gaggles of flighty poems honking and winging it, bumping up against the fact that there is no place else to go right now.
Now, whimsy is wonderful, as accent. But as primary substance it is too insubstantial to carry the weight of the human for long. Certainly, it is a delightful counterpoint to the great solemnity and formality of those great pre-Modern poets of the 1800s. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the most celebrated and financially successful poet in America at one point, only to fall into current obscurity, due, perhaps, to his very lack of whimsy.) I am not arguing for a return to the former idealist language of the romantic that much of Europe and America fermented in like an Esalen hot tub. But I am suggesting that, teetering on the edge of this now Post-Modern Manifest Destiny of fragmented obscurist language, we should turn back toward the continent of language just traversed to build a country of poetry. To grow poems fit for humans, rather than staring mournfully out to sea, desperate only for another novel shore.
I am all for some of the exhilarating and perplexing experiments in Language Poetry and other Modernist/Post-Modern poetries. Truly. It’s like riding the wooden Giant Dipper roller-coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: you either hold on for dear life at the careening angles and dizzying descents, or throw your hands in the air and scream your head off. It can be wildly fun (if you like that sort of thing). But I wouldn’t want to go there every day.
I was a Religious Studies major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where poring over obscure language was a gratifying obsession (if not occupation )— the more difficult, the more rewarding in its ultimate revelations. But poetry as textual scripture has its limitations. Poetry must ultimately be human in its aim. It wants to be alive.
But perhaps not just “alive,” as in the poetry of short-lived thrills. The exfoliation of clever “what the hell was that” kind of poems in the heady but thin atmosphere that surrounds this blue sphere will remain, well, kind of thrilling. They line my bookshelves like paperback Sanskrit scrolls or comic books. I read them regularly. I hope to always.
It’s a big country of poetry, here in America. But it is too immense to skitter across. It may be time to settle in again, hoe a few rows, plant a bit of alphabet, see what grows. When I want to read something human, I turn to the following poets.