My friend Ray Hsu gave a reading at my alma mater yesterday, and he summarized a conversation with his friend Tim Yu about experimental poetry. Yu mentioned how everyone seems to call themselves an experimental poet these days, and Ray responded by saying that maybe that means that nowadays, truly experimental poems will be ones that don’t look experimental. Tim Yu said, “Or maybe they won’t look like poems.”
I thought that was a totally fascinating idea. Ray went on to talk about a poem he wrote and then folded up into an origami man (ETA: Ray just told me this piece is called “The Coroner”). To read the poem, you had to unfold the origami, and the way that you unfolded it determined how you read the poem. This led into a brief discussion of the limitations of publishing–what publishers will and won’t publish, where the line is, how an editor determines a book’s coherency and what they’ll keep and cut from a manuscript to obtain that, and so on. Ray said he likes to test the boundaries and will send his editor things like scraps of poetry written on a map. Sometimes the editor goes for it, sometimes not (he didn’t go for the map–too bad!). Obviously, you can’t publish an origami man–at least not in the same way you publish a book. I wonder what other options there would be for distributing that kind of experimental writing? You could hand it out at readings, maybe, or sell it at a bookstore. I told Ray he should conscript his undergrads into an origami poetry assembly line for extra credit.
On the way back from the reading, my husband and I talked a bit about whether the publishing industry censors/controls the literary scene more or less than it used to, and whether newer phenomena like zines and the Internet contribute to that control and/or the diffusion of control, especially when it comes to experimental writing.
Just a few disjointed thoughts on publishing, production, and experimental poetry. What do you think? Do too many writers call themselves experimental? Has the term lost all meaning? What would, or could, an experimental poem that doesn’t look like a poem actually look like? Where does experimental writing best find its home?