Letters and manifestoes

From an interview by Jesse Nation of the Poetry Society with Nicholson Baker, whose new novel The Anthologist is about a poet:

JN: What is the question at the beginning of Modernism?

NB: What’s the energy that motivates us? Is it the energy to make new, or is it simply the desire to break? If it’s just to break, if it’s just hostility, then it doesn’t get you very far. And in Marinetti and Pound there’s an awful lot of hostility, and a bossiness, of insisting that your way is the right way. A really good poem makes its case without making its case. It doesn’t insist that its way is the only way. That’s what’s so beautiful about “The Fish,” by Elizabeth Bishop. She just bends over the fish and looks it in the eye and then lets it go. Her description of what happened is just one description. She’s not insisting on something big. She’s not a manifesto writer. She’s a letter writer. Those are the two antipodes of Modernism, I think: manifestoes versus letters. A letter is anchored in a single day and is to a particular person and is not attempting to change anything.

(from here)

The guy next to me on the subway this afternoon was reading a book about Surrealist manifestoes. Oh, and if you read the comments to the Poetry Society piece, do consider the possibility of an alternative universe in which Thomas Hardy wrote Jude the Obscene.

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One thought on “Letters and manifestoes

  1. lisa peet says:

    Nice (the letters vs. manifestoes, that is, though Jude the Obscene is worth thinking about too).

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