Louis Esterhuizen. Wanneer te veel veels te veel is …

 

Die Amerikaanse digkuns is natuurlik bekend as ‘n digkuns met ‘n verbysterende produksie en omvang; in dié mate dat dit ‘n onbegonne taak is om te bereken presies hoeveel digbundels per jaar in die VSA verskyn. In die meeste gevalle sal so ‘n toedrag as iets positiefs gesien word, maar pas het daar ‘n omvattende en besonder indringende artikel deur Marjorie Perloff in die Boston Review verskyn wat ‘n ánder perspketief hierop plaas. Volgens Perloff is die dood in die pot vir die Amerikaanse digkuns indien daar nie drasties ingekort word ten opsigte van hierdie ooraanbod van poësie nie.

Sy begin haar artikel met ‘n verwysing na Jed Rasula se navorsing oor kreatiewe skryfkursusse aan universiteite en kolleges. Hiervolgens bevind hy dat daar in totaal 1.800 dosente betrokke is by die 177 instansies waarop hy sy navorsing baseer het. Indien dié getal egter na die totale aanbod van 458 skryfkursusse landwyd getransponeer word, bevind Rasula dat daar meer as 20,000 akademici betrokke is by die onderrig van kreatiewe skryfwerk: “All these people must comply with the norms for faculty in those institutions, filing annual reports of their activities, in which the most important component is publication. With that in mind, I don’t need to spell out the truly exorbitant numbers involved. In a positive light, it has sanctioned a surfeit of small presses . . . to say nothing of all the Web-zines.”

Volgens Perloff is die geïmpliseerde bedreiging van dié toedrag van sake natuurlik die magdom gegradeerders wat deur die verskillende fakulteite tot publikasie gedwing word ten einde die voortbestaan van die onderskeie kursusse te verseker: “What makes Rasula’s cautionary tale so sobering is that the sheer number of poets now plying their craft inevitably ensures moderation and safety. The national (or even transnational) demand for a certain kind of prize-winning, “well-crafted” poem-a poem that the New Yorker would see fit to print and that would help its author get one of the “good jobs” advertised by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs-has produced an extraordinary uniformity.”

En hierdie gelykvormigheid word deur die volgende eienskappe gekenmerk: “1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.”

Nou ja, toe. Hierna verloop Perloff se artikel met ‘n historiese kyk op die ontwikkeling van die Amerikaanse digkuns; met ‘n spesifieke uitgangspunt ten opsigte van vernuwende, opwindende digters wat telkens na die agtergrond gedwing word deur die konstante vloed van “nuwe stemme” wat hul afgeronde en veilige skryfsels op die oewers des lettere deponeer. In haar relaas word daar dan ook krities gekyk na die kanoniserende rol wat bloemlesings speel; ook word bepaalde gedigte analities beskou ten einde bepaalde punte in haar argument te beklemtoon.

Soos die volgende: “In the current climate, with thousands of poets jostling for their place in the sun, a tepid tolerance rules. Here is a poem in the Rita Dove anthology called “Hot Combs“:

At the junk shop, I find an old pair,
black with grease, the teeth still pungent
as burning hair. One is small,
fine toothed as if for a child. Holding it,
I think of my mother’s slender wrist,
The curve of her neck as she leaned
over the stove, her eyes shut as she pulled
the wooden handle and laid flat the wisps
at her temples. The heat in our kitchen
made her glow that morning. I watched her
wincing, the hot comb singeing her brow,
sweat glistening above her lips,
her face made strangely beautiful
as only suffering can do.

This is an all-but-classic reenactment of the paradigm I described at the beginning of this essay: 1) the present-time stimulus (the fortuitous find of old hot combs in a junk shop), 2) the memory of the painful hair straightening ritual the poet’s African American mother evidently felt obliged to perform, and finally 3) the epiphany that her mother’s face was “made strangely beautiful / as only suffering can do.” The poem’s enjambed free verse, prose syntax, transparent language peppered by what passes for “literary” phrasing-“pungent / as burning hair,” “slender wrist,” “wisps / at her temples,” “sweat glistening”-and emotional crescendo, dubious in its easy conclusion that beauty is born of suffering, would seem to place this poem somewhere in the 1960s or ‘70s. But “Hot Combs,” written by the Pulitzer-winning Natasha Trethewey, was published in 2000.”

(Gaan kyk gerus hier vir meer inligting oor die kontroversie waarmee Rita Dove se bloemlesing The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry verlede jaar begroet is.)

Ten slotte haal Perloff darem ook enkele gedigte aan wat sy as meer suksesvol en opwindend beskou; soos onderstaande gedig van Charles Bernstein waaroor sy die volgende te sê het:  “In Charles Bernstein’s All The Whiskey in Heaven (2010) we find a pseudo-folk ballad that follows hard upon a list of absurd newsflashes such as, ‘An unresponsive person was found lying in a boat on Half Mile Road.’ The song’s question-and-answer structure weaves together folk and lyrical ballad motifs from Shakespeare’s ‘Sigh no more’-‘Converting all your sounds of woe / Into. Hey nonny, nonny’-to Goethe’s ‘Erlkönig’ (“Elf King”)-‘Who rides so late through night and wind?”-to the pop lyric “Every time you see me, what do you see?'”

What do you see, Nonny?
What do you see?
A tune & a stain
Waiting for me

Will you go there, Nonny?
Will you go there?
It’s just by the corner

Right over the bend

Who’ll you see there, Nonny?
Who’ll you see there?
A monkey, a merchant, a pixelated man

What will you say, Nonny?
What will you say?
I’m just a nobody making my way

*** 

Gaan lees gerus die volledige artikel op die Boston Review se webblad. Hierdie is beslis ‘n artikel wat heelwat stof tot nadenke bied, want met die blomtyd wat ons eie digkuns tans ervaar, is hierdie wesenlike probleme wat ons (dalk) binnekort ook in die gesig gaan staar; of is dit reeds daar? Mmmm …

 

 

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2 Kommentare op “Louis Esterhuizen. Wanneer te veel veels te veel is …”

  1. Louis :

    Dankie, Jan – wonderlike foto wat julle by die inskrywing gebruik het! 🙂

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