Twelve years ago, poet Kathrine Varnes and I got together to celebrate and ended with a manifesto. We had met up in a New Orleans restaurant during the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference in honor of an exciting occasion: the publication of our anthology An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art.
The anthology had taken nearly a decade to complete. The idea that had felt extremely new, daring, and strange when the idea for the book first came to me around 1993 (namely, to include formalist poets, poets of the oral tradition, experimental poets, and poets of the free verse mainstream all in one anthology together) was no longer news by the time we finished. Neither was the idea of an anthology that explored “form” in the broadest sense of the word: not as the mechanical adoption of the shells of a few stale patterns from past centuries, but as a dynamic, tensile engagement with the underlying structures of poems of all kinds.
There in the restaurant, talking about the glowing reception of Exaltation and how we felt it could alter the poetic landscape, we began fantasizing about what we really wanted from poetry. As Kathrine waxed passionate, I reached for a cocktail napkin, and the Omniformalist Manifesto was born. Several years after that, I explicated and contextualized the manifesto in an essay in The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self.
Now, as I’m about to launch a new website and poetry blog, it seems a good time to revisit this passionate set of twinkly, shining “desires.” I want to see how they hold up. I will add my honest initial responses in italics after each item, and then invite Kathrine to comment.
THE OMNIFORMALIST MANIFESTO
by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes
Are we mad to love poetry as we birth a new century? We are mad enough. We are ravenous for poetic beauty, and we won’t shy away from the sources that nourish us. We are ready for Omniformalism, for a rich and wide poetics, liberated from the camps of the defunct poetry wars. These are our desires:
1. Physicality. We have a madness for poems that pound in the blood, that are moved into three dimensions by the immanent necessities of their form, that know the stubborn patterns and rhythms the world keeps.
AF Feb 1, 2014 YES! I want this more than ever now. It’s just a physical need—and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. After a decade of powerful bodywork and energy healing in my personal life, I am more and more convinced that physicality is part of the sacred core mission of any artist, and perhaps especially of the poet.
2. Permeability. We have a madness for poetry that moves freely between schools and cultures and traditions and eras of poetics and is nourished by conflicting influences.
AF Feb 1, 2014 Yes Yes! This quality is more common in poetry than it was then, but still not very common–in fact, the fence-sitting poem has become its own kind of school, offering its own kind of confinement. The truth is that poems need room. Where I would differ now is that I think that more room is often offered by making aesthetic choices and commitments. But, as I recall, this item was more Kathrine’s piece to start with.
3. Structure. We hunger for poems that reflect or refract patterns in their craft, that build their own shapes either strange or easy, that challenge and explore unfamiliar pattern and also appreciate and sustain the familiar.
AF Feb 1, 2014 Oh yes. More than ever, I feel the importance of a poem building its own shape—not just a post-facto detected structure, but am authentic, genuinely nourishing structure that can predict and encompass and inspire.
4. Kinship. We want poems that reach out as much as in. We hunger for poetry that marks and leaves a mark on human occasions. We desire poems that carry and connect with desire.
AF Feb 1, 2014 I am as committed as ever to reaching wider audiences and occasions, whether through commissioned poems or through some of the commercial avenues I’m in the process of building. So yes, yes yes.
5. Continuity. Disagreement is not murder, and different choices may not mean disagreement. We resist the Oedipal model of tradition and hunger for sustainable, as well as exploratory, poetics.
AF Feb 1, 2014 I love this one. And it completely holds true. I hear Kathrine’s voice in the phrasing.
6. Mystery. We delight that manifestoes will never contain poetry. We have a madness for poetry that keeps something we cannot understand.
AF Feb 1, 2014 And this as well–the twinkle of the mystery, still enticing, drawing in, drawing towards, keeping at bay.
Yep, it holds up. And reminds me how much is still to do. Back to work. Cue Kathrine….