Alumversers: Here is a long reply. Do take the time to go through it all. When you reach a 1950s poem by William Jay Smith, take note that I am seeking alumversers' responses.--Al

P.S. I hope I'll see many of you this weekend!

Mary-Ellen wrote:

With all this discussion about the Beat poets and Kerouac list of how to write, I can't help but wonder what else was going on in the poetry world at this time? Were the Beats the only ones, or were others writing, and what? Plus, where are the women? I mean besides being floozies, prostitutes, and generally objects to be used, abused, and taken for granted as per the Beats? I know some of these guys couldn't have existed if women didn't earn the income for the daily bread, booze and other stuff. But where are the women poets? There must be somebody besides Emily, HD, Neidecker, Stein, and Rukeyser??? Are there no Beat women, or any women poets of note during this period? Just curious, but as someone said earlier, where are the grandmothers?

The Beats were and are notorious for creating a way of life easily (or relatively easily) taken up by young men and not so easily taken up by even the young women who joined them aesthetically. There are several very good books (mostly memoirs) written by "Beat Women" that testify to this incredible (and horribly ironic - in my view) contradiction in the Beat Freedom mantra.

But it's important to note that the Beat contribution to the idea of confessional poetry was taken up by women poets in various and important ways. Adrienne Rich turned from a stiff formal early poetry to a Robert Lowell-inspired and others'*-inspired freer "honest" verse. (*Others included significantly Friedan's _Feminine Mystique_ which of course isn't poetry but is intelligently personal.) Diane Wakoski came of age examining Williams-through-Beat-inspired free lines. Lorene Niedecker, an "older" objectivist, was being quietly rediscovered. The 1950s marked the new recognition of Dickinson (through the mid-1950s edition of the Dickinson poems) and ED's influence of many non-Beat (very much non-Beat) poets was impressive, though it flowered only later. I also enjoy reading the poetry of Naomi Replansky, who is very little known - a left-winger who wrote tightly wound and often bitterly satiric political ballads, sonnets, etc. June Jordan, whose poetry came later, talks about her roots in the Beat movement. Gertrude Stein's work was back "in the news" in the 1950s - due to Yale University Press' huge comprehensive editions of many then-unknown Stein writing; and Stein's new presence influence a good many experimental poets, including many women. The resurgence of Stein, along with the continued interest in Williams, helped fuel the poetic writing of today's contemporary avant gardists, including, among the most prominent of these, Susan Howe. Howe's book _My Emily Dickinson_ is a good way of trace the influence of what alumversers have come to know as the "Dickinsonian" or "intensive" mode - and I have provided an excerpt from this remarkable recent book at the bottom of this message.

Mostly, however, poetry in the 50s was what we might call an "academic poetry" - derived from (and in the negative sense, derivative of) early modernists, but with the modernist make-it-NEW fervor. Examples include Richard Wilbur in the early 50s, and William Jay Smith throughout the period. It's almost hard to imagine that Smith and Ginsberg were writing at the same time. I submit for Alumverser discussion a Smith poem, "The World below the Window," as a counterexample - perhaps for the benefit of giving us perspective on Ginsberg and Ashbery via a much more traditional aesthetic. What do you think? Here it is:

William Jay Smith, "The World Below the Window"

Collected in Smith's POEMS, 1947-57 (Boston: Little Brown, 1957)

The World below the Window

The geraniums I left last night on the window sill,
To the best of my knowledge now, are out there still,
And will be there as long as I think they will.

And will be there as long as I think that I
Can throw the window open on the sky,
A touch of geranium pink in the tail of my eye;

As long as I think I see, past leaves green-growing,
Barges moving down a river, water flowing,
Fulfillment in the thought of thought outgoing,

Fulfillment in the sight of sight replying,
Of sound in the soun of small birds southward flying,
In the life life-giving, and in death undying.

Now here's the excerpt from Susan Howe's _My Emily Dickinson_, which (I think aptly) views the Dickinsonian mode as very disruptive and transgressive:

Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson once wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson; "Candor--my Preceptor--is the only wile." This is the right way to put it.

In his Introduction to In the American Grain [1925], William Carlos Williams said he had tried to rename things seen. I regret the false configuration--under the old misappellation--of Emily Dickinson. But I love his book.

The ambiguous paths of kinship pull me in opposite ways at once.

As a poet I feel closer to Williams' writing about writing, even when he goes haywire in "Jacataqua," than I do to most critical studies of Dickinson's work by professional scholars. When Williams writes: "Never a woman, never a poet.... Never a poet saw sun here," I think that he says one thing and means another. A poet is never just a woman or a man. Every poet is salted with fire. A poet is a mirror, a transcriber. Here "we have salt in ourselves and peace one with the other."

When Thoreau wrote his Introduction to A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he ended by remembering how he had often stood on the banks of the Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River English settlers had re-named Concord. The Concord's current followed the same law in a system of time and all that is known. He liked to watch this current that was for him an emblem of all progress. Weeds under the surface bent gently downstream shaken by watery wind. Chips, sticks, logs, and even tree stems drifted past. There came a day at the end of the summer or the beginning of autumn, when he resolved to launch a boat from shore and let the river carry him.

Emily Dickinson is my emblematical Concord River.

I am heading toward certain discoveries....

In the college library I use there are two writers whose work refuses to conform to the Anglo-American literary traditions these institutions perpetuate. Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein are clearly among the most innovative precursors of modernist poetry and prose, yet to this day canonical criticism from Harold Bloom to Hugh Kenner persists in dropping their names and ignoring their work. Why these two pathfinders were women, why American--are questions too often lost in the penchant for biographical detail that "lovingly" muffles their voices. One, a recluse, worked without encouragement or any real interest from her family and her peers. Her poems were unpublished in her lifetime. The other, an influential patron of the arts, eagerly courted publicity, thrived on company, and lived to enjoy her own literary celebrity. Dickinson and Stein meet each other along paths of the Self that begin and end in contradiction. This surface scission is deceptive. Writing was the world of each woman. In a world of exaltation of his imagination, feminine inscription seems single and sudden.

As poetry changes itself it changes the poet's life. Subversion at- tracted the two of them. By 1860 it was as impossible for Emily Dickinson simply to translate English poetic tradition as it was for Walt Whitman. In prose and in poetry she explored the implications of breaking the law just short of breaking off communication with a reader. Starting from scratch, she exploded habits of standard human intercourse in her letters, as she cut across the customary chronological linearity of poetry. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), influenced by Cezanne, Picasso and Cubism, verbally elaborated on visual invention. She reached in words for new vision formed from the process of naming, as if a first woman were sounding, not describing, "space of time filled with moving." Repetition, surprise, alliteration, odd rhyme and rhythm, dislocation, deconstruction. To restore the original clarity of each word-skeleton both women lifted the load of European literary custom. Adopting old strategies, they reviewed and re-invented them.

Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein also conducted a skillful and ironic investigation of patriarchal authority over literary history. Who polices questions of grammar, parts of speech, connection, and connotation? Whose order is shut inside the structure of a sentence? What inner articulation releases the coils and complications of Saying's assertion? In very different ways the countermovement of these two women's work penetrates to the indefinite limits of written communication.

Emily Dickinson took the scraps from the separate "higher" female education many bright women of her time were increasingly resenting, combined them with voracious and "unladylike" outside reading, and used the combination. She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on inteIlectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy. Pulling pieces of geometry, geology, alchemy, philosophy, politics, biography, biology, mythology, and philology from alien territory, a "sheltered" woman audaciously invented a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation. HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer. To hold back in doubt, have difficulty speaking. "He may pause but he must not hesitate"-Ruskin. Hesitation circled back and surrounded everyone in that confident age of aggressive industrial expansion and brutal Empire building. Hesitation and Separation. The Civil War had split American in two. He might pause, She hesitated. Sexual, racial, and geographical separation are at the heart of Definition.

[end of Susan Howe excerpt]