New American Poets

New American Poets: Quan Barry

Parlor Games

Recently I sat on a critical panel titled "How/Should We Study Lyric." After I got over the fact that there was no modifier in said title, I began to think about the lyric in more critical terms. For example, what exactly is the lyric? Is it an ahistorical set of reading conventions one projects on the text (i.e. we as readers bring certain expectations—e.g. sound, compression, a heightened state of voice, emotiveness—to poems we consider lyric), or is it something else? Also, what is now meant by the term high lyric? And finally, what is the role of language poetry in expanding the lyric's domain? Needless to say, these are just some preliminary questions (others currently stuck in my craw include, What is the role of the irrational in the lyric and does the image function differently?) Sadly I don't have too many answers to these questions (as my silence on said panel indicated), but as someone who's been described as a lyric poet I'm tremendously interested in such discussions on the state of the contemporary lyric and its fantastical sister the high lyric (the latter which the poet Rick Barot wondrously described in an email to me as, "A beautiful voice unmoored from the ground."). True, I often think the lyric is like pornography— something one recognizes when one sees it, but more and more I've been discussing with other poets just what they consider a lyric poem, and I've found their answers to be as fascinating as they are varied. So. Maybe give it a go. Ask your friends what they consider the lyric to be—e.g. is "The Waste Land" a lyric? Why or why not? Discuss! (Personally, I'm completely taken with lines like, "Who is the third who walks always beside you?" and could, despite its length, be convinced). And finally, if you figure that one out satisfactorily, maybe move onto the lyric and its emanation in movies —e.g. Terrence Malik's The Thin Red Line and David Gordon Green's George Washington.

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